Reflection: "Advent - Watching, Waiting"
Advent is a season in the western church’s calendar where we count down to the birth of Jesus, the Christ.
The term “Advent” is an Anglicised version of the Latin word adventus, meaning "a coming, or arrival of an important person."
Therefore, in this season of the church’s calendar, we are waiting for the coming of Jesus.
To celebrate a “coming”, we obviously need to have a period of waiting – often in eager anticipation.
Just look at young children in the build up to Christmas Day and you’ll understand it’s a time of great excitement.
The ancient Jews knew a thing or two about waiting, as well.
At the time of Jesus, they’d been waiting for their messiah to come for thousands of years, but when Jesus arrived, most of them missed it.
I guess another person who knew a thing or two about waiting would have been Mary, the mother of Jesus.
We understand that she was only a young teenager when she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit and the wait for the birth of her first child, a boy whom they named Jesus, probably seemed like an eternity for her.
The long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, bouncing around on a donkey and then giving birth in a stable, would not have been what any expectant mother would want.
She may not have received too much help from her family, either, as there would have been quite a stigma attached to an unmarried girl having a baby.
Luckily, Joseph didn’t let her down – but then again, he had received a visit from an angel.
I know that if an angel spoke to me, I’d certainly take note of what was said!
The disciples were another group who were waiting.
After the cross, the resurrection and the ascension, they thought Jesus would come back – soon - they expected it in their lifetime.
They lived their lives thinking that at any moment Jesus would return.
The Christian church, all around the world, has been collectively holding its breath for nearly twenty centuries – always waiting, always watching - and still the time has not come for Jesus’ return.
What were they, and now we, looking for during this period of waiting?
Signs, of course.
The signs were to be the fulfilment of God’s promises, made in many of the Old Testament scriptures.
And from Luke we hear that:
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the seas and the waves..."
I know what you're thinking.
What does any of this have to do with waiting and the season of Christmas?
Our thoughts have already turned toward putting up the Christmas tree and decorating our homes.
Over the course of the next few weeks, many Christians will gather in special worship services, and everywhere we go there will be reminders that Christmas is coming.
Unfortunately, on this first Sunday in Advent, many people would rather just hear about Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, so the church encourages us to take time preparing for the real meaning behind the event.
The church understands that many of us need a wake-up call at this time of year, because it’s so easy to become distracted by the shopping, partying, etc., and all the stuff that “just has to be finished” by the end of the year - that we miss out on the "peace on earth and good will to all people" message.
"Wake up and don't miss out on the coming of Jesus!" is the first message of Advent - it’s a spiritual wake-up call.
Through the reading of the scripture lessons, you can almost hear the alarm clock ringing.
Now, not only does Advent try to wake us up, but it also invites us to look in two directions - back to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and forward to his return, when he’ll bring God's kingdom on earth to fulfilment.
Therefore, Advent always begins with a text that looks toward Jesus' return.
In other words, we begin by looking deep into the future - to the end of history.
If we understand what the scriptures say about Christ's return, then the first thing we must say is that nobody knows the day or the hour this will occur.
As we read in Matthew (24:36) and Mark (13:32) an account of Jesus' words in the temple:
"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
Not even Jesus knew when the end of human history will come - only the Father does.
Our first Advent candle is all about Hope – a reminder of the good things yet to come.
Have you ever given any thought as to why we light candles during Advent?
Do we think that God needs a beacon to find us again?
Sort of like a porch light – shining out so that people will know that you’re home and won’t trip on the step?
Maybe a better way to look at it is like this: In the beginning God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
Where was God before that?
He was in the darkness.
Moses went up into the darkness that covered Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.
Where was God? He was in the midst of the darkness.
On Easter morning, while it was still dark, Jesus rose from the dead.
Where was God? He was in the darkness.
Therefore, we light these candles over Advent to remind us that God is light and has come out of the darkness.
Advent is a season in which we keep looking, because we are a people of hope.
We are Christmas people.
We sing to Emmanuel because “God is with us”.
When we sense that we’re lost in the darkness, Advent reminds us that we are not alone.
The God of hope is with us - these are the signs that guide our steps.
Jesus warns us not to get distracted by the worries of this world.
We lift our eyes and look upward toward God because, even in the midst of difficult times, our Lord comes to us.
