Manage episode 282694487 series 1229622
The Bible is a story about love. It is a story about God’s love for us, and it is a story of our attempt, sometimes more successfully than others, to try and follow God in this way of love. It is not always obvious that scripture is about love. Scripture was written by many different people, edited by many different people over a long period of time, writing with different styles, and different purposes and goals, so it is not always clear that scripture is about love. So how do we know that scripture is primarily a story of love--God’s love for us and our attempts to follow in that way of love?
We know that because it is what Jesus teaches us. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus said love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets. So in response to the question what is the most important law, Jesus said this doesn’t just apply to the law, but also to the prophets. The expression “the law and the prophets” is a shorthand or synonym for scripture. Jesus is saying all of scripture can be summed up in love. We see that time and again in Jesus’s actions, in Jesus’s teachings, in his teachings specifically about scripture. We see it here in the greatest commandment and again when he gives the new commandment to love one another as I have loved you. We see it in John’s Gospel when he tries to explain the Incarnation: why did it happen? For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. It is all about love.
We see that in the earliest followers of Jesus as well. We see it in the writing of the Epistles. We see it in Paul’s Epistles. We see it very clearly in First Corinthians: faith, hope, and love abide, and the greatest of these is love. We must remember that Paul is writing to people in Corinth because they were in deep conflict. He was writing to try and help them move through that conflict and to reconcile to each other. He is pointing back to this way of love that Jesus teaches us. He points to the primacy of love in our faith: faith, hope, and love abide and the greatest of these is love.
We see it in First John when the author of that Epistle is trying to explain to us the nature of God, and the author says God is love. Not that God loves us, which is true, but God is love. It is in God’s very nature that we find love. The author goes on to say therefore, we have to love one another. If we do not love, then we do not know God. For if you know God then you have seen love in its purest form. And then you want to act in love in response.
Jesus doesn’t just say that the passages about love are the most important passages. What Jesus says is that on love, love of God and love of neighbor, hangs all the law and the prophets. Even those areas that aren’t necessarily about love we have to read through that lens of love. If we don’t read scripture the way that leads to love, then something is not going right. We have to go back to it and try it again. We start seeing the ways that love shows up in the most surprising places, places that aren’t explicitly about love. Take for instance the first reading from last week, the beginning of the creation story. In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and the Holy Spirit moved over the waters. And God said let there be light, and there was light. God saw that it was good. There is nothing in there that says God did this in love, and yet when we read all of scripture through that lens of love, we begin to see that the act of creation was an act of love. Like in Desmond Tutu’s beautiful retelling of the creation story, we can say that God’s love bubbled up and bubbled over, overflowing in love.
Even though our readings today don’t explicitly talk about love, when we read it through the lens of love we see how all of them are pointing us to that love in different ways, different components, and different angles of that love. But all of it is pointing towards and showing us that love.
Take, for instance, our Psalm today. It is a beautiful poem, a beautiful meditation on God’s love for us. It describes this God who knows our waking, our rising, and our sitting down. In the little bits that are cut out, it says that wherever we go, God will always be present with us. If we go to the heavens or down to the grave, even there God is present, with the implication that in all the time in between God is present with us as well. No matter where we go in life, in this world, God lovingly is with us. The Psalm ends with that beautiful portion that talks about God knitting us in creation, knitting us together. If you have ever been with somebody while they knitted you know it is a long process and it is an act of love. When someone knits something for you it takes so much effort, so much skill, and so much time that you don’t knit somebody something because it is cheaper. It is easier to go and buy it. You knit something for someone because you are doing it in love. If someone knits you a pair of socks, or a prayer shawl like our Needle Arts Guild makes, you know that they are knitting that for you in love. It is almost sacramental, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The knitted item, that prayer shawl or that pair of socks, is something tangible, an outward and visible sign, of that inward and spiritual grace of the love they are expressing through their act of knitting. We have that image in the Psalm today of God knitting us, that act of love that God has for us.
We see that love in the Epistle. All things may be love, but not all things are beneficial. We may have rights to do certain things, but we have an obligation to something greater than ourselves. That willingness to lay aside our right to something for the benefit of the greater good, for the common good, for the other, or for your neighbor is an act of love. You may be able to do otherwise, but the way of love, the way that Jesus teaches us, tells us to do it differently for the sake of the greater community.
We see that love expressed in the Gospel. When Nathaniel is called, he says can anything good come out of Nazareth? That’s basically slander about Nazareth. It is a mean thing to say. Can anything good come out of that podunk backwater town? It’s an insensitive thing that he says. And yet Jesus invites him to follow out of love. Jesus is willing to set aside the rude thing that Nathaniel says to invite him into the fold because Jesus loves him.
We also see that love embodied in our first reading from Samuel. We see it in God’s call to Samuel, but we see it more profoundly in the second part of the reading when we see a new element and facet of that love. We realize that this love is not a squishy or easy love at times. This love has room for accountability when wrong is done. We can’t paper over it, we can’t fall down on grace and say let bygones be bygones. No--there is accountability for Eli because he was not able to control his sons and was not willing to call them out and make them accountable. So God says Eli, you have to be accountable now because you failed in the task that you needed to do. We see that even that can be an act of love. Sometimes we have to call somebody out, call them to account. We have to hold ourselves to account as well. Every time we go to confession we acknowledge that we have done something wrong and we promise to try and amend our lives. We try to right the wrong that we’ve done in this world. Last week when we renewed our baptismal vows and said we would try not to do anything evil. But when we do, when we fail in that task, we are going to repent and return to the Lord. We are not just going to return to the Lord, but we are going to repent and acknowledge that we have done something wrong. We are going to face the accountability there, and then come back and try again. All of that is bound up in God’s love, knowing that God will forgive us when we are willing to face that wrong that we have done, acknowledge it, and be willing to be accountable towards it.
All of these readings are weaving together this image of love. All this scripture weaves together this complex image of love. Love is not sentimental. Love is not easy. But love is God’s vision for this world because it was in love that God made this world. We face many challenges as a community, as a nation, as a world, and as followers of Jesus, as followers of God in this way of love, we know that that way of love is the path we must keep on taking, even when it is hard. That is the path that God has called us to follow. Follow Jesus on this way of love.