First I half thought it would be easy to write a sermon for today. Today is the day which many places observe as ‘Bible Sunday’, and if we wanted to summarise the Bible today, if there was one message we should never tire of hearing and of teaching it is Love, the greatest, first and second commandment.
Then I thought it would be difficult to write a sermon for today. Some of you know that one of the young men who helped us on the homeless outreach team, himself an incredibly caring gentle soul trying to put his own life together again, we learnt last Saturday evening had died. It was a very late and long night for me with the volunteers who – along with many of the others of our street friends – were all devastated.
The tagline or signoff for winter warmer is ‘one love’ and as we gathered for Davey’s simple funeral on Wednesday, I thought of today’s reading again. Davey had a faith and knew that God loved him, and for that I am grateful. He knew also that a difficult family experience did not prevent him from loving others, and helping others where he could. In many ways he epitomised ‘One Love’, loving God and neighbour, knowing himself a redeemed sinner and loving his neighbour in his gratitude.
When Jesus came, the scriptures were full of rules. Do this, don’t do this, Say this, wear that. Go here, worship here. Eat this, but not with them… Rule after rule. There was love in it, but people were so caught up with trying to abide by the rules, or falling foul of the rules, it was hard for love to get a look in. When they asked him which was the greatest commandment, even the commandments must have regularly been pushed out of priority by the holiness codes.
When Jesus came, he overturned all the rules into a simpler message. Love was what he gave priority to. He came to show us how much God loves us, how much God longs for us to love in return. He came to show us that those who loved rules more than love could not oust Love itself, even by putting him to death.
Perhaps because one of the things that Jesus taught about rules was that they could be broken and you could still be loved. That, perhaps, is the greatest message of the Bible that we should never tire of hearing and of teaching. When Jesus came, it was to remind us that everyone can make mistakes and disobey rules, but that all sinners can be redeemed. This is the pointy finger on a pavement corner kind of Bible, but it worked for Davey. He believed it and took comfort in it.
On the train to Devon last month, I sat next to a young Jewish man, and one of the things he said to me somewhere outside Birmingham was “I quite often wish I had your God. Our God is mean and vengeful, and your God is loving”. I’d have happily gone around that loop for a lot of the rest of the journey, but unfortunately he was only going as far as Birmingham… One God; one love.
It might be easy to talk about loving our neighbour as ourselves. It might be harder for us to think about loving God. Here’s an ‘easy’ sermon, written primarily for children:
Jesus said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and 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 the prophets hang on these two commandments.” – matthew 22:37-40 niv
Jesus turned all of those rules into just two simple ones. Love God. And love others.
When you keep the sabbath as a day for Jesus, that’s a way of loving him. And when you obey your parents, that’s a way of loving them. Every single rule can fit into one of those two. It was so simple.
Now what do you think it means to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? It really just means that you love him completely. So you can’t just say you love God, or just put money in the offering, or just listen to the sermon; you need to love God all the time and in every way.
And thankfully, Jesus loves us so much that he forgives us when we forget to love him and our neighbors like we should. Which is great news, because everyone could use a little more love.
It’s true. Undoubtedly everyone could use a little more love. Homeless or not. The challenge we might like today’s gospel to set us is to ponder loving God, with all our hearts, souls and minds. It’s possible for a church to do a lot of loving neighbour – even on behalf of or prompted by God – and not a lot of loving God. What makes us a church, not a social club, or even a church, not a social work organisation?
To consider what loving God completely means might – and should – exercise us if we let it. As we gradually turn our faces toward winter, toward Advent, toward the coming of the Christ child as a baby, it is easy to think about complete love, gazing at a newborn.
But to think about it more deeply, to think about the days when ‘we just say we love God, when we just put money in the offering or listen to the sermon’; to think about loving God ‘all the time and in every way’ is our challenge today to take into the winter months.
It’s Bible Sunday, so perhaps we might think about beginning to read our bibles more often, perhaps together, as bible study.
Perhaps we might reassess our ‘Sabbath’, when we not only rest, but rest in God. That might not be all day Sunday for work or family reasons, but maybe there are other times we could find to concentrate on doing nothing but loving God, sitting quietly and basking in his love (or, as I know some of you might prefer, hiking around his beautiful creation, basking in it).
Perhaps we might think about spending some or more time with God in prayer. In that companionable silence that you can with people you love. Again, we might want to consider doing that with others – joining the monthly prayer group. Starting another one in the evenings. Coming along to an advent group.
Perhaps we might not think about trying to be or do anything other than be open to God, conscious of our commitment to him, heart, mind and soul. Conscious of trying to love him completely and to learn, to feel what that feels like. If (or when) we doubt, or if (or when) we think we fail, we might remember that children’s rhyme:
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
They are weak but he is strong.
…or simply that “Jesus loves us so much that he forgives us when we forget to love him and our neighbours like we should”.
Or we might take heart and take hope in God. Not our God, ‘the loving one’ rather than ‘the vengeful one’ but the God. The God who took all the rules and showed us that they are all bound up in love. The God who longs for love in return. The God who redeems sinners and saves the lost. And the God who, through today’s gospel and all the bible, offers us hope, indeed, the greatest hope of all.
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and forever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, one love, now and forever.