We must be ever vigilant, waiting and watching for the time when Christ will come again.
Will he come today, tomorrow, or maybe on Christmas Day?
Well, we just don’t know the time or the place, only God does, so our job is not just to wait and keep looking for the signs – but, as well as looking, we must be ready!
We need to work hard at understanding God’s word, living our lives the way Jesus showed us and, most importantly, loving our neighbours as we love ourselves.
The more we read God’s word in the bible, the more we’ll be attuned to the signs that will reveal to us, more about God’s Kingdom here on earth.
If we do that, and we’re ready for his coming, then we won’t need to concern ourselves with knowing the time that God decides to return.
It will be the right time – and we’ll be ready.
Therefore, I encourage you all to have a happy and blessed time over Advent and at Christmas and remember the reason that we have this celebration.
It is because Jesus, the light, is coming into the world.
Reflection: "Christ the King"
This Sunday, we bring this current Christian year to a conclusion.
Just as we are also approaching the finales of many sporting series for 2021, this Sunday is everything that the church has been moving toward during this year - and what a strange year it’s been for our church with CIOVID 19.
In the Christian calendar, the new year begins with Advent (next Sunday), as we prepare for the birth of Jesus.
Then we follow with the celebration of his birth on Christmas Day, his appearances - to the wise men, at the wedding feast in Cana, in the transfiguration at Epiphany - and then he sets his face toward Jerusalem and we are plunged into the days of Lent, suffering, sacrifice and self-denial, the betrayal and death of holy week, the silence of Holy Saturday, but then the miracle of resurrection on Easter Sunday, and the prayer, over 50 days, for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Christ the King Sunday is all about the Lordship of Christ.
In the words of the Revelation to John, Jesus is the “ruler of the kings of the earth” and yet there is a clear distinction, in the passage from the Gospel of John, between the rule, or reign of the leaders, and God’s vision.
“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus says.
Yes, Jesus did come to earth to establish a kingdom, but it’s just not the one that people were expecting.
To understand the kingdom language of Jesus, we need to know something about his context and the leadership structure of that day. This had everything to do with another leader, King Herod, also known as Herod the Great. We know that Herod died soon after Jesus was born and that he was buried about three miles east of Bethlehem in a massive mountain fort, called Herodium.
In contrast, historians tell us that Jesus was probably born in a cavern, the stable under the house of one of Joseph’s relatives, in a tiny, out of the way town named Bethlehem.
The birth of Jesus, despite the significance we attach to it, was a very quiet, low key, affair.
Herod’s burial was just the opposite; he literally had a mountain constructed in the flat desert, as he wanted people to think of him and revere him long after he had died - in fact, you can still see the Herodium all the way from Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.
Whilst the Herodium is quite impressive, and some tourists visit there each year, it’s nothing compared to the crowds that flow into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is reputed to have been built over the site where Jesus was born.
In the same year as the birth of Jesus, King Herod hears from the Magi that a messiah has been born - so he orders the massacre of all male children under the age of 2.
Herod, as we see, appeared to be a very powerful leader and his architectural influence is still present in Israel:
the city of Caesarea on the coast, near Tel Aviv; Masada and, most curiously, the rebuilt Temple of Solomon.
Herod ruled 34 years and although he wasn’t a particularly religious man, he used religion for his own political ends.
Everything - sports, art, architecture, shrines, palaces, etc. - all of it was for the purpose of consolidating Herod’s power and leadership and establishing his legacy.
Jesus was born into the kingdom of Herod - and we’ve heard that Herod was a very effective leader.
But Jesus knew that his way of leadership wouldn’t be like Herod’s.
“My kingdom,” he says to Pilate, “is not of this world.”
One option for Jesus was to model his techniques and his methods on those of Herod.
You may remember the temptations outlined in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, where the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows him “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour, saying to Jesus
“All this I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
On Christ the King Sunday we think about Jesus and his kingdom.
At the close of Matthew’s gospel it says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him”
and in writing to the Philippians, Paul says:
“Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.
To follow Jesus is to profess him as Lord - this is the basic Christian conviction and creed.
To believe that he is Lord of all, is to honour and glorify him, above all other rulers and authorities.
He came upon this earth to establish the Kingdom of God, an alternative to the kingdom of Herod.
