Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection October 14, 2018
"All We Need To Know from the Bible" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
In Matthew 22:34, the Pharisees question Jesus: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 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, chapter 6 - verse 5. It is part of the Jewish Shema – which opens every Jewish service.
Jesus continues his teaching with a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This comes from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 19 - verse 18. And on these two laws, declares Jesus “hangs all the law and the prophets.”
In other words, Jesus states that the entire Old Testament can be summarized by these two commandments. A better way of stating this is to say that Jesus is pointing out the center of his own Jewish faith.
For decades, 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 (more and more Roman) and less and less Jewish, but the separation manifested itself in different ways in each local community 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 is able to summarize those Scriptures simply and clearly. Love God first and then love your neighbor. It’s hard defining love. I used an old poem of mine, “Love Is”, recently in both my sermon and the Advance. Most of us have some idea what love is but it’s very difficult describing how to love fully.
To help us understand, I turn to the 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 feeling, or a common sharing of interests.” Collins asserts the core of love is approval - the approval that means: “I’m happy that you exist.” Love, then, 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 life. The loss of my beloved Beth two years ago, October 19, deeply weakened me. I’ve not fully recovered from that profound loss. I’m very grateful for the love of my friend, Vinal, but I’m still wounded and quite weak.
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, we love you and we show our love by praising you – affirming you – with our words, our songs, our prayers and our presence.
And when we praise and affirm God on Sunday mornings – God affirms us in return with the power and potency of divine love. Yet many of our congregation are absent often on Sundays. I grieve their absence.
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 beloved church to allow God’s affirmation to strengthen us.
God’s love 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. This is the fundamental belief we share as Christians.
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. I add something from the spiritual writer, Richard Rohr: “We are called to BE good news rather than preach good news.”
How do we become “good news”? We become good news when we allow God’s love to fill us, to affirm us at that deep place where we’re most wounded. Many of us are wounded at a deep place within us. 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. Where I most feel the loss of Beth is such a place!
We sometimes block access to these deep and deeply wounded places with our consumerism, our cynicism, our lack of civility and even our cruelty. We sometimes block access to these deep and deeply wounded places with our anger, our unchecked aggression, our hostility, and all our many hatreds. We sometimes block access to these deep and deeply wounded places with freely chosen isolation and an unwillingness to involve ourselves in our churches and in our communities.
We all stand in need of God’s touch. We all stand in need of God’s love. We all stand in need of God’s affirmation. If we fail to allow God’s love access to every part of who we are, including the parts we most try to protect, then we will be incapable of true love. True love necessitates allowing God’s Holy Spirit access to every part of who we are. God’s Holy Spirit, God’s divine power of love, needs our permission to bring love and affirmation to the wounded and world-weary parts of who we are.