Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 22: 34-46
Music: Draw the Circle Wide; What Faith Can Do
You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Thank you to Tammy MacKay-Oxner for sharing the gift of music with us.
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and Andy’s prayers for this week.
We’ve also resumed our Children’s Time videos, the first of which you can find at:
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
It is late in the game; the plot is thickening. Tensions are rising and the stakes are increasing. His opponents have tried almost every trick they could think of to discredit him and their disdain for him is increasing. Rival factions are coming together and coordinating their attacks on Jesus. Events are rapid fire:
– Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and overturns the money changers tables in the Temple.
– The Herodians are first to attack but his response silences them.
– The Sadducees think they have him with a question his authority, but his response silences them too.
– Then, the heavy hitters, the Pharisees take aim with a trick question about what is the most important of the 613 laws.
We know his response, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
It was not what his opponents expected. Matthew writes, “From that day forward they did not dare to ask him any more questions.” It is as if Jesus dropped the mic and walked away.
Loving God and loving your neighbour seem like such simple ideas don’t they? It makes sense to us. But, we all smile because most of us have had that neighbour who can be hard to love. (Maybe, not as extreme as Andy’s example in our opening conversation, but nevertheless, there are some neighbours who are hard to love.) Loving God and loving neighbour sounds simple; it is the execution that is hard.
The word love complicates our understanding at times. Biblically, the primary component of this kind of love is commitment, not affection. To love means to be stubborn and unwavering in our commitment even when we may not especially like our neighbor. As one commentator said, “Loving our neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean we need to feel affection for them. To love our neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously.”
Amy Jill Levine, the Jewish New Testament scholar tells a classic story of Rebbe Mosche Leib of Sassov (1745–1807). As the account goes, the rebbe had announced to his disciples, “I have learned how we must truly love our neighbor from a conversation between two villagers which I overheard”:
The first said: “Tell me, friend Ivan, do you love me?”
The second: “I love you deeply.”
The first: “Do you know, my friend, what gives me pain?”
The second: “How can I, pray, know what gives you pain?”
The first: “If you do not know what gives me pain, how can you say that you truly love me?”
“Understand, then, my sons (and daughters),” continued the rebbe, “to love, truly to love, means to know what brings pain to your comrade.” (Amy Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, pp 116)
In these days, especially as I read social media or watch so-called political debates if someone disagrees, the other person doesn’t listen very deeply or respectfully. They react as if the other person is not as smart, or insightful or informed as they are. They just swing back as hard as they can and the tension escalates.
In these days, civility seems to be forgotten and disagreements can escalate quickly into personal attacks that are nasty and mean spirited. As a result, polarization increases and we become more and more divided. We fail to see our neighbours – as neighbours. We often see them as someone who wants to take something away from us or someone who is different or who is less deserving. We fail to stubbornly love the other. Ultimately, we fail to love to love our neighbour.
It is not just across borders that I see this type of behaviour but in our own backyard. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned having travelled to Esgenoôpetitj in 2000 with our former Moderator Stan MacKay, who is a Cree from Northern Manitoba. Tensions were high over the First Nations decision to exercise their treaty right to fish lobster based on the Supreme Court Marshall Decision. That night, as we broke bread with some of the United Church members there, I was shocked and embarrassed by the racial slurs and racism we encountered. Stan called some of them on some of the things they said. He was right and justified to do so.
As I look at the situation, just a few miles from us in Saulnierville and watch the intimidation and violence and listen to the slurs it is deja’ vu from 20 years ago.
For 20 years, there has been no reasonable progress made in providing a moderate fishery for First Nations there. For 20 years, the lobster fishery has been extremely profitable but there has been no room made at the table for those who have a legal and treaty right.
Our current Moderator, Richard Bott and Murray Pruden who is the Executive Minister for Indigenous Ministries and Justice have issued a letter on behalf of the denomination. In part it talks about our background as a church that has worked for right relations. They say, as a church, we cannot remain silent in opposing racism in all of its forms. They acknowledge, “that we still have work to do on this,… but (we) have learned from the work already done that there is no other moral or ethical choice.” The Mi’kmaq deserve justice.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. insisted: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
As Christians we are called to love our neighbor; that is not always easy is it? Especially when we think that our view, our perspective is better informed than that of somebody else who is asking for something. But, as the story from the 12th century Jewish Rabbi helps us see, loving our neighbor means we have to listen to understand the pain and the trauma that shapes and forms them. Sometimes the pain and trauma are not just in the moment but pain and trauma that can be rooted in decades or even centuries of injustice.
God invites us to listen, to put down our guard and just listen. Especially, when there is pain and trauma involved. It is hard work. It is not fun. It doesn’t matter if it is in Bethlehem, Saulnierville or across the fence. But when you do, you can see your neighbor with a different set of eyes. You can learn to love them and in so doing see a little more clearly the world that God desires for all people and for all of the creation.
May we live in justice and peace with all of our neighbours.
Holy One, Source of Life and Love, we give you thanks:
for this new day, for the chance to hear your Word;
for the gift of friends, family and this community of faith;
for leaders and volunteers, for new faces and familiar ones;
we give you thanks.
We ask that you draw near, now, Living God, to hear the prayers we offer, in the places where we are and together in spirit, for the renewal of life.
God of Hope, we count it as a privilege to have peace where we live, and to have systems of law and government that at least seek to be fair and just. Yet, we are also mindful today of those places and people who suffer injustice. Especially today, we pray for the Mi’qimak fishermen of Nova Scotia, made to suffer by the ignorance and fear of others. Open the hearts of those who trade in violence, O God, and bring healing to people divided. Open the eyes of all your people, that we might see strangers as neighbours, and neighbours as friends.
God of Promise, you cast a vision for us of your world mended and your people reconciled. In Jesus, you remind us that we are created in your image of mutual love, invited into relationship with you, each other, and our true selves. Help us to respond to your loving invitation, O God, and to reach out to our neighbours with the love you have shown for us and all your people; meeting cynicism with hope, fear with joy, and loneliness with compassion and care.
God of Healing and Wholeness, we pray for the people of our community of faith, especially those who are ill in body and in spirit. We pray for those who fear leaving their homes, or losing their independence; we pray for those who are concerned for their children, and those who are concerned for their parents. And for those grieve, we pray that your Spirit would attend, encourage and strengthen them.
God of Unending Love, hear us, hold us, and help us to remember that we are all your people, precious in your sight, vessels of your light and life.
Strengthen us and bless us in the days ahead, we pray in the name of the One who comes in your name – Jesus Christ – who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father…