Readings and reflection from Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life on Sunday, September 7, 2014
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The Call to Worship Based on Psalm 119
Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,
and I shall keep it to the end.
ALL: Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law;
I shall keep it with all my heart.
Make me go in the path of your commandments,
for that is my desire.
All: Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.
Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.
ALL: Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.
Gracious God we ask you to deliver us from making You in our own image. Deliver us from jealousy and greed, from distrust and anger. Teach us your ways that we may be loving and generous of spirit to everyone we meet. Remind us of your love for us and give us grace to show that love to others.
The Wisdom of Gerald G. Jampolsky
We can look upon our Source as a Loving Energy beyond our comprehension, a force of peace and joy, with a total absence of anger, cruelty or desire to punish or hurt anyone. We can learn to forgive our misperceptions of a judgmental God.
Our true self is but a reflection of this Loving Force where only love is found and nothing else. Our higher self, our spiritual self, is always at one with God, expressing only Love.
Our lower ego self, however, is capable of great cruelty. So it is important to know that we have a choice, that each of us is capable of retraining our minds to follow the way of peace rather than following the ego’s guidance of fear, judgment, and cruelty.
The Wisdom of the Apostle Paul (Romans 13.9-10)
The commandments “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Reflection by Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher, Virtual Chaplain, Sunshine Cathedral
Click on the audio bar below to hear the recording. Text follows.
Love Fulfills the Law
The image of a judgmental God is part of the Old Testament sacred texts that we Christians claim as part of the basis of our faith. But how to interpret these ancient stories and myths is the important work of theological thought. We say that we are made in God’s image when what is perhaps more accurate is to say that we make God in our image… often an image of jealousy, greed, and anger.
This brings to mind some of my favorite stories from Judaism, stories of two rabbis, Shammai and Hillel. They led two opposing schools of Jewish thought. Their debates were epic. And the Talmud records 316 issues on which they debated.
Shammai is viewed as more rigid by some, more religious by others. He contended that Torah study should be limited to those who exhibited a level of worthiness to study. Hillel believed that everyone should study and by studying they become worthy.
Shammai held to a strict code of honesty. When confronted with whether one should complement a bride who is less that beautiful on her appearance, Shammai says it is wrong to lie. Hillel says that all brides are beautiful on their wedding day.
But perhaps the most important and instructive exchange between these two comes in the form of a story in the Talmud describing a “heathen” who came to Shammai and challenged the rabbi to convert him by saying, “… teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him off with a tool that was in his hand. But the man also came before Hillel and asked the same… teach me the whole Toray while I stand on one foot. Hillel is said to have replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.”
Religious people from the beginning of time have been obsessed with the laws that are embedded in their various religious belief systems. Following these laws makes one appear to be pious and committed to the religion. And those who appear to be committed to the laws are elevated in the group. The Pharisees in Jesus time contended that all 613 laws contained in the Old Testament must be followed to the letter in order for a person to be worthy of being Jewish.
Even the Ten Commandments can get us into trouble. After all, which 10 shall we follow? The version in Exodus or Deuteronomy? And shall we then assume that they are listed in order of importance? Oh wait, they’ve not been listed in the same order throughout history. So what shall we do with that information?
Jesus knew that following the letter of the law had little or nothing to do with what was in a person’s heart. He relentlessly taught his disciples and anyone who would listen that how we live in relation to our fellow human beings is more important than how we live in relation to religious laws. He continually called attention to the fact that treating others with respect and compassion is the evidence of anyone’s commitment to a relationship with God.
Paul puts this to us very succinctly in our reading from Romans 13 today. He probably knew about the debates between Shammai and Hillel. And even though he himself had been a Pharisee he came to understand that fulfilling the law does not simply mean following rules set down by humans. He moves a step beyond Hillel by calling attention to the reality that love itself is the fulfillment of the law.
But how do we get there? Hard as I try I’m often not as loving and compassionate as I want to be. So committing ourselves to studying the sacred texts, both ancient and contemporary, is an important matter. Committing ourselves to prayer and meditation is important for our spiritual health. And gathering together to pray as a community opens our heart so that we can grow into becoming the loving and compassionate person we truly want to be.
The truth is that life is hard, and complicated, and sometimes we’re just going to have a bad day. All we can do is the best we can do at any one moment. And for me that means doing my very best to remember that “love thy neighbor” thing. If we can simply reflect God’s love in my own actions, we will be moving toward fulfilling our true potential as a living image of God’s love.
This week let us commit ourselves to seeing the image of God in the face of everyone we meet. If we can just remember that each and every person we meet, every creature we encounter, has within them the divine spark of the creator perhaps we will be more likely to see their true potential and honor them with love.