Ancient Echoes of Love

“Ancient Echoes of Love”

A Sermon for Christ Reformed United Church of Christ

Shepherdstown, West Virginia

The Rev. Gayle Bach-Watson, Pastor

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany      February 19, 2017

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” These words from Deuteronomy, repeated here by Jesus, are some of the oldest existing prayers from the very beginning of Judaism. These words are called “The Shema,” and they form the very first prayer any Jewish child learns. The Shema is repeated during every Friday evening Sabbath service in the Synagogue and also in the home as the Sabbath candles are lit.

They place before us the call to love our God with all that we are, with all that we can be, with all that we yearn to be. Because God has first loved and created us our souls yearn towards God who is love. In the 17th century, the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.  It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”

We try to fill that vacuum, that hole, with all kinds of things, none of which are going to do the job, and we wonder why we ache, and why we feel incomplete. There is an old country-western song, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places,” and it’s true, isn’t it? We do look for love in so many places, when all we have to do is turn around, reach out, and let God take us into those arms that are waiting to enfold us in love.

The Shema would have been one of the very first prayers learned by the boy, Yeshua ben Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph. Jesus was the walking embodiment of the love of God. He was the message, who came to Earth in human form. He is the ultimate act of love and reconciliation coming to us. And in today’s Gospel is a line that we so often overlook. Let’s listen to it again.  “ ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’ ”

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus assumes that we do in fact love ourselves. It is obviously a given for him that we should do this. We are supposed to love ourselves. The all-too-frequent tendency for us to put ourselves down, to treat ourselves poorly, and to abuse ourselves would have been unfamiliar to Jesus. These characteristics of the Christian religion did not creep in until the new strain of Judaism became more and more known to the Gentiles of the ancient world and then merged with Greek and Roman philosophy to become the dominant religion of the Mediterranean. You see the dualistic, meaning two-sided, characteristics of human bad God good, and spirit good body bad, was not part of Jesus’ world. Jesus never intended that we beat up on ourselves all the time. It wouldn’t have crossed his mind that we weren’t loveable. Nowhere in his teachings are we instructed to constantly be-little and second guess ourselves. We are called to love others as we love ourselves. To cherish others as we should cherish and treasure ourselves. We are called to be gentle with ourselves and with others for we are all damaged and broken and in search of healing.

In love, we reach out to each other. In love, we bring healing and wholeness. And in healing and loving each other and ourselves, we bring healing and wholeness to the whole world.

The philosopher and theologian Henri Nouwen says, “Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. And I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”

Each of us here this morning has a calling from God. Each of us is called, and yes, commanded, to go forth into this world each day bearing the love of God to a world and a people who have forgotten how to love. Yes, they have forgotten what it is to love themselves, if, in fact, they have ever known that feeling. We are called to teach the world to love. And we are called to do that one interaction, one person, at a time. One touch at a time. One smile at a time. Called to love in the name of God.

And so I close with the words of award-winning author L. R. Knost. And I give them to you as a challenge, as a commission, and as a clarion call to love yourself and this world in the name of the God who loved you first:

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.

All things break. And all things can be mended.

Not with time, as they say, but with intention.

So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.

The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

  1. R. Knost

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