Andrea is an ordinand studying with SEITE, who is with us on a church placement for two months.
Have you ever tried to flush rice krispies down the toilet? I once had a bowlful to get rid of, and so I tipped them down the toilet. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time! But they just don’t go! Three days later there were still a few floating around.
Which leads us nicely into our Bible readings for today. Both readings set very high standards for us, and might at times make us feel quite inadequate.
Do you remember last week Anne talked about paying taxes to Caesar? How the Pharisees and Herodians came together to try to trick Jesus by asking him a difficult question, and his answer amazed and silenced them, and so they went away with their tails between their legs and no doubt rather irritated that they hadn’t got the better of him. Well, Later the Pharisees heard that the Sadducees had also tried to trap Jesus with a difficult question, and he had stunned the Sadducees into silence as well. So you can imagine the Pharisees in verse 34 getting together and plotting how to trap Jesus with their questioning and have one-upmanship on the Sadducees. So one of their top men, an expert in the law, tested him with this question. (He ‘interrogated’ him, not nice to be interrogated by a lawyer, and would have been intended to intimidate Jesus) So their best man asks him ‘Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ The reason that this could have been a trick question was because it was really a no brainer. It was a bit like asking someone is the Pope a Catholic? And it was such an easy question because if you were a religious Jew, as Jesus was, then you knew the answer off by heart. Jews were taught a prayer called the Shema, which they had to say twice every day, morning and evening. It was also meant to be the last thing that they said before they die if possible. ‘Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad’ et.c. ‘ Hear, O Israel, the lord your God is one Lord, .. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’
Twice a day they had to say it, with their right hand covering their eyes so they could concentrate on the words, and they still do, you can see versions of it on Youtube. (It is so much a part of the Jewish tradition, that after the second world war, one way used to find Jewish children that had been hidden away in orphanages and convents, was by saying the shema, and all the Jewish children would instinctively put their right hand over their eyes, so deeply ingrained was the learning from such an early age.)
And they asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. He might well have answered, ‘well, der! ‘
But he goes one better and to this law from Deuteronomy he adds the one from our reading in Leviticus. He then tells that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments, they depend on them, without them all the other laws don’t make sense. These 2 laws are the baby, and the others are the bathwater. In a way he gave an A level answer to a GCSE question. Again he left them unable to condemn him for his answer. But then he asks them an even more complex question they can’t answer about Whose son is the Christ? The point of this was not to say that Jesus was not the son of David, But he wanted to establish that one greater than David was here. You see the Pharisees were looking for a messiah that had similar military strength and prowess to that which David had had. Jesus was saying that you have misunderstood, you’ve got it wrong. That is not the sort of Messiah that is coming.
So what does this have to do with us now, in our everyday lives?
We are told to be Holy, and Love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.
Fortunately for us we don’t need to worry too much about being holy. Follow Jesus and you will be made holy - Hebrews 10 vs 14. ‘For by one sacrifice God has made forever perfect those who are being made holy’. It’s the great difference between Christianity and every other faith. In other faiths you have to build up your good deeds or karma and work your way to god, climbing the ladder towards him. Christianity is the only faith in which God himself climbs down the ladder to us (as God incarnate in Christ) and pays the price for our sin and shortcomings.
But what about the commandment to love; God, and our neighbours as ourselves?
Love is a funny word in English. We only have one word to mean a lot of things.
I love my children, my friends. And I love the skin on rice pudding.
But what does love mean to each one of us? What is love? It’s not just a feeling or an emotion, although it certainly evokes feelings. To say it is just an action, something we have to do, is to make it cold and clinical and robs it of its joy and life.
What love is, is our greatest calling from our creator. It is the reason for our being. It is why we are.
But, we might say, I don’t know how to love all the time. I can love some people some of the time, but not everyone all of the time. And sometimes my love tanks run dry and I can’t give any more, and sometimes people really irritate me.
To love can be a tough call, especially if you haven’t had any good examples; or if like me you once said, ‘I don’t know what love is’.
We might struggle to define love, but we know what shape it is, it is the shape of the cross, where Jesus surrendered everything and showed that he was totally committed to us.
He said, as the father has loved me, so I have loved you, now remain in my love (John 15 v 9). He is our example, our pattern.
But you know there is only one way to learn how to love more, and that is by letting yourself be loved.
Joseph Hart knew what love was. The writer of our last hymn. He could really immerse himself in God’s love and was secure in it. As a young man he was very anti-religious, believing that you only had to believe in God and then behave how you wanted to (a libertine antinomian), and wrote a leaflet called ‘The Unreasonableness of Religion’ – particularly aimed against John Wesley. But then eventually he was convicted of his sin and selfishness and after a personal revelation of God’s love, became a Christian in 1757. He became a popular minister and wrote over 30 hymns. He was forgiven much, and he loved much. How good is the God we adore. His love is as great as his power – just think of that! Yes, his love can melt even the hardest heart. No-one is out of his reach. Not even you.
How can we receive Gods love? Through each other, thorough the different examples of human love which should be a reflection of God’s love for us. Through his love letter, the Bible. Through the majesty of his creation. By spending time with Him and listening to him. By soaking in his presence. And the drier you are, the longer you need to soak in his love. Just like my rice Krispies. Of course you are not filled to overflowing to be flushed away like they were, but to be made complete and to touch others with his love, like Joseph Hart was.
As humans we also need examples and symbols. In a few minutes we will be celebrating Holy Communion. As you take the bread & wine, remember that this is a symbol that Jesus gave everything he had for you because to him you are the most precious and treasured person. Feed on his love and acceptance. Be filled with it, dive into it, splash around in it, breath it in, delight in it, soak in it, and then you will have plenty to give away.
Love is the shape of the cross and love is our greatest calling.