UP! Worship and Prayer.
Fourth Sunday before Advent. Kingdom Season. Sunday 4thNovember.
Main passage – Mark 12:28-34
also Hebrews 9:11-14.
Across the sermons this month – excluding next week – we will be thinking about Up, In, Out, how that is currently being worked out as a church but also how this shapes our own individual lives…
”Of all the commandments, which is the most important? ”The most important one, answered Jesus, is this ”Hear O Israel, the Lord our God ,the Lord is one. 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,love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
So is Jesus response to a scribe. Jesus takes the scribe and the listeners and us to the Shema. The word Shema, comes from the Hebrew word here translated as ”Hear”. For a faithful Jew, the Shema, is to be recited morning and evening each day,and it begins with the statement of the uniqueness of the Lord – the Lord is one – and continues with three scriptures – Deut 6, Deut 11, and Numbers. Jesus quotes part of Deuteronomy 6, as read in the first scripture of the Shema. In that place, Moses tells Israel, before they cross into the Promised Land – you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and strength.
Deuteronomy is the first book of the Torah where Israelis called to love Yahweh with their whole being – unreservedly and zealously even to the point of death.
The Jewish philosopher Maimonides, reflecting on Deuteronomy 6 wrote:
”What is the Lord of God that is appropriate? It is to love God with an exceedingly strong love until one’s soul is tied to the love of God. One should be … like a person who is love sick, whose thoughts cannot turn from his love for a particular woman. He is preoccupied with her all times, whether he is sitting or standing, whether he is eating or drinking. Even more intense should the love of God be in the hearts of those who love him, possessing them always as we are commanded ”with all your heart and with all your soul.”(Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, 2012 Zondervan, p.43)
This theme to love the Lord your God is woven within Deuteronomy, through statements and sentences to obey his commands, to hold fast to him, to walk in his ways, to fear or respect him.
Moses issues not only a command to love the Lord, but also that love is a response to the one who loves them and who has acted in love. Deuteronomy 10 & 11 :
”You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him and by his name you shall swear . He is your praise. He is your God. Who has done for you great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. You shall therefore love the Lord your God.”
We love in response to what we know and have seen and experienced of God and Christ.
As we explore the words being used, they help us see the richness and the challenge in Jesus words…
a) The word for love – a-hah-vah– includes love as emotion and affection – to feel love towards the Lord God is appropriate. But the word has a broader view. This word is more than how we feel or think, it includes how we live out our lives. It can mean ”to act lovingly towards”or be ”loyal to”. Love for God means action and it means living in a certain way.
But again, emotions are totally appropriate – as someone experiences God’s care, mercy for forgiveness, answers to pray, emotions are present, we feel love for God and want to express it. You only need to consider David, as the ark is brought to Jerusalem, his passion for his Lord, his love for Lord God, bursts into dance. You can feel it in the psalms as we read them aloud.
b) The word for Heart in Hebrew is – lev. The heart in Hebrew thought was seen as the centre of your inner life. The command centre of the body where decisions are made, plans are hatched, the place where we decide for or against God. This already suggests that the actions can be present but the heart is absent. We see that idea in what the scribe says to Jesus – ‘the key is love over sacrifice’. Hosea 6:6 says – the Lord says: ”For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, knowledge of God rather than burnt offering.” In that era, the sacrifices are being done, but the heart, is not one of love to God. And you can say we see this in the parable of the Lost sons (Luke 15) – the elder son, who outwardly has been serving his father, yet as his outburst shows, his heart is not focused on the father but on himself.
In the words that Jesus says in Mark, heart and mind, would cover what Deuteronomy states as ‘heart’.
c) With your Soul – neh-fesh – this is not about your character or your invisible self or your spiritual side. The word means ‘life’. Love the Lord your God with all your life. It suggests love the Lord with every moment through your life. With your life, it would mean also, for a Jew, to be willing to sacrifice your life for the Lord. It was said, if possible, for a Jew to be able to say the Shema at their death as final commitment to the Lord. Another Rabbi, Akiva, in the first century, was tortured to death publically by the Romans, for teaching the Torah. As the morning came, they heard him reciting the Shema instead of crying out in pain. Hisstudents nearby cried out, ”teacher even now you recite?” Rabbi Akiva said:All my life I have wondered about the phrase that says Love the Lord your God with all of your soul, wondering if I would ever have the privilege of doing this. Now the chance has come to me, shall I not grasp it with you?” And he continued reciting the Shema until he died. (Tverberg, pp49-49).
Today is the Annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Across the world, Christians are remembering, as Eddie Lyle,reminded us a couple of weeks ago, where to love the Lord God, to love Jesus,means a daily choice to love him with their souls, which as the Hebrew word reminds us, to love him with their lives. Churches across the globe are praying for Christians who face that challenge and threat to love Christ til death and in the face of death. To love the Lord with all their soul – all their life.
d) The third phrase is ”Love with all your very” – if you received a card from your spouse which said I love you with all my very -you’d think they had got a bit distracted when he or she was writing it. The word – meh-ode – has been wonderfully translated by a Hebrew scholar as love God with all your OOMPH! Love the Lord with heartily, earnestly, zealously! You can see how we translate it as ‘strength or might’. Love God with all you oomph. That is one the gifts of these days when All Saints Day is celebrated, to think, what saints – living or departed – have you known or met who loved God with all their oomph!
