Sunday 25th October 2020

Call to worship
Come, Immortal One, high and exalted
Come into our midst and share Your love
Come, Saviour Jesus, who reaches out to embrace the needy
Come and heal us with Your love
Come, Holy Spirit of light and life
Let Your love be in the praise we offer.

HYMN 160 Praise, my soul, the King of heaven

Prayer

Eternal God,
before whom the book of history is laid
and who sees every event,
knows every character,
experiences every moment,
compared to You we are but a dandelion clock
blowing in the wind,
or a speck of dust caught in the sunlight;

For we exist only in the moment,
what we call the present – a gift from You:
we cannot return to yesterday
and correct our errors,
we cannot venture into tomorrow
and discover what lies ahead,
now is all we have,
we are a limited people, confined, restricted;

And yet, from beyond time and all the stars,
You reach out to us in love
to embrace us, to enfold us,
to make us welcome,
and we rejoice and give You thanks
for Your mercy and Your grace.

God of mercy,
whose heart is full of forgiveness,
and who does not deal with us as we deserve:
When we have thought of ourselves more highly than we ought
and forgotten to put our relationship with You first;
Forgive us, we pray.

When we have loved only those who love us
and ignored or turned aside from those who need a smile
and a hand of friendship;
Forgive us, we pray.
When we have acted as if all tomorrow was ours
yet neglected to do good in the moment of this day;
Forgive us, we pray.

May Christ Jesus,
who healed the sick,
gave sight to the blind,
and loosened the tongues of the dumb,
free us from our faults
and all that would hold us back
from being the children
that the eternal and loving God desires
Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

Scripture Readings:

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

‘“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.

‘“Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

‘“Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord.

‘“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so that you will not share in their guilt.

‘“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.


Matthew 22: 34-40
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

HYMN 536 May the mind of Christ my saviour

Reflection
For many of us living in Britain today the phrase ‘back to basics’ may have become rather tainted. Its overuse by politicians of a generation ago seemed to transform its meaning from something radical to something slightly suspect. Yet, in our Gospel passage today, we find Jesus taking his listeners ‘back to basics’. In his continuing confrontation with the religious leaders they come to the very principles of their faith.

Before us is one of those Gospel stories with which we are so familiar that it fails to surprise us any longer. To us, Jesus is simply stating what we know – love God and love your neighbour. It seems obvious to us, however it may not have been so to Jesus’ original hearers.

For the religious leaders of the time, and for the people they taught, the Law given by God, through Moses was sacrosanct. There are not really that many laws or commandments but as scholars and teachers interpreted these according to different times and circumstances, a huge body of oral tradition and oral law began to emerge. In Jesus’ days these unwritten community laws and traditions were beginning to be recorded. The scribes and rabbis debated at some length about which of these were the most important. The Pharisees concluded that they all were; none had precedence over another, as all came from God.

So what Jesus is doing is taking his hearers back to first principles, back to basics. To “love God” with heart, soul and mind is a direct echo of the fundamental creed of Judaism (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The second command Jesus gives, to “love our neighbour”, again reflects the Old Testament Law (Leviticus 19:18). While many scribes of the time were expanding the legal precepts and making them more detailed, and more complex, Jesus acts to simplify things for the ordinary people.

But Jesus was not alone in this endeavour as other rabbis, too, had sought to make the Law clearer, and to reduce it to single principles. One of the great rabbis, for example, urged, “Whatever you wish men should do to you, do so to them.” Jesus did not set himself against the Law; what Jesus did was to challenge the assumption that rules about ceremonial Law was of equal importance with ethical Law. He also sought to end the growing practice of the day of making God’s Law more and more complicated, thus confusing the ordinary people. Jesus’ approach was simple and succinct. It was these changes that would have surprised Jesus’ audience.

All of the foregoing is, at best, only interesting if it has a practical meaning for our lives today. As followers of Jesus it is perhaps easier for us to reflect and act upon our understanding of what it means to “love God”. That may be simply because we spend time focussing on our worship of Him. But how easy is it for us to reflect and act upon the other command that we have looked at? How difficult do we find it to “love our neighbour”? Yet, if we take Jesus seriously, we are required to do just that. We may be okay with giving money to help eradicate poverty or disease; those would be acts of loving our neighbour. We may sign a petition, or write to our elected representatives, in a bid to have unjust laws changed; those would be seeking to love our neighbour too. But what about more difficult acts of love, the ones that require us to change our perspectives on humanity? In an age of ‘Black Lives Matter’ do we continue to speak of ‘Pakis’ and ‘Chinkies’? In the age of ‘#me to’, do men continue look at women as something to be used or abused? Those understandings of race and gender, just two examples of injustice among many possible ones, are prevalent among Christian communities as well as outside of them. We need to change. We need to change not just our outward actions, but our inner thoughts too.

Jesus, echoing the words of the Law in the Book of Leviticus, commands us to love our neighbour. However, the command does not end there; rather, it ends with the words “as yourself”. We are to love as we would wish ourselves to be loved. We are to give as we wish to be given to. We are to uphold as we wish to be upheld. This is not, though, about giving to receive a reward from either mankind or God. It is to give to complete that first command … to love God.

These are not easy things to do. It is easy to lose focus. It is easy to slip into old habits. We need to rely on God for the strength and willpower to see these through. Yet in our loving of our neighbour we are, in fact, giving worship to God. Loving our neighbour is honouring that creation of God who is made in the image of God. As we fulfil the second command we are also fulfilling the first.
Amen.

Prayer

Holy God,
who gave Your Law to Moses,
and who personified Your Law of Love
in Jesus your Son,
as Jesus reached out to those on the margins,
so now in our prayers we do likewise:

We pray for all who have little love in their lives –
those who are lonely and afraid,
those who are addicted and trapped,
those who grieve and mourn,
those whose relationships
have shattered into a thousand shards;
God of love,
help us to hold them close.

We pray for those who love the wrong things –
those for whom money or possessions are “god”
and where greed has taken over,
those who love only for gaining the approval of others, flattery, or power,
those who can only love self
and where bitterness or hurt has made them inward-looking;
God of love,
help us to unlock their hearts.

We pray for those who love to such an extent
as to give totally of self –
those who are persecuted for truth
or oppressed because they take a stand for justice,
those who face discrimination
because of skin colour, gender sexuality or class,
those who strive tirelessly for the Good News of Jesus
often facing hostility or apathy from others;
God of love,
help us to work in solidarity with them.

[A moment of silence to bring personal prayers to God…]

God of Love,
hear our prayers spoken and unspoken,
and receive them in Your grace and mercy,
through Jesus, our loving Saviour;
Amen

HYMN 166 Lord of all hopefulness

Benediction
May Almighty God,
who gave the Law through Moses
and grace and mercy in Jesus Christ
grant that this Law of love may be so written upon our hearts,
that we live both humbly, and faithfully.
As we do,
May that same God go with us,
blessing and keeping us,
each day of our lives.
Amen

Acknowledgements
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayers, and other liturgical items, from Church of Scotland Weekly Worship