Not here for high and holy things
we render thanks to thee,
but for the common things of earth,
the purple pageantry
of dawning and of dying days,
the splendor of the sea,
the royal robes of autumn moors,
the golden gates of spring,
the velvet of soft summer nights,
the silver glistering
of all the million million stars,
the silent song they sing,
One of my personal joys during the past months has been to take the time to walk outside early in the morning and to listen to God’s creatures as they begin the day. In the spring birds of all types sang out. In the summer they were joined by the cicadas and crickets. And now it is the squirrels that make the most noise. They all have reminded me to give thanks to our creator for that particular day. Surely, these “common things of earth” which I may have overlooked in past years have made such joyful noises that have reminded me to thank God for everything. God has continued to give us much this year. Over the past weeks, I have enjoyed seeing Carlos, Elizabeth, Mary, and Mark tell how they have been affected by this year’s challenges and how they have experienced the love of God, often through Emmanuel church during this same time. Particularly I was touched by listening to Craig list the joys of the year. It would be a good spiritual exercise to list your own joys found since last November. God has given much to sustain us through these difficult months. Though, admittedly, we may have to change our focus to remember them. It is good that we have had these October weeks to think about how we have been loved by God and then to reflect on what would love do.
Sometimes a familiar song or familiar prayer or passage of scripture will trigger those thoughts of comfort and understanding of God’s all-encompassing love.
Perhaps like me, you can close your eyes and hear the opening words of Rite 2, chanted from the back of the nave, in that tune unique to Emmanuel—“Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit...and blessed be his kingdom now and forever amen.” And remembering that, relax into knowing that God is keeping us near. Or maybe for you the words of the 23rd Psalm or Psalm 121 bring that same calm. For observant Jews throughout many centuries, the shema prayer holds the reassurance that God was and is and always will be. Loving God with all our heart, soul and mind is such a priority that this prayer is said each day to keep it a conscious focus.
In this Sunday’s gospel we find Jesus at the beginning of what we know as Holy Week. The morning’s dialogue took place somewhere between his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday and his shameful death on Friday. The leaders of the Hebrews questioned Jesus, trying to discredit him rather than learn what he might be able to teach them. They hoped to find a way to lessen his power, and the respect of the people. They wanted to return him to the margins of society and that would leave them in charge.
Today’s question of what is the greatest commandment is answered easily by Jesus. He begins by using this shema prayer, a comforting part of his own regular devotions, as the first half of his answer. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He quotes directly from Deuteronomy. But he does not end it there. He continues his answer by using the words from Leviticus heard in the Old Testament lesson today. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” By putting the two together Jesus makes a connection of how our actions towards others are a part of demonstrating our love of God. Loving God means loving God’s people. Jesus makes it clear.
It is important to remember that Biblical love is not passive nor is it strictly emotional. Instead it is about action, what we do. Loving is a conscious choice of behavior. We love in response to God loving us. God’s love is action and so our response must also be seen in our actions. We cannot love God without treating other human beings in a loving way.
Loving God with all our heart then means we are merciful and gracious to others, all others. We seek to understand the other’s motivation, putting ourselves in their place, giving them the second, and even more, chances. Rather than quickly judging another we listen and look for their humanity. When we love with our heart, we realize that other people are also God’s children. While this may be easy with those we like, we are called to recognize this spark of God in all, whether we happen to like them or not.
Loving God with all our soul means we worship God with prayers of gratitude and adoration, regularly remembering how God has loved us. And then we pray for our fellow human beings to know God’s love also. We pray for our enemies as well as our friends when we love God with all our soul.
Loving with all our mind means we continuously study God’s word and God’s creation to learn more about God and his loving ways. Then we allow what we have learned to shine through us to demonstrate to others the way to love. We ask ourselves, what would love do? And then we carry out our answer,
Loving God means loving people too. This summary of the law given by Jesus ties the two together. But the passage does not end here.
In the last part of the reading it is Jesus’ turn to ask the question. At first this may not seem connected to the Pharisee’s question, but it is. Many in the Jewish establishment considered that David was the messiah. In the traditional rabbinic way, Jesus is saying no, David was not the messiah. He stops short of saying, “I am”. Jesus will continue in this indirect manner the remainder of the week, telling only his disciples the truth of who he is.
In today’s lesson Jesus summarizes both his mission and his ministry. He gives us his identity as well as his message. He is the Messiah and he has come to demonstrate the love of God and the importance of loving our fellow human beings, especially those who may seem unlovable. In this short passage we have it all; who Jesus is and why he came to earth. And we can use Jesus’ example as we think of our own identity and ministry. We are Christians, those who seek to know and follow Christ. We strive to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. And then our ministry is to share that love of God with all others. Loving God is carried out in part in how we love others. We show our answer of what would love do, in our actions.
I will close with the final verses of hymn 9, with which I began, “Not here for high and holy things we render thanks to God”.
Come, let thy voice be one with theirs,
shout with their shout of praise;
see how the giant sun soars up,
great lord of years and days!
So let the love of Jesus come
and set thy soul ablaze,
to give and give, and give again,
what God hath given thee;
to spend thyself nor count the cost;
to serve right gloriously
the God who gave all worlds that are,
and all that are to be. Amen.