Today we worshipped with a limited congregation in the church, following all of the protocols laid out by BC Health. You were also able to watch us on the livestream and now in the archives at Worship – Sunday October 25, 2020. click on the service.
Join us (through the youtube archive) as we continue the worship series entitled, “Engage Your Faith!” Every Sunday until Advent, we will be considering how when we engage the world, our faith comes alive and we open up to new possibilities. We will consider our world and our neighbours through Jesus’ eyes. We will also see that we live in a world deeply loved by God. In today’s service, we will be looking at Engaging our Love. We will be looking at what Jesus meant when he said that the greatest commandment is “To love the Lord your God and to love your neighbour as yourself.” What does this mean in a time of pandemic?
Click here for a copy of this week’s Service Bulletin and Scripture Reading:
Sermon for Sunday October 25, 2020: Engage Your Faith: 2. Love
We continue this morning reading from the tail end of Matthew’s story of the life of Jesus. As Matthew tells it, nearly everyone around Jesus, who has any authority, seems to be trying to challenge him. They have all formed a coalition party to oppose him, despite their disagreements with each other. Last week the Pharisees and the Herodians sought to pit politics against religion with the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?” When this question fails to trip up Jesus, they send in a lawyer, one of their most well-practised theologians, who tests Jesus with the question, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?”
I am sure that the lawyer and Jesus would have agreed that the law is a Gift from God, a way to show the world that God and God’s people belong to one another. The Pharisees were deeply committed to keeping the law in the form of the commandments in all daily life. Jesus too, we see, was faithful to God’s commands, even announcing during the Sermon on the Mount that he had not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfillment. The problem Jesus had with the law was that the Pharisees had morphed the ten commandments into 629 laws that one had to keep if one was to be ritually pure, basically in God’s good books. If you didn’t then you had to go to the temple, offer a sacrifice, paying an exorbitant exchange fee, and be declared clean again. Jesus objected to this because who could keep all these laws? Even today these rules apply in Rabbinic Judaism. Due to Covid, Israeli hospitals are testing the temperature of people who enter. The Rabbinic authorities have decreed that one cannot do this on the Sabbath as it is commanding work. Jesus wasn’t criticizing the law; he was criticizing the interpretation of it. So we can see why his answer to the question as to the most important commandment is crucial because it cuts through much of the rabbinic tradition that had built up over the centuries and remains important today as we seek to follow the way of God.
Jesus’ reply goes right to the heart of the matter, the heart of the sacred scriptures. His answer starts with quoting Deuteronomy and the Shema, the way the morning and evening Jewish daily prayer service begins. “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” But Jesus adds something. He quotes from Leviticus, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is it, the heart of the Law for Jesus. The theologian Thomas Long summarizes this saying, “Jesus sees the law very differently than the experts do, and his response, rather than understanding the law as rules and regulations, emphasizes “love”; the law is about really loving God and one’s neighbour, not about figuring out how to avoid stepping on cracks in the legal sidewalk.”
So, what is love? Or what kind of love is Jesus talking about here? The Greeks of Jesus’ day had different words for our one word “love”. Jesus is not talking about the Valentine’s day, romantic love. He is talking about what we might term, “biblical love.” This is not a love marked by warm feelings of gratitude but instead by an unwavering commitment. Love is when we commit ourselves to doing something with passion. “I love to ski. I love to read.” It is something we choose to do. It is something we freely do with our lives as we behave in a certain way. You might say that commitment is a mysterious mingling of feeling and action, a beautiful dance between the two.
This type of love affects how we feel. It is that feeling when we put our spouse or our children ahead of our own needs and in turn, we find those relationships deepened. Or it is coming and volunteering at PIT Stop and you realize how important what you are doing is and how it is affecting other lives. Or that feeling in your heart when you are able to forgive someone. You are enriched by this type of love.
