Sermons - October 2020
Sermon 4th October 2020
ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUNDAY 04 OCTOBER 2020, 11am
Finally, he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves,
‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.”
So, they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Matthew 21:37-39
Vineyards and violence, scapegoats and sacrifice,
respect, reverence, or rebellion –
just some of the themes in this morning’s scriptures.
“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” Isaiah 5:1
Given, gifted - all that vineyard needed to flourish: Yet?
The anguished question:
“What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”
(bitter and inedible.)
“I will make this vineyard a ruin of thorns and briars.”
What is this love song from the prophet Isaiah?
“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting;
vineyard owner) the Lord, expected justice, but saw bloodshed;
righteousness, but heard a cry! Isaiah 5:7
Matthew’s parable (Matt 21:33-43) lives out of Isaiah’s text.
Following on from last week’s reading, it is still the Monday
of what we now call Holy Week.
The day before – Palm Sunday - Jesus has entered Jerusalem,
mounted on the donkey/colt of prophecy. Behold your King comes.
For the moment, adored by the crowds.
Entering the Temple, he has caused pandemonium,
overturning the money-changers tables –
incensed at the institutionalised machinery
that exploits access to his Father’s house of prayer.
The next day, early in the morning,
returning to the city after a night’s rest, on the road he is hungry.
He spots a fig tree by the road, but upon inspection finds nothing but leaves.
“May you never bear fruit again!”
Immediately the tree withered. Signs and warnings.
Back in the Temple, the religious establishment,
angry at this disturber of the status quo,
ready to reach a verdict of condemnation, they interrogate:
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Jesus will not be drawn; instead offers the parable
of the vineyard owning father and two sons.
Both sons invited to labour for their father in the vineyard;
One, saying no – but then going to work;
The other, saying yes – but actually never going.
As the penny drops, Jesus tells the religious leaders:
“Truly I tell you, you are like that yes saying son, who doesn’t labour in the vineyard;
the tax collectors and the prostitutes
are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
Each dispute cranks up the desire of the opponents of Jesus to seek his death,
just as earlier authorities rejected the prophets.
Jesus is unrelenting: “Listen to another parable…”
A landowner, like the one in Isaiah, creates a fine vineyard –
protective hedge, watchtower, and winepress.
Then, the owner hands it over to the care of tenants.
But somewhere along the way, the tenants forget their place –
They make a land grab, believing the vineyard is now their private property,
a gated community, they the key-holders.
Woe betide any messengers sent by the owner
to remind the usurpers, of the original lease.
Matthew writes for an early Jewish-Christian community.
The mistreatment of the vineyard owner’s messengers is easily intelligible;
prophets of Israel’s history – the unsettling voices calling for justice,
advocating dignity and protection, often for the most vulnerable –
the widow, the orphan, the stranger in a foreign land.
Finally, the owner sends his son,
perhaps, naively thinking that he will fare better,
the evil tenants kill him, too,
to finally seize the inheritance.
Jesus asks: “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
From their own lips the chief priests and elders judge:
“a wretched death for wretched tenants….and other tenants to tend the vineyard.”
Apparently they are still unaware that they are applying the guilty verdict upon themselves.
Then Jesus asks: “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?
Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they realized that he was speaking about them.
They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds,
because they regarded him as a prophet.
Vineyards and violence, scapegoats and sacrifice, reverence or rebellion.
Finally comes the son…
If the earlier messengers were the prophets,
we understand the last to be Christ –
Seized, thrown out of the vineyard, and killed.
What strikes me about the son is his walk towards the danger –
like the emergency services personnel who rush towards the incident, not flee from it.
In an obituary yesterday for the last surviving member of the Parachute Regiment
(Colonel John Waddy, The Times 03 Oct 20) who fought at the battle of Arnhem in 1944, reference was made to how, as a young officer he looked out of the plane door
as they flew over the drop zone.
Under intense fire, he saw the plane nearest to his own, hit and crash into the ground, moments before his own platoon required to jump.
As he recounted: “I looked at my men, who were seated each side of the aircraft.
In the din, they hadn’t noticed what had just happened. I said nothing.”
Moments later they all went out the door (jumped into the fire zone.).
And I think of such choices, because of the story we will hear more fully next week
in the Caledonian Lecture hosted at St Columba’s on Wednesday evening.
