Love Trumps

by Rev. Ellie Barrington - October 23, 2011 A reflection on Matthew 22:34-46 Listen to the audio recording

The Lectionary this morning offers us Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God and love neighbour as self. I like to think of it as Jesus’ Great Invitation. Notice that Matthew has embedded this key Christian teaching, echoed from the Torah, amidst a theological debate. Jesus is challenged to take a stand on issues that divide the Hebrew sects (or denominations) of his time – Pharisees and Saducees. But does it matter to him, whether the Messiah is born of Adam’s line or David’s? What does matter most to Jesus, and therefore to us?

Reading of Matthew 22:34-46 from The Message

Clearly Jesus’ Great Invitation tells us that love trumps all other duties and all differences. It’s much more important than what the Pharisees or Saducees might debate, or what the evangelicals or the Uniteds might hold as doctrine, or what Christians or Muslims might ‘believe.’ What matters is how we be love. By naturally returning God’s love for us, by caring for everyone and all Creation as our neighbour and by loving our self – that’s an underlying assumption, since each of us too, is an integral part of God’s good Creation.

How can we take Jesus call to love, to ‘comprehensive compassion,’ and ‘put flesh on it’ for us today? Where might these words ‘come to life’ for you today, stretching you in your heart and soul and mind?

What group at work, do you have trouble relating to in an even minded, open-hearted way? Which kid or which side of the family are you at odds with? What nationality, or class, or orientation or religion do you distance yourself from? Where does your automatic judgement block your heart and mind and soul from engaging in full human relationship with ‘those people’?

One of the places I feel challenged in building neighbour relationship is with evangelical Christians. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a lot more uncomfortable for me than interfaith dialogue with Jews and Moslems and Sikhs. Sometimes I judge evangelical protestants as a group, painting them all with the dark brush of fundamentalism and literalism, distortions of our religion that hurt people in God’s name. By taking my side in theological, denominational debate, I can easily sidestep some good neighbours. Miss out on some open hearted relationships with fellow followers of Jesus’ Way.

Every time we define our group in opposition to another group, according to intellectual ideas or historical stances or inherited ‘beliefs’, we are surely distracted from Great Commandment loving. Every time we assume that we have God – or Jesus – on our side, we need to ask ourselves if we are really living by Jesus’ priorities.

Last week I got a lesson in Great Commandment loving…from a book by one of those American evangelical guys. At Presbytery, a new hardcover called “Naked Spirituality” by Brian D. McLaren, fairly leapt off the book table at me. I really didn’t know why – and I resisted the price tag – but there was a Spirit attraction and an endorsement from Marcus Borg… so I payed the price and took this American evangelical guy home with me.

The more I read him and watch his videos, the more I like him. McLaren is the kind of evangelical who does a lot of risky and real outreach work, embracing marginalized groups and relating to difficult people. Turns out this evangelical preacher is a real ‘friend in Jesus’ to me!

One of the things he preaches is the end of denominationalism. What we think differently according to doctrine, just isn’t going to matter to our world, unless we persue radical loving, as fellow followers of the radical Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.

Today, we need to accept that discipleship trumps denomination. Because being loving trumps belief.

How do we do that, when our brain is telling us to try it, but our guts are wrestling with the attempt? When we really want to take a ‘debate stance’ about who is right and who is wrong, rather than making the first move to reach out to ‘them’?

Heeding a new call to compassion is not ‘easy love’ or ‘mushy love.’ It is concerted inner work, practised intentionally and with considerable effort, often against our own gut resistance.

But the ‘how to’ of Jesus’ Great Invitation to live lovingly, is right there in the words. It is grounded in our natural gratitude for God’s love for us. When we allow ourself to absorb the evidence of our Creator’s magnificent work, all the grace and beauty and love that surrounds us and enfolds us personally, we fill up with love and purpose. When the love that is all around us rushes in and makes us feel be-lovable, we are stirred to compassion. We dare to make fearless overtures to the ‘other.’

Absorbing God’s love with gratitude can move our defensive intellectual thinking down into our intuitive opening hearts, where we discover that our souls want to stretch to new acts of compassion. That this commandment really is a wonderful invitation to live. A powerful mystical current of love slowly softens our fears, changes our perceptions and moves us to risk loving actions.

There is risk involved. Letting God’s love in can be like standing under a waterfall that might carry us up against the hard places in ourself. Onto the rapids of change…changing our relationships..with God, with our neighbour – and with our self. But Jesus told us it is most important to go there.

When we are opened to it by gratitude, God’s grace sometimes just rushes in to expand our capacity for compassion, making all the world our neighbour. In this book, Brian McLaren shares a personal experience of such a rush of love:

“The other night I was experiencing a bout of insomnia, so I brought the blessings of my life to mind, one by one…I pictured what I had eaten for dinner…I pictured the blessings of soil and sun and rain, which got me thinking about the water cycle and sunlight and the solar system and the galaxy.

And soon my mind was dazzled with a sense of the one big thing we call the universe, and – this might sound silly, but it might not – I felt a profound gratitude not just for the gifts that pertain to me and to my life here and now, but for the gifts of everything, everywhere, always. Instead of seeing the universe and its many gifts revolving around me, as, sad to say, I normally do, for a few minutes I saw myself as one gift within the larger gift that we call creation. And I felt thankful not just that certain gifts are part of my life, but more; I felt thankful that my life can be part of this bigger gift, this sacred Given-ness…There was a kind of ecstasy to it…a deep delight and weighty joy that stayed with me.”

…And that overflows right now from him to us. We can know that fullness of heart mind and soul too, when we practise gratitude and let God’s amazing love move us.

Don’t we all want to heed Jesus’ invitation to compassion? Why wouldn’t we want to say yes to the loving that empowers us to make neighbours of all in this dazzling universe?

That’s what matters to Jesus, most. Not believing. But being loving.


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