I know in our society we often don’t think from a ‘commandment’ perspective. We would rather hear suggestions and have the freedom to determine for ourselves how to live. However, we are willing to acknowledge there are laws we need to observe in order to enjoy our freedom. In our fractured society we can lose sight of the fact that we are called to be so much more than ‘legal’ or following the status quo. As people of faith we are given commandments, not just suggestions, on how to live that express the “more” God calls us to be.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is he answered, ““The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Note these are not suggestions – they are commandments. They are divine rules on how we are to be present in the world. First and foremost, we are to be grounded in our love for God. This is not optional. Secondly, springing from our love for God is love for others. As we know from the story of the Good Samaritan, our neighbors are any people we come across. Our neighbors are not confined to the people who live by us or who are like us or even the people we like. So many of us know this, but do we live it?
With compassion and sadness we express our grief over senseless acts of hate based violence that touch our world such as recent shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue and at a store in Kentucky. In 2017, 29 transgendered individuals were violently killed and this is just one more statistic that illustrates the brokenness and lack of care present in our world today. We know it is not right to treat other people in such ways and our hearts yearn to console and support those who have suffered or lost loved ones because of hate and discrimination.
While we separate ourselves from people carrying out such hate crimes, we really need to look at our own behaviors, attitudes and responses. All of us tend to categorize people, but Jesus teaches us to look beyond differences and similarities. By what we think, say and do, do we reflect Jesus’ commandments of loving God and others? Is this what people can see in our personal lives and congregation? May we look beyond the categories we tend to put people in and respond as beloved people of God who love God and help all of our ‘neighbors’ know they also are beloved.
At a time when there is so much turmoil in our society and world we need to remember hope. As we learn from our faith in a God who works beyond the mystery and brokenness – there is always hope. Hope for a better day. Hope for a better world where the dignity of all individuals is honored and held with care. In our connection with others through the strands of God’s grace, we can share the warmth of God’s mercy and keep our eyes on the hope of a better world. The following is a powerful prayer written and shared by Rev. Shari Prestemon, our MN Conference Minister:
A PRAYER FOR GRACE & MERCY ON THIS TENDER DAY
All-knowing and ever-loving God, on this day in our nation when so much is at stake for so many, pour your abundant grace upon us:
*On those who step with shaky feet into a spotlight they never wanted, to speak of memories they wish they could forget;
*On those who will listen and question and determine, that they might seek truth with care and compassion and place people before politics;
*On a nation gripped by division, on a democracy vulnerable to decay;
*On all those for whom this moment brings trauma and old wounds ripped open and raw.
O God, have mercy upon each one. May your truth, your justice, your will be known, even and especially amid this turmoil of our own making.
In the name of the Christ who taught us a more excellent way. Amen.
(Written by Rev. Shari Prestemon, Minnesota Conference Minister UCC, 9/27/18)
With our hearts firmly planted in grace, together we can grow hope and work towards a world that reflects the dignity of God’s beautiful creation.