The Greatest Commandment
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Every week, during the prelude of our church’s worship service, we have this question, “Where have you seen beauty this week?” Now, I know with Covid, we’ve had to make adjustments to our Sunday mornings, so I haven’t been asking many questions at the beginning of sermons in order to get folks out quickly as we can’t be inside too long together. Which is wild, I know, but even in this season of wilderness, of a new formation of our church, a deepening of our discipleship and faith, and even a time of grieving in many ways, we have seen amazing beauty.
Since before I arrived, this church was asking how to be a community engaged church, going from the outside-in…how to see the beauty of God’s work going on already in our neighborhoods and how to follow God there. This is a conversation that is going across the church universal as we move away from a corporate business model of church towards a more relational, neighborhood based church. In this process, we move towards a listening and seeing presence in order to see God’s work in and around us.
I have shared this story before, but I was reminded of it this week. Several years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who worked for Vida Joven in Nicaragua. We were talking about the concept of doing ministry in a certain way, we had a phrase for this way that probably comes from the business world: “quality of excellence”. This means that we want to do ministry at a high level, we want to do it well, pour in resources, and make it attractive. There is some good to that, but it’s not what they strive for with Young Life in Nicaragua much anymore…they don’t have all the resources that we have in the states, so they strive for something better: “beauty”. It’s beautiful to see teenagers sitting on a hill at a camp sharing life, laughing and crying together. It’s beautiful to see folks believing in each other and giving and receiving grace. As you see that beauty, you begin the pathway towards depth and deep love.
I believe that this pathway to love is demonstrated in this morning’s scripture passage. Our passage in Matthew 22:36-40 that Cindy read earlier finds Jesus in the midst of four debates with Jewish religious leaders. Jesus had been doing well, so the religious leaders were going to try a theological question, “Teacher, what’s the greatest commandment?” They were asking a question with the intent of trapping Jesus, a familiar refrain with these gospel lessons, they wanted to put Jesus in some sort of religious box.
Jesus takes this question and gives a beautiful answer in two parts. The first part is this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment.”
These words have power and intimacy. We are to love God with all we’ve got, everything. God does not want to be number one our list, God permeates everything on our list and it’s our job to cultivate a recognition of that. All of our lives are interpreted and have meaning through this love for God and God’s love for us. God created us out of love. In God’s very nature of being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…the Trinity, there is deep relationship bonded by love that created us, saved us, and sustains us…this God loves us so much, and the love that God has for us and has placed within creation, believes in us and gives us the capacity to love others and love God and even draws us up into the community of the Trinity.
This love also gives us the ability to love ourselves and to see the beauty within ourselves. We cannot truly love our neighbors until we begin to see how valuable we are within ourselves. God created us good and in his image. As we recognize that, we become our true selves and we can then begin to love God and to love our neighbors.
Of course, that begs the question then, who are our neighbors? Well, everyone really. The folks we live next door to, the folks on the other side of town, folks across the world really. We are called to see everyone as being made in the image of God. That can be hard sometimes, folks are different, have different tastes, cultures, personalities, mannerisms. I get that we simply don’t get along with folks at times. We have former friends or even family members who may have wounded us deeply. Yet, God calls us to simply love, which requires a lot of hard work of self-reflection, cultivating our identity with God, and wisdom in how to deal with the persons around us.
I believe that God calls the church to do this as well as a community of faith. But, it requires an “outside-in” mentality. So many times in churches we start from the inside and create “stuff” for people to come to, then we’re surprised when folks don’t show up. What we should probably do is start from outside the church, talk to people, hear their desires, and let them co-create something with us. As we do this, we begin to recognize the beauty all around us as we focus on others.
So, where do we start doing this as a church.
- Know that God has placed you where you are in your neighborhood and church. So often in church we talk in terms of scarcity, not enough money, not enough people, not enough vision, etc. Yet, I believe in a God of abundance! All that God needs for beautiful things to happen, for community transformation, is present in this room. You are enough.
- Practice gratitude and practice life together
- Listen to yourself honestly. Don’t be afraid to look into the darkness of your own life. You won’t be alone there, God is present everywhere. Get a spiritual director that will listen to God with you. Be in community with others.
- Listen to your neighborhood. Get involved in the local school, ask local business leaders what they see or need, open the doors of the church to civic groups, meet for coffee with folks from other churches. Don’t have an agenda other than building relationships and being curious about what God may be up to in your community. Then, get behind what God is already doing and get into that sweet spot where God’s Spirit will carry you.
Know that seeing beauty and being a part of the beauty of God’s relational and community work is simple, yet it’s also the hardest thing that we’ll ever do. There is a lot of darkness in this world, we do have a lot of distractions. Yet, God is with us and the time is now to be faithfully present with each other and with God and to be a part of God’s kingdom presence and transformation in our lives and communities.
My good friend Bart Campolo a several years and lifetimes ago summed up this Matthew passage with this phrase: “Love God. Love others. Nothing else matters.” Friends, you are loved and you have loved. May we continue on and grow deeper in our understanding of what it means to see beauty in each other, in ourselves, and in God’s vibe throughout our city.