Lenten Devotional: February 29th

Posted by Brent.Barry on February 29, 2016

Lenten Devotionals 2016

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.

What's one of the first words a baby learns? Isn't it "mine?" Of course that is completely appropriate developmentally, up until about the age of three. But some of us go our entire lives saying that over and over: "Mine." My feelings, my needs, my success, my happiness, my relationships, my goals, my dreams, my agenda, my salvation." Some people never grow up! It's always about them, but the words above from Matthew – those we say to each other at the end of every worship service at NorthPark – call us out of our own private worlds and introduce us to God and neighbor.

I remember a few years back a friend of mine sent me a photograph taken by the Hubble telescope showing various galaxies throughout the universe. One depicts what is called the "Sombrero Galaxy," because it's shaped like a Mexican hat! This galaxy is 28 million light years from ours. In other words, if you could travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) it would take you 28 million light years, that's 10 billion + 220 million years, just to get to the edge of the Sombrero galaxy. Then it would take you another 50,000 light years to get across it, and you would see about 800 billion suns as you went.

It just goes to show that I'm really not at the center of the universe and neither are you. It's really not about us! But one part of the universe is about us. It's about whether we have loved the people who are right next to us, right here in our galaxy, right here on our planet, right here in our neighborhood.

I think that is what we have been saying to each other at the end of every worship service for the last 6½ years. We have been charging each other at the end of every service to love God and neighbor.

I know these words are not easy. They are so hard when our world seems so God-forsaken and so un-neighborly. In fact these words have never has been easy. Frederich Buechner reminds us that when God's people were first taught to say the Shema "to love God with all that was within them," they were wandering in the wilderness. They were lost. They were afraid. They were hungry. They did not know what was going to happen to them, and they had no resources left. They believed they were going to die out there all alone.

That's when it is the very hardest to get outside of yourself, isn't it? When your world is falling down around you and you have nothing left except what's in your heart. The Shema was given, Buechner says, less as a commandment and more as a promise. It meant, "Love and you will live." Love and you will live; even though you are living on the edge of death.

Love is the center of Christian faith and life because it is the center of God's life. We might even say that love is the heartbeat of God and that this same love beats in our hearts as well. I once heard a story that I think illustrates this point.

A mother whose child was killed in a school shooting a few years ago allowed his organs to be harvested and transplanted to help save lives. Later this mother discovered the identity of the recipient of her child's heart, an adult male. She called him and went for a visit. They talked and wept and prayed together as you might expect. But then just before she left she did something unexpected. She asked, "Can I put my ear to your chest and hear my child's heart beating once more, giving life?"

The church is "the body of Christ," which beats with the heart of God's child. When God bends down to listen for the heartbeat of the church, what God expects to hear is the heartbeat of love. Say the words of our charge out loud one more time to end today's devotional.

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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