31 Sunday B: Foundation of Our Faith - Shema - 3 Loves


Reflection

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.’ Was this simply the setting of an impossible ideal? For it would seem that much of the history of the People of God is merely a demonstration of how much they failed to live up to their calling. It is as though the priests offering sacrifices in the temple were busy trying in vain to keep open the lines of communication between heaven and earth. Jesus, however, lived out the Shema to the very point of laying down his life and in so doing he unblocked the path between God and humanity. This is how he became our way to the Father and changed what seemed like an impossible ideal into a wonderful opportunity. We really can love God because he has loved us first.
Gospel: Mark 12:28-34

 Michel DeVerteuil 
Textual Comments
This Sunday’s passage consists mainly of abstract teaching, but the context is a story, and it would be good to enter into it. You can read it simply as a story of Jesus the teacher, and notice how he enters into a real dialogue with the scribe:
– verse 28, the scribe initiates the dialogue with a question;
– verses 29 to 31, Jesus answers the question with a clear but paradoxical answer, since the “first” commandment turns out to be two;
verses 32 and 33, the scribe takes up the dialogue by accepting the teaching of Jesus, but adds his own interpretation;
verse 34, Jesus continues the dialogue by complimenting the scribe, and then invites him to go further, since he is still not at “the kingdom” although he is “not far”.
As you go through the verses you can focus on the scribe – evidently a humble person who grows in confidence through the dialogue – or on Jesus, the model of one who can walk with another into the truth.
You might prefer to concentrate on the content of the teaching in the passage, .
At one level there is the “first commandment,” greater than any other, and in particular greater than any “holocaust or sacrifice”, which you can interpret either as ritual sacrifices or as the sacrifices involved in daily living. Remember the actual journey that you (or others) have made from putting other commandments higher that “the first” to when Jesus brought you back to a correct hierarchy of values.
At a second level, there is the paradox which I mentioned earlier of a “first commandment” which turns out to be two, although within the two (which are really one) there is an inner hierarchy. Don’t leave this teaching abstract, but situate it in the context of a journey which leads there.
Finally, you might like to focus on the teaching on loving one’s neighbour as oneself. Don’t take it for granted that you have accepted it. Explore the meaning of “as oneself”; let it shock and disturb you until you perceive as if for the first time that you had settled for a particular understanding of the concept of loving your neighbour, and see how these words modify it.

Scriptural Prayer Reflection

Lord, there was a time when we felt confused,
pulled in different directions.
as we tried to satisfy all our obligations.
We thank you that you always send us teachers like Jesus
who bring us back to basics.
They make us experience that loving you with all our hearts,
with all our understanding and strength,
and to love our neighbour as ourselves
is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.
At that moment we know that we are on the right road to the Kingdom
and we don’t feel the need to ask any further questions.
Lord, we serve you in our private lives, in church and in our prayer,
in our families, within our circle of friends.
But in the world of business, politics and international relations we follow other gods.
Send us teachers like Jesus to remind us that you are one Lord,
that you are one and there is no other God,
and that in every area of life we must love our neighbour as ourselves.
Lord, it is fairly easy to help our neighbours,
to give things that are left over and that we no longer need,
even to put ourselves to some trouble
so that they may have something to eat and clothes to wear.
But your commandment calls us to go further
and to love our neighbour as ourselves,
to experience that we need them as they need us,
that when we forgive them it is our own sins that we forgive,
and when we pity them it is because we ourselves need pity.
An Aboriginal Australian once said to a missionary:
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.
But it you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us work together.”
Lord, we thank you for your commandment,
you must love your neighbour as yourself.
Lord, we pray that your Church may enter into dialogue
with the learned people, the scribes, of our modern world,
not arrogantly, but like Jesus,
answering clearly the questions they put to us,
so that we can feel that we have spoken well
and that what we have said is true,
and so that listening to them in turn
we too may discover how wisely they speak
and how they are not far from the kingdom;
then there will be no more of that constant questioning of one another.
Lord, there are often very wise people in our communities
who are shy to come forward, like the scribe in the gospel story.
They prefer to listen to others debating
and to observe how well the teacher is answering
before they will come up and put their own questions.
We thank you for teachers like Jesus
who can respond to them and help them express in their own way
their understanding of the commandments,
and so find that they are on the right road to the kingdom.
Lord, some of us are shy; like the scribe in the gospel story
we listen to others debating and observe how well the teacher is answering
before we come up and put our own questions.
We thank you for good teachers we have known who responded to us
and helped us to express the teaching in our own way,
so that we understood that we were on the right road to the kingdom
and did not need to question them any more.
*************************************
Donal Neary SJ
What is Religious?
We often ask people what is most important to them in life.  Various words come to mind – family, faith, love, and peace of mind, money or others.  Jesus is asked something like this in the conversation of today’s gospel. His most important word is love – anything in the religious tradition of the time is secondary to love of God and love of the neighbour.
In August 2012 a survey indicated that the Irish are among the least religious people of Europe. This came out of a sample of 1,000 people and indicates something to do with religious understanding and practice.  Maybe though we could challenge that we are most religious, not necessarily when we are in church or praying, but also when we are at our most loving and caring, or concerned for justice.
True religion is that, and is especially true when it cares for the needy. Jesus’ heart   went out mostly to people like that in his own time, especially any group who were outcast like people suffering from leprosy.
This can be the same today.  He is the one on the side of the needy, and most on our side when we are most needy.  This is the meaning and the reason for the Christian community – to be bearers of love in our world.
So maybe in Ireland we are much more religious than the survey shows!  When we love, in the smallest and biggest ways, among the family, neighbourhood and wider world, then we are religious in the name of Jesus.