It is the story of Jane Haining, the Church of Scotland missionary
who served in a mission school in Budapest in the 1930’s & 40’s; her charges were both Christian and Jewish schoolgirls. Over time she was known for her strict, devoted, love for them, regardless of their faith background. As the threat to the Jewish children grew Jane’s own choices shaped her final outcome.
In 1939 when war was declared, Haining was in the United Kingdom on leave.
Despite the Church of Scotland’s urging her not to return to Hungary,
she chose to go back.
“If these girls needed me in days of sunshine,
they will need me much more in days of darkness.”
Haining worked at the mission with colleagues until in 1944 she was reported to the authorities, arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where she died.
One of her former student’s told Mary Miller, our speaker on Wednesday the following:
In 1944, following the Nazi occupation of Hungary,
it was made compulsory for anyone Jewish to wear a yellow star on their clothes.
“Miss Haining sobbed, she walked with red eyes among us.
I heard later that she had tried to refuse ‘to mark those children
who were to be sent to the slaughterhouse because of their religion’.
The Germans’ reply was that if the order was disobeyed,
they would close the entire boarding house.
It was not Miss Haining herself who suggested it,
but it was acting in her spirit and personality that, irrespective of their religion,
every single boarder in the Girls’ Home sewed a yellow star on their uniform.
And that was how we left our building for our daily walk to Heroes’ Square and back,
Jewish and Christian, hand in hand, as equals.”
Jane Haining is the sole Scot commemorated as Righteous Among the Nations:
her name engraved on the Honour Wall of the Garden of the Righteous
at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem (the Holocaust museum.)
Finally comes the son – the corner stone rejected.
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.
Sermon 11th October 2020
ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUNDAY 11 OCTOBER 2020
“But when the king came in to see the guests,
he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,
and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’
And he was speechless. Matthew 22:11-12
Weddings, places of hospitality and dress codes
all make headlines these days.
In Scotland, those affected by the closure of bars and restaurants
tipped piles of unused ice into the streets - symbol of protest and dissatisfaction.
In two weekends time, there will be a wedding at St Columba’s
with a maximum fifteen guests – reduced from an earlier thirty.
And, whether in sanctuary or supermarket, today, masks required,
we search each other’s eyes hungrily, for smiles and recognition.
Weddings, places of hospitality and dress codes run through today’s gospel:
Look, I have prepared my dinner, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.
In recent weeks, we have followed a series of readings from Matthew’s Gospel (Chapters 21 & 22.) The theme has been Jesus’ conflict with the religious authorities of the day.
Entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday,
causing pandemonium in the Temple by overturning the money-changers tables,
cursing the roadside fig tree for not producing its fruit,
then a series of clashes with the priests and Pharisees –
(the father who asks two sons to work in his vineyard;
the hired hands in the fields, arriving early or late,
the tale of the wicked tenants who destroy the heir to the vineyard)
parables with themes of rejection and missed opportunities.
It is the road to Calvary.
Then, the parable of the wedding guests: traditionally understood in this way:
The king represents God, the son/bridegroom is Jesus,
the wedding feast is the Messianic banquet,
(On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines…” Isaiah 25:6)
the rejected slaves, are the Old Testament prophets,
and the A-list guests who refuse to attend the wedding
are the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day.
The B-listers who come in off the streets to fill the banquet hall are us, the gentiles.
But there are problems:
The potential for anti-Semitism, and a type of Christian triumphalism.
(Anyone who heard the Caledonian Lecture this week on Jane Haining
will appreciate the dark consequences of such views.)
But there is also the problem of God
“If someone were to make it into a movie, the genre would be horror.”
(Debie Thomas, Journey With Jesus)
The story king is petty, vengeful, and hotheaded;
burning an entire city to the ground, to appease his wounded ego;
forcing people into his house, to celebrate his son, ready to or not,
and casting a guest into “outer darkness” for not observing the dress code.
As a young person, hearing this story said this week:
“Is that it? That’s not a very good story.”
The Gospel of Luke carries the same parable – almost.
It is worth noting the differences.
Luke also relates the invitation to a feast.
As with Matthew, the A-listers make their excuses.
Once their no-show is evident, the host commands the servants
to trawl the highways and byways to fill the hall
with surprised and surprising guests.
It is a beautiful, if disconcerting picture,
of the generosity and inclusiveness of God,
even while rebuking those who decline the invitation.
In both versions whether the invitation is ignored or ignites,
the king’s desire is to fill his banqueting hall with honoured guests.
Yet Matthew’s tale reads more uncomfortably.
For a start it is violent.