He spoke not of the love of power, but the power of love.
And he clearly gave his presence, his spirit, his authority, to his disciples, to spread his influence, his teachings, his goodness upon this earth until he comes again.
And so, on Christ the King Sunday, the readings from Scripture and the songs associated with this day, not only magnify the Lord, but call upon us to be a part of establishing the kingdom of God here on earth.
If we’re to do the work of Jesus, here on earth, then we must do it in the way of Jesus.
Thus leadership, in the way of Jesus, is always servant leadership, as any power that comes to us is a gift from God.
Jesus lays down his life, and the power of this action comes to us as a gift – where he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and therefore, Paul writes, God has highly exalted him.
The self-emptying life of Jesus is a life given for others.
So, how do we, in a practical way, connect Jesus and our own personal leadership?
All of us are, in some way, in a sphere of influence, or a position of leadership.
We may not recognise it immediately, but if we think about it, we’ll realise it’s our actions that influence others.
Two comments that come to my mind regarding leadership:
Herod used his power for his own personal gain, but Jesus used his power for the common good and
In a leadership role, you’ll have a lot of power, and you’ll find that, the less you use it, the more you’ll actually have.
Thus, the whole Christian story moves toward a climax, just as our lives do.
It’s not about being great, it’s about serving. Winston Churchill is reputed to have said:
“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
On Christ the King Sunday we discover our Lord - not enthroned in the heavens but, as it says in Matthew 25, by welcoming the stranger, visiting the imprisoned and the sick and by feeding the hungry.
Christ the King is the moment toward which the whole Christian story has been moving - the adoration of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
And yet our end is also our beginning.
Next Sunday we’ll begin the journey of waiting and preparing for the fulfilment of God’s promise, the miraculous gift at Bethlehem y=that came to us at this time.
And with the seekers who went to find him, we discover that the kingdom is surely coming, in ways that may surely startle and surprise us.
I encourage you to start your preparations now, for the King is surely coming.
“Grace to you and peace from God, who is and who was and who is to come.
Go gently into this day.
Go softly into this night.
Go into the great world of God filled with joy.
Grace to you and peace from God, who is and who was and who is to come.
Reflection: "Are You Ready?"
Found at the beginning of today’s reading from Mark, the words of Jesus must have been difficult to hear, and hard to understand, for the disciples who sat with him so long ago.
Jesus is describing the life that’s yet to come for the disciples, but also for those who will follow in later years (ie. us).
His intention is not to scare the followers, but to prepare them and help them understand that there are certain things that are important, as he prepares to leave them.
Jesus has many such discussions with his disciples and friends recorded in the bible.
Many of these are about things that will occur in the future, but Mark 13 is unique in that it talks of the destruction of the temple and of the end times.
The destruction of the temple is often seen as an allusion to the death of Christ that’s about to come.
In this story, Jesus is telling them about things that won’t be seen in their lifetime, but rather things that are to come - in the fullness of time.
The temple to which Jesus was referring was, of course, the greatest building project of his day and time – Herod’s temple in Jerusalem.
This massive renovation began around 20 BC and expanded the temple mount complex far beyond what King Solomon had envisioned.
It’s said to have been bigger than anything the Romans had built at that time and whilst the temple itself was completed in less than two years, the outer structures and courtyards took about 80 years to complete – only to be destroyed by the Roman soldiers in 70 A.D.
It would have been hard, if not impossible, for the disciples to imagine the complete destruction of such a massive building – the most holy place of the Jewish faith.
We, too, can scarcely imagine a time when the important places and structures we know and love will be “thrown down;” however, we have witnessed a glimpse of such destruction in our own time with the attacks by Muslim extremists on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon on September 11, 2001 and terrorist attacks on churches in recent years.
This teaching of Jesus reminds us of the impermanence of all the structures of this world when he says: “All will be thrown down”, cutting straight to our desire for immortality with these disquieting words – words that echo the great prophetic tradition of the Jewish people.
No doubt this raised the anxiety levels of the disciples and they press him by asking “when will this be?”Jesus was telling them to be ready, but not to worry about when it would occur.
A while ago, our government was telling us to “Be alert, but not alarmed” and maybe that’s a good summation of what Jesus is telling us.
