Diocese of Hong Kong IslandDiocese of Hong Kong Island   Hong Kong Sheng Kung HuiHong Kong Sheng Kung Hui   St. John's Cathedral, Hong KongSt. John's Cathedral, Hong Kong

 

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Commanded to Love
29-October-2017
Preacher: The Revd Will Newman

My wife Dot tells me that all my sermons are about love. I don’t think that’s entirely true, and even if it is, I don’t really see that as too much of a problem. After all, there is some authority for talking about love, and this week there’s a special reason to do so, provided by no less a person than Jesus himself.

‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?’

Someone has counted up all the commandments in the Torah, the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. Apparently there are 613 written commandments, so Jesus had plenty to choose from. Jesus chose not one greatest command, but two greatest commandments; they come from two different books of the Old Testament. ‘Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength’ is in Deuteronomy. ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ is in Leviticus.

Jesus put them together, so that they are like two sides of a coin, you can’t have one without the other. This message is reinforced in the bible, in the 1st Letter of John, chapter 4, verses 22-24:

Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

There is no getting away from it, or explaining it away, or ignoring it. Loving your neighbour is not optional if we claim to love God.

Jesus’ single command to love is made up of three parts:

Love God

Love your neighbour

Love yourself

I wonder how easy you find it to do all three of these?

Do you love yourself? 

Some people – maybe most or all of us at some time in our life – find it very hard to love ourselves. Through failure, through disaster, through imagining or being told we’re not good enough, or not beautiful enough, or not something enough, we can come to believe that we are not lovable, that no-one could love us, and that we can’t even love ourselves. Unless we find help, or a way out, that way can take us down into depression, self-harm, and other kinds of destructive behavior.

At the other extreme, people can fall into narcissism. That might seem like loving yourself, but it’s not. It’s loving an ideal image of yourself, a perfect you that doesn’t exist except in your vain imagination. True self-love is able to see our faults and weaknesses as well as our good and positive sides, and to love ourselves with those faults and weaknesses, accepting ourselves for who we really are, not some idealized version of ourselves.

St Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century monk, and one of my father’s spiritual heroes, taught that self-love is the first step towards loving God. If we do not love ourselves we will be unable to show love, to give out love.

Do you love your neighbour? 

This a difficult step. A lawyer, challenged by Jesus to love his neighbour, tried to dodge the issue by asking ‘Who is my neighbour?’ In reply Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable telling us that our neighbour may be someone we don’t know, a stranger, a foreigner, not part of our religion, not someone who shares our ideas, not ‘one of us’. The Samaritan saw someone who needed help, and he felt compassion and went and did everything he could for him, generously and with no questions asked. Do we do the same?

It’s easy to love people we like and get on with, but the truth is that my neighbour is whoever I encounter. St John wrote that we should love our brothers and sisters, maybe meaning others in the church, but Christians are not always good at doing even that. But maybe St John meant that we should show love to all, like the Good Samaritan. And Jesus raised the bar to the highest level, teaching that we should love our enemy.

How do you measure up? Do you love your neighbour?

Loving our neighbour may be difficult to do consistently, but at least we know pretty much what should be done. What about loving God? What does it mean to love God, who we can’t see? Is loving God just a warm fuzzy feeling when we imagine God, when we think of God? Is that love? Or does loving God mean keeping God’s commandments? Jesus’ strong criticism of the Pharisees, who were dedicated to keeping the religious law in all aspects, suggests that keeping the commandments is not what we need to bring us close to God. Then what is it to love God?

For a Christian, there can only be one answer. To love God is to follow in the way of Jesus, bringing compassion, healing and forgiveness into the lives of those we encounter. To love God is to be a Good Samaritan to the neighbour who needs us, just because we are there when they need help.

In our first reading Moses dies at the end of a long life. He has shared himself with the children of Israel, giving up his life to lead and guide them through danger and despair.

In our second reading St Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica: ‘We were gentle with you like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children, and we love and care for you so much that we shared with you not only the gospel, we also shared ourselves.

In the Eucharist Jesus shares himself with us in bread and wine. To love God is to share ourselves with and for others, as Jesus shared himself. At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks ‘Which of the three men who passed the wounded man was a neighbour to him?’ the lawyer replies, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Amen.