********
From The Connections:

THE WORD:
In today's Gospel, Jesus “synthesizes” his message in the “Great Commandment.”
The Jews knew these two commandments well.  To this day, observant Jews pray twice daily the Shema: to love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  The word shema means “to hear,” and comes from the first words of the prayer, “Hear, O Israel . . .”  The text for the Shema, which is also inscribed in the “mezuzah,” the small container affixed to the door of every Jewish home, is found in Deuteronomy 6: 4-6 (today’s first reading).  While the Torah outlined a Jew’s responsibility to one’s neighbors, Jesus is the first to make of these two a single commandment:  “There is no other commandment greater than these.”  The only way we can adequately celebrate our live for God is in extending that love to our neighbors.

HOMILY POINTS:
To love as God calls us to love demands every fiber of our being: heart, soul, mind, and strength.
It is in our love and compassion for one another that humanity most closely resembles God; it is in our charity and selflessness that we participate in God’s work of creation.
In the two “great commandments” we discover a purpose to our lives much greater than our prejudices, provincialism and parochialism; in them, we find the ultimate meaning and purpose of the gifts of faith and life.
Our rituals and sanctuaries mean nothing before God if they are devoid of the love and compassion Christ calls us to embrace.  It is too easy to be so caught up with externals and rubrics that the essence of our faith slips away from us.

God’s kingdom is realized in every act of compassionate charity and selfless sacrifice, when our humanity most resembles God; it is built of the respect and honor we afford to all God’s sons and daughters, for in our love and care for them, we most sincerely praise God.

*******
 Illustrations:

1)    First Thing in the Morning:
A few years ago, a radio station ran a contest. Disc jockeys invited their listeners to tune in their clock radios. "Just for fun," they said, "when you wake up to the sound of FM-106, call and tell us the first words you spoke when you rolled out of bed. If you're the third caller, you'll win $106."

It didn't take long for the contest to grow in enthusiasm. The first morning, a buoyant disc jockey said, "Caller number three, what did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?" A groggy voice said, "Do I smell coffee burning?" Another day, a sleepy clerical worker said, "Oh no, I'm late for work." Somebody else said her first words were, "Honey, did I put out the dog last night?" A muffled curse was immediately heard in the background, and then a man was heard to say, "No, you didn't." It was a funny contest and drew a considerable audience. 

One morning, however, the third caller said something unusual. The station phone rang. "Good morning, this is FM-106. You're on the air. What did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?"

 A voice with a Bronx accent replied, "You want to know my first words in the morning?" 

The bubbly DJ said, "Yes, sir! Tell us what you said."

The Bronx voice responded, "Shema, Israel ... Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." There was a moment of embarrassed silence. Then the radio announcer said, "Sorry, wrong number," and cut to a commercial.

 Try to remember. What did you say when you rolled out of bed today? Chances are, those words set the tone for the rest of the day...
______________________
 2)    New parents are always so eager and anxious for their babies to learn to talk.

We cajole and coo and coax them to get out those first precious words. But eventually parental prayers are answered, and the child speaks. 

Next thing they know, however, Mom and Dad are being grilled by junior or missy who have discovered the all important "Why?" question. 

There are the science questions - "Why is the sky blue?" "Why does the wind blow?" "Why is water wet?" "Where exactly in our bodies are we located?" 

There are the personal questions-"Why do I have to go to bed?" "Why do I have to eat my vegetables?" "Why do I have to wear a coat?"  

There are relational questions-"Why are you crying?" "Why did Grandpa die?" Why do I have to be nice to that funny smelling person?"  

Even when a long litany of "Why?" questions get tedious, good parents know they need to keep answering. Children learn from asking question. But it isn't so much the answer to their inquiry that they are learning. What our children are really learning with these first "Why?" questions is to turn to the ones who love them the most, who care for them as family, for an expansion of knowledge and an expression of love. Questions keep parent and child engaged in an on-going, living, growing relationship...
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 3)    Full Devotion to God 

In the days of the circuit riders a minister was out riding one afternoon and came upon a man out working in his field. 

"Fine day isn't it?" the minister called out. 

"Its fine for you", the man replied, "All you have to do is ride around on that horse thinking about God all day long, while I have to sweat here in this field and then walk home afterward. I don't think it is right you should have things so easy while I have to work so hard." 

"On the contrary", the minister answered, "thinking about God is one of the most difficult things you can do. And to prove it, I'll give you this horse if you can think about God and nothing else for one minute." 

"You're on," said the man and immediately he sat down in silence. Thirty seconds later he looked up at the minister, and said, "Does that include the saddle?" 

Richard Fairchild, Not Far from the Kingdom of God.
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 4)    Watching Out for Us 

Jesus wants us to love God and others with our soul. The soul is that part of us that denies logic. It is a mystery. Loving with our souls goes beyond what people would consider as normal. We give forth our love because we want to and it probably makes no sense to outsiders.

During the course of earning her master's degree, a woman found it necessary to commute several times a week from Victory, Vermont to the state university in Burlington, a good hundred miles away. Coming home late at night, she would see an old man sitting by the side of her road. He was always there, in sub zero temperatures, in stormy weather, no matter how late she returned. He made no acknowledgment of her passing. The snow settled on his cap and shoulders as if he were merely another gnarled old tree. She often wondered what brought him to that same spot every evening. Perhaps it was a stubborn habit, private grief or a mental disorder.

Finally, she asked a neighbor of hers, "Have you ever seen an old man who sits by the road late at night?" "Oh, yes," said her neighbor, "many times." "Is he a little touched upstairs? Does he ever go home?" The neighbor laughed and said, "He's no more touched than you or me. And he goes home right after you do. You see, he doesn't like the idea of you driving by yourself out late all alone on these back roads, so every night he walks out to wait for you. When he sees your taillights disappear around the bend, and he knows you're okay, he goes home to bed."  