The invited guests, not content to decline the invitation –
put the messengers to the sword.
In turn, the King whose invitation has been scorned makes a bloody retribution.
Then, for Matthew, there is the additional character of the wedding guest;
a second parable - the Badly Dressed Guest.
who finds his way into the banquet, but is then seized, bound and ejected
for failing to dress in the garments suitable for such a feast.
The party crasher – exposed.
In Matthew, both parables end in catastrophe;
to those who refused his invitation, the king "sent his army and burned their city."
Those who dressed inappropriately were
"tied hand and foot and thrown outside into the darkness."
The language is meant to shock us into our spiritual senses.
The traditional understanding?
A lack of a wedding robe reflects an inner apathy toward being a guest at the banquet.
At baptism, welcomed into the family of faith,
we symbolically put on the fresh garment of Christ:
To be clothed, as Paul puts it: with heartfelt compassion, generosity,
humility, gentleness and patience: and above all to put on love.
Do we manage that?
Is a little spiritual dry cleaning in order, or a complete wardrobe makeover?
If we accept the invitation to the banquet
we cannot carry on as if it wasn’t God’s wedding banquet;
with privilege comes responsibility.
There is another, untraditional reading of this parable.
What if God/Christ is not the king but the wedding guest,
inappropriately dressed, bound hand and foot and cast out?
The Son of Man with no wear to lay his head, the suffering servant, acquainted with sorrow.
The one guest who decides not to “wear the robe” of coerced celebration,
whose silent resistance leaves the king himself “speechless,”
bringing the sham feast to a thundering halt?
The one brave guest who chooses arrest - the outer darkness of Gethsemane and the cross –
rather than accept the authority of a violent, loveless sovereign?
(Again, the story of Jane Haining comes to mind.)
Today marks the start of Prisons Week: annual week of prayer for those in prison,
their families, Prison Staff and victims of crime.
This year London Prisons Mission draws attention to women released from prison:
Nearly six out of ten women leaving prison have nowhere safe to go.
Many women are released with just £46, a plastic bag, nowhere to live
and threat of recall if they miss their probation appointment.
In so many ways the consequences are catastrophic
for the women concerned, their families and for society.
Between 2019 and 2020, 65% of those released from prison without settled accommodation had reoffended according to an HMI Probation report.
Lack of secure housing is a significant barrier to successful rehabilitation.
This makes securing employment, maintaining positive mental health
and preventing a return to harmful behaviour such as substance abuse practically unachievable.
Simeon Sturney, Through The Gate Chaplain HMP & YOI Bronzefield, author of
One Mile to Make a Difference: Journeying with Former Prisoners on Their Road to True Freedom describes how he makes himself available to all women
at the time of their release from HMP Bronzefield, UK’s largest female prison.
It is a very vulnerable moment.
With so little to go to, there is high chance that the women
will fall into familiar and dangerous patterns.
Sturney makes a point to really listen and respect what the women say at this moment;
sometimes, carrying a case to the local train station,
to convey that the released woman is worth every minute of Sturney’s time.
“At the end of our engagement when I’ve walked with someone to the station,
I’ll wave her off on the train.
It’s then that she’ll thank me for helping her
and very often tell me what a difference I have made to her release.
I’m of the opinion that if the first hour goes well
there is a chance the second and third will also go well
and that she might get to her appointments that day.”
Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester and Bishop for Women’s Prisons
Writing in the London Prisons Week material prepared for this week (and available)
“I hope that the information in these pages will inspire us to pray for all individuals in prison
as well as their families, prison staff and all who work in the criminal justice system,
and to pray for new and deeper encounters with Jesus Christ.”
(Revd Neil Campbell, Chaplain at HMP Dumfries reminds us -
We do not pray from a position of strength….
not the innocent praying for the guilty or the right praying for the wrong
but people praying for people…)
Bishop Treweek concludes: “I also pray that we might be prompted to reflect
on how we can use our voice and resources in response to what we read.
May we discover that the struggles faced by individuals in the criminal justice system
are ‘our’ problem and not simply the problem of ‘others.’
Sermon 18th October 2020
ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUNDAY 18 OCTOBER 2020
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21
On the evenings when my wife Liz is out, or otherwise occupied
and my daughter is both in bed, and asleep,
a guilty pleasure is to head for the sports documentaries on Netflix.
They never make the cut for family viewing time,
out-voted by Strictly Come Dancing, and the like
One of “my” series is a fly on the wall look at Sunderland AFC – (a football team) -
the first team I was ever taken to see, live.