This past week, the Canadian Television Networks pre-empted their regular programming to broadcast a debate between Trump and Biden. My first thought was, this is not our election, why are we so interested? However, we are interested because we know that the result of the election will have an impact upon Canada and the rest of the world. We know the results of the election will affect trade, environment, peacekeeping, aid, stock markets. We live in a global village and what the major player in that village does affects everyone in the village.
What has become apparent to me is that elections are a time when we make a decision as to whether we will vote for self-centred policies or for policies that are beneficial to all. The importance of our decisions today is exacerbated due to the global pandemic. This Sunday’s readings cause us to think beyond the individual self – our individual life stories – to identification with God’s Self and the well-being of others long after we have left the scene. They move us from self-interest to world loyalty and from short term goals toward the wellbeing of generations decades from now. More and more, we realize that our lives are not lived just in the moment, but our lives have an impact on the future world. In many senses, we have now become co-creators with God in the act of creation. Everything we do moves us toward life or death, beauty or ugliness. If we can let go of our small ego and its own self-interests, we open ourselves up to a great adventure with God and with our fellow human beings.
A few weeks ago, during the season of creation in the Church, we looked at the passages from Exodus; the Israelites escaping from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the wandering in the desert. Can you imagine what Moses must have felt, leading the people for years in the wilderness as he stands on a mountain and overlooks Canaan, the Promised Land. And…God has told Moses that he will not enter the Promised land. He is unable to set food on the ground that inspired his dreams. He has prepared for a world that he will not live to see.
Today is also celebrated as Reformation Sunday. This is the Sunday when we think of those who have reformed the church and probably the most famous reformer is Martin Luther who is credited with the Protestant Church breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church. He was once asked what he would do if he were told that the world was going to end tomorrow. His reply, “I would plant a tree.”
Thinking of Moses, just over fifty years ago, another reformer, Martin Luther King Jr. echoed how Moses must have felt when he delivered his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. King reminds us that all of us that we may never enjoy or see the fruits of our actions, but still we must claim our ability to shape the future. Think of it. Hope enables us to trust that God will use our finite lives as contributors to an everlasting adventure. On the day after his speech, King was gunned down in Memphis, yet his words and his spirit live on inspiring us that change is possible as we recognize that Black Lives Matter.
Jesus’ words take us beyond instant gratification and self-interest. They remind us that our lives share in God’s immortality. What we do truly matters and shapes a future we may never see. Is he saying that we need to let go of the small self and its short time to embrace values beyond the self.
We all have stories from our family of origin. If you think of your family story, it might have a certain narrative running through it. Greatly impacting my family’s story was the Blitz in England during the second world war when my parents were in their early twenties. I was raised with the stories of so many air raids that my parents were so tired they were too exhausted to go to the air raid shelter in the backyard. Stories of long days of work in the military to be followed by a night of walking fire patrols. Tales of the death of friends and loved ones in front of them. One night I asked my parents what kept what kept them going. They replied, “We envisioned a better world for our children.”
Jesus’ response to the Jewish leaders reveals the dynamic symbiosis of loving God, others, and self. We can’t separate them out. They are interdependent and support one another. When we love God, all our other loves are rightly ordered. Loving God turns us toward our neighbour and their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It also turns us toward creation because creation is so loved by God. Loving our neighbour adds to the beauty of creation. In a sense, we love God through loving our neighbours because they are part of what God has created. Back to the reformer Luther for a moment. He said that when we open ourselves up to God’s grace, that grace flows through us to our neighbour and that we become little Christs committed to the well-being of neighbours and strangers.
Then there is a healthy self-love. This gives us energy for the long haul. If we do not love ourselves, if we do not feel at home in our own skin and affirm our very existence and its uniqueness, our behaviours will be motivated by always needing to be loved by others and seeking to fill an inner inwardness with all kinds of addictions and unhealthy behaviours. We are called to love ourselves as much as God loves others and to love others with the same spirit that God loves them.
I want to close with a quote from someone I think put Jesus’ teachings into practice in all her life, Mother Teresa. She said, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘how much love did you put into what you did?’”
———————— We look forward to seeing you on future Sundays, in person or by livestream!