Deacon Sheila M. Scott
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
If you recall last week’s gospel reading, the Pharisees tested Jesus with the question “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor”…
In this week’s gospel reading, a lawyer tests Jesus with the question “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”. The Law refers to the first five books of the OT, called the Pentateuch. It contains 613 different individual commandments (248 positive and 365 negative commandments). By identifying the greatest commandment, the greatest sin could automatically be revealed. The greatest sin would be to disobey the greatest commandment.
Jesus answers the question with: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”. With this answer, Jesus proves his fidelity to the Jewish tradition. The Pharisees have to retreat, once again.
Jesus in effect tells the Pharisees, who were legalistic and rules oriented, it does not matter how many rules you keep, if you fail to put God first, it does not matter what else you do in life, you are not doing His will.
So God commands us to love him. Can you command someone to love you? Not if we think of a love based on feelings. Unfortunately the English language only has one word for all three kinds of love identified in Greek:
1, Eros – the love of desire and longing, is based on strong feelings; and we all know how these feelings can change over time.
2, Philos – the love one feels for a brother or sister, a friend;
This kind of love is also based on feelings and can change.
3, Agape – is the love God showers on us and commands us to have towards him and others. It is a willingness to give everything you are to everything God is. This love is not determined by our feelings, it is a set of behaviors or actions; it is a commitment. With agape love you do not have to actually feel anything to give it.
It is really simple. To love God the way He wants to be loved is to obey Him and do what he commands. God is like any parent, who wants two things: love and obedience. Jesus said: “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love Me” (John 14:21).
So how do we develop this agape love towards God and our neighbors?
Any relationship requires a firm commitment. We would never expect a marriage, or a friendship to last if it is not nurtured, attended to. A relationship requires both parties to commit in order to make it successful. Why would that be any different with a relationship with God? If we think we can ignore him all week, and then come to church on Sunday and believe that we fulfilled our commitment to Him, we are sorely mistaken.
As the saying goes, sitting in church does not make you a Christian just like sitting in the garage does not make you a car.
We develop agape love towards God and our neighbor by giving of our time, talents and treasure.
First, we love God with our time. Cultivating a relationship with God takes time. It requires daily commitment by praying, reading scripture, devotions, daily offices, meditating, spending time listening. We may not FEEL anything, but we are connecting with our creator deep down in our soul, and we are learning the AGAPE love that he is showering us with. We learn to follow God’s commandments because we want to, not because we have to, as we were told when we were children. A child does things in order to avoid punishment from God, an adult who learns to love God, follows His commandments because of love and obedience.
Second, we love God with our talents, when we use the gifts he gave us to serve other people. Lewis L. Austin in This I Believe, wrote: “Our maker gave us two hands. One to hold unto him and one to reach out to his people. If our hands are full of struggling to get possessions, we can’t hang onto God or to others very well. If, however, we hold onto God, who gave us our lives, then his love can flow through us and out to our neighbor”.
The wonderful thing is, we all have different gifts. I am a nurse, and use that gift to serve veterans in my daily work and the homeless in my volunteer work.
Those in the choir have gifts that are unique to them. Just as much as I could not join the choir, and not run all of you out of church with my voice, so some of the choir members may pass out at the first sight of blood if they tried to do my work.
Or take David, he is the best at collecting the offerings at the 8 AM service. He has a unique way of engaging people, I have not seen anyone else quite as gifted.
I recently saw a video in which the father of one of the Sandy Hook children was talking about the gift his 6 year old son had. He would routinely approach and engage any child who was alone, who had no one to talk to or play with. It is ironic that this child was killed by a young man who was a loner, who did not fit in with others. The father stated, he hoped other children would follow in his late son’s footsteps, reach out to others, to avoid tragedies such as the one that took his little boy’s life. God only knows, we need a lot of caring and reaching out in this hurting world.
Each and every one of us has a unique gift that can be used to the glory of God. Please consider your gift, and use it to help your neighbor in need, wherever he or she may be. The smallest act of kindness can have lasting impact. In St. Therese of Lisieux’s words:
“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love”.
As all of you know, loving our neighbor is not always easy. We wish we could pick and choose our neighbors, but we do not have that luxury. God calls us to show agape love to all, those who we feel deserve it and those who we feel do not. It is not up to us to decide who is worthy. God is God and we are not. We are called to care, not to judge.
Third, we love God with our treasure. One of the ways that we know our love for God is real, is when we give financially because we want to, not because we feel we have to. When we realize everything we are, and everything we have is a gift from God, we want to give to glorify him and further his kingdom.
I would like to close with the prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope; where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to
Be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.