Keith Wagner, Almost Heaven
 5)    Wouldn't It Be Great?  

Wouldn't it be great if I won a million dollars? Well, maybe it wouldn't be so great. Not everyone has the same idea of a great time. One person's wish may be another's nightmare. Take, for example, the story of three men who were sailing together in the Pacific Ocean. Their vessel was wrecked and they found themselves on an island. They had plenty of food, but their existence was in every way different from what their lives had been in the past. The men were walking by the seashore one day after they had been there for some months and found an ancient lantern. One man picked it up. As he began to rub it and clean it, a genie popped out and said, "Well, since you have been good enough to release me, I will give each of you one wish."  

The first man said, "Oh, that's perfectly marvelous. I'm a cattleman from Wyoming and I wish I were back on my ranch." Poof! He was back on his ranch.  

The second man said, "Well, I'm a stockbroker from New York, and I wish that I were back in Manhattan." Poof! He was back in Manhattan with his papers, his telephones, his clients and his computers.  

The third fellow was somewhat more relaxed about life and actually had rather enjoyed life there on the island. He said, "Well, I am quite happy here. I just wish my two friends were back." Poof! Poof! Everybody's idea of a "great time" isn't the same!  

So is it true? Are many Americans sitting around wishing, "Now wouldn't it be great ...if I won the lottery...if I had my dream house...if I was famous...." As Christians...as the people of God...what if instead of wishing for money or fame or success or more "things," we could just as earnestly wish with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength that we could love the Lord our God and love our neighbor as ourselves? 

David Beckett, Wouldn't It Be Great?
________________________
 6)    Loving out of Obligation 

A rabbi was asked, "Which act of charity is higher--giving out of obligation or giving from the heart?" 

All in the class were inclined to respond that giving from the heart had something more in it, but they knew the rabbi was going to say just the opposite, because in spiritual teaching nothing is logical. They were not disappointed. 

"Giving from the heart is a wonderful thing," the rabbi said, "It is a very high act and should never be demeaned. But there is something much more important that happens when somebody gives charity out of obligation. 

"Consider who is doing the giving. When somebody gives from the heart, there is a clear sense of oneself doing something; in other words, heartfelt charity always involves ego gratification. 

"However, when we give out of obligation, when we give at a moment that every part of us is yelling NO! because of one reason or another--perhaps the beneficiary is disgusting, or it is too much money, or any of thousands of reasons we use to avoid giving charity--then we are confronting our own egos, and giving nonetheless. Why? Because we are supposed to. And what this means is that it is not us doing the giving, rather we are vehicles through which God gives... 

David A. Cooper, 
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 7)    The Strong, Saving Love 

I think it was Charlie Brown who said, "I love humanity! It is people I can't stand!" Yet the costly love that Jesus embodies involves an intimate encounter with God's fierce and holy love. It involves pouring out self for real people, sinners all, with all their real-life quirks, faults, smells, and flesh-and-blood sins.

That harried young mother in the doctor's waiting room (or maybe the next pew): perhaps loving her as yourself means offering to watch the toddler while she feeds the baby. That person in line at the bank who's stumbling over the English language and struggling to understand deposits and withdrawals: could loving him mean stepping out of line and helping him get it straight? That next-door neighbor struggling to keep his marriage together, that daughter who pushes your buttons every ten minutes, that husband scared of being laid off -- these are the ones who desperately need the strong saving love, the compassion and mercy, the challenge and holiness and presence of Jesus. In those moments, dare to risk being rebuffed or inconvenienced. Dare to look foolish and make mistakes. Dare to love God and that person, even if it wrings your heart with pain to do so. It's what we've been created, redeemed, and commanded to do. Hang your whole life on love, for the truth is, it's God's love, active in you. And his love will never fail.

Cathy A. Ammlung, 
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 8)    Beauty and the Beast 

G. K. Chesterton once said that the really great lesson of the story of "Beauty and the Beast" is that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. A person must be loved before that person can be loveable. Some of the most unlovely people I have known got that way because they thought that nobody loved them. The fact of the matter is that unless and until we feel ourselves loved, we cannot love. That's not only a principle of theology but of psychology and sociology as well. Just as abused children grow up to abuse their children, loved children grow up to love their children. Loved persons are able to love. Unloved persons are not. Christianity says something startling. It says that God loves and accepts us "just as we are." Therefore we can love and accept ourselves and in so doing, love and accept others.  

Donald B. Strobe, Collected Words, www.Sermons.com
____________________

 Love is not blind. Love is the only thing that sees. 

Frank Crane
 __________________
 9)    Chip It Away 

There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking. 

A neighbor asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?" 

The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!" 

If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God's sake, and the for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like tenderheartedness. 

James W. Moore

__________________
10) Representing Christ 

When I was at Drew University in New Jersey, I became friends with a Catholic priest named Sean O'Kelly. Sean was redheaded and always seemed to have a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. He spoke with a heavy Irish brogue because he had only been in America for a few years.

While he was in school, he was also pastoring a Catholic church in the heart of Newark, New Jersey. If you want to talk about urban blight and poverty and hunger, all you have to do is to take a trip up and down the streets of Newark.

On one occasion, Sean heard that a family in his parish was hungry. Because of a bureaucratic foul-up, a mother with five small children had no food and no hope of getting any until the end of the month.


