29 October 2023

Two significant passages form the basis for worship this week in the Lectionary: The Great Commandment and the death of Moses. Depending on whether you are following the Gospel or the continuous Old Testament readings, you may focus on only one of these, but the connections between the two are also a wonderful springboard for this week’s worship. In so many ways Moses, who struggled with the people of Israel for so long, is a challenging example of what it means to love God and neighbour.

However we may approach it, though, this week we will be unable to avoid the challenge to love better, to love more widely, and to love more passionately.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12: Moses climbs Mount Nebo and views the whole of the promised land. Then he dies, but no one knows where his grave is. After the thirty day mourning period, Joshua takes over as leader of the Israelites.

OR Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18: God commands Moses to tell the people to be holy as God is holy. Commands are then given that they must deal justly and fairly with one another, and must love their neighbours as they love themselves.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17: A prayer accredited to Moses, praising God for God’s greatness, God’s help for God’s people and God’s calling of the people to turn back to God. Also a plea for God’s kindness to be with God’s people and for God to sustain their work.
OR Psalm 1: A song in celebration of the righteous whose lives are built on God’s commands, and who, unlike the wicked, bear fruit and prosper.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8: A description of the faithful ministry of the apostles among the Thessalonians, in spite of persecution – a ministry approved by God, free from impure motives or boasting, not seeking special treatment, but caring and gentle.

Matthew 22:34-46: Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, and he replies that it is to love God with everything and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Then he asks whose son the Messiah is. When the religious leaders reply that he is David’s son, Jesus asks why David refers to the Messiah as “Lord” – and no one is able to give an answer.

The Great Commandment resonates powerfully through this week in the Lectionary. It’s significant that this is what ends the great debate between Jesus and the religious leaders in the Gospel reading – even in confrontation, the focus of Jesus is on love. The related Old Testament reading (Leviticus) gives the original reference for the second part of the commandment, about loving our neighbours. In the continuous Old Testament readings we come to the end of Moses’ life on the brink of the promised land. Moses power in leading the Israelite people is praised in this account, which evokes the memory, not just of Moses’ mighty works, but also of his great patience and care for God’s people – a quality which, although not specifically mentioned here, certainly contributed to his greatness. The Psalm of Moses, however, definitely picks up Moses’ compassion and love as he pleads (as he often did) for God to care for and be kind to God’s people. Psalm 1 connects with the Gospel, celebrating those who obey God’s laws which, in this case, relates specifically to those who live in love of God and of neighbour. Finally, the letter to the Thessalonians gives a description of a ministry that is performed in grace and love, which is focussed on bringing others into the joy of the love of God, and which expresses deep love for the people to whom the ministry is being offered. In many ways, this is a picture of what obedience to the Great Commandment looks like in practice. There can be no question this week – the Scriptures never let us off the hook of love.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: In the world of war, climate change, poverty, economic crisis and dread diseases, love may appear to be powerless and irrelevant. This may be because our view of love is so often informed not by Jesus, but by Hollywood. When love is nothing more than a feeling that one “falls” into and out of, it has nothing to say the big issues we face. But, when love is lived as Jesus did – practically, sacrificially, passionately and justly – it speaks directly to the root causes of our struggles. Ultimately all of our dealings in the world will grow out of one of two sources. If fear is the primary driver of our lives, we will ensure we have more than enough weaponry to protect us and we will easily attack any person or country we perceive as a threat. If fear is our foundation, we will hoard our wealth, and we will grab what we can with little concern for the impact on others or on our environment. When fear is our foundation, we will tend to minimise care and compassion for those who are unrelated to us or different from us. But, when love is our foundation, everything changes. Love drives us to seek connection and understanding, not war. Love drives us to share what we have so that all may have their needs met. Love leads us to think carefully about how we treat our environment and how we use our resources, and how we deal with those who are suffering, even if they are unrelated to us. Authentic love is expressed in practical efforts to bring justice, in tough and vulnerable peacemaking, in concern for the “least” and most vulnerable. Authentic love recognises the connections and interdependence between all people and between us and our world. Authentic love is the most desperately needed, and most powerful, solution to the tough struggles of our time. The challenge is whether we are prepared to embrace love, to live love, to “preach” love and to work to spread love through the world. Can we allow love to be the primary force behind our voting, our ethics, our morality, our social participation and our interactions. If we can and do, we will discover that, little by little, the world begins to shift further along a trajectory of compassion.

LOCAL APPLICATION: It should be common sense, and yet, love is so often rejected as a “strategy” for engaging other people in our communities and neighbourhoods. There is never a shortage of opportunities to express the kind of authentic love that Jesus practiced. Within our own homes and families, when we prioritise showing love, we discover deepened relationships, higher commitment levels, and the kind of self-giving serving of one another that enables us to navigate whatever conflicts may arise. In our churches, when we make love the primary framework within which we engage each other, we find ourselves learning from one another, celebrating our differences and making space for the needs of others. In this environment, conflicts over style of music, times of worship, and ministry priorities become less important and are much easier to navigate. In addition, when love is the driver of our ministry, the surrounding community inevitably feels and notices the difference. Those who struggle financially are able to find support and dignity in the church. Those who seek God are welcomed, even though they may think or act differently. Those who find themselves in crisis discover a place of safety and comfort and help. This has always been how the Church should look, but unfortunately, we have too often allowed our fear to trump our love, and we have become a people who too easily shut others out, point fingers and pronounce judgment. It is not our condemnation of others, nor our fear of them, that will lead us to God’s life. Rather, it is our striving to live out the self-giving love of Christ that will bring life to those around us and those who are share in our community. Somehow we know this, but fail to live it. Perhaps this week our worship can help us to let what we know become what we do.

Where Is The Love
A Love So Strong
Love In Action
Whispers Of Love And Justice

Hymn Suggestions:
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
To Fill The World With Love (In the morning of my life) (Link to YouTube video)
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy For Communion

Video Suggestions:
Love Your Neighbour