31 October 2021
Not much introduction is needed for this week’s Lectionary. It’s all about love for God and love for neighbour. Whether we explore this through Jesus’ conversation with the legal expert or through Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, the message remains the same: if we’re seeking life, we must go by the way of love.
May our worship lead us deeper into love this week.
Ruth 1:1-18: Naomi, who had settled in Moab with her husband, returns to her homeland after her husband and sons die, leaving her with only her daughters-in-law. Though she instructs the two women to return to their parents’ homes, Ruth insists on staying with Naomi and returning with her to Israel.
OR Deuteronomy 6:1-9: In order to enjoy a long and prosperous life, Moses instructs the people of Israel to follow God’s laws faithfully. In particular, the great commandment to love God with heart, soul and strength must be taught and included in every facet of life.
Psalm 146: A psalm of praise celebrating God’s protection and provision for those who trust in God, the Creator and redeemer of all, and encouraging them not to place their trust in human leaders.
OR Psalm 119:1-8: Thanksgiving for the joy that God’s decrees bring, confession of weakness in following God’s ways, and a prayer for God’s help in being obedient.
Hebrews 9:11-14: Christ, the high priest entered God’s holy place with his own blood as a sacrifice for our deliverance, which is much more effective than the blood of bulls and goats.
Mark 12:28-34: When a legal expert asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replies that it is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. Then he adds that the second is like it, and is to love one’s neighbour as oneself. The expert replies that Jesus has spoken well, and Jesus tells him that he not far from God’s Reign.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The two themes that come together in this week’s readings are the Great Commandment to love God and neighbour, and the protection and prosperity that is enjoyed by those who follow God’s laws. In Ruth’s story, it is her love for Naomi that cements their relationship and ensures that they are both, in a sense, protected as they face the tough journey back to Naomi’s home. In Deuteronomy, Moses instructs God’s people to love God with their whole beings, as this law is the guarantee of a good life. The psalms both celebrate God’s care for those who follow God’s ways, and ask for God’s strength to stay faithful. The Gospel has Jesus teaching that love for God and neighbour is the greatest commandment. Only the Hebrews reading seems a little out of place, except that it in his sacrifice that Jesus demonstrates his love for us, and reveals what true love for God and neighbour are all about. The message of the Lectionary, then, is that in obedience to God’s commandments we find a life of goodness and we are protected from much of the evil and brokenness of our world. This is not in a “reward for good behaviour” sense, but in the simple sense that God’s commands point us to the way that life works best both for the individual and for the collective. And, of course, all of God’s commands can be summarised in the simple, but difficult, calling to love God and neighbour.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
So many of the world’s problems ultimately stem from a lack of love: economic crises as a result of greed and stinginess; war and conflict as a result of hatred and exalting the needs and agendas of the self and one’s own particular group; climate change as a result of failure to love what God has made; relationship breakdown through failure to love one another and even ourselves effectively. In a culture of “me-first”, personal development and individual autonomy, our social structures break down because we have simply forgotten the skills of love that hold people together. While love may be seen as a “soft skill” that is impractical and idealistic, the truth is that real, Christlike love, is practical, sacrificial, and very powerful. When we are willing to do the work of love – not confusing it with legalistic observance of exclusionary laws – we grow more sensitive and attentive to the other, we discover our connectedness and our shared humanity, we become more mindful of the consequences of our choices and actions, and we are motivated to live justly and work for justice for the sake of all. It is common sense that when we become more concerned for one another and more aware of, and sensitive to, one another’s needs, the world becomes safer, more peaceful, more just and more prosperous for all.
In every life and every community we know the pain of our inadequate love. Where is this pain felt most sharply in your community today? Do the rich ignore the poor who live right beside them? Are families and marriages falling apart through carelessness and neglect? Are people marginalised because we hold to our own agendas more strongly than to Jesus’ call to love? What might our community begin to look like if we really treated love as the greatest – really, the only – commandment. How different might our neighbourhoods and churches be if, instead of constantly trying to judge who is “right” and “wrong” or “in” and “out”, we gave our energies to trying to love those with whom we disagree, and leave the judging to God? How different might our families be if, instead of constantly striving for our own freedom and self-actualisation, we gave our energies to making our loved ones safer, freer and more whole? Unfortunately, so many of us are so busy trying to get our own needs met first that we are incapable of meeting the needs of others, which causes breakdown in relationships, with all the negative consequences that this brings – greater stress, less productivity and prosperity, increased health problems and societal problems. The paradox is that, when we begin to truly love, and start to put the needs of others before our own, our own needs are more easily and fully satisfied. Learning to love really is the best way to discover the abundant life that Jesus offers.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
A Love So Strong
Love So Easy And So Hard
Loving Through The Storm
Where Is The Love?
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
O Loving Lord Who Art Forever Seeking
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Let There Be Love Shared Among Us (Link to YouTube video)
The Power Of Your Love (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy for Communion
Love Your Neighbour
Where Is The Love?
What About The Love? (Live video of Janis Ian performing this great song)