And so, fifty years on, still my team.
Even a passing acquaintance with the fortunes of football
will understand that being Sunderland fan
is not for those who rely on the adrenalin of winning of regular trophies.
(Comparisons with following the Scotland rugby team might be made?)
The documentary about the football club highlights,
how in an area of economic hardship,
the club exerts such a hold on people’s mood and morale,
for the uber-fans it is part, or even core to their identity.
The programme is titled: “Sunderland till I die.”
Where do our loyalties lie?
Football club or family, employer or employee,
individual talent or collective enterprise,
neighbour or nation, club or congregation?
Perhaps no single or simple answer to that.
The current pandemic, the regionalisation of the response to Covid,
everyone is facing decisions about how best and most appropriately to respond –
to conform, or not, to evolving government guidelines.
Loyalties are being asked, tested and challenged
in ways that are previously unimagined, not easy to navigate.
Where do our loyalties, where do our responsibilities lie?
In the 1930’s, a young man called Bernard Ferguson
Commissioned, pre-WWII, into the Black Watch Regiment.
His battalion were posted to Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow.
One Friday, as a junior officer (duty subaltern),
Ferguson was tasked to fetch the Company’s pay roll from the local bank –
the era of payment in cash only.
He and another young officer duly drove to the bank,
filled a tartan shopping bag with the men’s wages and returned to camp.
The bag contained £200-300, mostly in ten-shilling notes.
On the parade square the Colour Sergeant had set up a table
and was preparing to pay the men.
As Ferguson stepped from the car, and reached for the bag,
it toppled from his grasp.
Seemingly in slow motion the bag yawned open
and its contents cascaded forth.
Suddenly, the air was swirling-full of banknotes –
a stiff Glasgow breeze lifting the week’s wages high into the air
and distributing it randomly across the barracks.
Out of every block the soldiers (“Jocks”) poured forth
harvesting this unexpected bonanza.
The appalled Lieutenant Ferguson went into report the disaster to his Company Commander. Rapidly he calculated the implications –
approximately a year of his own wages, plus a year’s private allowance.
The Company commander simply said: “I wish you luck.”
But then something extraordinary happened.
A butcher’s lad on his bicycle brought £12 and 10 shillings in crumpled notes
and deposited them at the Colour Sergeant’s desk.
Followed, by soldier after soldier,
each handing over smoothed out handfuls.
Soldiers, not just from Ferguson’s own company, but from across the Battalion.
Some two hours later, the Colour Sergeant stood up and saluted the Company Commander.
“Every penny accounted for, Sir.”
Writing years later, Ferguson knew many of these soldiers earnt a pittance,
in many cases raising a family.
They came that day to receive their very basic pay parade wage.
Of the episode he concluded:
“There was, and is, no possible comment for me to make.”
(The Trumpet in the Hall, pp21 B Ferguson)
Where do our loyalties lie?
On a windswept Maryhill parade ground, a good day for proven loyalties;
a good way for proving loyalties.
Another public space; another scrutiny of loyalties.
The courtyard of Jerusalem’s Temple, days before Good Friday.
A hitherto unlikely alliance of Jesus’ enemies, Pharisees and Herodians,
setting a question, silk-gloved, to conceal its venom.
“Teacher, we know that you tell the truth.
You teach the truth about God’s will for people,
without worrying about what others think,
because you pay no attention to anyone’s status.
So, what is your opinion?
Is it against our Law to pay taxes to the Roman emperor or not?”
Though they are standing at the heart of the Jewish religious world,
the wider reality is that they live in the shadow of Rome’s eagle,
they are an occupied state.
One clear and galling demonstration of Roman power –
the collection of the tribute/poll tax –
a single coin, one denarius from each adult, each year.
Most likely the coin in question bore the image of the emperor Tiberius
who ruled Rome during those years (AD 14–37).
The coin would have deified Tiberius as a "son of the divine Augustus."
The other honouring him as the "Pontifex Maximus"
or "chief priest" of Roman polytheism —
a double symbol - absolute religious and civil authority for the Emperor,
reminder of subjugated status.
Hence the virus in the question: To pay or not to pay?
If Jesus declared, Lawful. Pay up, he is compromised - collaborator, a Quisling -
condoning both foreign power and the emperor’s divine status,
the double currency of oppression and blasphemy.
For the inquisitors however, the real beauty was that if Jesus declared, Unlawful. Do not pay.
