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October 25 – Inseparable Love

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Inseparable Love—Matthew 22: 34-40

 (October 25, 2020-21st  Sunday after Pentecost)

My wife Andrea is a woman of many creative interests.  Our homes over the years have housed sewing rooms, a stained glass work space, knitting baskets and wire bead jewellery supplies and equipment and more.  For a while Andrea sold her wire bead jewellery at a market in Rosseau when we were in Parry Sound.  I remember at that time she had hundreds of beads of all colours and various designs.  They were all neatly organized in this storage unit that had all these tiny compartments, giving Andrea easy access to the exact bead she was looking for at any time.  Compartments are incredibly useful aren’t they?  Our lives are organized around the concept of compartments.  Think about language, each word is it’s own compartment.  Each word is a little drawer that contains what we mean when we say dog, tree, bagel or computer.  Sometimes we can have disagreements about what fits in these compartments.  For example, even though I own one I’m not convinced a Chihuahua is a dog.  Still, compartmentalizing helps us to organize and make sense of life.  Compartmentalizing does this by giving us control over our environments.

If your goal is control and mastery compartments are very useful.  Which makes them not very useful in the life of faith.  The life of faith is about surrender, not control.  It’s about surrendering our lives day in, day out as best we can to God, to love.  However that might look in each circumstance.  Which brings us to Jesus in today’s scripture,” “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22: 36-40) Matthew alone specifically adds that the second commandment is “like” the first.  We hear that and we think that love of neighbour is similar to love of God but the Greek word is more definitive, implying that the two commandments, love of God and love of neighbour are of equal importance, inseparable from each other.  You can’t first love God and then, as a second task, love your neighbour. To love God is to love one’s neighbor, and vice versa.[1]

We can’t abstract love of God from love of neighbour, we can’t abstract faith from life, we can’t put the sacred in one compartment and creation in another.  But people do, we all do at various points.  It helps explain American Evangelical support for the President, Christians who claim to love God but don’t seem to care too much about refugee children separated from their parents, their black neighbour’s experiences of racism or the health and well-being of others in a pandemic.  In this past three weeks we’ve witnessed some horrible incidents between Mi’kmaq and settler lobster fishers in Nova Scotia.  You can’t love God and not love those you don’t understand.  You can’t love God and not try to relate to those who make you uncomfortable.  You can’t love God and neglect the cries and needs of those around you.

This is not a judgement, it’s simply how faith works.  The further you get away from love, the further you get away from God.  When we compartmentalize God and neighbour we feel the discomfort of the dissonance that is created.  In the midst of that unease we have a choice.  We can retreat into the comfort of control, of religion that puts belief and moral righteousness above all else or we can surrender and venture into the unknown territory of love that asks everything of us but never leaves us. 

Lets take this up a level because this is not only a problem for people of faith but also for secular people.  When we abstract creation from spiritual values (unity, interdependence, love), when we ignore that creation is imbued with the sacred we wind up treating creation like an object for our own use and advancement.    The land and the waters get reduced to resources that have no value apart from how they might sustain or enrich us.  People get reduced to their labour and productivity, companies pit one country’s workers against another in a race to the bottom for wages and protections.  When creation has no value beyond it’s use to us, when we take the sacred out of the picture we are diminished, creation suffers, we all suffer.  We are alienated from each other and from the richness of our inherent connection to creation.  We take the beauty out of life and reduce it to something profane and ugly.

That’s what happens when we compartmentalize, when we separate the sacred from the everyday, when we separate love of God from Love of neighbour.  Have you ever tried to describe something you love, something you find beautiful to someone who just doesn’t get it?  You break it down into it’s parts.  A quilter might describe might describe the stitching and the pattern of a particular piece.  If it’s a painting you might describe the brush strokes, the use of light and perspective.  You break it down into its parts to try to explain it technically but somehow that fails, it’s incomplete.  There is something beyond the explainable, definable components of the thing.  The beauty, the sacredness is in it’s totality, the way everything works together to create something beautiful, something more than it’s parts, something unexplainable yet very real, something sacred.  Love God, love neighbour, love creation.  There is no distinction.  Think of the people whose faith you most admire and you will see this unity, this beauty.

There is a great simplicity in Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees.  Not that love is simple or easy—knowing what love looks like in any particular circumstance can be difficult.  Nevertheless, there is a great simplicity to the Christian faith—when in doubt love is the answer, love is the guide.  On love hang all the law and all the prophets; love is the key for understanding and knowing God.  The simplicity of it also rests in this—love is a gift that waits for us to realize that life’s compartments are only part of the story.  Love is a gift that waits for us to acknowledge that beyond mastery and control there lies more.  In the words of St. Augustine, “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”  Love is a gift, it waits for us to surrender to it’s all encompassing presence and beauty. 

Rev. Joe Gaspar

[1] Eugene Boring, Commentary on Matthew, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume VIII, Abingdon Press, Nashville Tennessee, 1994, page 426.