Although the family was not Catholic, Sean O'Kelly went to the grocery store and bought a supply of groceries. There were three full sacks, and he went to the apartment building where the family lived. After carrying the groceries up four flights of stairs and walking down a long hall, he came to the apartment. He rang the doorbell, and a little boy about seven years old answered the door. He looked at Father O'Kelly's clerical collar and the sacks of groceries, and then screamed at his mother: "Mama, Mama, come quick. Jesus brought us some food!"

In telling about that incident, Sean said, "I will never forget that child's comment. At that moment, I realized that I was the Christ for a hungry child."

If we are to be the neighbors that God calls us to be, then we need to understand that you and I are expected to help those we have the capacity to help. The opportunities for service are almost endless in every neighborhood - even yours. There are a dozen ways or more for you to help people if you are willing to be the neighbor God calls you to be! Religion in a nutshell means that you really are expected to be "Jesus" to your neighbors when they are in need.

Robert L. Allen, 
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 By loving the unlovable, You made me lovable.

Augustine to God__________________ 


11) It All Started with 10 Commandments 

In a cartoon, Frank and Ernest are standing in front of row after row of shelves of books. On top of one of the shelves is a sign, which reads, "Law Library." Franks turns and says to Ernest: "It's frightening when you think that we started out with just Ten Commandments."  

It is sort of frightening isn't it? We started out with 10 and now we have an estimated 35 million laws on the books in the United States alone. Some of them are very good and deeply needed. But there are some that probably need to be repealed.  

For example: Did you know there is a law in Florida that makes it illegal for a woman who's single, divorced or widowed to parachute out of a plane on Sunday afternoon? 

In Amarillo, Texas, it is against the law to take a bath on the main street during banking hours...
From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

12) The child’s commandments:   

A Sunday school teacher was talking to a class of five- and six-year-olds about the Ten Commandments. "Can you give me a Commandment with only four words?" she asked. "I know," said a little girl: "Keep off the grass." The discussion turned to family love and the teacher brought in the Commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother." Then she asked, "What about a Commandment that tells us how to treat our brothers and sisters?" A little boy who had five brothers and sisters was quick to answer: "I know," he said, "You shall not kill." When the class ended, two of the boys began to poke each other. The teacher intervened saying, "Didn't we just finish talking about the Golden Rule?" to which one of the little combatants replied, "Yes but he did it unto me first." 

13) No God, no potatoes!  

A few years ago, on a routine visit to a Soviet collective farm, a Russian commissar demanded of one of the laborers in the fields: "How was the crop this  year?" "Oh, we had a fantastic harvest -- many, many potatoes. So many potatoes, in fact, that if you piled them up to the sky, they would reach the foot of God!" The commissar scolded, "There is no God, comrade." The laborer retorted, "There aren't any potatoes either." [Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, in Imprimis 20, (December, 1991).] 

14) Faith in the one and only God and trust in several stars:

Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby reports of Canadians, "Eighty-eight percent know their astrological signs, with half of the entire population reading their horoscopes at least once a month, outnumbering Bible readers by two to one." [Reported in Martin E. Marty, Context (1 November 1993).] Wouldn't it be great if 88% of the people were starting their day with the Word of God, not the alignment of the stars? 

15)  Love your neighbor as you love yourself:  

Three men were sailing together in the Pacific Ocean. Their vessel was wrecked and they found themselves on an island. They had plenty of food, but their existence was in every way different from what their lives had been in the past. The men were walking by the seashore one day after they had been there for some months and found an ancient lantern. One man picked it up. As he began to rub it and clean it, a genie popped out and said, "Well, since you have been good enough to release me, I will give each of you one wish." The first man said, "Oh, that's perfectly marvelous. I'm a cattleman from Wyoming and I wish I were back on my ranch." Poof! He was back on his ranch. The second man said, "Well, I'm a stockbroker from New York, and I wish that I were back in Manhattan." Poof! He was back in Manhattan with his papers, his telephones, his clients and his computers. The third fellow was somewhat more relaxed about life and actually had rather enjoyed life there on the island. He said, "Well, I am quite happy here. I just wish my two friends were back." Poof! Poof! (Everybody's idea of a "great time" isn't the same). 

16) The Shema’s challenge to become “Iron Man” & “Iron Woman:” 

Mark Allen, a six-time “Ironman” winner and holder of the title “The World’s Fittest Man,” is married to a retired “Iron woman” triathlete,  Julie Moss.   Ironman/Ironwoman competitions include a grueling triathlon of swimming, bicycling, and running, designed to push the capabilities of the human body to their limits. To compete as an Ironman/Ironwoman, one must be in superb, all-round, peak physical condition. Mark Allen has devised a 16-week program designed to get a person into a state of “ultimate fitness.” Allen also claims that if one follows this complete training regimen for as little as five hours a week, he/she can be transformed from chump into champ. Perhaps more startling is Allen’s description of his training regimen as a kind of “meditation” for the entire body. The training regimen includes four components: “heart training” for endurance; “mind training” for attitude; “nutritional training” for internal (what we might call “soul”) fitness; and “strength training” for muscle mass. Thus, Allen has physicalized the Shema mandate given in today’s Gospel, (Mark 12:29-30), into a program for shaping and transforming a human being in his/her entirety. When, in the Shema, the Lord God commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” He reminds Israel and us that a big part of human existence is sheerly physical. It takes a certain amount of brute strength just to get through each and every day. To deny God’s presence and love in the physical world would be to remove godliness from our existence. As Christian men and women, we have our own Iron Person to look to as a perfect example of “fitness.” Jesus Christ completely embodied the mandates of the Shema – loving His Father, God, with all His heart, mind, soul and strength, then reflecting God’s love for Him in loving all He met, His neighbors, the same way. May Jesus coach us as we train in godliness, loving God and neighbor with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

16) SoSA practicing the two great commandments of God:

