This morning, we do well to consider a lost virtue – which, it would seem, has all but disappeared from planet earth! “What is this lost virtue?” you ask. I can tell you it was once common across America. It was possessed by the founding fathers at Independence Hall (Philadelphia) at the writing of the Declaration of Independence and when the U.S. Constitution was debated and adopted. This lost virtue was displayed by Robert E. Lee in his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia marking the conclusion of the Civil War. It was once practiced daily by countless others across all walks of life – day in and day out.
This lost virtue is, indeed, one of the many faces of “love.” We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethrenwrote the Apostle John in this morning’s Epistle Lesson. But love has “thousands of faces.” One of its faces is surely compassion. Another of its faces is friendship. Yet another of its faces is helping.
But the once famous “face of love” – rarely seen today and unrecognized by most – ismagnanimity. It even sounds strange to our ears! It has grown difficult for us to pronounce! But it is so important! It is so helpful. Perhaps it is more recognizable to us in another form:magnanimous. As in a magnanimous man… a magnanimous woman… a magnanimous child… a magnanimous young person.
Magnanimous is a compound word. Magna means great. The Magna Charta was the great charter of liberties which the English barons forced King John to sign in June of 1215 at Runnymede not far from London. And animus means “spirit.” Magnanimous therefore means “great spirit.” It denotes a person whose spiritual makeup is great enough, secure enough, balanced enough to bear troubles and trials calmly… to look down on meanness and revenge, spitefulness and hatred! We should note this does not come to us naturally! It is a great gift from God! And it is something to be fervently sought during the long green season of growth – the Trinity Season!
Please note the final words of the I John passage this morning: And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spiritwhich he hath given u s[the Spirit of God Himself, the greatest spirit of all]. Of all people, Christians (with the Spirit of God Himself in their lives and their personalities) should be magnanimous toward each other – calm… balanced… reasonable… void of meanness and its fellow-destroyer, revenge.
Another great mark of a magnanimous person is certainly a lofty and courageous spirit that pursues noble and just ends -- refusing to descend into the mire of pettiness and triviality. Please note once again the words in verse 22 of our lesson this holy day:
And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight… And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him.
Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying "In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill."
In his book entitled The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis termed those who have no magnanimity “men without chests.” His contemporary, the great poet T.S. Eliot, called them “empty suits.”
I grew up with the stories and legends of Scandinavia. One of the many great and colorful characters was the Danish King Hrolf who had a court servant named Hott. When King Hrolf recognized Hott’s development in moral strength and lofty courage, he renamed him Hjalti (which means “hero”).
And good thing Hjalti did not let this go to his head! For instead of using his new position to taunt and execute those who had previously mocked him, he sought more noble and just ends. King Hrolf, seeing this, then titled him “Hjalti the Magnanimous.” And that is fabulous!
How delightful to see magnanimity in action. And how desperately it is needed today! Inside the Church. And outside the Church.
A most delightful story is recorded for history regarding a most remarkable Christian man – whose skin was black… and who lived one hundred years ago… and whose name was Booker T. Washington…
Shortly after Booker T. Washington had become head of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking past the house of a very wealthy family. The woman of the house, assuming he was one of the yard workers her husband had hired, asked him if he would chop some fire wood for her.
Professor Washington smiled, nodded, took off his coat, and chopped the wood. When he carried the armload of wood into the woman’s kitchen, a servant girl recognized him – and rushed to her mistress to tell her of his identity.
The next morning, the embarrassed woman appeared in Booker T. Washington’s office. Apologizing profusely, she said repeatedly, “I did not know it was you I put to work.” Washington replied with love and generosity and magnanimity: “It is entirely all right, madam.” He replied. “I like to work and I am delighted to do favors for my friends.”
The woman was so taken with his manner and the largeness of his heart, that she gave generous gifts to the Institute. She also persuaded many of her wealthy acquaintances to do likewise. So in the end, Booker T. Washington raised as much money for the Institute from this one act of chopping wood with magnanimity as he did from any other fund-raising event!
It is the magnanimous Christian who is not afraid to set forth the truth of life who changes the world far beyond his allotted influence. And the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer summarized it most aptly. Stage one – what he says in ridiculed. Stage two – what he continues to say is violently opposed. Stage three – what he has faithfully been saying is accepted as being self-evident.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus – how magnanimous are you and I? It is an appropriate question to ask. I suspect the opposite of magnanimity is to be “thin-skinned.” How magnanimous are you at home? At school? At work? At church? In dealing with friends? In dealing with relatives. In dealing with “trouble-makers”?
Our Lord was undoubtedly the most magnanimous of all. We can picture Him looking down on all of the spitefulness, hatred, and vile contempt swirling around Him – even as He prays for forgiveness for His persecutors.
And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us [the Spirit of God Himself, the greatest spirit of all].
Remember to seek magnanimity this Trinity Season!
This is the word of the Lord… and it will stand forever. Amen.