He condemned himself, encouraging civil disobedience to a lawful authority.
And everyone knew how Rome dealt with sedition.
Hence the gleeful spite of anticipation: Answer A or Answer B;
one will take you down, the other will string you up.
“Hypocrites – mask wearers! Show me the coin used for the tax.”
Apparently Jesus doesn’t carry it, whereas his accusers do.
The ground begins to shift; the cage door eases open.
“Whose image is this?”
“Well then, give to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor
and give to God what belongs to God.”
Answer C, a new invention – with which the dove flies free.
Jesus does not legislate a regulation about a specific tax.
He doesn’t say that there are two distinct realms,
the religious and the secular, and that they are somehow separate.
Rather, he asks us to examine our consciences
both about daily priorities and ultimate allegiances.
Jesus does not deny that there are obligations and duties toward public authorities.
We are connected to those who govern and the policies they foster.
We are engaged in society.
[But then consider the much harder question:
What belongs to God? What kind of tribute do we owe to God?]
Of course, we hold loyalties to a family, a regiment, a church, a nation –
indeed these are often sources of our best living.
But according to Jesus they are not the final word.
Jesus reminds us that we carry another passport, another citizenship;
made in the image of God.
Accordingly, the claims of God outrank the pretensions of Caesar.
We started with a tale of loyalty; finish with another. (Canada Day/Thanksgiving)
In Margaret Craven’s beautiful novel, ‘I Heard the Owl Call my Name’,
A young priest, Mark Brian, is sent by his bishop to minister to a native village
in the wilds of British Columbia.
There he discovers that his vicarage is falling down. There is no plumbing.
The roof leaks. The walls are damp. The floor sags under his weight.
And when he tries to open a window, the whole sill comes loose in his hands!
It was hardly the welcome he hopes for.
At first, he thinks he will have to go around his parish
begging the locals to donate this and that and help him build a new house.
But he decides against it. He has come to give, and not to beg!
Instead, he enters into the life of the tribe.
He shares their hunting and fishing, their festivals and funerals,
their joys and their sorrows.
After a particularly tragic funeral, the Tribal Chief comes to see him.
‘Mark,’ he says, ‘the men have asked me to tell you,
that when you are ready to build a new vicarage, they will help you.
It would be wise to get it up before the rains come.’
After waiting for so long, what has happened?
It is Mark’s bishop who answers the question.
‘You suffered with them,’ the Bishop writes,
‘and now you are theirs and nothing will ever be the same again!’
Where do our loyalties lie? How is that proved?
In the faithful following – as best we can –
the One who, for love, suffered with us.
The One, who at the last sunset we might salute, with the words addressed to a commander:
“Every penny accounted for, Sir.”
Sermon 25th October 2020
ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUNDAY 25 OCTOBER 2020, 11am
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.”
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
On these two commandments hang all the laws and the prophets.
In the unpredictable nature of family TV viewing –
a new candidate has been elected premier in recent weeks.
Escape to the Country.
It is one of those property shows that allow one to oh and ah
over picturesque cottages, well-tended gardens and breath-taking views.
The format is tired and tested.
Each week a couple, or a family, explain how the time now feels right to uproot,
usually from somewhere urban, and find that elusive rural idyll.
Each week the chosen seekers are shown three properties in the area of their choice.
A reminder of so many beautiful parts of the United Kingdom.
The host-presenter asks them to specify what they want.
How many bedrooms, proximity to shops/schools, privacy or sea view etc.
What is striking, is the regularity/commonality of their motivation for moving -
the expressed belief/confidence that escaping to the country
will bring a sense of community.
Often, it seems that the escapees are leaving behind locations
where they have established neighbours and networks.
Anyone with minimal experience of village or island life
will know that the aches and pains of humanity
do not magically disappear, upon entry into a non-built up zone.
So, part of me fears a little, for the optimistic seekers,
even as I oh and ah along with them.
Timely therefore, to receive a message from church friends this week.
They reported, they had just finished reading a book entitled,
“Close to where the Heart Gives Out” by Malcolm Alexander.
A family doctor in Glasgow, who decided early on
there was more to his profession than writing and rewriting prescriptions.
So, when he saw the advertisement for an Island Doctor on Eday, in the Orkneys,
he jumped at the opportunity.
His wife, also a doctor and four young sons soon set off on the adventure of a life time.
They knew it would be different but did not reckon on all the experiences ahead.
