Oh yeah? Make me!

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni
Rector

October 27, 2019

“Oh yeah?  Make me.”

That was a common phrase in my neighborhood when I was growing up.  It was a common refrain when some of the kids would get into a row about what we should be doing, or how, or where.  It was an invitation to put up or shut up, so to speak.  

Rarely were there any fights.  Instead, usually each party would sulk off in separate directions and, after a day or so of pouting, end up back together playing ball or riding bikes.  

“Oh yeah?  Make me.” was always a challenge of sorts and one tinged with the anxiety of  “Just what am I gonna go if he does try to make me?” Maybe that’s why the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I read today’s Collect.  

“Make us love what you command,” our prayer says.  

But, in all honesty, my concern about this phrase is not just that it echoes tense moments from my childhood, it also flies in the face of many of my convictions about the life of faith.

Does God make us do anything?  Is it really love if God makes us love?  It reminded my of a prayer written by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, one of my heroes in Anglican history.

On page 832 of the Book of Common Prayer there is a prayer entitled, “A Prayer of Self-Dedication.”  It begins beautifully enough, “Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations…” the prayer reads.  

But then follows the words that disturb me, “so control our will, that we may be wholly yours….”  If our wills are controlled, where is our free will?  If there is no free will then is it really self-dedication? I struggled with these questions this week until I noticed by happenstance I had highlighted three words in our Collect.  

I glanced at those three words and understood our prayer in a new light.  I had highlighted the words, “make us love.”

The beauty of the life of faith, of the grace of God, of seeking to follow God faithfully and dedicating all our selves to God is that we are not made to love, we are not forced to love.  We are formed into love.  We become the expressions of God’s love alive today.

Coincidentally, directly after William Temple’s Prayer of Self-Dedication our prayer book has a prayer attributed to St. Francis. We will sing a version of that prayer later at this service.  

This well-known prayer gives us concrete examples of what it would look like if we we took seriously our prayer for God to make us love:
 
 Sowing love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, unity among discord faith in the midst of doubt, hope in desperate situations, lighting the darkness, joy where sadness reigns. Seeking to console others to understand those different from us, to love above all else.

I don’t think God makes us do anything.  I do believe God does want to make us into bearers of his love. To that I hope you will join me in saying as we used to when I was a kid, “Oh yeah?  Make me.”

©2019, Tom Thoeni