But that has been interpreted also in another additional way.All your very can mean ”love your God with all your increase / property.”This relates not only loving God through what we give, but also loving God with how we act with what he has given to us, how he has increased us.
You could say, what Jesus is affirming, is
”You should love the Lord with every thought you think. Live every hour of every day for him, be willing to sacrifice your life for him. Love him with all the oomph you have – zealously, passionately, wholeheartedly.” (inspired by Tverberg, p.53).
And of course, Jesus emphasises that for us – when he says to the scribe – all your heart all your soul all your mind all your strength. He says God is one whole single God – and Jesus says you are to love him with the whole single you! We remember the challenge of life and this is where we come to UP. See we enjoy the wonderful true words of Romans 8 – that nothing can separate us from the love God. But we know there are millions of things that can separate God from our love? Nothing will ever stop God loving us. But there is plenty that will stop us from loving God. Isn’t there?
What this all means is that when we gather here – to worship to pray – we can each possible come in different spiritual places. This is a time to express our praise, adoration, thanksgiving to God. To express our love, in response, to how he has saved us, how as Hebrews says, our consciences have been cleansed so we can serve the living God, (Heb 9:14), how he has shown mercy and grace in our failings, where we have seen answers to our intercessions,to adore his goodness, beauty and greatness. In Eucharist we are reminded of the new covenant and as we take the bread and wine, we again recommit ourselves to the covenant we are in with the Lord.
Yet as the psalms remind us, there are many other expressions we may make to God, for there are struggles in seeking to live a life loving the Lord. The laments – the struggles where the circumstances of live does not match what we expect of God, or simply where it is hard to keep faithful, where we don’t do what we want to do. There are even places in the psalms where some very blunt, angry words are said to God and about others. We come in different places when we gather.For some of us it is adoration. For others we are painfully aware that in our inner being, things aren’t not right, or we don’t want to offer the whole us to the Lord but only a fraction.
So when we gather there is so much going on as we seek to worship. Some prefer traditional hymns, others contemporary songs. For some to sing a verse once is how we adore, for others to sing a verse a few times is. A song or hymn can stir so much inside us – there are so many awesome words in our hymns and songs – so perhaps to share a couple of ideas.
During Communion when you have received bread and wine and you have returned to the seat, I recognise it can be a waiting time. How to use that time after giving personal thanks? Well I would invite you to pray for those who are still to receive. But also use that time, to press in closer to the Lord. Perhaps open your hymn book and look for those hymns which express where your heart is today, at this time and silently or even under your breath, pray them, say them. Secondly. When we sing a contemporary song or hymn, we are singing these to the Lord. Yet at times the word strike us in a certain way, we feel the need to respond or express /speak to the Lord. It is fine at that point to stop singing and to turn to prayer. Or when there is a musical gap – instrumental or moving into another song, we do not wait for that next song, but we continue in a place of adoration or intercession, bringing to God the thoughts stirred by that song orhymn we have just song.
I think it is important that people feel free to worship here as they need to. As a community of different traditions, we have preferred ways to worship. But also at different Sundays we may be in a different place.We may be deeply touched by receiving the bread, and want to pause before moving to take the wine. Other Sundays we may not be moved in such a way. But it is important none of us feel rushed. Similarly for others, clapping may be an expression, raising up of hands may be an expression. Perhaps as a hymn is sung, you are reminded of someone and you want to sit back down and pray for that person or for yourself. As we draw near to the Lord, as we open our hearts to him, our expression of love may take different forms.
Jesus as we saw tied together two commandments in his response. He stated for us to ‘love your neighbour’. This carries the image of serving others – like in the Good Samaritan – of helping those in need. This usually has in our mind, outward acts of care and appropriate living. But I suggest that is also includes prayer for others. When we think of UP, we think of worship but also prayer, and if loving God is about action, and it means walking in his ways, we know his commands to love others and so one way is to bring them before the Lord God in prayer.
It is also why we have encouraged in this year three initiatives.
To remind you of them.
1. Praying – as we mentioned for persecuted believers. So many Open Doors workers, including Eddie Lyle as he shared when he was here, when he meets the persecuted in Pakistan, India, Nigeria,wherever, they want out prayers. So each week we share a country, on facebook and in our weekly email, where Christians are currently persecuted.
2. Also we have included our prayer wheel – praying for different parts of this church’s life, ministry and mission – for the life of this community and the individuals who seek to serve the living God.
3. And finally the call to pray for 5 non Christians regularly and to pray for the street you live on and one or two nearby. German reformer, Martin Luther, said that one aspect of loving your neighbour was about helping them to get know the good news about Jesus. So praying for individuals who do not yet believe.
But also praying for the street where you live. To consider, is this part of God’s calling upon you, shown about where you are living. Are you living there by accident or hard work or investment. Or can it also be a God incidence? He has, like Esther, brought you to that place, that street for such a time as this. And part of showing your love to him, walking in his ways, will be considering how to pray for your street?
Jesus said: ”Hear O Israel, the Lord our God , the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Shall we pray…