May 22, 2021

May 22, 2021

May 22, 2021

Psalm 33:12-15, 20-22 (NIV)
Jim Hager 
Three Rivers District
Piney Flats UMC

Psalm 33:12-15, 20-22 (NIV)

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.
20 We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.


There are two words from today's scripture that speak volumes: heart and love. Throughout our Bible, these words become interrelated as they reveal the essence of the Creator. First, let us briefly examine love.  Many of us have listened to numerous repackaged sermons based on the multiple Greek translations of the word love. A list of Biblical references to love would take pages. In the NIV Bible, love is mentioned over 7,600 times. Dispensing with those tangents, in addition to Psalm 33, the following are a sampling of scriptural definitions of love as written by the Apostle John:

John 4:10 - This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:16 - And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
John 13:33-35 – 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. 
John 15:12-13 - 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.
Oswald Chambers emphasizes that "The love of God is not created— it is His nature. But it is impossible to exhaust God's love, and it is impossible to exhaust my love if it flows from the Spirit of God within me." Nevertheless, you cannot earn God's love. Fr. Henri Nouwen explains that everything that Jesus has done, said, and undergone is meant to show us that the love we most long for is given to us by God, not because we deserved it, but because God is a God of love.
Recent events call our attention to the shameful racial disparity in our country, which extends to skin color, ethnicity, and gender. Above this turmoil, God is saying, and even commanding, that we love one another regardless of perceptions.  We evolved with differences imbued by our Creator – a Creator to whom all lives matter – a Creator whose unreserved love embraces the totality of the creation of humankind.

One of my favorite statements, “love is what we do,” is from a paper by Richard Elliott Friedman: "Loving someone isn't based on what they do, say, think, or feel. Love is what we do. We love because God loves us. When we love our neighbor, we are showing Christ to the world. We always talk about Jesus loving the tax collectors and prostitutes. We should remember that he loved the Pharisees, Romans, and the people who hated him. We love not based on what they did but on who we are. We love them because we know God loves them.  The biggest problem in our world today is not them. It is us, Christians, who stopped loving our neighbor because they are different than we are." This also reminded me of a Pogo comic strip from many years ago, with the caption "I have met the enemy, and he is us."

Recently Rev. Danny Nettleton, pastor of the Bridle Creek Circuit, wrote a very meaningful devotion for The Call. I must include one of his paragraphs, hopefully with his approval.  In my opinion, he nails the issue of love: "After all, love is the ultimate purpose of life—love of God and love of neighbor. For as Paul reminds us in the 13th Chapter of Corinthians: we can strip ourselves of all the bracelets... remove every distraction! We can sell all our possessions and give the money to the poor... surrender our very bodies to the flames... But if we don't have love... well... it was all for nothing. All of it was just noisy gong and clanging cymbal... a whole lot of clink and jangle and a good deal of jingle and clank."
I can never ignore C.S. Lewis as I ponder and question any spiritual subject. He warns us that; "There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal."

In another read, Lewis stopped me in my tracks.  He praises those who respond to any question about the definition of God with the familiar "God is Love." However, Lewis says that this describes God as two persons, not to be confused with trinitarian theology.  He likens this to telling someone that your friend Bill is Robert, two subjects. Lewis makes the point that Love is God, a more complete embodiment of God's eternal presence.
Psalm 32 verse15 from today's scripture spotlights a vital connection to the existence of Love within us "from he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do." This is so important; Love was and is implanted into the hearts of all humankind!  It is there, but needs activation, or sadly, it can be rejected. We have a choice – the program is in place, but unlike AI-enhanced robots, we can choose.

Finally, replying to the question, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus's response united love and heart by quoting words from the Shema in Deuteronomy: "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And 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." 


Jesus then added, from Mark 12: 31: "The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Amen