Jesus doesn’t give specifics as to when the end will come, nor does he tell the disciples exactly what will happen.
He tells them there will be upheavals of many kinds, but he clearly says that these are the beginnings of the birth pains – not the signs of the end of all things.
What Jesus describes – war, famine, earthquakes – were all occurring in his day and still occur today.
Certainly, as Mark wrote this gospel in the shadow of the temple’s destruction and amidst severe persecution of the Christian community, this disquieting apocalyptic narrative seems to fit with the unrest of his time.
But what about us, living in the relative comfort of the western world in the 21st century?
While we have relative comfort compared to Mark’s community, we do live in a highly anxious society, where the messages being broadcast all around us focus on us being afraid.
We can be afraid of the economy collapsing, the COVID 19 virus and ensuing lockdowns, of losing our jobs, our health, economic security, for our children’s future, of global warming, etc.
The list is endless and we’re afraid that our neatly constructed lives will “all be thrown down” so we live in captivity to that fear, and when we live in captivity to fear, we never really live!
In the larger context of Mark’s gospel, these words from Jesus come just before he enters Jerusalem to be crucified.
These words about the destruction of the temple and upheavals to come are a prediction of his own death – the very destruction of his own body.
“All will be thrown down” is a promise that all things of this world will fall apart, disintegrate and die.
However, within the broader context of this chapter, Jesus reminds us that our job isn’t to know exactly what will happen, how it will happen, or when it will happen; rather our job is to be faithful, patient and keep awake, because God is working out the plan of salvation and has not abandoned us.
It will be alright because God is in charge.
This isn’t to say things will be easy and that hardships and suffering won’t befall us.
It isn’t an empty optimism, promising things will get better for our lives; they may or may not.
Instead, it’s a promise that God is in charge regardless.
Christ promises us that it will be all right in the end because God has the last word.
When death on the cross appeared to be the end, God had the last word at an empty tomb.
Throughout our lives, we will experience our own ups and downs many times over, as the neatly arranged structures of our lives don’t go the way we want.
These apocalyptic words of Jesus remind us to hang on and to place our trust in something more than ourselves, our possessions, our relationships, our health, our capacities or our intellect.
It is to place our ultimate trust in the One from whom all of these things come.
It is to accept our finiteness and mortality in a radical trust of God’s unchangeable grace and goodness, so that we might be freed from the captivity of anxious fear and finally live fully and freely as God’s beloved children.
These accounts reflect Israelite understanding of the end time (which is not to be confused with the end of time).
Israel believed that the sinful age within which it was living would come to an end and an age of holiness would follow, but also that the period of transition from one age to the other would be a time of purification.
Initially Israel expected this to transpire in living history, so, the end time was different from the end of time.
On one level, the readings for today may indeed speak of the actual end of the world, when Christ will come “in the clouds with great power and glory”, but it is not only then that we will move from one age to another.
Christians believe that the new age, or the Kingdom of God, has already been inaugurated with the coming of Jesus and that’s why the scholars have listed these readings at the end of the liturgical year - as we turn our gaze toward the celebration of the coming of the Son of God/Man.
Our understanding of the end time has yet another level.
Though the new age dawned with Jesus’ coming, it takes root in us only when we open ourselves to its power.
Each time we’re willing to move beyond our own sinfulness, despite the distress or the tribulation this may cause, we step over the threshold into the new age.
These transitions from old to new are beyond our control, but the decision to move is ours to make.
Our decision to bring the new age to light puts an end in a way to part of the world of sin.
To use another image, the struggle to bring the reign of God to birth has been called the “birth pangs of the Messiah” (see Mt 24:8; Rm 8:22) and I believe that such pain can be seen as being life-giving.
In our reading from Hebrews, we’re told to “continue to meet together”, giving comfort to each other and constantly refreshing our knowledge from the bible and those who help us understand what it is saying.We know that the second appearance of Jesus on earth is coming.
Whether that leads to the destruction of the world, or is, in fact, the beginning of a new kingdom here on earth, we’re yet to discover.
Jesus says that only God knows when this will occur and, I guess, it is only God who knows what the new kingdom will look like.
So, it’s not our job to worry about what and when, but to be ready for the event.
Like the 5 wise virgins, we want oil in our lamps and our wicks trimmed when the bridegroom (ie. Jesus) comes back.
