11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
Reflection January 20, 2019
"What Do We Really Need to Know from the Bible? - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
In Matthew 22:34-40, we have one of the many attempts to make Jesus appear foolish. Jesus was asked which commandment of the Torah was the most important. As we may know, there are 613 commandments found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. How was one to pick out the most important?
Yet this is exactly what Jesus does. He states the most important commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind, and with all your soul.” This is from the Book of Deuteronomy, 6:5. It’s part of the Jewish Shema which opens every Jewish service to this day.
Jesus continues his teaching with a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This comes from the Book of Leviticus, 19:18. And on these two laws, declares Jesus “hangs all the law and the prophets.”
In other words, Jesus claims the entire Hebrew Bible can be summarized by these two commandments. Jesus, in this teaching, reveals to us the center of his own faith. As the Bible scholar Barbara Bowe notes in Biblical Foundations of Spirituality: “Jesus, this strong one of God, is not confined or limited by the boundaries of his Jewish faith, neither by its ideas of what is holy nor by its…boundaries…Above all else, compassion seems to be the hallmark of this strong and holy man.”
For years, many of the early followers of Christ attended synagogue services and saw themselves as practicing Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah. As the Harvard historian and rabbi, Shayne Cohen, writes: “The separation of Christianity (from Judaism) was a process, not an event. The essential part of this process was that the church was becoming more and more gentile (in other words – more and more Roman) and less and less Jewish, but the separation where Jews and Christians dwelt together. In some places, the Jews expelled the Christians; in other (places) the Christians left of their own accord.”
But things were not this way when Jesus walked among us. Jesus took very seriously the books of the Hebrew Scriptures, which included at that time the Apocryphal Books. We can be certain Jesus studied the Hebrew Scriptures from a very early age.
And when questioned, Jesus summarizes those Scriptures simply and clearly: Love God first and then love your neighbor. Let’s examine this first commandment: “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
As we ponder loving God, we might well wonder: what does it mean to love? What does love look like? I imagine most of us have some idea what love is but it might be difficult describing how we might love God.
To help in our understanding, I turn to an Irish spiritual writer, Pat Collins, and his book, Intimacy and the Hungers of the Heart. He writes: “love is not a state of romantic yearning or a sense of union with one’s beloved. It isn’t a state of good feelings, or a common sharing of interests.” Collins asserts the core of love is approval, the approval that means: “I’m happy that you exist.” The way I understand this concept is to say that love is basically a profound affirmation of another.
The word affirmation is tied to the Latin word for “to make strong.” When anyone affirms us, we are made strong. If we are not affirmed, then it’s easy for us to weaken as we make our way through the world. Life, as we know, is often harsh and sometimes downright brutal.
I believe our Sunday worship is an act of love. I believe our Sunday worship is an act of affirmation. In our worship, we say to God: God, I love you and I show my love by praising you, affirming you, with my words, my songs, my prayers and my presence.
And let me assure us that when we praise and affirm God on Sunday mornings, God affirms us in return with the power and potency of divine love.
We who come to worship usually believe in our minds that God loves us. But do we feel it, do we experience it in our hearts? On Sunday mornings, we come to our beloved church in order to allow God’s love to touch us. On Sunday mornings, we come to our small but powerful church to allow God’s affirmation to strengthen us.
God’s love, as I preach over and over, is the most powerful energy the universe has ever known. God’s love underlies all creation. God’s love underlies every creature who ever was, is now, or ever will be. There is no power greater than the power of God’s love. Love will conquer ALL! Love will have the last word! This is a fundamental belief we share as believers.
God’s love is the heart of the Gospel. God’s love is the good news we’ve been commissioned to proclaim to the ends of the earth. And let me add something I mentioned this past Sunday from the spiritual writer, Richard Rohr: “We are called to BE good news rather than preach good news.”
But how do we become “good news”? We become good news when we allow God’s love to fill us, to affirm us at those deep place where we are most wounded.
Many of us live broken-hearted. That’s the nature of being human, the nature of being exiled east of Eden. And sometimes we don’t want anyone to touch us at those broken, wounded places, not even God.
We feel ourselves orphaned and disregard Jesus’ promise in John 14:18: “I will not leave you orphaned.” I mentioned this on Sunday. Yet many in our wounded world feel desperately orphaned, very much abandoned, even and especially by God. We disciples have lots of work to do!