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Thursday, October 20, 2011

25.A, Ordinary Time 30, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

"It leaves each generation with a new challenge: how do we speak about God in Christ in a way that communicates the essence of the good news to people in our culture?"
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 19, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

“Being a Christan is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Prayer
Drive from our hearts the idols this world worships, money, and power, privilege and prestige, that we may be free to serve you alone, and, by loving our neighbor as ourselves, may make your Son's new commandment of love the law that governs every aspect of our lives.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts: Matthew 22:34-46
I have decided that the world would truly be better off if people (including myself) would follow this very basic rule - this summary of the law given in this passage.

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we are to follow Jesus and what it is that we are supposed to be doing.  Truth is it is not that difficult.

We are to: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

 
In Paul's letter to the Galatians he claims that the summary of the law is from Leviticus 19:18: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord."  This passage is the most often used passage in the Gospel of Matthew and here in Jesus' teachings we see it once again reflecting what was an essential ingredient in Jesus' own teaching and in the teaching of the early church. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 247ff)  This statement fulfills the moral commands of the whole of the Decalogue from the rabbinic perspective and so we see that Jesus continues this teaching yet with a few changes.
 
Just as Jesus broadens the family of Abraham with a Gospel mission to all people; so too does he broaden the burden of the Decalogue's teaching beyond the neighbor who is family to include all people.  His command is one that is universal.  The Christian in fulfilling all righteousness (as did Jesus) must love all people and work for their well being.  This is the very core of what it means to be a Christian - to love others and work for their well being.  The mission of the Gospel is a message for all people and our love for neighbor is to be an action to all people.  Just as Jesus came into the world so we are sent with all power and authority to love all of his who are in the world.
 
The other piece of Jesus' teaching which is important is his understanding that the measure of our love for others is a measure revealed of our love towards God.  In other words, so connected is God to all the people of his creation, that one cannot measure your love of God without the measurement of your love for all people.
 
To love God with all that we are and all that we have is ultimately incarnated in our love for ourselves and the people in our lives and whom we meet. 
 
So why is it that the reality is that we can all name people, indeed we can convict ourselves (I can convict myself) for a lack of love of God based upon my lack of love for my self and my neighbor.  The reason is quite simple and that is that we just flat out don't love God and we don't love our neighbor more than we love our self.  The age old truth about human anthropology is this - we just are bound and determined to create the world in our own image, run things for our own self-service, and insure that we are cared for first and last over and above the needs of everyone else.  Sure on my best days I can do okay on this love others bit. We should cut our selves some slack...I mean we do a lot of good work as a community and I know a lot of saints of God who do amazing service in the name of God. That is true.  But mostly we serve ourselves. It is true. And, we should own it.
 
Our world and our church runs on the notion that we can create laws and ordinances, canons and policies, that will guide the human being into right action. 
 
We believe in our own needs so much that we universalize them pretending they are God's desires for us and God's desires for our neighbors.
 
What is the solution, like the pietist I say measure in the privacy of your own heart your life and actions and words (including emails) towards others.  Set a rule of life which offers opportunity to reflect on how you are doing.  Get into an accountability group of some kind and see a spiritual director or seek the guidance of clergy.  Your rule should also include confession.  Take stock and confess honestly how you have fallen short.  Only by doing this will you have the ability to reflect on opportunities to more carefully live into the virtue of Jesus' directions.  Only then will you rest upon the Grace of God and Jesus Christ for the strength to try again.  Go to church and place yourself in the presence of the God you love and see there in the community others struggling to love themselves, love others, and love God.  Join in a bible study and discern you ministry and what God would have you do. 
 
Most of all act.  Do outreach. Serve the poor. Help your neighbor. Look for opportunities to do something good for someone every day and don't tell anyone about it.  That is one of the best take aways from my years in Alanon.  Do something good, help someone, and don't brag about it.  Begin to see that your life is better when it is focused on others and helping others with their needs. 
 
Allison and Davies write this about this passage, "Jesus' words fulfil the law and the prophets; religious duties are to be performed not for human approval but grow out of the intimate relationship wit the heavenly Father, out of love for and devoted service to him; and the neighbour is to be loved and treated as one loves and treats oneself." (247)
 
When I die I would hope the simple life of having loved my neighbor will be a measure adequate for my fellows to say I was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ; and for my God to see that I have worshiped him in all faithfulness. 
 
A Little Bit for Everyone

The Scripture:

Matthew 22:34-46

34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.


The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.


The Kaleidescope Institute has reworked the questions somewhat and can be found here.


Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question


Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.


1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.


2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.


3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.


4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.


5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.


6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.


7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"


8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.


9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."


Martin Luther, the great Roman Catholic reformer and first protestant, called John 3.16 the "heart of the Gospel" and still others have called it the Gospel in miniature. (For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.) So we might unravel this teaching of Jesus for us today as the short course in Christian virtue.

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