Are you ready?
I pray so.
In every age, God's people have struggled to find the words to speak effectively about the stewardship of money.
And though Jesus speaks directly and often about the dangers of allowing money to take the place of God in our lives, people of faith often find such words difficult and awkward.
For this reason, I believe, Jesus takes an opportunity in the passage from Mark, to point out an unlikely person - a poor widow - as an example of what God values most in the stewardship of our money.
I see that what Jesus values in this woman are a:
“Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude”.
Jesus and his disciples were in the temple area of Jerusalem, near the treasury.
From their vantage point, they could see what people were putting into the offering plates.
Some of the wealthy folks were putting in large sums of money, but these actions aren’t at all impressive to Jesus.
Then along comes a poor widow, who catches the attention of Jesus, as he sees her giving from “A Genuine Heart.”
In the previous verses of this passage, Jesus finds himself in debates with the religious leaders.
They engage Jesus in arguments about paying taxes to the emperor, about which commandments are the most important, and about how certain laws related to marriage can be interpreted in unusual circumstances.
The debate isn’t really engaged from a genuine heart for learning more of God's ways with people, but more as a way of discrediting Jesus to the people who are listening in - they’re trying to catch Jesus in a theological trap.
Of course, Jesus sees through their questions and understands their true motives.
He answers each question without getting caught in their traps.
The religious leaders are truly amazed at Jesus and his wisdom and knowledge.
Jesus then turns to his disciples and points out the way that these same religious leaders like to be seen in their long robes - it's an impressive display of their authority.
He condemns the way they use their positions of influence to their advantage, for example, getting the best seats in the synagogue and by taking the seats of honour at banquets.
In essence, he’s saying that their hearts contain the wrong motives.
First and foremost they’re out to make themselves look good in the sight of others!
In contrast to these people, Jesus notices the poor widow and says, "This is the kind of person I'm after!"
Her motives are pure and she clearly gives out of a genuine heart for God.
Although her gift is meagre in comparison to the large sums given by the wealthy, it is by far the greater gift, because it comes directly from her heart.
I’m suggesting to you today that the place to begin our giving (and not just of our money) is by examining our hearts.
Do we desire to give God the very best that we have, from all that we have, or are we just doing things to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others?
Several years ago, I heard of a Kenyan woman, named Lydia, who joined a mainstream church.
Sometime later, she told the minister that she really loved the congregation, but she missed certain aspects of her home church, especially parts of the worship service.
When the minister asked Lydia what it was that she missed the most, he was amazed at what she told him.
She said, "I miss the offering. In Kenya, we would sometimes dance down the aisles during the offering. We didn't have much to give, but what we did have we gave with much joy. What a privilege to give back to God!"
How can we make the offering we give each week, more than just a routine part of the worship service?
Is it something that we do mechanically (or even grudgingly)?
I like to link the offering of our gifts to the church with the attitude of our hearts.
Just so you know, my favourite verse in the bible is from Psalm 116:12
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?”
Because God has given us so much, especially his son Jesus, we should give back to God with glad and joyful hearts.
For Lydia and for the woman in Mark’s story, giving an offering to God is first and foremost a matter of having a genuine heart for God.
What is at work in these women?
For them to give extravagant gifts so willingly and from their meagre possessions, they must be giving from “A Grateful Spirit.”
Their gratitude is unspoken, but it is clearly their motivation in giving.
Dr. Michael McCullough is a psychologist and the editor of the book “The Psychology of Gratitude“.
In a recent interview, McCullough says that scientific research reveals what many of us have been taught by grandmothers all along – i.e. that taking time daily to be grateful for the blessings in our lives leads to a higher degree of satisfaction and sense of well-being.
I always love it when the scientific and secular research backs up what the Bible has been teaching us all along.
The Psalmist says in Psalm 100: "Enter God's gates with thanksgiving!"
The Apostle Paul says in I Thess. 5:18: "Give thanks in all things."
Jesus also encourages daily thanksgiving in the Lord's Prayer: "Give us today our daily bread."
A grateful heart is a foundation of an emotionally and spiritually healthy life and we would all do well to take the time, each and every day, to count our many blessings.
You can bet that the woman in Mark’s story had a grateful spirit for God's blessings in her life.
