Sermon: Proper 15 RCL C – “Loyalty”

The podcast is available here.

A German Shepherd, Doberman and a cat have died. All three are faced with God who wants to know what they believe in…. The German shepherd says: “I believe in discipline, training, and loyalty to my master.”… ”Good,” says God. “Then sit down on my right side. Doberman, what do you believe in?”… The Doberman answers: “I also believe in loyalty and the love, care, and protection of my master.”… Ah,” said God. “You may sit to my left.” Then he looks at the cat and asks, “And what do you believe in?”… The cat answers: “I believe you’re sitting in my chair.”

Dogs are always marked up as the loyal four legged companion, but even modern science contends that cats are also loyal, they just have a funny way of showing it. Whatever the case, whether it has to do with our four legged companions or the two legged ones, loyalty is a highly prized attribute.

Throughout Scripture, we hear much about faithfulness. There is God’s faithfulness to us: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” (Deuteronomy 7:9) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) There is also the call for us to be faithful to God: Jesus said to the Church in Smyrna found in John’s Revelation, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10) However, the idea of “faithfulness” encompasses many different aspects of God’s relationship to us and ours with God. Things such as obedience, perseverance, service, etc., so today, instead of trying to explore them all, I would like to look at one particular aspect of faithfulness and that is loyalty. Particularly, we know that Jesus is loyal to us—“even unto death on a cross”—but are we loyal to him?

We all have an idea what loyalty is, but to get us all with the same understanding: the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines loyal as “unswerving in allegiance,” so loyalty is the act of unswerving allegiance. We can be loyal to more than one thing: brands/stores, sports teams, people, etc., and I would like to say that we only break our loyalty when trust is broken or we lose faith in the object of our allegiance, however… I’ll let you decide for yourself if this is a true statement: Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince, wrote, “Of mankind we may say in general they are fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain.” I would like to say it is not true of me, but we all know that would be hypocritical. Therefore, when it comes to our relationship with God, I sincerely believe that we all desire to be loyal, but since the very beginning, we as the human race have struggled.

There was the issue of the apple, then the Cain and Abel incident, can’t forget the Tower of Babel or Sodom and Gomorra. The Golden Calf, Bathsheba, Baal worship, just to name a few, and that’s just the Old Testament. With Jesus there were the followers who couldn’t take the teaching, a matter of thirty pieces of silver, and something to do with a rooster crowing three times. Again, I sincerely believe that we desire to be loyal, but our allegiance does take a swerve or two, not because God has broken trust or faith with us, but because we have such a difficult time with… 90’s band, “The The” (that was their name) – lyrics from: True Happiness this Way Lies.

“Baby! (it is not a real song unless it says, “Baby”)
Baby… I’ve got my sight set on you
And someday… you’ll come my way.
But when you put your arms around me
I’ll be looking over your shoulder for something new.”

We want to be loyal to God, but there is always something new. Something shiny. Something distracting. So, what does it take to snap us back, to reaffirm our loyalty to God? Sometimes it is a moment of clarity: what the heck am I doing, I’ve drifted from my God; but in many cases, it takes a crisis, which brings us to our Gospel today.

Each Sunday for the past few weeks, we’ve had to have a review, because we’ve been in the middle of a single teaching from Jesus, and today is no different. What have we heard so far: Jesus, as the Son of Man, will act as our judge on the last day, so we must be vigilant in the care of our soul. We can’t just give it a quick dusting once a month and think all will be well. It needs our daily attention and nurturing. We are building a mansion for our King, so that when he returns he will find a home worthy of his glory. “Why?” is the question for today.

Some of you will remember the events of July 6, 1994 on Storm King Mountain in Colorado. It had been a hot dry summer and lightning strikes were causing all sorts of fires. When those fires pop up in remote areas, hot shots or smoke jumpers parachute in and fight them. This particular fire had been burning for a few days and had reached an area of twenty-nine acres. Not large, but big enough to do something about. Fifty firemen and women went in. Four hours later, fourteen of them were dead. At some point, the fire blew up and moved up the mountain at a pace of eighteen miles an hour. The flames reached 300 feet high and the temperature soared to 2,000 degrees. The blow up took less than twenty minutes to consume that side of the mountain and kill the fire fighters.

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Sts. Ignatius, Origen, and Didymus all record a saying of Jesus that is not found in the Gospels. Whether he said it or not, if feels true: Jesus said, “He who is near me is near the fire.” Why are we to be vigilant in the care of our souls? Because there is a refining fire that is coming. A fire that purifies gold, a fire that purifies the people of God. A fire that is the saving message of the Gospel. A fire that will bring division, and when that dividing occurs, we must decide where our loyalties lie. If we have not been vigilant, alert, awake… remember: “If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” If we are not ready when that unexpected hour comes, if we have not been loyal to Jesus all along, then on that day, the day of judgment, our souls may be found lacking.

Consider what St. Paul says to Timothy: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4)

That great soldier, General George Patton stated, “It is a proud privilege to be a soldier – a good soldier … [with] discipline, self-respect, pride in his unit and his country, a high sense of duty and obligation to comrades and to his superiors, and a self confidence born of demonstrated ability.”

We are to be those soldiers of Christ Jesus. Sharing in his suffering and not getting entangled in civilian pursuits, that is, not confusing our loyalties, having an unswerving allegiance to our King so that we might please him and so that on the day of judgment he will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

My friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá, writes, “The Lord, the teacher of Love, is a jealous lover who asks for all we possess, for all our love. He expects us to offer him whatever we have, and to follow the path he has marked out for each one of us.” (The Forge, #45) Therefore, be vigilant in guarding your soul, so that your loyalty to Jesus will remain unswerving.

Let us pray: Father in Heaven, ever-living source of all that is good, keep us faithful in serving You. Help us to drink of Christ’s Truth, and fill our hearts with His Love so that we may serve You in faith and love and reach eternal life. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist You give us the joy of sharing Your Life. Keep us in Your presence. Let us never be separated from You and help us to do Your Will. Amen.

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