He turned his knowledge and hand to veterinary problems
and when the minister went on sick leave indefinitely, he found himself in the pulpit!
My friends’ message ended with the words of the author’s closing acknowledgement.
“The people of EDAY, will never know how much they changed me,
allowing me to understand what really matters in life.
This book is my way of saying thank you to them
for showing me the only important thing in life is how we treat each other.
This is what our survival, our happiness, depends on and nothing more.'
A sense of community – how we treat each other – what really matters in life –
the heart of the matter?
“You shall love the Lord your God – and your neighbour as yourself.”
The atmosphere is antagonistic.
A series of challenges, stumbling blocks and disputes:
Teacher, to whom should we pay taxes – to the emperor or not?
If a widow has married each of seven brothers in her lifetime –
whose wife shall she be in heaven?
Now, Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?
The religious establishment is out to entrap the man from Nazareth.
They summon a lawyer, a professionally trained theologian to test Jesus,
hopefully to unearth a weakness,
expose an error, upon which they can fall like vultures.
Which is the first or greatest commandment?
Quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4,5:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.”
In other words, God is intimately interested in every aspect of our lives –
our work, our play, our prayer; our time, talents and touch;
interested in our friendships and finances,
our loves and our enmities, our dreams and decisions,
our arguments, achievements and failures.
You shall love the Lord your God with all of it,
the whole messy goulash of contradictions
that constitute most of our lives:
Love God with all of it,
because God loves us for all of it.
Jesus then takes the command from Leviticus 19:18:
“You shall not take vengeance
or bear a grudge against any of your people,
but you shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am the Lord.”
And places it on an equal footing with the Deuteronomy quotation.
Like oxen in the field, yoked together,
love of God and love of neighbour,
engine and balance, for all that follows.
Unshackle one from the other - and the plough will veer off course.
Love of God without love of neighbour
risks aloofness, hypocrisy, judgementalism.
(a religious man, in the worst sense of that word)
James’ epistle challenges its readers:
“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,
and one of you says to them:
Go in peace: keep warm and eat your fill,
and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Yet, love of neighbour, divorced from love of God
cuts us off from the source;
the source that enables us to keep loving in the first place.
Yesterday – very happily we held the first wedding back at St Columba’s
since the beginning of lock down in March.
Small in number, it felt unexpectedly special.
With many of the usual embellishments that accompany a traditional wedding, removed,
it was perhaps easier to glimpse the profundity of the couple’s commitment to each other.
We tend to think of love as a feeling/emotion;
love as romance; falling in love.
We are reluctant to think of love as a discipline/practice,
a concerted and continuing effort.
Jesus speaking of love as “greatest and first commandment.”
Actually, yesterday’s wedding couple chose a companion
that highlighted realism over romance:
[Excerpt from A Gift from the Sea, A. M. Lindbergh
“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time,
in exactly the same way, from moment to moment.
It is impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to.
And yet this is exactly what most of us demand.
We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships.
We leap at the flow of the tide
and resist in terror its ebb.
We are afraid it will never return.”
Anyone familiar with long term relationships, married or not, with God or neighbour,
will know it is never the finished article, always a work in progress.
As our Orkney friend, Andrea Price used to remind us – We are saints in training!
“You shall love the Lord your God – and your neighbour as yourself.”
Love of God with love of neighbour.
The motion is a grand circle – each reinforces and revives the other.
Love of God makes possible, and deepens love of neighbour;
love of neighbour puts flesh and bones on love of God.
Teresa of Avila, the C16th Spanish nun and mystic
left the oft-quoted meditation:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
A final fragment, also from Spain:
The new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell,
undertook the camino/pilgrimage to Spain’s, Santiago di Compostela.
He recorded his journey in a collection of stories and poems, entitled Striking Out.
In one, he recorded a day in the second week,
when he was feeling very tired and not at all sure he would be able to complete the journey.
Morale was definitely low.
Arriving in Aviles, he discovered that he had missed a phone call from his son.
“There was something so heartening and beautiful
about someone I love trying to contact me.
For the first time on the walk I wept – out of tiredness, exhaustion and joy.
(I wept. Because you are.)
To know that you are loved, and to have love for one another;
to feel that love reach out;
there is nothing better, nothing more joyful,
and nothing that could be given in exchange.
It really did feel like stones being rolled away.”
“You shall love the Lord your God – and your neighbour as yourself.”
On this hangs all the law and the prophets.
Love – bottom line and commandment;
heart of the matter and matter of the heart.