SoSA was given the first Hero of Food Recovery and Gleaning Award by the US Department of Agriculture.The Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) is a grassroots, Faith-based, hunger-relief nonprofit working with all denominations to bridge the hunger gap between 96 billion pounds of food wasted every year in the United States and the nearly 40 million Americans who live in poverty. SoSA relies on support from donors, volunteers and farmers as they glean nutritious excess produce from farmers’ fields and orchards after harvest and deliver it to people in need across the United States. Gleaning is the Biblical practice of hand-gathering crops left in the fields after harvest. Each year, tens of thousands of volunteers come together across the country to glean food left in farmers’ fields and orchards so that it does not go to waste but instead goes to the tables of those in need. Since it began in 1979, the Society has collected more than 200-million pounds of fresh produce – perfectly nutritious food that might have some cosmetic deformity, making it unsaleable – and delivered it to soup kitchens, food banks, Salvation Army Centers, homeless shelters, and the like. 200-million pounds that otherwise would have rotted! Ken Horne, a United Methodist minister who is a co-founder of the group accepted the award and noted, “There is enough surplus food in this country to feed every hungry person…No one should ever have to go hungry.” Amen! Can you imagine that God does not mind if people go hungry, that God does not care that every day some 40,000 children around the globe die of malnutrition-related causes? Hardly. Then we who say we love God will demonstrate it in love for our hungry neighbor. All it takes is the commitment of God’s people, time-wise and money-wise, and the problem will be solved. No holding back. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_St._Andrew)

17)The child’s commandments:  

A Sunday school teacher was talking to a class of five- and six-year-olds about the Ten Commandments. “Can you give me a Commandment with only four words?” she asked. “I know,” said a little girl: “Keep off the grass.” The discussion turned to family love and the teacher brought in the Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Then she asked, “What about a Commandment that tells us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” A little boy who had five brothers and sisters was quick to answer: “I know,” he said, “You shall not kill.” When the class ended, two of the boys began to poke each other. The teacher intervened saying, “Didn’t we just finish talking about the Golden Rule?” to which one of the little combatants replied, “Yes but he did it unto me first.”

18)  No God, no potatoes!

A few years ago, on a routine visit to a Soviet collective farm, a Russian commissar demanded of one of the laborers in the fields: “How was the crop this  year?” “Oh, we had a fantastic harvest — many, many potatoes. So many potatoes, in fact, that if you piled them up to the sky, they would reach the foot of God!” The commissar scolded, “There is no God, comrade.” The laborer retorted, “There aren’t any potatoes either.” [Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, in Imprimis 20, (December 1991).]

19) Faith in the one and only God and trust in several stars:

Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby reports of Canadians, “Eighty-eight percent know their astrological signs, with half of the entire population reading their horoscopes at least once a month, outnumbering Bible readers by two to one.” [Reported in Martin E. Marty, Context (1 November 1993).] Wouldn’t it be great if 88% of the people were starting their day with the Word of God, not the alignment of the stars?

20) Love your neighbor as you love yourself: 

Three men were sailing together in the Pacific Ocean. Their vessel was wrecked and they found themselves on an island. They had plenty of food, but their existence was in every way different from what their lives had been in the past. The men were walking by the seashore one day after they had been there for some months and found an ancient lantern. One man picked it up. As he began to rub it and clean it, a genie popped out and said, “Well, since you have been good enough to release me, I will give each of you one wish.” The first man said, “Oh, that’s perfectly marvelous. I’m a cattleman from Wyoming and I wish I were back on my ranch.” Poof! He was back on his ranch. The second man said, “Well, I’m a stockbroker from New York, and I wish that I were back in Manhattan.” Poof! He was back in Manhattan with his papers, his telephones, his clients and his computers. The third fellow was somewhat more relaxed about life and actually had rather enjoyed life there on the island. He said, “Well, I am quite happy here. I just wish my two friends were back.” Poof! Poof! (Everybody’s idea of a “great time” isn't the same).

14-Additional anecdotes: 

1) Love your neighbor by shaving your head: 
An unusual story of neighborly love appeared in an Associated Press article a year or two ago. Feature writer, Barbara Yuill, told how Manuel Garcia was afraid that he would be conspicuous when he shaved his head to get rid of patches of hair left by chemotherapy. He did not want to be the only “baldy” on his block. He need not have worried, Ms. Yuill wrote. She found his neighborhood teeming with bald heads, all because of love and concern for Garcia, in his fight against stomach cancer. His brother, Julio, first had the idea of going bald. Soon, about fifty friends and relatives shaved their heads to cheer up Garcia. His five-year-old son was bald, and his two older boys had gotten shaves or partial shaves. His wife and daughter had gotten their hair cut short. Some of the fifty friends and relatives had gotten partial shaves, leaving a Mohawk-like strip of hair down the center of the head, or a ducktail. “I cut my hair because I’ve known him for about fifteen years,” said one 26-year-old. “I love him like a father. It made him feel better.” An excellent example of loving your neighbor as yourself, wouldn’t you say? Yes, but not good enough. To love your neighbor as yourself means that if you lived on Manuel Garcia’s block and had reason to despise the man, you would “put yourself in his shoes” and shave your head like the others.

2) He wanted Donna to have his heart when he died
Another newspaper story may provide a better one. It told of Donna, who was given only a few months to live after doctors discovered that she had a degenerative heart muscle. Her fifteen-year-old boyfriend had a premonition about his own death. He told his mother that, when he died, he wanted Donna to have his heart. Three weeks later he died from a burst blood vessel in his brain. His heart was implanted in Donna, just as he had wished. To love your neighbor as yourself means that if you were to choose to give your heart away when you die, you would do so with no strings attached. The recipient could be a sinner on skid row or death row, for all you care. He/she might
survive on your old heart long enough to allow God to redeem him/her.