Jesus affirms her because she is giving for all the right reasons - a genuine heart for God and a grateful spirit.
And there's one more thing we notice.
The woman's genuine heart for God and grateful spirit, motivate her to give with “A Generous Attitude.”
Her gift is clearly the most generous of all - not because of the amount of the gift, but in the sacrifice behind it.
Jesus tells us that the rich people may have contributed much – but they still had a lot left over.
The widow, however, contributed out of her poverty.
She put in everything she had - all she had to live on – willingly and joyfully.
A minister friend told me that when they first came to their current church, an unusual envelope arrived in the mail.
It was a money order for $5, a gift made payable to the church, along with a personal note of gratitude.
At first, the church stewards thought the note and the gift were some kind of a joke.
Who, they wondered, sends a money order for $5 as a stewardship pledge to a Uniting church?
In the note, the donor wrote of how much the church had meant to them over many years.
The benefactor believed in the mission and ministry of the congregation and, they said, it gave them great joy to send this offering during the stewardship campaign.
No-one in the church seemed to recognize the person’s name, but the donations continued coming each year until, some years later, the minister received a phone call from a solicitor, informing the church that the person had died and had listed the congregation, and the minister personally, as "next of kin."
Apparently, they had lived and died in a state-run retirement centre, with no possessions or money to speak of.
The solicitor simply wanted to confirm that the congregation was aware of the person’s passing.
Doesn’t this person remind us of the woman in Mark’s story?
They obviously owned very little and lived simply., yet their life was characterized by the same genuine heart for God and grateful spirit that motivated them to give with a generous attitude of giving.
I believe that Jesus would point to this person and say, "That's what I'm after! Follow their example!”
Generosity has a way of multiplying itself, doesn't it?
Jesus points to the poor widow to both challenge and inspire his followers to likewise give with a generous heart.
It truly is amazing to me that God can take what seems to us like a small gift, and when it is given for all the right reasons - from a genuine heart, with a grateful spirit, and a generous attitude – God will multiply it many times over.
Remember, God is not always looking for gifts of money in his Kingdom.
The service we undertake, in his name, can be a great blessing to others and is made all the more effective when it is given generously.
May God’s richest blessings be on you all.
Reflection: "A Kingdom Built By Love"
Our reading from the Psalms this morning reminds us that we are happiest when we put our trust in the Lord.
We know that he has provided a great earth for us to live in and that he watches over those who keep the faith.
All throughout the ministry of Jesus, he talked about the “Kingdom”.
Sometimes this was referred to as the Kingdom of God and sometimes it as referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven.
To me, the latter title can lead us to believe that we can only enter that Kingdom when we die and go to be with the Lord, but many other passages in the New Testament tell us that the Kingdom is here now, and we can be part of it.
The book of Revelation even tells us that God will bring the heaven to earth to create the New Jerusalem, so those who believe that the Kingdom is only a place “up there”, that we call Heaven, appear to be a bit misinformed.
Wherever it is, and whatever it’s called, this Kingdom sounds like it’s the place we should all be striving to be in.
In today’s reading from Mark, he recounts the story of when Jesus was in Jerusalem, discussing some important points with the priests, scribes and elders of the temple.
Jesus amplifies the fact that love is the cornerstone of the greatest commandment.
He lists love as the prime mark of the Kingdom of God.
In delineating this truth, he breaks it down, based on the traditional explications of the Hebrew Bible – what we now know as the sacred texts of the Old Testament.
Jesus refers them back to the passage in Deuteronomy when he states that the greatest commandment is:
“Shema Israel” (which means "Hear, O Israel") “The Lord our God is one.”
Here, he’s trying to capture the attention of the whole nation regardless of their tribal affiliations, age, gender, class, or religious grouping - a universal demand on the nation of Israel, clarifying the fact that when it comes to paying a loving allegiance to the Lord our God, there is no distinction that stands out as a mark of division.
The unity emerges out of the assertion that there is only one God and this one God should be the object of our love in its entirety and our subjection in loving allegiance.
He then continues, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
It was and is very unusual for a divine and superior supernatural God to aspire love as a mark of relationship.
In most cases, deities expect their subjects or followers absolute and uncompromising obedience or allegiance mostly marked by sacrifices, gifts, and offerings.
