Good morning everyone. Welcome to this short service of prayer and reflection on this last Sunday after Trinity. This is also the last of the on-line services in this format. Next Sunday, God willing, we will be worshipping again in church. Returning to church on All Saints Day seems very appropriate and we will be exploring how to record the church services for those who can’t attend.
This last Sunday after Trinity is also known as Bible Sunday. Todays’ reading and reflection is centred on some of the most important words you will find in the Bible – Jesus’ great commandment, the very foundation of our faith. In summary – love God and love your neighbour.
Our opening hymn, which comes from the fantastic setting of Salisbury Cathedral, is…
God is love let heaven adore him.
The Lord be with you
May your loving mercy come to me, O Lord,
and your salvation according to your word:
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light to my path:
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
O let your mercy come to me that I may live,
for your law is my delight:
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
May the God of love and power
forgive us and free us from your sins,
heal and strengthen us by his Spirit,
and raise us to new life in Christ our Lord.
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Greatest Commandment
Matthew 22: 34-46
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37 He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 ‘What do you think of the Messiah?[c] Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ 43 He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit[d] calls him Lord, saying,
44 “The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’”?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Reflection – Matt 22:34-46 (Love’s a three way thing)
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment and the second is like it – you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39
There’s a passage from Ecclesiastes which wedding couples often choose for their reading – and it’s about what a difference it makes when there are two people going through life together.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one…
Yet then it ends – unexpectedly – with the phrase –
‘A threefold cord is not quickly broken.’ (The last phrase in verse 12) Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
In the eyes of the world we think about love happening between two people. I love you and you love me. It takes two, we say, me and you.
The point I make to the couples about that phrase ‘a threefold chord is not quickly broken’ is that there is another love in their relationship – one they may not have been aware of but which is there – the love that God has for them. I pray that they come to understand that that is so and that their relationship will be strengthened as they understand that God has brought them together, loves them and wants the best for them and that they can trust in God’s love.
This reminds us that love within our Judeo-Christian understanding of how the world works love isn’t a two-way thing, it’s a three-way thing. There’s a third dimension to love which is God, himself.
We have just heard again the two great commandments from the Jewish law, the Torah, that Jesus quotes when yet again the Pharisees are trying to put him on the spot. There was a kind of parlour game that went on amongst Jewish scholars and teachers where they debated which of the 613 commandments in the Torah were the most important. And they decide to put the question to Jesus- they’re testing him because they’re threatened by him, this upstart rabbi from Galilee.
And this is what Jesus replies, and with an authority that the Pharisees don’t and won’t recognise – this is the great commandment – these two sayings. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. The words of God which are the basis for all the other laws and the teaching of the prophets.
Together they form a triangle of love. (show triangle)
Look at the triangle. God / me/ you or… God / myself/ others. Love which flows from God to me or to you which enables us to turn and love another. When we understand this flow of love, then we have the basis for living a life of faith.
Firstly – that we are beloved of God. God is where all the love comes from. In one of St. John’s letters it says, we love because he first loved us. (1John4:19). Our love is a response to God’s love.
That immediately brings us to a big question. Do you know, do you believe that God loves you? Have you experienced it? Do you know that God loves you – as well as you know that your mum or your dad loves you or your girlfriend or boyfriend, wife or husband or brother or sister loves you? Because God does. However old you are God loves you as his precious and beloved child. You are special in God’s eyes and wanted and chosen. Each and every one of us.
That can take a bit of discovering especially for people whose lives have taught them that they’re not very loveable. But the way to learn about love is in relationship. A child learns to love because their parent or others teach them that they are loveable. And we can learn that God loves us and that we are loveable in God’s eyes too.
We learn that through being in relationship. Through spending time with God, talking to God, praying to God, reading God’s words to us in scripture, worshipping God and knowing the joy of it. Through turning to God in the hard times, through yelling at God when life hurts, through thanking God when life is wonderful. Those who love make themselves vulnerable and open. Be open with God about how you’re feeling. Talk to God. Listen to God.
Then you will discover that God’s there for you too. The knowledge will come through the words we read in a Bible passage or in the words that a loved friend has for you. Or through the loving voice you hear in your hearts at odd moments which tells us that you belong to him. There are moments when you just know. When you hear God. And it’s often in the hard times.
Once we realise God loves us then two things happen – the first is that there is a desire to love God back – with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. The second is that we realise that God loves other people too – in the same life enabling way. That they too are special in God’s eyes. That may cause us to see those other people differently especially if they are not people who we would normally feel positive about.
So – here is the third flow of love in the triangle – from ourselves to others. Love your neighbour as yourself says Jesus. I think what has moved us over the last few months during the crisis of the pandemic, is the dedication and love with which people have served one another, and the compassion which people have shown for another’s struggle to live in this world. We have seen many instances of people loving their neighbour over the last few months. That has been inspiring.
However, we have also seen on our screens, instances of when that imperative to love our neighbour has been ignored and people have chosen not to give time or space or credence to those who look different or who think differently or whose politics are different from their own. And there will be plenty of times in our own experience when the command to love your neighbour as yourself has been a very challenging thing to do. Think of the people with the loud music or the barking dog!
But with God in the mix – then we are living within a different framework in this world. If we know we are beloved of God and the other person is beloved too – then we have another motivation to love and to show love. In particular to love the unloved and the rejected – for God does too.
God is where all the love comes from. There’s no way we can find that ability to love inside of ourselves – in an enduring way. That capacity to love has to come from God. Our love is a response to God’s love. Because God loves us, we can return love and love others.
Once we know for sure that God loves us, then life changes. Then we can love and we want to love and we want to tell the world of God’s love. Then we have the ability to forgive hurt. Then we can let go of bitterness or resentment. Then we will find we the ability to feel compassion for the struggling people of the world. Then we can love as God wants us to love.
Let us ask God to fill us with the knowledge of his love and to stir in us the desire to turn our hearts to God and to the world in return.
When I needed a neighbour were you there.
(written by Thomas Schuman and posted on Lectionary Liturgies) (http://lectionaryliturgies.blogspot.ca)
The world teaches us many ways to love,
but all are based on selfish desires and needs.
God teaches us how to love: completely, uniquely, unconditionally.
Let us confess our difficulty in loving as God teaches us,
as we pray, saying,
We are hesitant to confess, Holy God,
how hard it is to love as you wish.
It is easy to love you with all that we are,
except when you ask us to love our neighbour with all that we have.
We find it hard to love our neighbour,
when it is linked to the way we love ourselves.
And it is difficult to love anyone—even You—
more than we love ourselves.
Forgive us, Love Eternal.
As you took a risk in creating us,
help us to take risks to love others compassionately,
to love ourselves genuinely,
and to love you as completely as you love us
in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
In God’s Kingdom, all are loved for who they are,
not what they do;
In God’s Kingdom, all are forgiven for what they do,
in God’s Kingdom, all are welcomed and fed
by God’s grace and hope.
Forgiven, loved, sent forth—
we are not far from God’s Kingdom!
Thanks be to God.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our saviour has taught us
Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Love Divine all loves excelling
The peace of God,
which passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds
in the knowledge and love of God,
and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
In the name of Christ.
I could sing of your love forever – Delirious