Benediction Online

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The most important

I’m going to start this morning with a question. What is the most important rule to live by as a Christian? I’m not going to ask you to share your responses, but just take a moment to think about it…

What is the most important rule to live by as a Christian?

Judging from news reports it would seem that for some Christians being opposed to abortion is the most important rule whereas for others its carrying firearms, and there are still those in this country and many overseas who think heterosexuality is the most important.

When the Pharisees ask, “Teacher, which of the commandments in the law is the greatest?” they don’t really want to know – they are trying once again to trick Jesus. But Jesus steps back from all their partisan bickering and draws from the deep Hebrew tradition when he says the first and greatest law is to love God. Not to love God in a generic way but to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” In other words, with your entire being.

I don’t know about you, but I find this difficult. I can be quite sure I love my cats because when I look at them I feel warm and gentle and when I stroke them I feel peaceful and, yes, loving. But I don’t get to look at God, let alone cuddle with him. There are times when I feel deeply connected and deeply loved and loving. But it’s not every day.

Sometimes people say to me “it’s really all about love” and I don’t know how to respond because that is true, that is what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel, but it’s not about the warm sweet love that I feel when I look at my cat or my spouse. If we look at the larger narrative of which this passage is part, I think it raises some serious questions about how we understand love.

The story starts off with Jesus raising hell in the temple, knocking over tables, being rude and disruptive. Then when he’s asked what right he has to do that – by whose authority he acts – he tells three parables which are increasingly puzzling. The Pharisees follow this up with a series of three questions; should we pay taxes, who will be resurrected and finally which is the greatest commandment. Jesus doesn’t mince words. He gives back as good as he gets. “Your problem,” he tells them, “is that you don’t understand the scriptures or the power of God.” and then he turns the tables on them yet again. “If the Messiah is David’s son then how come David describes him as Lord?” That’s the clincher – they know they’re beaten and slink away.
So what in all that is loving? Jesus is difficult, argumentative, edgy. This is not gentle Jesus meek and mild. If this is love then it’s different from warm sweet cat love.  It’s not being nice to people or giving gifts or feeling warm and loving about our friends and family.

Of course Jesus had a particular personality, particular gifts and a very particular ministry. But since he is our model of being human and God – since he is the ultimate human-made-in-the-image of-God we have to pay attention to his behavior and his teaching. Clearly there were times when he believed that loving God and his human neighbor required him to be in-your-face and argumentative. There are times when loving means that we stand up for what we believe to be right, when we take the risk to get involved with difficult debates.
But that is not all. Anyone can get involved in arguments, so that in and of itself is not loving God.

Hindus have many images of God which they display on every available surface – a constant reminder of the presence of the divine. We too have constant reminders of the presence of God. We don’t need multiple crosses or icons because each person we meet, each person we see on the news or connect with on the web, is made in the image of God. Loving God means loving our neighbor – each one made in God’s image. We see God in creation – every hill, every dew drop, every banded dune snail, is an expression of God. So loving God also means caring for creation.

To love God, then, with all our heart, soul, and mind, is to love far beyond our immediate life of friends, family, and neighbors.  Trees fall within this love, and oceans.  The air itself; rivers; species struggling to find habitat; seabirds in distress for want of fish; coastlines littered with refuse, some of it ragged, starving humans, the refuse of brutal economies and vicious politics – these are the neighbors Jesus over and again holds up for us to see.[1]

Loving God is to enter into the mystery of our deep connection; our deep connection with God and through the Holy Spirit with all beings, with the entire universe. Because love is about connection and caring. Love is about opening to intimacy and allowing ourselves to be changed, Love is about caring fiercely and taking action.

We take action to protect those whom we love. If we are loving God, and therefore loving all the expressions of God, how can we take action to protect them? Do we just dissolve into paralysis because all is of God and we are called to love all? No, because sin is real. Even those who are made in the image of God behave in un-Christlike and godless ways.  Even those of us who are enrolled in the reign of God don’t always realize the effects of our actions or the effects of our words. We often hurt each other and creation unintentionally. We often go on doing so because we don’t know how to stop. Sin is the opposite of loving God and our neighbor.

Loving God means speaking up and taking action when we see injustice, when we see harm, when we see disempowerment. But it means doing it with respect for those we oppose.  For they too were made in the image of God. That image may be rather tarnished, it may not be shining very brightly but it is still there. The Pharisees were made in the image of God; the people of the Islamic State were made in the image of God; members of the Tea Party were made in the image of God, and so were the Democrats.

That is the mystery. We are all interconnected through the web of life, through the Spirit of God moving in and around, and touching each one of us. When we love, we are making connection with that web, we are participating in God. But love is not a feeling. The warm sweet feelings we sometimes have are the result of the deep connection, not the other way around. Love is the connection and we build that connection by the way we live.

When we live with a generous spirit, giving of ourselves and taking risks to benefit others; when we live in the knowledge that we are all interconnected; then we live simply so that others may simply live, then we share what we have so others may have enough, then we work for a world where there is justice and equality and respect for all beings. That is what it means to love God with “all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

[1] Nancy Rockwell


Post a Comment

<< Home