Lenten Devotional: February 28th

Posted by Brent.Barry on February 28, 2016

Lenten Devotionals 2016

For the last 6 ½ years we have been charging each other at the end of every worship service with these words:

Go out into the world in peace. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

The next two devotionals will explore our charge, and then we will delve into the Apostle's Creed.
When a scribe asked Jesus one day which of the commandments is the greatest, Jesus told the man what he already knew. He quoted the Torah, a passage called the Shema. 

Jesus didn't make up something on the spot, but went right to the Hebrew Scriptures, sixth chapter of Deuteronomy: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and (Jesus added) with all your strength. " 

Every Jew knew that verse by heart. They wrote it down and put it in a little pouch, which they wore on their wrists. They nailed it to the front door of their houses and taught it to their children. "God is one; love God with everything you have within you."

Then Jesus, without waiting to be asked, "which is the second greatest commandment?" told this scribe anyway. Once again he did not pull something out of thin air. He went straight to their scriptures – this time in Leviticus: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." This too had been part of their tradition for hundreds of years, so Jesus wasn't telling them anything new.

What was new, however, was that Jesus was drawing two different commandments from two different sources together – as though to say that love of God and love of neighbor cannot be separated.

We know what happens when we try to separate the two. Love for God alone easily becomes an abstraction. It may inspire prayer or meditation or mystical contemplation, but those are things we do all by ourselves without anyone else around. Love for neighbor alone can be a reverent humanism which accomplishes much good in the world, but humanism alone cannot answer to the problem of evil in the world and our participation in that evil.

What Jesus did that was unique was putting love of God and love of neighbor together: as though they were a single commandment. It's as though you cannot do one without doing the other and that by doing one, you do the other!

The common thread to both of these commands is the word love. An old mentor of mine comes to mind when the word love is mentioned.

Walter was my liaison to Greater Atlanta Presbytery. He was something of a mentor while I was in seminary in Atlanta. He had many, many years of pastoral experience and wisdom, and in retirement he had settled in as a pastoral counselor, something like Hank Hunt used to do at our church.

Walter was tall and thin with wire frame glasses and asked good questions that could not be answered quickly or lightly. When he smiled, his face lit up and he made me want to be a better person than I was. 

Walter also wrote me letters over the years after seminary well into the years of ministry. They would just show up randomly, no rhyme or reason. But then just after Walter was diagnosed with cancer he wrote the last letter I ever received from him. Part of the letter read:

"The church budget is important, paying the light bill is a necessity, the church meetings are a necessary evil, but there is something more important – have you loved today? Is ministry something to get done or have you related to and cared for those you have come into contact today? How about your wife and children? Have you taken the time to tell them how much you love them? Have you thought about how precious the gift of life really is? How have you loved today?"

I suppose having something like cancer will make you ask such questions like Walter did, but his question is a good one for us on this day and every day.

Have I loved today? Have you loved today? How have we loved? Who have we loved?
To end your devotional this morning recite the charge aloud, as we say it to each other every Sunday:

Go out into the world in peace. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Rev. Brent Barry, Pastor, NorthPark Presbyterian Church


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