Love–To Love is Imperative: a Reflection on Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, and Matthew 22:3
Do not confuse loving God and others with observance of certain religious requirements. The love God has for us, which we have received, in and through grace and Christ, must not be used “…in the service of power, prestige, and exclusion.” It is because of God’s grace, which we come to know and experience in Jesus Christ, that whenever we love, that is, serve anyone in vulnerability and authenticity, we are loving. Sola Gratia…only grace. Christians cannot take any credit for their salvation. Our salvation is based on unmerited favor, which we receive from the One who created us, redeems us, and sustains us. And Solo Christo…only Christ. Christians know their salvation from pain, despair, loneliness, suffering, and eternal separation from God is not accomplished through “stuff.” Only belief in Jesus Christ, the One who knows us the best and loves us the most, can save us from ourselves and all false saviors. Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins, relates the following story:
About a year into my first job as a pastor, I met a man who told me that he used to stay up all night every night, smoking pot and drawing at his kitchen table until going to bed at dawn. On one of those nights just like any other he was all alone in his kitchen smoking his usual pot and drawing his usual drawings, when he became aware of the kitchen filling with an overwhelming presence of warmth and love. The power of this presence was so strong and forceful that he was unable to remain in his chair. Struck to the ground, lying prostrate on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night, he said that he knew without a doubt in that moment that it was God telling him that he is loved absolutely and unconditionally and that the only possible path for his life was to receive that love and become a follower of Jesus. Which he did. And his life was never the same again.
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 and Psalm 1 confirm the point made in Matthew 22:34-46: Loving God and others is not observance of certain religious requirements, but imperative behavior. First, we can either prosper by obeying the teaching of YHWH or perish. The psalmist makes this point clear with images of streams of living water or driving wind and fruit producing trees or discarded chaff. Second, the ability to do the teaching of YHWH is dependent on one’s relationship with God, as the writer of Leviticus indicates. God has placed within each one of us all that we need to be obedient and to function in God’s ways. Followers of Jesus Christ, to love, period, is imperative. Be generous in your love of God and others. Again, I cite Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins,
We aren’t surprised when people stumble upon this mystery, wherever, and however that happens…None of us have cornered the market on Jesus, and none of us ever will…It is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destinies.
This is Reformation Sunday. We celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. Have you “reformed” your understanding of sola gratia…only grace and solo Christo…only Christ when it comes to your participating in God’s mission through serving and financial giving? Twenty percent and forty-three percent, respectively, of identified regular attenders and members of Geneva Presbyterian Church, have captured the theme of the Reformation that to love is not observance of certain religious requirements, but imperative behavior, in their serving and financial giving. We need more of you to respond to only grace and only Christ. We are to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers…” To love is imperative.
Tim Beach-Verhey in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 216.
Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York, New York: HarperOne, 2011), 139.
I am grateful for insights gleaned from Jann Cather Weaver and Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 203 and 195.
Rob Bell, Love Wins, 158-160.