by Daniel Irvine
We should all be quite familiar with today’s gospel text from Matthew.
‘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 neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
It is often read before the confession as a way of, just as it says, summarising the whole Law and the prophets in a very concise and yet incredibly powerful way.
This was the whole purpose of God’s covenants with humankind and the whole purpose of all the events that were recorded in histories, prophecies and poetry of the Old Testament.
To make human beings aware that God loved them, to call them to love God in return and to point out starkly that that love of God is intrinsically linked with our love of our neighbour, and as Jesus points out through the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke, what defines our neighbour has nothing to do with their physical proximity.
One could even say the definition of neighbour extends to our global neighbourhood, encompassing not only every other member of the human race, but also all of creation with whom we share this planet, this incredible gift of God, this unimaginable gem in an infinite universe.
Indeed we might even extend that definition to the planet itself, which our civilisation has thus far shown anything but love!
The immense importance that is rightly attached to these verses is captured poignantly in the first epistle of John where it says:
“For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” (1 John 3:11-11-24)
These are powerful words and should give all of us cause to pause and take stock in our actions, not just our words, and to think about the role and mission of the Church in the world.
Sadly all too often we fall short of this glorious and lofty goal. We don’t always act with love and kindness the way we know we should, the way we so badly want to do.
Sadly all too often those who are entrusted to care for and protect the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalised and oppressed, instead become twisted and corrupted by power and a sense of immunity and entitlement and so turn to various forms of abuse, leaving their victims scarred and disfigured, sometimes physically but more often emotionally and spiritually.
It is sadly far too easy to think of examples, of institutionalised child abuse with churches and other care agencies, to think of the damage and ongoing generational trauma caused by short-sighted and bigoted policies such as the “Stolen Generation”, to even consider the damage caused to a person’s soul when they are vilified and denied the fullness of life and equal participation within society because of their sexuality.
LGBTI youths between the ages of 16 to 27 are five times more likely to commit suicide when compared to the general population.
These stories and these figures are a sad and tragic reminder of the imperfections in our society, imperfections that we are called on as the Body of Christ to eliminate, not to reinforce.
We are only human though, and sometimes it feels like we are trying to swim against a raging tide that is pushing and pulling us in directions that we simply do not wish to go.
Thankfully God is gracious and forgiving, but that does not abrogate our responsibility to try and do something to help those who are suffering, those who are in need, those who live each day in fear because of the harm that was done to them by those who should have been seeking their welfare.
Next week the Blue Knot Foundation holds its annual day of awareness to remind people of the complexities faced by those who are living with the impact of childhood trauma and abuse.
Among the things we can do to help are to firstly, as in any situation, to become more educated about the problems faced by those members of our society living with these scars of childhood abuse and trauma. We can visit their website, read the literature, understand more about the problem, let others, who might be dismissive and claim that it is in the past and people should just get over it, know just how deep these hurts can run within the human soul.
But we can also give to the foundation to support their work in supporting adult survivors of childhood abuse and trauma and in raising awareness of this problem amongst the general population. With that end in mind we are going to be taking up a retiring offering this week and next, so that all those who feel moved have the opportunity to give to this worthy cause.
I pray that we all might give as generously as we can to help liberate those individuals trapped in the darkness of their past in the same way that Jesus Christ came to liberate all of us from the darkness of our Sin.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.