Angels help us to adore him
16th century saint, Teresa of Avila, was a live wire, reflected in her request: “God save us from gloomy saints.” Legend has it that while she was traveling to visit monasteries, her cart overturned and she ended up sitting in a mud puddle. With fist raised toward heaven, she addressed the Almighty: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.”
Offered in the same feisty, faithful spirit, she prayed: “God, I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you.” That prayer gives me strange comfort, as I’m aware of the limits of my love for God. I’m not always sure what it means to love God. But I gather it’s pretty important.
I’m reading my way through the gospel of Mark and came upon a passage last week that made me remember Teresa’s prayer. After a series of testy encounters with opponents trying to trip him up, Jesus is approached by a scribe who asks: What is the greatest commandment? Maybe it’s a trick question. Maybe it’s a trap. Maybe it’s a sincere wondering. It sounds to me like the scribe is telling Jesus, after a lot of discussion and dispute about religious rules: “Cut to the chase. Tell me what’s expected, what’s important, what matters.”
Jesus reaches back into his tradition, and recites the summary of the law. (The encounter is printed below.) The greatest commandment is simple, if not easy. It is one thing, except it’s two: love of God and love of neighbor. A succinct answer indicates limitless engagement: Love with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. The scribe agrees with Jesus, and Jesus commends his questioner with words I’d like to hear: “You are not far from the kingdom of heaven.” Often I feel pretty far. I’d like to be closer.
Apparently Jesus thinks that the fulfillment of the greatest commandment is not about right doctrine, not about right political point of view, not about right understanding of the liturgy, not about right advocacy or activism, not about right understanding of scripture. Teresa of Avila put it this way: “The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which stirs you to love.”
In other words, it’s about right relationship. All that Jesus wants from us is love, to be in loving relationship with God and neighbor. Jesus doesn’t seem to want us to know about God. Jesus wants us to know God. Jesus doesn’t seem to want us to love our understanding of God. Jesus wants us to love God.
Sometimes when Episcopalians hear this kind of talk, they balk at phrases that suggest a “personal relationship with God” or “a relationship with Jesus.” Sometimes they say: “That’s not how we talk.” The old hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus” does not show up in our 1982 Hymnal. I know well the pitfalls of boasting of relationship with God. That old ego can creep in anywhere, especially into religious observance. Case in point, as I’ve mentioned before, my beloved younger sister once gave me this tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker: “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.”
But I think we need to reclaim language of relationship, as a way to enter into the mystery of figuring out what it means to love God. It’s why we sing: “Angels help us to adore him.” We need help to grow in this way. Scripture offers assistance, as it claims that love of God can’t be separated from love of neighbor. One of the letters to John at the end of the New Testament pointedly asks: “How can you say you love God who you can’t see when you fail to love your neighbor who you can see.” Maybe that means if we’re struggling to figure out what it means to love God, a place to start is by showing love to those around us.
Think about what it means to love God, how that love is demonstrated, how it grows and how goes to work in your world this Monday.
Note: Just happened to run across this article which talks about actor Andrew Garfield and how preparation for the movie “Silence” caused him to fall in love with Jesus, much to his surprise.
If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God.
-Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked Jesus, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “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.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself”,-this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.