Gleanings from the Lectionary – Love First, Assemble Later

A New Testament scribe, enamored with Jesus’ adroitness in handling tough questions, offered up one of his own. “Which commandment is the first of all?” To which Jesus famously replied “Love God. And BTW, love neighbor is its close second.” This is a loose contemporary language translation, the JDRV if you will.

Similarly awed by the summation, we often fail to follow the conversation to its conclusion literally and theologically. The scribe praised Jesus for the response and said of the summary of the law, this “is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” to which Jesus responded “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus was pointing out, rather effusively albeit subtly, that the scribe was on to something critical. What had the scribe stumbled upon? That without love of God AND neighbor, corporate worship, read assembling together, is a non-starter.

Burnt offerings and sacrifices are a big deal in Judaism. One does not summarily dismiss them. Jesus came close. Granted Jesus did not insist they be put down, but religious offerings were put in proper perspectives. External acts, even ones intended to praise and honor, were made secondary to relationships, loving God and loving neighbor. Jesus suggested elsewhere that all the abstaining from unclean foods and ablutions in the world will not get to the root of the problem which is always a matter of the heart. Paul nails this in Romans, when he says that our reasonable or spiritual worship is to do as Jesus did, live and die for the welfare of others, to be living sacrifices.

Implications for us? What does this say about the image into which we are being transformed? How would the Holy Spirit shape us?

A disciple maintains a loose grip on his burnt offerings and sacrifices. Our assemblies (worship services) often draw the greatest critiques and an inordinate amount our energy. From “hymns are boring” to “contemporary music is a tool of the devil.” From “robes are antiquated” to “is there any natural fiber in that suit?” From “the presence of the American flag is offensive” to “if the flag is not in the procession, I am out of this church.” If you are in this business long enough, you will hear them all.

More important, as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit our hearts will be inclined to relationships, first ours with God and then with one another. Are we talking at God or talking with him? And is it mutual? Are we listening? A simple question may reveal the actual mutuality of our relationship. When did we last ask, “God, where is it that you want me to be more like you in Jesus?

And what of the care and concern for those the Lord Himself is assembling? Is the first in equal to the last in? Poor equal to rich? Black equal to white? Single equal to married? All sinners? “No one righteous, not even one?” One of ministry’s greatest disappointments is the inequality between founders and settlers, between first and last, those there at the beginning of a church and those God has later entrusted to their care. Cookies, those new people eat so many cookies. It is as if in achieving mission we encounter our greatest obstacles to obedience, to true worship.

Love first. Assemble later. Indeed don’t bother with the latter if we cannot agree the former is the basis for coming together.

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