In a completely opposite manner, our God speaks about loving relationship on the basis of the gift and the offering that he brings to the altar.
It was unheard of for a deity to bring a sacrifice to the altar as atonement, which was a means of bringing oneness between himself and his followers.
As we receive God's best, we need to be prepared to offer our best in exchange.
That is the innate nature of a working love relationship.
“Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Love of a neighbour flows out of us living the loving relationship we already have with God.
When we love God, that love takes the love of self out of the mix.
It is holistic - in the true sense of the word - therefore, when we give our all to God, without keeping anything for ourselves, the fullness of God's love dwells in the centre of our souls.
By then, loving our neighbours as ourselves, becomes natural.
After all, it's no more “I” that lives, but rather it's Christ who lives in us; therefore, sharing our new identity with others becomes our challenge, by the virtue of our new identity.
Christ lived in this world to give away everything within him - his time, resources, body, blood, spirit, soul, and even breath - was to be given away.The kingdom of God is built and maintained by this kind of love.
In history, great empires come and go and great leaders rise and fall.
Wealth, power and fame and might are proven to be transient in nature and there is no permanency in their nature. The only power that is proven to be permanent is the power of love.
1 Corinthians 13 reinforces this thought when it declares clearly "Love never fails."
I read recently of an American Lutheran minister, Reverend Gemechis Buba who had been born in Africa.
He said: “Terms such as peace, love, honour, stability, relationships, and care are very catchy to someone like me. They are catchy to someone born and brought up in a country where peaceful relationship is a rarity. Given its political history, east Africa and its adjacent region of the Middle East are known throughout the history of humanity by unstable systems of governance.
I was born and brought up in a country called Ethiopia in the eastern part of Africa. This is a country which claims to have a history of 3,000 years. In reality, its modern empire state is just about 100 years old, consolidated under the emperor Minilike by colonizing the southern kingdoms and regional states. In both historical accounts, meaning in the account of the Ethiopian chroniclers attributing 3,000 years of national history, or in the factual 100 years of national statehood consolidated by Minilike, one fact stands out very clearly: This country has never seen a single day without war until today. War has been the national trademark, part of the national news, and it is always included in daily talks on the streets of the nation.
However, we know that hatred breeds hatred, bloodshed breeds bloodshed, violence produces violence and Injustice begets misery and lawlessness. When children are born and brought up in such a place, they tend to believe that this is just something to be seen as a viable option and as a normal pattern of relationship for people to engage in. Violence seems to be the way to go, even a justifiable way of settling differences by securing superior status over the one on the other side of the fence. This is the way I was brought up into mature manhood. It is more than likely that I was, of course, impacted by such an enormous contextual reality in which I am placed. My thinking, reflections, opinion, and reaction to different circumstances are derived from things in my background that provided the holistic fibres by which I was wired.”
Today millions of children across the continent of Africa, the Middle Eastern region, across Eastern Europe and within the inner cities of western Metropolitan cities of western nations, are being brought up to become mature men and women under the direct influence of cultures of violence and dysfunctional social structures.
These environments are populating our world with citizens characterized by embedded hostility and innate inclinations towards invoking violence as a viable means of resolving differences.
In most cases, heads of states, governments, and community leaders are very hesitant and extra cautious in summoning religious communities into the mix to bring about a peaceful ending to the whole process. Fundamentalism, religious radicalism, and religiously instigated clashes are mushrooming.
In such times, where media is pulling the whole world very close to each other through multitudes of communication media, it is rather ironic for humanity to find itself back in the ditches of mistrust and mutual mistreatment.
In other words, religions are losing their relevance in making a credible difference within the actual lives of the global community.”
However, I believe that only through our faith - our love of God and for our fellow man - can we build up God’s kingdom here on earth - it’s up to us to work out ways that we can be a part of this kingdom and to determine what practical steps we can take to show love to our fellow man.
It may be as simple as saying a kind word to someone who is going through a rough time, or by praying for, or supporting, agencies that are providing assistance and comfort to those in need.
As individuals, we don’t need to solve all the world problems in this coming week, but we do need to take some positive steps towards making the world a better place – one where all God’s creatures can live together in peace and harmony – in love.
Together, I believe that we can make a real difference in the Kingdom.
In his service……………..Pastor Rick