Jesus was once asked which was the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-33). He responded with “Love the Lord your God out of all your heart, out of all your soul, out of all your understanding, out of all your strength – and love your neighbor as yourself.”
When I teach the Ten Commandments to my confirmation students, I tell them that the first few commandments are about loving God, and the rest are about loving the neighbor. One flows out of the other. I love the way Martin Luther explains each of the commandments in his Small Catechism: “We are to fear and love God, so that…” and then explains what we are not to do according to the commandment, but also what we so instead to show love.
Each of the commandments flows out of the first commandment: Love God. Love for self comes from knowing you are a beloved child of God – and love for others flows from loving God in response to God’s love and mercy in your life.
What would it look like if we loved God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength? And loved our neighbors as ourselves, remembering Jesus redefined neighbors to include pretty much everyone. Including our enemies, who we are to love and pray for.
What if we loved ourselves for that matter -not narcissistic, inward-focused love, but truly loved ourselves as beloved children of God, created in the image of God? This is a self-love that is not selfish, but flows from God’s love for us and bubbles up, overflowing into the world.
If you pay attention to the news, or follow Facebook, you’ll see there’s a whole lot stuff out there that is exactly the opposite of loving God and loving the neighbor. There’s a lot of fear, anger and hatred being spouted. That’s evil rearing its ugly head. That’s sin inviting us to turn away from God and back in on ourselves.
Now you may be afraid – it is truly a frightening world these days! And you may be angry – there’s a lot to be angry about. But the faithful response is never hatred. Jesus is pretty clear – love God, love neighbor. Trust God. Pray for the enemies. Pray for the world. Trust God. And put that trust and love for God in action by loving in the face of fear, forgiving in the face of anger. Let love of God and others guide your choices and actions.
And when this seems just too impossible, ask God for help. For everything is possible with God.
I don’t ask my confirmation students to memorize the 10 Commandments any more. Memorization is not a high priority in school these days, and they don’t see the point in memorizing stuff they can look up on line. What I do ask is for them to memorize just this: Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as your self – and your neighbor is everyone. I do this because Jesus taught that if you remember just them much, you have all the Law and the Prophets.
I do this because if you can just remember to act out of love, you’ve got it right.