First things first

Easter 7C
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
2 June 2019

 

Mission-nutshell.jpg

 

 

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At its last meeting, Parish Council agreed that we would use the five Sundays during June to reflect on our core mission as Christians: first of all, to love God, and secondly, to love other people just as we love ourselves.

We plan to do that by paying attention to some very familiar words, what we call the Two Great Commandments:

‘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.’ Jesus said: ‘This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

 

The sermons during these five weeks will focus on loving God with our hearts (this week), loving God with our souls (next week), then loving God with our minds and with our strength, concluding with love for other people.

So today we ask, where is our heart?

Jesus famously invited people to think about where our hearts are because, as he observed, where our hearts are focused is where we will find our deepest meaning. That will also tend to be where we allocate as much of our resources as we can spare, and sometimes even more than we can spare.

This invitation is a good place to begin as we reflect on God’s call on our lives during these five Sundays.

Is our faith something at the very core of who we are, or simply a vague interest to which we turn our attention where there is nothing more pressing on our minds?

Australians tend to default to a mindset that leaves God out of the picture, unless and until there is some crisis that causes us to refocus on our faith.

Yet the call from Jesus, who was simply echoing the traditional Shema of ancient Israel urges us to make love for God the most important thing in our lives.

Here is the original Jewish version of that great commandment:

Shema Yisrael, 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 strength.

 

That was the divine call which Jesus accepted for himself, and he invites us—indeed he commands us—to make this obligation our own.

A life centred around love for God cannot be a selfish life.

We choose no longer to live for ourselves, but for God—and thus for others.

Imagine how different our city would be, our nation would be, and our world would be, if people were driven by their love for God and then looked for ways to express that commitment by compassionate action towards other people.

Notice, however, that Jesus is not asking people to be more religious.

He is not asking for more actions that impress other people with our investment in religion or in personal development or in spirituality.

Ever the radical prophet, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter. He demands that we love God, rather than act more religious.

This is clear from the context of this statement by Jesus, which we rarely hear when these familiar words are read in church.

In the Gospel, Jesus has just been asked about the one religious obligation that a good Jew should be sure to observe.

There were a variety of possible answers:

  • Observe Sabbath
  • Keep the Ten Commandments
  • Pray at the temple often
  • Bring offerings: lots of them and big ones
  • Give charitable assistance to the needy
  • Keep a kosher kitchen
  • Avoid sexual immorality
  • And more

 

Jesus declines to pick any of these external religious observances.

Instead he cuts to the core of the issue and demands just one thing: Love God with your heart …

From the very centre of our being, make God our first priority.

Not the church …

not the family …

not the career …

not the reputation …

not the hobby …

 

Just get this one thing right and the rest will sort itself out: Love God.

Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 Jesus makes the same point but in very different words:

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. [Matt 5:33]

 

In the Lord’s Prayer, the first thing that we actually ask is that God’s kingdom will come … we seek that blessing before we ask for our daily bread, forgiveness of our sins, or protection from temptation.

First things first …

First, we seek for the kingdom of God.

Your kingdom come …

Everything else we need will come in its own good time, if we can just get that basic orientation of our innermost self right in the first instance.

Shema Yisrael, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart …

… strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well

 

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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