St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Sean C. Kim
29 October 2023
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we have what is known as the Summary of the Law:
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ sayeth. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Sound familiar? Well, you just heard at the beginning of today’s service. The Summary of the Law is an integral part of the Anglican tradition of worship, and here at St. Mary’s, you hear it at every Mass.
As with many aspects of our liturgy, it is biblically based. In today’s reading from Matthew. Jesus is in the middle of a confrontation with Jewish leaders, who are out to test him. A lawyer, a Pharisee, asks him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest” Jesus responds by selecting two passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah. The first is Deuteronomy 6:5, and it is part of what is known as the shema: “Hear therefore, 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 mind.” The shema is an ancient confession of faith for Jews, and it is still used in worship today. But Jesus doesn’t stop there; he couples the shema with Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Judging from the silence that follows, Jesus passes the test. We are told that from that day on, no one dared to ask him any more questions (Matthew 22:46).
The Summary of the Law is a constant reminder of what it means to be a Christian and what we value most in our faith. All the laws and commandments can be boiled down to loving God and loving our neighbor – in Jesus’ words, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Loving God and loving neighbor are not only the two foundational commandments on which our faith rests; they are also inseparable and interrelated. Our love for neighbor flows out of our love for God. We cannot say that we love God if we do not love our neighbor.
Of the two commandments, however, we tend to hear and talk a lot more about loving neighbor than about loving God. Loving neighbor is a favorite topic of sermons. And around Christmas time, which is just around the corner, we hear the message not just in church but in our society at large. Think of all the feel-good movies and TV shows, and the calls for charitable giving during the season. We can never hear enough about loving our neighbor, but, the fact is, we don’t hear as much about loving God, even in church.
I think part of the reason is that we don’t always know what loving God means. We believe in it, but we wonder how we go about loving a God who is transcendent, beyond the reach of our five senses. We certainly cannot see or touch God, and we cannot put our arms around God and say “I love you” as we would a person. So how do we love God?
Well, the Summary of the Law provides a key. In fact, it lays out a three-fold approach to loving God – with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. To begin with, we love God with all our heart. The Hebrew word for heart has a different sense than in English. We tend to associate the heart with emotions, but in Hebrew the heart has more to do with intention. It is “the center of a person’s willing, choosing, doing.” So, to love God with all our heart means to turn our hearts, our intentions, away from the world and ourselves to God. It is placing God above our personal interests and desires.
Second, we love God with all our soul. We pour out what lies deep in our soul to God through prayer. Whether we do so in private or in public worship, prayer is our main line of communication with God. Through prayer, we give thanks as well as present our petitions and intercessions, and we listen to God’s voice and discern God’s will for our lives.
Finally, we love God with all our mind. For the Jews, loving God with their mind meant studying God’s Word as revealed in the Torah. For us Christians, it is the Bible. Some of you may be familiar with the daily devotional called Forward Day by Day. We have copies on our welcome desk in the Parish Hall, if you’d like to pick one up after the service, and it’s also available online. Forward Day by Day is published by the Forward Movement, an Episcopal organization, which recently did a survey of Episcopal churches on various topics, and it found, to no great surprise, that we as a denomination don’t read or know our Bible as well as other denominations. Perhaps it’s our focus on liturgy; I know Roman Catholics don’t do too well on biblical literacy either. But for whatever reason, we are not reading God’s Word as we should.
If I might share a personal note with you, actually a recommendation, I have found the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer to be a rich resource for both prayer and Bible study. I’ve been an Episcopalian for almost twenty years, but it wasn’t until I began the ordination process a few years ago that I discovered what a treasure the Daily Office was. Praying Morning and Evening Prayer every day is a source of great strength and spiritual growth. I love the rhythm and the discipline that it provides. And the Daily Office takes us into prayer as well as Bible study since both Morning and Evening Prayer have selected readings from the Psalms, the Old Testament, and New Testament. The Daily Office will basically take you through the entire Bible in three years. So, if you are not praying the Daily Office already, I would highly recommend it. Historically and theologically, the Daily Office is the most distinctive aspect of Anglican spirituality. And these days, there are all sorts of Internet programs that make it convenient and easy to pray the Daily Office.
Dear friends, as we pray and study Scripture, we are obeying the greatest commandment to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. And grounded in our love of God, we will be able to love our neighbors as ourselves. On these two pillars of love rests our calling as followers of the Lord Jesus. And during this time of war and violence, strife and division, we have a lot of work to do in living out our calling. So, let us pray as never before. Let us immerse ourselves in God’s Word. Let us go forth into the world proclaiming Christ’s Gospel of love. Amen.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!