3) Wouldn’t you like to live in a neighborhood like that? 
Less than a year after Richard and Judie Wheeler began building their dream house in Winona, Texas, Richard learned he had cancer. For the first time in months, the saws and hammers were silent around the Wheeler home. Then a member of the Wheelers’ church stopped by the house they were renting and asked Judie for the plans to the new dwelling. What happened next resembled an old-fashioned barn-raising. Members of the church started up where Richard had left off. Word spread through the community, and people began offering their services. Some knew a little about plumbing, while others could install wiring. A local restaurant fed volunteers all the chicken fried steaks and hamburgers they could eat. As the house neared completion, Richard Wheeler’s battle with cancer ended. He never saw the house finished. But Judie, who moved in with their daughters in October 1994, a month after Richard’s death, said it had been easier for him knowing that the compassionate neighbors of Winona were taking care of his family. [Kim McGuire in Tyler, Texas, Morning Telegraph. Cited in “Heroes for Today,” Readers Digest (May 1996), pp. 64-65.] Wouldn’t you like to live in a neighborhood like that? That is Jesus’ dream for the entire world: that people should care about other people.

4) Living In the Kingdom Of God: loving God living in his neighbors. 
Once, a village blacksmith had a vision. An angel came to him and said “The time has come for you to take your place in His kingdom.” “I thank God for thinking of me” said the blacksmith, “but as you know, the season of sowing the crops will soon be here. The people of the village will need their ploughs repaired, and their horses shod. I don’t wish to seem ungrateful, but do you think I might put off taking my place in the kingdom until I have finished?” The angel looked at him in a wise and loving way of angels. The blacksmith continued his work, and almost finished when he heard of a neighbor who fell ill in the middle of the planting season. The next time the blacksmith saw the angel he pointed out towards the barren fields, and pleaded with the angel. “Do you think eternity could hold of a little longer? If I don’t finish my job, my friend’s family will suffer.” Again the angel smiled and vanished. The blacksmith’s friend recovered, but another’s barn was burned down and a third was in deep sorrow at the death of his wife. And the fourth… and so on… Whenever the angel appeared, the blacksmith just spread out his hands in a gesture of resignation and compassion and drew the angel’s eyes to where the suffering was. One evening the blacksmith began to think of the angel and how he had put him off for such a long time. He felt very old and tired, and he prayed “Lord, if you would like to send your angel again, I would like to see him now.” He’d no sooner spoken than the
angel appeared before him. “If you still want me to take me,” said the blacksmith, “I am now ready to take my place in the kingdom of the Lord.” The angel looked at the blacksmith, and smiled, as he said “Where do you think you have been living all these years?” (Jack McArdle in “And That’s the Gospel Truth”).

5) “How do I know which religion is the right one?” 
Moses Mendelson tells the story of a woman who came to a great teacher and asked him: “Teacher, how do I know which religion is the right one?” The teacher replied with a story of a great and wise King with three sons. This King had a precious gift–a magic ring that gave him great compassion, generosity, and a spirit of kindness. As he was dying, each of his sons went to him and asked the father for the ring after his death. And he promised to each of the sons that he would give him the ring. Now how could he possibly do that for all three sons? Here’s what he did. Before he died he called in the finest jewelry maker of the land and asked him to make two identical copies of the ring. After his death each of his sons was presented with a ring. Well, it wasn’t long before each of the sons figured out that his brothers also had a ring and therefore two of them had to be fakes. Only one of them could be the genuine article. And so they went before a judge and asked the judge to help them determine which was the authentic ring. Then they could determine who the proper heir was. The judge, however, could not distinguish among the three rings. And so he said: “We shall watch and see which son behaves in the most gracious, generous, and kind manner. Then we will know which possesses the original ring.” And from that day on, each son lived as if he was the one with the magic ring, and no one could tell which was the most gracious, generous, and kind. Then the teacher, having told this story, said to the woman, “If you wish to know which religion is true, watch and see which reveals God’s love for the world.” (Daniel E. H. Bryant)

6) “He put his arms around me and just let me sob.” 
“Dear Ann Landers, I am a 46-year-old woman, divorced, with 3 grown children. After several months of chemotherapy following a mastectomy for breast cancer, I was starting to put my life back together when my doctor called with the results of my last checkup. They had found more cancer, and I was devastated. My relatives had not been supportive. I was the first person in the family to have cancer and they didn’t know how to behave toward me. They tried to be kind, but I had the feeling they were afraid it was contagious. They called on the phone to see how I was doing, but they kept their distance. That really hurt. Last Saturday I headed for the Laundromat. You see the same people there almost every week. We exchange greetings, and make small talk. So I pulled into the parking lot, determined not to look depressed, but my spirits were really low. While taking
my laundry out of the car, I looked up and saw a man, one of the regulars, leaving with his bundle. He smiled and said, ‘Good morning. How are you today?’ Suddenly I lost control of myself and blurted out, ‘This is the worst day of my life! I have more cancer!’ Then I began to cry. “He put his arms around me and just let me sob. Then he said, ‘I understand. My wife has been through it, too.’ After a few minutes I felt better, stammered out my thanks, and proceeded on with my laundry. About 15 minutes later, here he came back with his wife. Without saying a word, she walked over and hugged me. Then she said, ‘I’ve been there, too. Feel free to talk to me. I know what you’re going through.’ Ann, I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. Here was this total stranger, taking her time to give me emotional support and courage to face the future at a time when I was ready to give up. Oh, I hope God gives me a chance to do for someone else what that wonderful woman and her husband did for me. Meanwhile, Ann, please let your readers know that even though there are a lot of hardhearted people in this world, there are some incredibly generous and loving ones, too.” (Dr. John Bardsley)

