Rooted and Grounded In Love
This Sunday is Reformation Sunday. 504 years ago today, Martin Luther began a movement within the church when he nailed his 95 theses to the castle church in Wittenberg. Since then theologians have continued to debate about what it means to be a church, and what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In the reformed tradition one of the big debates is what is the purpose of the law. In the centuries following Luther’s call for reform the law has seen three uses. The first use was a use that Luther believed about the law, and that is the law was to bring us to a conviction of our sins. In this use the 10 commandments were typically recited before the sermon, so that all would be ready to hear the gospel of forgiveness. The second use was used by church leaders of western nations, the purpose of the Ten Commandments was about maintaining a well ordered society.
Yet the Reformed church saw the use of the law as a pattern by which to show gratitude to God for God’s loving grace through Christ. Instead of reciting the 10 commandments before the sermon, the reformed church began reciting them after the sermon as a faithful response to hearing the Good News of God’s love through Christ. The law guides our life, the law guides our stewardship of all that God has given us.
Dr. Jack Rogers, professor of theology at San Francisco Seminary and Moderator of the 213th General Assembly of the PCUSA, writes, “For Reformed Christians in the Presbyterian Church, stewardship is an attitude toward life. We are saved to serve. Grace motivates us to live in gratitude. Redemption calls us to respond in thankfulness by caring for all of God’s creation and all of God’s creatures.”
Jesus in our gospel reading sums up the 10 commandments and all laws, and how this great law or commandment can guide us to a stewardship of faithful living. A scribe approaches Jesus and asks him, “Which commandment is first of all?” Jesus then summarizes the law in simply with these words, “The first is this, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you 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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
If grace motives us to live in gratitude, and the law is a pattern by which to show gratitude to God, and stewardship is an attitude toward life; then Jesus’ words paint a clear picture for how we live our life in gratitude to God…we love.
We love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This great commandment or law of all laws guides our life and guides are stewardship towards how we love God and all of God’s creation, especially our neighbor. As we have proclaimed these last few weeks, we are rooted and grounded in love.
In the gospel reading Jesus is reciting part of today’s Deuteronomy passage. “The is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” For generations this passage has been recited to children, talked about at home, bound on hands, fixed on foreheads, and written on doorpost.
As the Deuteronomy reading reminds us we are to keep these words about loving God in our heart. It might be easy to read these words, but Christ’s faithful have struggled at times with living out these words.
As a reformed church we proclaim to be a confessing church. “To be a confessing means to openly affirm, declare, acknowledge, or take a stand for what ones believes to be true.” Over the generations the reformed church has written confessions in uncertain, difficult, or defining times in the life of the church that have affirmed, declared, acknowledged, and taken a stand for what it means for Christians to be guided by the law or commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. These confessions affirm, declare, and acknowledge the way God’s love motivates us to be good stewards of our love to God and God’s creation.
Love God with all your heart… In Hebrew culture the “heart” was center of ones thinking. Giving gratitude to God with all your heart means to let God guide you in all your thinking, dreaming, wanting, and hoping.
During the 1960’s our reformed church confessed what it believes to love God with all your heart in the midst of racial inequality in our nation. With the words of the Confession of 1967 they confessed, “Already God’s reign is present as a ferment in the world, stirring hope in humankind and preparing the world to receive its ultimate judgement and redemption. With an urgency born of this hope, the church applies itself to present tasks and strives for a better world. It does not identify limited progress with the Kingdom of God on earth, nor does it despair in the face of disappointment and defeat. In steadfast hope, the church looks beyond all partial achievement to the final triumph of God.”
The church thinks, dreams, wants, hopes and strives for a better world by loving the world with its heart.
Love God with all your soul…The Hebrew word for soul literally means life. Giving gratitude to God with your soul means you love God with your whole life or all your being. The Confession of 1967 confesses about loving God with our soul or life with these words, “God has created humankind in a personal relation with God that humankind may respond to the love of the Creator...God has endowed humankind with capacities to make the world serve God’s needs and enjoy its good things. Life is a gift to be received with gratitude and a task to be pursued with courage.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism written in the 17th century as the Reformed church was taking shape in England affirms well what it means to love God with your all your soul. “What is the chief end of humankind? Humankind’s chief end is to glorify God and fully enjoy God forever.” The purpose of our life is to glorify God for the gift of love and grace made known to us through Jesus Christ, the purpose of our life is to love God forever.
Love God with all your mind…In Mark’s gospel Jesus proclaim we should love God with our mind. This way of loving is not mentioned directly in the Deuteronomy text. Scholars believe that Mark thought “heart” would be perceived differently by Greek readers and not come across as something that means to think or to dream. Giving gratitude to God with all your mind is to be honest thinkers who yearn to learn more about the world, yet we know the limits of human reason.
In the 1930’s the reformed church in Germany began to be threatened by Hilter’s rule and they were forced to make a choice, was Hitler the head of the church or was Jesus Christ? In response the reformed church in Germany confessed through the Declaration of Barmen that human thinking can only go so far, and Christ alone is the source of our righteous wisdom. They confessed, “Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption…we reject false doctrine, as though there are areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords—areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.”
Love God with all your strength…Giving gratitude to God with our strength is about loving God with our bodily power and the power that surrounds us. When we love God with our strength we love and glorify God with our hands, eyes, ears, mouth, and feet. To love with strength also proclaims that we give gratitude to God by dedicating our wealth, possessions, and power to serve God and love God’s creation.
In response to apartheid in South Africa the reformed church in 1986 took a stand for what it means to love God with all our strength, they confessed that, “God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek what is right; that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
When we live out our calling to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength we will naturally find ourselves in a place where we are loving our neighbor before ourself. To love God means we generously and compassionately love all that God created.
I’d like to close with some of the words from the Brief Statement of Faith. Words that remind us they we are rooted and grounded in love. Words that remind us what loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength looks like. Words that remind us what loving our neighbor looks like. Words that remind us that God’s love is present with us to guide us towards faithful living and God’s sprit will be present to give us courage as we dedicate our time, talent, treasure, and life, to loving God and God’s creation.
“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. In gratitude to God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Alleluia Amen!