Do you like Country and Western songs? Sometimes these are called “somebody-done-somebody-wrong songs.” You might have heard the joke that if you play a country song backwards you get back your truck, your dog, your job, and your wife or husband. Perhaps these lyrics are popular in our culture because they acknowledge our difficulties with relationships, but they also speak from the cynical or negative aspects of our culture. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul encouraged the church to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8). But our cynical culture makes it hard to focus on these things, doesn’t it? Sometimes, even the church struggles to shift focus from the cynical and negative. That’s why we began a journey last week to consider matters of the heart.
This week you should have received a letter with a card that asked you to express who you love in the church and why. Let’s focus this week on celebrating those we love and their positive influence in our lives. From the great Shema of the Torah in Deuteronomy to the teaching of Jesus found in John 13, this focus on loving relationship is at the root of the scriptural values of our faith.
Hear the word of the Lord:
[Moses said,] “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.”
[Jesus said,] “A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The Deuteronomy passage is known as the Shema. Shema being the word for “hear” in Hebrew, as in “Hear, O Israel.”
It is said daily by many Jewish people, as part of their daily devotion to God and always said on the Sabbath in the synagogue.
The focus here is the love shown by a subject to a king. In this time before King Saul or King David, the way it was meant to be, God was to be the king of the Israelites. To love King Yahweh is to be his loyal and obedient servant. The idea of love for God and neighbor builds on the love that the Lord has for his people and his identification with them. Such love is to be total, involving one’s whole being. To love with one’s heart, one’s soul, one’s strength, everything that you have.
In the Christian faith, we focus on the teaching of the Shema through of the teaching of Jesus. One of the ways we express our love for God is through our love for one another. This is a clear expectation of our faith. Do you find this difficult sometimes?
A quote of the Shema appears in all three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Though the word “mind” is added. In Matthew Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In Luke’s version, the expert in the law goes on to ask Jesus, “and who is my neighbor.” Jesus replies with the story of the Good Samaritan.
A man has been attacked been left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and a Pharisee come by at different times and do nothing for this man, but someone else comes by who does help. It is the least likely person to do anything, a Samaritan. This was surprising because Samaritans and Jews did not get along at all during this time period. But, this was the person who helped. This was the person who was a good neighbor.
We love God, by loving creation, taking care of the things he called us to take care of, like the earth, our church. We love God by taking care of each other. The world is our neighbor.
In the new command from Jesus in John chapter 13, he extends this love of neighbor a step further. Jesus says this during the Lord’s Supper as he is trying one last time to prepare the disciples for his death. He is leaving, and he wants the disciples, his followers to take care of each other, so much, so well, that they are known for it.
We are called to do the same. We are called to love one another and take care of each other, to take care of the things entrusted to us and to do it in the spirit and manner that Christ loves us. He said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
One way we show our love is through our extravagant generosity. Being generous with our time and our attention, not figuring out what is the least that fulfills a requirement, but what we freely give of ourselves from a place of love.
As we continue this second Sunday of our stewardship focus on Extravagant Generosity, many of us are reading through the weeks of Robert Schnase’s devotional guide, Practicing Extravagant Generosity.
In the Friday reading for Week Two, the author describes how practicing Extravagant Generosity is a fundamental activity because we ourselves have been recipients of Extravagant Generosity:
Every sanctuary and chapel in which we have worshiped, every church organ that has lifted our spirits, every pew where we have sat, every Communion rail where we have knelt, every hymnal from which we have sung, every praise band that has touched our hearts, every church classroom where we have gathered with our friends, every church kitchen that has prepared our meals, every church van that has taken us to camp, every church camp cabin where we have slept—all are the fruit of someone’s Extravagant Generosity.
We have been the recipients of grace upon grace. We are the heirs, the beneficiaries of those who came before us who were touched by the generosity of Christ enough to give graciously so that we could experience the truth of Christ for ourselves. We owe the same to generations to come. We have worshiped in sanctuaries that we did not build, so to us falls the privilege of building sanctuaries where we shall never worship. (pp. 41–42)
This week you celebrated people you love in the church. Consider an appropriate way to express your appreciation of these gifts of grace. Find a way this week to say I love you to your family members as well. Next week, we will explore what we would most like to see happen in our church in the coming year. What is your greatest hope and best vision for God work through this congregation?