An Inauguration Homily

(A sermon by The Reverend Dr. John C. Harper, Rector, St. John's Church on Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.)
January 20, 1989

A little over nineteen hundred years ago St. Paul wrote to his fellow Ch;istians in Rome that "love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:10) The Christians in the first century knew a great deal about the law, for it was taken seriously by devout men and women. Jesus however interpreted the law by living it out through his own life, and he told his followers that they should do likewise.

Thus when Paul witnessing to his faith in the living Christ talked about how love fulfillls the law he bore testimony to religion which goes beyond legal niceities and dogmatic pronouncenaents. Faith for Paul, as it has been for millions since, is expressed through our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

It takes three skills to love other people. First, we need to listen to them; second, we need to show that we understand them; and third, we need to respond to them.

Listening to others in a world of noise and irrelevance is difficult, especially when our own needs must be heard and our own cries uttered. Listening is a "primitive act of love," in which we make ourselves available to others. But until we can really hear what someone else is saying we will never learn to love or be loved.

Showing people that we understand what others are going through is also a difficult skill to learn. To walk in another's footsteps, to see where others have been and where they are headed, to tell someone that we share in the pain and fear and loneliness that he or she experiences is a rare art.

Finally, responding in an appropriate way to those to whom we have something to give at some cost to ourselves is a skill which takes patience and insight. Not long before his death Albert Camus wrote that line sooften quoted: "Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow; don't walk behind me, I may not lead; walk beside me and be my friend.

The fulfillment of the law of love happens when people listen, when they understand, and when they have the courage to respond. Nothing less can be the goal of the modern pilgrim. For "people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care."

We look to our elected leaders to fulfill the law of love by their deeds. We pray for them in their task to make this nation kinder and gentler to all its citizens and to the peoples of the world.

We look to ourselves to fulfill the law of love by loyalty to our faith and our country. We pray for fidelity to the trust which today is renewed by solemn pledge and honest commitment.

"Some day," wrote Teilhard de Chardin, "after we have masteredthe winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we will harnass for God the energies of love, and then for the second time in the history of the world man will have discovered fire."

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