If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
-I John 4:20-21 (The Message)
Dear Members and Friends,
There is a story, apocryphal I am sure, about a wife who went to a therapist in tears. She had learned that her husband had been having an affair with another woman for some time and she was devastated. She did not think she could love him anymore and had decided she needed to divorce him, but wanted to inflict as much pain upon him as possible. The therapist told her to go home and behave as if she did not know anything about the affair. She should do all she could for the next two months to be kind, caring, compassionate, and solicitous toward her husband. She should cook for him, take care of his needs, and show great interest in him and his daily life. As much as possible she should show affection and kindness, love and tenderness toward him.
When the woman returned in two months she was no longer teary, but actually smiling. The therapist asked if she had done everything he suggested and she said that she had. To which the therapist then asked if she was now ready to divorce her husband and inflict maximum pain and rejection upon him? Horrified, the woman stated NO! Why would she do that. She loved her husband.
It is a mystery, yet it seems that when we decide to set our hearts in a direction, toward something or someone, and when we do the things that fulfill that commitment, our feelings often follow afterward. The laws of giving and Sabbath and loving are God’s way of getting us to do what we need to do, what’s good for us; these laws give us the direction for setting our hearts. Again, it is a think of mystery.
The great scholar Marcus Borg has called the two commandments Jesus gave: Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as you love yourself, as the Great Relationship. Borg wrote that this was the “remarkably simple vision of the Christian life. It is not complicated, though it is challenging. … at the center of a life grounded din the Bible is the twofold focus of the great relationship.
He calls it “relationship” because in truth, these two commandments are really two aspects of one commandment: to love God. When we understand that everything and everyone has been created by God, has issued from the very being and breath (spirit) of God, and that the breath (spirit) of God continues to inspire everything, then we realize that how we treat all of creation, including ourselves, our family, our neighbors, and all the natural world, is how we treat God. As the author of I John put it: You cannot claim to love God, whom you have never seen and at the same time treat your sisters and brothers with contempt and disdain. The command to love is two-fold. To love God, you must love your neighbor.
Stewardship is the practical, bottom-line, expression of love for neighbor and for God. What we do with our time, our talents, our money (yes) and our other resources, in caring for others and in showing our gratitude and devotion to God for all of it, demonstrates the truth of our love. As the message on the church sign out front for the past two weeks has stated: You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. (A quote from C. G. Jung, noted 20th century psychiatrist.)
As you prepare for Commitment Sunday this week and contemplate what you will do with your time, talent, money and other resources to support the work of God through Christ Congregational Church, think about how much God loves you. Contemplate how God’s love brought you to this community, has been poured into your heart through this community, and has nurtured and cared for you through this community. Reflect on how you have received love and how you can share love in return. Let these reflections guide your decision about your commitment for 2018.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida