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Sermon at the Sung Eucharist on the Fourth Sunday before Advent 2018

Love God; love neighbour. Jesus’ greatest words are foundational to the life of the Christian community.

The Reverend Dr Fiona Stewart-Darling Priest Vicar

Sunday, 4th November 2018 at 11.00 AM

Love God; love neighbour. Jesus’ greatest words are foundational to the life of the Christian community. It is not surprising then that a version of today’s gospel also appears in Matthew and Luke’s gospels.

In Mark’s version of the narrative we hear that a scribe, a teacher of the Jewish law, was impressed by how Jesus answered questions some religious authorities had posed to him. So, the scribe asked Jesus a question “which commandment is the first of all?’ He is not asking which of the 613 laws can be obeyed or safely ignored. He is asking, “What is the fundamental premise of the law on which all the individual commands depend? “

Jesus replies by quoting the Shema, referring to the passage in Deuteronomy we heard read today. Where Moses is reminding the Israelites on the eve of entering the promised land not to forget God, but to remember God. He says,

"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 might"

The Shema, which gets it names from the first word in the verse, shema, which is Hebrew for "hear".  It stands at the heart of the Jewish faith. It is as familiar to the average Jew as the Lord's Prayer is to the average Christian. It is recited two times a day by observant Jews.

But we can’t love God in isolation from our other relationships in life. For this reason, Jesus couples, the command to love God with the command to love one’s neighbour as oneself.  Which is found in the Jewish law book of Leviticus.

Love is our inner commitment to God that is expressed in all our conduct and relationships. St John’s epistle reminds us - that those who do not love others can hardly claim to love God. These two commandments to love are at the heart of God’s primary ethical demands on us. Defining our responsibilities to our fellow human beings and stewardship of creation, and enacting God loves to his world.

I have recently been reading a book called ‘Flourishing – why we need religion is a globalised world’ by the Croatian Theologian Miroslav Volf. He says this about the commandment of Jesus to love God and love neighbour…

“the course of world history– Including the shape, direction, and significance of globalisation– is ultimately decided in the contest of desires in people’s hearts…Together, the two commandments which Christians have learned from the Jews and, arguably, share with Muslims, express both the primacy of the transcendent realm i.e. love of God, and the centrality of the mundane realm i.e. love of neighbour.”

We live in a globalized world, we are interconnected, through family ties (International marriages), economics, trade, communications, working together for the good of the all who live on the planet and the planet itself. Indeed, the United Nations launched in 2016, 17 Sustainable Development Goals. 

When we think about who our neighbours are, it is not just the person who lives next door, or our colleague at work. Interestingly when Jesus was asked a question by a Jew ‘who is my neighbour’ he told a parable and the neighbour was a Samaritan a race of people, the Jews hated. A modern day example of being neighbourly – After the Pittsburgh shooting at the Jewish synagogue, American Muslims raised $190,000 for the Jewish victims.          

In northern Europe we often talk about faith being on the decline, we talk about lack of church attendance and yet on the public stage religion is definitely not going away. 

The World Economic Forum report ‘Does Faith Matter’, published in 2014, made the following comment about religion and economic life.

Faith permeates our world, providing a moral and ethical compass for the vast majority of people.  Eight in ten people worldwide still identify with a religion. Evidence shows that –beyond individual religious practice – faith is increasingly moving into the public sphere and may affect various aspects of economic and social life.  More and more often, people of faith are becoming key partners in organizations aimed at tackling a varied set of global challenges – a sign of the important role of faith leaders and communities in bringing about social change.

There are many examples of Muslims and Christians working together, both motivated by respective faiths to love God and Love our neighbour, both acts being inseparable.

To give an example of this: On the 22nd March 2016 the Church of Scotland and the Islamic Finance Council UK signed a partnership agreement to co-develop an ethical finance solution open to all society, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background and based on the shared values between the faith traditions. As part of this agreement a series of workshops were initiated to identify and crystalise the shared values. This process contributed to what is now known as the Edinburgh Finance Declaration

 

Recently, I had the privilege to attend a conference in Edinburgh on Ethical Finance where the Edinburgh Finance Declaration was launched, and attend a dinner given by the Church of Scotland where I was among the various faith leaders invited to endorse this declaration.

 

The declaration lists the following as the shared values between the Islamic and Christian faith for doing good financial business.  The Shared values are:

  • Stewardship
  • Love of the Neighbour
  • Flourishing
  • Sustainability & Purposefulness
  • Justice & Equity
  • Common Good

Note that the second shared value mentioned - is Love of the neighbour.

This is what the declaration says about Love of the neighbour…

“Love of neighbour has been identified - (note) alongside love of God - as one of the two core shared values between Islam and Christianity. It has a wide-ranging impact on how we view the function of a just economy and follows on from the shared principle of the stewardship of humans on earth… Humankind are social beings and recognising the rights of the neighbour is a prelude to spiritual growth and flourishing.”

Often our view of people of other faiths is coloured or prejudiced by what we read or hear through the Media, and yet together there is amazing shared resource where the majority of people of all faiths long for the end of poverty, cessation of violence, economic justice and equality -  and here is a group of people in the UK trying to work together for these ends motivated by their respective faiths.

Jesus response to the scribe in our gospel reading when he reiterated the answer Jesus gave about the two commandments, Love God and love your neighbour – Jesus said to him. “You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ The scribe had begun the journey, but he had further to go - we must not simply keep the law and try and do our best to follow Jesus teaching – but we must also submit to the authority and person of Jesus Christ, who is indeed the very Son of God.  We also need realise that we can’t all this by ourselves, only when we have received God’s gift of love in Jesus Christ for ourselves, can we then learn to love God, and our neighbour, and work with our neighbours for the common good of all.

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