THEME: How Then Do We Love?
Halloween!!, Ordinary Time (green)
What do we learn about what is “first of all” in our faith? The answer lies in what Jesus says next to the scribe. To love God and neighbour is to be near to the realm of God. In Mark’s day, and today, the real question that follows is whether those who hear these words will live these commands. Will we
love God with all that we are and have? Will we love our neighbours by letting “justice roll down like waters,” as the prophet Amos calls us to do? (Amos 5:24a)
SCRIPTURE: Mark 12:28–34 (Inclusive Bible)
One of the religious scholars who had listened to them debating and had observed how well Jesus had answered them, now came up and put a question to him: “Which is the foremost of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “This is the foremost: ‘Hear, O Israel, God, our God, is one. You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” The scholar said to Jesus, “Well spoken, Teacher! What you have said is true: the Most High is one and there is no other. To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself—this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice.” Jesus, seeing how wisely this scholar had spoken, said, “You are not far from the kin-dom of God.” And after that no one dared to question Jesus anymore.
One: This is the witness of The Church,
Many: thanks be to God!
THE MESSAGE: “Reformation Through Love, Love, Love” by Rev. Tracy Robertson
In addition to October 31st being Halloween, one of the highest holy days in Wicca (a little shout-out to my Wiccan siblings), it’s also Reformation Day. October 31, 1517 was the day that the monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Electorate of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire. Now, I understand that the nailing of one’s disputations (or arguments) to the door of All Saints’ Church, also known as Castle Church, was quite normal in those days. It was a way for people to voice their concerns publicly – 16th century twitter. Luther’s 95 Theses were a part of a letter he wrote to the Archbishop of Mainz protesting against the sale of indulgences which was a well-known Catholic method of exploitation in the Middle Ages; it was a monetary payment of penalty which, supposedly, absolved one of past sins and/or released one from purgatory after death. Apparently, Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, but there was an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus (Roman General), build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”. I think a lot of us here at St. Thomas would have liked Luther and his stances. He also objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [‘into heaven’] springs.” Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances. So great. The nailing of the Ninety-five Theses sparked the discussion about Catholic beliefs and practices of the day and is now seen as sparking the Reformation; from which evolved our denomination, The United Church of Canada.
Luther’s encouragement and challenge to Christians to ‘not slacken in following Christ’ is at the heart of today’s scripture reading. Jesus knew those words. Friends knew those words. Parents knew those words. The teachers knew those words. From the time they were very little children they would all hear those words and know what they mean. Love God with all your might. So when Jesus was asked by a religious leader which rule is the most important, it was an easy answer. But Jesus in his strategic wisdom added to the most important rule by saying we must love others, and to love ourselves, too. Love God, love neighbour, love self. Love, love, love. Out of the over 600 laws and rules that needed to be followed in Jesus’ day, he simplified it all with the word love. Jesus brings these commands together in a way that very intentionally links love, justice, and self-care. Actually, it defines love as being justice and self-care. Love God by loving neighbour and self. Maybe it’s not three loves (God, neighbour, and self)? What if it’s one love (love God) and that one love is achieved by loving neighbour and self? We often describe God by saying “God is love”. Loving God with all our might is loving love with all our might. Sharing THAT love with others and ourselves is what it’s all about.
When one of the ex-offenders I support ended back in jail because he breached his conditions, I knew it was coming. I warned him that his behaviour was showing signs of complacency and that he was moving closer and closer to breaching. When he was caught, I wasn’t surprised. I admit I had a moment of thinking he deserved to go back to jail. Never in those emotions, though, did I stop loving him as a human being. My disappointment comes precisely because I care about him. I know many of you can attest to those feelings of anger and disappointment in the midst of still loving someone. Loving with all our might means we’re “all in” and that comes with the risk of disappointment and anger. Loving my neighbour has never been a struggle for me, but loving self, that’s a different story. I admit that loving myself has always been my biggest challenge, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. I still struggle with the concept of loving myself, but it was my experience of caring for those society deems as the lowest, that had me start working on loving myself, too. The ex-offenders themselves asked me why wasn’t I showing myself the same love I showed them? That journeying with sexual offenders resulted in them teaching me to look after myself. They reminded me that I’m as worthy of love from myself as they are of receiving love from me. On a very personal level, I need to pay attention to today’s scripture and the people who care about me, reminding me to love myself and look after myself as much as I love and look after others. As Todd says, if I have a sore arm and refuse to go to the doctor to have it treated, and there’s an emergency and I need that arm to save someone else, I won’t be able to do it. The importance of loving ones’ self comes down to this: we can’t possibly share grace if we’re carrying our own guilt. We can’t offer comfort if we’re disheartened. And we certainly can’t lift someone else’s load if our arms are full, carrying our own loads.
Friday morning’s meditation from Richard Rohr was entitled: Being God’s Somebody. Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry shares how knowing we are “God’s somebody” allows us to love ourselves and others. Bishop Curry says: I’ve come to see that the call of God, the love that bids us welcome, is always a call to become the true you. . . . Not an imitation of someone else. The true you: someone made in the image of God, deserving of, and receiving love. There is a Jewish proverb, “Before every person there marches an angel proclaiming, ‘Behold, the image of God.’” Unselfish, sacrificial living isn’t about ignoring or denying or destroying yourself. It’s about discovering your true self—the self that looks like God—and living life from that grounding. Today’s scripture is familiar to many of us: You shall love your neighbour as you love yourself. Yourself. Loving the self is a required balance. If we fail in that, we fail our neighbour, too. To love your neighbour is to relate to them as someone made in the image of the God. But it’s also about relating to yourself as someone made in the image of the God. The ability to love yourself is intimately related to your capacity to love others. The challenge is creating a life that allows you to fulfill both needs. This challenge from Luther and from Jesus is like the title of a self-help book: “Love God With All Your Might” and the subtitle being “Loving Your Neighbour and Yourself”. In other words, loving God with all our might, is sharing God’s love with neighbour and self. As Frederick Buechner put it in his book, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, sharing godly love in this way liberates our true selves to allow us to fully live and discover that place where “your deep gladness and the world’s great hunger meet”.
So, we continue to be challenged by Jesus through people like Martin Luther and Bishop Curry and Frederick Buechner: our job is to plant seeds of love, and to keep on planting, even—or especially—when bad weather comes. It’s unrealistic to think we can know the grand plan, how our small actions fits into the larger whole. All we can do is check ourselves, again and again: Do my actions look like love? If they are truly loving, then they are part of the grand movement of love in the world, which is the movement of God in the world. . . . It is impossible to know, in the moment, how a small act of goodness will reverberate through time. The notion is empowering and it is frightening—because it means that we’re all capable of literally changing the world, and responsible for finding those opportunities to protect, feed, grow, and guide love. May we make it so. Amen
References: Richard Rohr Daily Meditation: Michael Curry with Sara Grace, Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times (Avery: 2020), 95–96, 97, 134, 139.