7) “Don’t do drugs and see what happens.” 
Michael Brennan was a homeless man who spent most of his nights sleeping in a cemetery near Harvard University. Brennan had used drugs since he was 13 and eventually became addicted to heroin. In 1990 after a detoxification program, he went to Boston determined to carve out a new life for himself. His motto was, “Don’t do drugs and see what happens.” He worked part-time moving furniture, but when he wasn’t working, like many homeless persons, he spent his time in the Boston public library where it was warm and hospitable. Unlike many of his kind, however, he began to take advantage of the library for more than a place to hang out. Knowing things had become the goal of his life, and knowing that he knew gave him a direction to pursue. From childhood, he had wanted to write. It was a passion with him. He found books about freelance journalism. “I didn’t even know where to put the address on a cover letter. I had to start with that,” he said. Brennan learned all he could from how-to books in the library and then started to write. One day he was in Cambridge wandering the campus of Harvard University. He came across a room full of computers and asked a student if could use one of them. The young man said, “sure,” and lent him some software. It was this act of kindness, this treatment that gave him some dignity, which Brennan says was crucial to his recovery. Treated with compassion instead of scorn, he used the Harvard computers. His first major article for a local newspaper netted him $1,000 which put a roof over his head. Since that time he has had articles published in Newsweek and other major magazines and papers as well as a book. (Dr. David Richardson). An unknown college student helped change this homeless man’s life. Wouldn’t you like to make a difference in someone’s life like that? The word is love, Christ-like love. Love like the love that sent Christ to die on a cross for worthless folks like you and me.

8) Love your neighbor as you love yourself
When William Penn was given land in the New World by King Charles II, he was also granted power to make war on the Indians. But Penn refused to build forts or have soldiers in his province. Instead, he treated the Indians kindly and as equals. All disputes between the two races were settled by a meeting of six white men and six Indians. When Penn died, the Indians mourned him as a friend. After Penn’s death, other colonies were constantly under attack by the Indians. Pennsylvania was free from such attacks, however, as long as they refused to arm themselves. Many years later the Quakers were outvoted in the State, and the colony began building forts and training soldiers against possible aggression. You can guess what happened. They were immediately attacked. [Don M. Aycock, Walking Straight in a Crooked World (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987).] William Penn understood the key to all human relations is: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. How difficult can it be to love your neighbor?

9) You’ve got to be special to be in my class
John Q. Baucom, in his book Baby Steps to Happiness, tells about a teacher-training workshop he once conducted. He spoke to the teachers about the power of self-esteem. One of the teachers came up with an ingenious way of implementing it. At the beginning of the school year she would kneel and whisper in her first graders’ ears, “You’ve got to be special to be in my class. I only get the really smart students.” Each child reacted with pleasant surprise upon discovering they were “special.” She ended up having far less difficulty in her classroom than the other teachers. She also started receiving phone calls from parents telling her they were glad someone finally recognized their children were so smart! It turned out to be a win/win situation. Positive self-esteem raised the children’s performance [“What Goes Up Must Come Down,” Health/August 1996, (Kilsyth, Australia: Word Publishing, 1991), 102-103)], and we all need a degree of positive self-esteem. Please believe me when I say that I recognize the need for positive self-esteem. THE ONLY PROBLEM IS THAT IT WON’T HELP US LOVE AS JESUS LOVED.  Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, has come to the conclusion that too much self-esteem leads to bigger problems in society not smaller problems. Positive self-love can be a healthy thing. Christ does not intend for us to be doormats who let others walk all over us because we do not value ourselves. Healthy self-love leads to self-acceptance, improved performance in our work, and a feeling of peacefulness in life. BUT IT DOES NOT CAUSE US TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR — NOT WITH THE KIND OF LOVE JESUS INTENDS. HERE IS THE
TRUTH OF THE MATTER: YOU CAN’T TRULY LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR UNTIL YOU LOVE GOD. Why should I love my neighbor? Because I love God, and God has commanded me to love my neighbor.

10) Have any of you ever eaten coconut
Maybe you’ve had coconut sprinkled on a cake, or on some ice cream. The coconut is a very interesting food. Not only can the coconut be used for food, but every single part of the coconut can be used for something. The hard outer shell can be used for making bowls and cups. The oil inside the coconut can be used for cooking. Inside the coconut is also the flaky “meat” part, and a lot of coconut milk. These can be eaten and drunk. The wood of the coconut tree can be used for building things, like houses and tools. And the husk fibers of the coconut tree can be woven into baskets, ropes, rugs, and things like that. Every single part of the coconut tree can be used for something useful. Have you ever thought of yourself as a coconut? Well, that’s how I want you to think right now. You see, this morning we’re going to talk about how we can use every single part of ourselves. The Bible says that we should use every single part of ourselves when we love God. In our Bible story today, someone asks Jesus what the most important commandment of all is. And Jesus says the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. And He also says that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. So it sounds as though Jesus wants us use every single part of ourselves to love God. Our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength: that’s everything. And if we really love God, then we will love Him completely, with everything we’ve got.

