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The Call to Worship Based on Psalm 90
Lord you are our refuge from one generation to another.
All: Before the mountains rose up or the dry land appeared on earth from age to age you are God.
A thousand years to you are like yesterday to us.
All: Our lives are swept away like a dream, we fade away like the grass.
Fill us with your loving kindness every morning
All: So that our lives may be filled with joy.
Loving Creator give us a mind that is set on your goodness and on the beautiful loving potential of this world. You created the world and all that is in it and called it good. Remind us that nothing in heaven or on earth can change this and set our minds on peace, prosperity, and life. For these are your works and we are made in your image. Amen
The Wisdom of Fannie James
Since we have learned to know God as spirit, as love, as life, and as truth, it is easy to understand how Love may be everywhere at the same time, for it is not a person or a shape, but a Presence that fills every place—a very great God indeed!
The bible says that “in God we live”; hence we know that we live in love, life, and health every moment… You can see that the only place where evil might be is where God is not—and there is in Truth no such place. We must see that this is true when we know God’s omnipresence. Paul says, “Neither give place to the devil (evil).” For unless you and I give evil, negative beliefs, a place in our thoughts, it has none. Such thoughts cannot touch us except we forget God’s presence and power.
34When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37Jesus said to him, “’You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Reflection by Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher, Virtual Chaplain, Sunshine Cathedral
Click on the audio bar below to hear the recording. Text follows.
Love God, Love Your Neighbor
In our first reading today Fannie James reminds us, “The bible says that ‘in God we live’; hence we know that we live in love, life, and health every moment…” When I read our first lesson today I thought of the words God is love. God and love are two of the most nebulous ideas in human life. I’m confident that each and everyone of the over 9 billion people on earth will have a different view of what each of those ideals really means.
And yet, I believe that God is love. We feel love most acutely as human beings in relationship with another human being. It then logically follows that we feel God’s love most acutely in relationship with our fellow human beings. This is the basis of Carter Heyward’s central thesis namely that we are called to live in “mutual relation” with each other. Heyward teaches us that God is love and living in mutual relation, living in love for one another, is God. She says, "God is our power in mutual relation."
Living in mutual relation has a ring of sappy sentiment attached. But sometimes loving another person and living in mutual relation means we speak the truth in love in our work for justice. Sometimes we have to call out the injustice that a person is perpetuating in order to live in mutual relation with them. Living in mutual relation and loving our neighbor involves telling hard truths and working to undermine power structures that oppress. This can cause us to question our ethics and interrogate our motives. And all of that is good. What I want to be sure I leave you with this morning is that sometimes we have to break some eggs to make an omelet. Sometimes we have to break a single relationship in order to live in mutual relationship with the world and ourselves. Even then we help ourselves by loving the other enough to pray for them even as we work against behaviors that may be destructive.
Our reading from Fannie James quotes Paul saying, “Neither give place to the devil (evil). For unless you and I give evil, negative beliefs, a place in our thoughts, it has none. Such thoughts cannot touch us except we forget God’s presence and power.” This made me think about my last days drinking in the summer of 1984. I was at the beach in South Carolina on my beloved Hunting Island. We were camping and had budgeted a large amount of the space in our car and the money in our wallets for alcohol. I sat in a lawn chair and drank for most of the week. But I was doing a very curious thing at the same time. A copy of Norman Vincent Peal’s little book “The Power of Positive Thinking” had come into my possession. The front cover was torn off. And someone had given it to me, someone who I no longer remember. But that book is part of what changed my life. As I read its words in a half drunken stupor they sunk deep into my mind. I began to believe that my life could be different. I began to dream again. And that changed my life.
My mind had to change before my life could change. Somewhere in my life I got the message that changing my mind was a bad thing. I have found that having the courage to change my mind, to change the way I think, is one of the most powerful forces in life. In our Gospel reading today we find the Pharisees and the Sadducees again talking with Jesus, unable to change the way they were thinking.
Our gospel reading today from Matthew is the continuation of a string of interactions Jesus has with various factions of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In our Christian tradition we often refer to these guys as testing or taunting Jesus. And I want to lift up that debating and dialoging, asking hard questions and arguing, is an essentially Jewish point of view. In fact I would say that these two groups of people took Jesus quite seriously or they would not have engaged him at all.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus “…which commandment is the greatest” they were not referring to the 10 Commandments. They are referring to the 613 laws or commandments that they had constructed for people to follow if they wanted to be judged observant or pious or dedicated or whatever word you choose to use. But Jesus reduces all of these 613 commandments to the Shema…. the most sacred ideal in Judaism… the words said morning, noon, and night. The words that every Jew wants to have on their lips at the moment of their death. These words come from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This would be THE most well known passage of scripture to any Jew in any time of history.
Shema Yisraeil Adoniai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, our God is One… And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your might.
And then Jesus lifts up another concept that is central to Judaism. It is first recorded in Leviticus 19:18. “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Using the words from Leviticus would cut to the heart of those who had constructed the 613 Commandments. After all that is where these 613 commandments came from… the holiness codes recorded there. Jesus sets aside the burdens too heavy to bear that the Pharisees perpetuate to teach them that love is the central focus of our lives. He uses the Shema’s central tenets to make a connection between loving God and loving neighbor making it clear that whatever else we do ought to always be in service of these ideals…. Love God, love neighbor.
And this bring us full circle back to God is Love. As 1 John 4.16 says, “… all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.”