One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ (Matt 12:28-31)
Again and again we ask this question: what does it mean to “love God?” How do we love something so completely when we cannot see it, cannot interact with it, and often do not get feedback or appreciation from it for our efforts? And, per Jewish law, it is not enough to just love God. We are called to love God with ALL of our heart, ALL of our soul, ALL of our mind, and with ALL of our strength. In short, to love God is to give ourselves completely to God by our faith and actions.
But what does THAT look like? Certainly we are not all called to be monks or clergy. Jesus gives us a hint to what this means in his second command: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving God doesn’t mean loving something that is up in the sky- a human construct – an old Gandolf with a white beard.
Loving God means stepping back from our own experience and ourselves, and loving creation. It means seeing all of creation as God sees it and applying our love into it. Loving God is an action. It’s not an adjective. Not a noun. Loving God is a verb. When we are loving God we are actively stepping back from our own truncated world, that tiny world where, often, more important than anything else is that which causes us personal offense, and seeing that every member of creation has its own story, its own needs, its own suffering, and its own reasons for its choices and behavior.
Loving God is stepping back and realizing that this life is not about you. It’s not about me and it’s not about you. It is about how we see and then love the divine in each other and in all of God’s creation.
Loving God and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves means stepping out of ourselves, stepping back from the situation or the world and seeing things as a whole. Just before this scripture Jesus is asked “by a lawyer” a very tricky question about resurrection involving a woman who marries brother after brother until all have died. The lawyer wants to know which of these brothers will be her husband in the resurrection.
Jesus’ response invites the lawyer and others listening to open their perspective to something much greater than human perspective. He invites them to see life and death and resurrection from the perspective of God: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’”
Similarly, as faithful people of God we are called to love God by opening our perspective beyond ourselves. We are called to imagine something greater for community; for the nation; for the world. We are called to love God by seeing the beauty, the possibility, and creation in all people. We are called to step back from ourselves and see ourselves as just one player on a much larger team.
This is what we will be doing as a church this program year: stepping back from our own individual needs and imagining something much greater – within which each of us is a vital player. This year, the Allin Church will be entering a “Visioning Process.” What this means is that, working with a coach, we will come together and imagine how we can serve this community as a church – as a people of Christ – as people of love. We will take a good look at all that we love about this church and then look forward a few years and wonder where we can take this love further. We are going to ask the questions: Who are we as a church and what is the purpose of these gifts – for Dedham and for the world – but mostly for God.
Because that’s how we love God. It’s how we love our neighbor. It’s how we love the Allin Church.