A Message from Reverend, Jane L. Leechford, Senior Pastor
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'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 neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Matthew 22:34-40
Dear Church Family,
A major focus for the month of February is love. Love for our spouse, our boyfriend, our girlfriend, our children, our parents, is expressed through cards and candy and maybe jewelry if we're lucky. Jesus honors and speaks of love as well. However, he speaks of love in a very different way from the love expressed in Hallmark cards and movies on the Hallmark channel. He talks about love for our neighbor, no matter who they are - not only loving our neighbor but loving our neighbor as much as ourselves, as a continuation of our own being.
In the verses from Matthew 22, the Pharisees are at it - putting Jesus to the test, trying to stump him before the crowds. So, a lawyer asks the question, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" His question is probably intended to loosen Jesus up for trickier questions to follow. Jesus says to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Before the lawyer can follow up, however, Jesus continues: "And a second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." The Pharisees fail to recognize that one cannot love God if one does not love their neighbor.
The same goes for us. It is not enough to love God. Loving God does not give us a free pass to hate our brother, sister, or neighbor because God is in our brother, sister, and neighbor. The image of God is in each one of us. If we take the incarnation seriously, we affirm that to understand the fullness of God, we embrace and love our humanity. We cannot fully embrace and love humanity unless we know the one who made us and who put the image of God within us. We cannot love God with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind if we do not love our neighbor.
A man had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of the big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with a hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When finished, it was breath-taking. A neighbor asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?" The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!"
If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God's sake, for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like love.
It may take courage, vulnerability, and forgiveness to love as Jesus loves. Yet, whatever it takes is worth the cost because we are all inextricably connected to each other by Jesus. Our connection to him and to one another is grounded in the love and grace he offers to us and to all people.
Looking forward in hope and love,