11) Transformation of Joe Paterno: 
I remember being at West Virginia University in the early 1980’s.  Penn State had defeated WVU in football for about 25 years in a row.  And Joe Paterno had this reputation of being all grace, humility, and dignity in every one of the victories.  But then something unusual happened.  WVU won.  I was at that game.  I was one of the students that rushed the field to tear down the goalpost at the one end of the field that the police allowed it.  If I remember correctly, the end of the game went like this:  the outcome was decided, but there were 17 seconds left on the clock when the students rushed the field.  Paterno threw a fit.  He insisted on having the field cleared for one more play, which was insignificant.  Penn State could not win.   Coach Paterno told the officials that he was OK with letting the time run out. The officials said that that game needed to be completed. If the final 17 seconds were not played, then WVU would have been fined. Coach Paterno could have let that happen but he did not. Paterno took the loss hard and was no longer seen as a gracious gentleman, at least in my eyes.  You see, as long as he was winning, he appeared to be a gentleman, but when the outcome wasn’t what he desired, his mean and disagreeable side took control. In the Scripture today, we have a story where the two parties are agreeable; where the scribe takes comfort that Jesus’ words line up with the scribe’s own words, beliefs, and teachings. Jesus does do something new by elevating the love of neighbor here.  He basically combined Dt 6:4 and part of Lv 19:18 into a summary of the law. (Rev. Scot Knowlton).

12) The whisper test: 
In her book, The Whisper Test, Mary Ann Bird shares a critical episode in her life. She was born with a cleft palate. When she started school her classmates let her know that she was different: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech. If they asked what happened to her lip, she told them she fell and cut it on a piece of glass. For her, it felt more acceptable to say that she’d been injured rather than being born different. Along the way Mary Ann became convinced that no one outside her family could love her. However, when she got to 2nd grade she was assigned to a teacher, Mrs. Leonard, who was happy and sparkly, the kind of instructor all the kids loved. Every year in school the students were required to take hearing test. When the day came for Mary Ann to take hers, she was supposed to stand at a distance, cover one ear, and listen closely for something the teacher would whisper to her so she could repeat it back. Usually the teacher would say something like “The sky is blue,” or “What color are your shoes?, but that day Mrs. Leonard spoke seven words that changed a little girl’s life when she whispered, “I wish you were my little girl.” At that moment she knew she was loved just as she was, and her life was changed. Love can do that. When you know that someone loves you just as you are and demonstrates it in their words and actions, it can change, it can transform your life. (Rev. Ken Larson).

13) America’s Four Gods: 
How do you think Americans today see God? In 2006 Baylor University published a survey of attitudes toward religion and one of the topics was people’s view of God and how it affected their values, actions and attitudes. Two professors from Baylor took the data and wrote a book titled, America’s Four Gods. They found two key areas of belief among the respondents. First, some saw God as distant and uncaring while others saw him as engaged and active in people’s lives. Second, some thought He was only loving and never judgmental while others believe He does express His anger toward people and nations in this life. Within these two broad categories, the authors identified four basic attitudes toward God: 1) Authoritative – 31%. The Authoritative God is very involved in the world to help people and judges evil in this life. Still, he is loving, and is seen as a Father figure. 2) Benevolent – 24%. The Benevolent God is very involved in this world to help people, but does not feel anger toward wrongdoers and does not judge anyone. 3) Critical – 16%. The Critical God does not
involve himself in the affairs of this world or its people, but he does take careful note of how people live and judges them in the afterlife, holding them to account for evils done. 4) Distant – 24%. The Distant God is more a cosmic force or Higher Power than a person. This God created everything but is no longer engaged with the world and does not judge its inhabitants. Atheists comprise about 5% of the population. (P. Froese & C. Bader, America’s Four Gods, Oxford, 2010) If you examine those statistics they tell us that 70% of the people in our society either believe that God is out there somewhere, but detached and uninterested. Or he’s like the bellhop at a hotel who’s there to pick up the baggage of life that’s too heavy for us to hoist, but the rest of the time can be politely ignored if we feel we’ve got things well in hand. (Rev. Ken Larson).

14) Tim Tebow’s secret of success: 
Tim Tebow, one of our grandson’s heroes, is one of the most recognized names in sport. Do you know who his role model was? Danny Wuerffel, the University of Florida Quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy 11 years before Tebow. Wuerffel’s Faith was always important to him, and now that he has retired from professional football, he works for Desire Street Ministry, a Christian-based organization that revitalizes impoverished neighborhoods. About the time he retired, he was asked to write a book on how he had become so successful. He sent in his five tips on success and the publisher sent them right back saying, “These sound a lot like other people’s tips on success. We want tips that reflect on you, so go deep within yourself and tell us what makes you, Danny Wuerffel, successful.” After pondering it awhile, he realized that there is a voice inside of him. If he approaches a door, the voice says, “You’re going through that door. You’re so strong that even if it is bolted shut, you’ll knock it down.” And whenever he faced a test in school, the voice said, “You are so smart, you can ace this test.” And he was, in fact, a scholar as well as an athlete. And when he was on the field, the voice said, “Danny, you are so fast, you can run like the wind.” So, he thought to himself, “That’s it. Self-motivation. Make that voice speak. That’s the key to my success.” About that time, he and his wife had their first child, a little boy. His mother came over to their house and helped take care of him. One day she was upstairs in the baby’s room walking around cradling her grandson. Danny walked by the door, and he heard his mom’s voice say to his son, “You are so strong! You’re the strongest baby in the world. You are so smart. You’ll be such a wonderful student. And you are going to be so fast, as fast as the wind!” Suddenly Danny realized what made him who he is, was the voice of his mother. And coming through her voice was the whisper of God.4 These are the kind of things God whispers in our hearts. “You are strong; you are smart; you can run
like the wind.” And God whispers, “You are a beautiful person; you are worthy of love; you are a blessing to the world.” Regrettably, some people hear so many negative things about themselves that it deafens them to the whispers of God. They hear the destructive words of a wounded human, and they have trouble discerning the uplifting words of God. (Victor D. Pentz) L/ 18