Open/Close Menu Feed Your Spirit - Fulfill Your Purpose - Feel At Home

Season of Pentecost, week 19, Common Lectionary year A

Loving God’s Neighbour
(Matthew 22:34-40)

Audio version

by Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Most of you are aware that I am a mother.
Of three of the best children in the world.
They’ve grown into witty, full-charactered, loving, sassy,
adults who are making their way in the world.
I am inordinately, passionately, proud of them.
I love them with that parental love that means
I’d move heaven and earth for them one moment,
and cheerfully sell them to the lowest bidder the next!

We know that loving children is a roller coaster of intense emotions,
but it also runs on the train tracks of far less emotional terrain,
like grim determination, tough consistency, sheer drudgery of diapers and school lunches, and “say please” and staying up to make sure they’re home safe, and not staying up so they know you trust them.

If we’ve been the child, or the parent, then we know that
Love is a small world containing a world of meaning.

And “Love” is the point of this passage.
[On the blog I explore the context of Jesus’ encounter with
his Pharisee questioners, but for this morning,
Love is the question, and the point, and the answer.]

When Jesus was asked “Which is the Greatest Commandment”
he replied with a prayer:
Shema Israel, Adonai eluhenu, adonai ehad.
Hear Israel, the Lord is God, God alone.
You shall love this God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind.”
No good Galileean or Judean Jew could go wrong with this answer.
Everyone knew, weaned to it from mother’s milk,
that this was the greatest commandment.

But no sooner has this passed from his lips to their ears
than he adds a huge AND
“Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

“Love God, Love your Neighbour.”
Christians have been quoting this ever since.
As if quoting it would make it easier to do.
But it’s not is it?

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase is a gift to us here,
he says that these two: Loving God and Loving Neighbour
are like two pegs from which we hang everything
we know about life with God, life together, life with others,
life itself.

For many people,
Loving God seems the hardest  of the two:
loving an unseeable mystery with a checkered and sometimes violent past
is not something that the scientific, modern, peace-loving mind is innately trained for.
Isn’t it easier to just get on with loving our neighbour,
being a good citizen, sharing our wealth,
raising our kids with ethical values, staying the right side of law,
and if necessary challenging unjust or inequitable legislation.
This is so much more tangible, doable, than the “loving God” peg.
Can’t we just use the second peg as our great commandment?

Except, we humans have a recurrent habit of spending a lot of time
defining, limiting, delineating the boundaries to our neighbourliness.
We redefine “neighbour” to mean
“loving those who are easy to love”
or “loving those who say thank you”
or “loving those far enough away that we don’t need to become too involved.”
We engage in some mind-blowing social statistical logarithmic miracle that says
“If enough people love their own neighbours,  that will add up to everyone being loved, right?”

Then we read the newspaper. Turn on the news.
We know it hasn’t, doesn’t, won’t quite add up.
Various options are out there to try to make up the shortfall.
Social justice organizations, amnesty international,
interreligious dialogue,
reasonable accommodation hearings.
All these are good, honest attempts to hang our lives and the wellbeing of our human, global society on the “Love Neighbour” peg.
None of them are second rate, all are necessary.
I am NOT saying these are second rate attempts to love our neighbour.

But I’m puzzled by Jesus’ swift reiteration of a millennia old prayer
as the starting point of his
double peg commandment.
Why is the love of God, so necessary that it must be said first?
What difference might loving God make to the way we love neighbour?

There are as many images, concepts, understandings of the
character the personality, or the ineffable hidden mystery of the Divine,
as there are people in the world.
No religious system, no famous scholar, no Sunday preacher
has ‘seen God’ enough to give the  definitive answer.
BUT, we, like Jesus, stand within a tradition that has offered its
partial, limited imaginative propositions
as to why loving God might make the difference we need
in making  “love of neighbour” truly life-giving to all.

A few weeks ago we explored together
Moses’ encounter with God in a burning bush,
God whose name means “I am what I am doing.”
Over the weeks of reading these texts together,
we’ve seen this God’s active,
passionate, eternal commitment
to create, to heal, to renew, to forgive, to rescue,
to protect, to sustain, to uphold,
to be in relationships that heal the weakest and most vulnerable.”

To love this God, is to share this God’s commitments.
To love this God is to love God’s neighbours.
And God’s neighbours are all.
All of us, all of them, all those we can’t stand,
all those we’ve never heard of,
all those strong and mighty,
all those weak and vulnerable,
all these neighbours of God’s become ours.

This is why there are two pegs,
not just love of neighbour peg,
but love of God peg.
Loving as God loves
enables us to
use all our heart, and soul and mind,
our passion our prayer and intelligence,
to make shelters for one another in the storm,
to create places of safety for the weakest and vulnerable,
to speak out for the right to live, and love and laugh and flourish
for all whom God loves.

We get to respond to God’s love in many ways.
We get to marry our passion, our prayer and our intelligence
to God’s call to love God’s neighbours.
Each of you has your own path of neighbour love.
After our hymn, we’ll hear one response,
one way in which these two pegs came together for
Lynn Hovey, in her work with gay and lesbian youth.
As you hear her story, listen for your own.

But first let’s sing.

Read Lynn Hovey’s presentation here.

Follow us: