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Proper 30, Year A

Acts of Love

Readings: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

“What is the most important commandment?” Jesus is asked. He answered with absolutely no hesitation. His answer, the shema, came from the Torah. Scripture comes in handy when you are put on the spot. “You shall 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 neighbour as yourself.” Jesus knew that there is ultimately one law only, the law to love. It is a law to love God with every part of our being, to love God totally. He knows that love of neighbour and love of self are inseparable from love of God. It is through opening up ourselves to love God, to come into relationship with God, that we learn to love. It is through experiencing love that we become loving people. It is through experiencing love that we enter into relationship with others and ultimately with God.

Unlike the Ten Commandments, the law to love is not simply a set of rules, but a way of life. I was reflecting on the overriding nature of the law to love. How different it is from the law as we know it. Are there other situations in life which are governed by such all encompassing laws?

This past week I was on the way to a meeting. I found myself driving through heavy traffic, something I am thankfully able to avoid most of the time. One driver was obviously in a great hurry. He cut me off forcing me to slam on my brakes. I must admit to you, my immediate thought was revenge. At that moment I wanted to chase him down, honking my horn loudly all the way, making certain that he knew the error of his ways. Instead I muttered a few uncharitable things under my breath, managing to restrain myself from any hand signals. I calmed myself and then had one of those ‘aha’ moments. There are many important laws that govern the way we drive. We had to learn them in order to pass our Driver’s test. Most of the time, we follow the rules of the road. We obey traffic lights. We refrain from speeding. Fear of getting a ticket or being in an accident gives most of us a sense of restraint. So if you asked me, “What is the most important commandment of driving?” I suspect my answer would be “Respect the rights of others”. We have a responsibility when we drive to be courteous and to drive with care. That is an overriding law that sums up all the rest. It is not that the need for the laws about speeding or driving on the right side of the road or stopping at a stop sign would disappear. It is just that by respecting others’ rights, we would naturally obey the laws.

So the overriding commandment for us as Christians is to love God and to love neighbour. Jesus makes it clear that 'loving action' is the ultimate authority. Love is beyond the claims of the law. There is ultimately one law alone, and that is the law to love. It is a law, first and foremost, to love God, to love totally in all that entails, to commit our lives to God. And the reality of our love of God is part and parcel of our love of neighbour. If we love God, it cannot help but result in loving action towards others. It cannot be lived out in our lives without looking at neighbourly love and at the question of social justice. It is a call to examine our responsibilities, not only to our next-door neighbour, but also to our global neighbours. It is no mistake that it is an integral part of our Baptismal covenant. Love of neighbour provides a simple guideline by which we can test our lives.

So the question remains, how are we doing in terms of love? Can I say that I love my neighbour and then get into my car and feel like running him down for cutting me off? Can I say that children are welcome in our church and then shake my fist at them when they make a noise? Can I say that I love my neighbour and ignore the pleas of the starving in Africa? Can I say that I love my neighbour and be complacent about the number of people who continue to die of AIDS throughout our world? To truly love our neighbours, and so to love God, we must learn to look and love beyond what first catches our eye. It must result in loving action.

Paul's ministry to the people of Thessalonica is a beautiful example, is it not, of what happens when one continues to lovingly minister even in the face of opposition. Paul's story is no fairy tale. His early ministry often took him to towns where he was stoned for his preaching and driven out. Ultimately he lost his life for the faith. Opposition to Paul in Thessalonica was particularly unpleasant. Yet he discovered something important about himself, about ministry, and about the faith from the experience. Despite the opposition there developed a real sense of commitment from many people. The communities became places of loving action and the beginning of a strong worldwide community of faith, one for which he was able to give thanks.

Loving action brings about radical change. A woman was seeking counsel for her marriage. “What is it that you want?” she was asked. “Revenge!” she said. And went on to list all the things she hated about her husband. The counsellor said to her, “If you truly want revenge the best way to get it is to go home and begin to do loving things for him. Cook him special meals. Go out of your way to be nice to him. And then when you have sucked him in, tell him you want a divorce.”

A month later she went back to see the counsellor. “How are things? Are you getting a divorce?” he asked. “Oh no!” she said. “Things are wonderful. I discovered when I was being nice to my husband that I really loved him. We are reconciled. Things have never been better.”

Things do not always work out that way. Marriages do break down. But we can put the Gospel of love into action every day of our lives. And it will make a difference. To know Christ is not something I think or intellectualize. Christ is a person to whom I respond by loving. And that love is shown by my loving action in the world. The Gospel calls us to more than words.

It is the small acts of love that happen every day that make this parish a wonderful, sustaining family. All we need to do to remind ourselves of that is to look at our apple tree banner. There graphically displayed are the acts of love that make this parish flourish. Those are just the beginning of the actions that you take. You pray for and visit the sick and those in need. You phone those you notice are missing from church. You cook food for the bereaved. You volunteer at the Food Bank. You take the time to listen to a friend in need. You send a timely email message to bolster someone who is feeling down.

A poem by an anonymous writer sums it up beautifully. "I sought my soul, and the soul I could not see. I sought my God and God eluded me. I sought my neighbour and found all three." Amen
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