24th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26, Year B)
Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
One of the scribes came near and heard the Saducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you 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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Alisha, Tony, Ty, John and Lorenzo
This small group gathered on a Friday afternoon across the red-cushioned pews by the light of the stained glass windows in the nave of the church, following the Red Door healing service and lunch. Alisha, a University student, joined with this small group of Red Door regulars to discuss the week’s Gospel lesson.
As they finished reading the lesson, there was one theme unmistakably resonating. “The greatest commandment of all…love your neighbor as yourself” reflected John. “This really stands out to me. I mean, it’s one thing to just talk about loving people in general. But loving your neighbor, the people you see every day whether you like them or not…well, that is the challenge.”
“Do we really love our neighbor as ourselves?” wondered Ty. “I mean, no one has ever seen God. No one. So, the only way that we can love God is through loving others. We know we are all created in the image of God, so that’s our way of seeing God.”
“But the way the world is going, that’s hard though…I mean, people get on your last!” said Tony.
Alisha chuckled at that as did the whole group. This, as we all know, is undeniably true!
“I love everyone” said Lorenzo. “Even my enemies know I love them. Wait, maybe that’s why they’re my enemies!” The group laughed again, with the truth of how simple it sounds but how hard it is to live into the depth of this Gospel lesson.
“Well, when I read this, the thing that stood out to me was also love” said Alisha. “But, it’s the reality that we cannot accept love without understanding how God can love us. The way in which we show love to other people reflects how we see ourselves as loved by God.”
“But, there are some people who have trouble being loved” added John. “Sometimes I think, once the will to experience God’s love is there then people will understand what love is about. We come away sometimes only thinking about what we want to think. But there is a way God wants us to think, and that is through the eyes of Love.”
Ty spoke thoughtfully: “Everybody, no matter who they are, has their own interpretation of the word of God. You can’t define the word, and you can’t define the love of God fully, either. It’s like trying to find words around something you’ve never seen. You’ve never seen air…but you know that its there! But love isn’t always the same from person to person. You can love your parents, but that isn’t the same as loving your girlfriend or boyfriend. And the more we love, in all the different ways that we love, we come to know God in all the different ways that God can love us.”
John said, “I was thinking about the fact that ‘disciple’ means ‘learner’ and here Jesus is taking time to love his disciples, and let his disciples know how life can be in the kingdom. I mean, every day, there are situations where I might want to say something but I don’t say it…sometimes that is love. And other days, my daily testing is to stand fast instead of running away or giving up. At the end of the day, I realize that I’m always a work in process. I don’t always live into my fullest. Sometimes I fall. But God says, draw near to me. So, every day I am seeking God for clarity and understanding. I see God working things out every day. It might not be what I wanted. But God is working.”
John summed up the depth of unconditional love: “The truth is…think of all those stories…God could have wiped us out, so many times. But God did not…God sees our potential, more than we could ever see. God came through all those generations to be born on earth, to be pierced in the side, to go through death and the gates of hell just because of love. I mean that is deep love. That is truly unconditional love.”
One of the things I most love about this group is that this is encounter I’ve captured among them is just a fraction of the deep and lengthy conversation in which they engaged each other. As I have learned throughout this inaugural year of Faith from the Margins to the Web, there are so many ways that God moves in and through each and every one of us. The glimpses I post each week have been just that…glimpses of God in motion. The motion never stops, and the love that has spread through this project has transformed our participants, and has transformed me. Truly, we are not far from the kingdom of God when we cross all these social margins to love our neighbor and experience the way that God is moving in our midst.