"God is a God of relationship!" cackles the preacher. "God wants to have a relationship with you!," he exclaims. Have you heard this before?
After 30 years, I am not all that sure I know what he meant. It is often described as a relationship where you pray (and maybe try to listen), read the Bible and examine yourself (and others- J/K), and go to church to be in "fellowship," which you would not want to forsake because the Bible says don't!
Even as I type this, it doesn't sound like much fun. Oh yeah, and "Jesus loves YOU!" Sorry, I am not feeling it. Maybe I should just accept all this by faith and head home while I wait for the rapture.
So, when you get to this passage, how do you feel about God?
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,
35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
37 He said to him, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
38 This is the greatest and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
If you have been around any church for more than a year, you have heard at least a few dozen "do's" and "don't's." Let's call that the law. Possibly you have heard some predictions about the future, the Last Days, the End Times, Armageddon and things like that. We'll call that the prophets. The word of God and the prophets are meant to be "directional." The question is, towards what? The answer is relationship with God and our neighbor (enemies and wives).
You see, the last verse of this passage is this: 40 "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Think of life as a large beautiful panting on the wall-- a pastoral mountain landscape. It's simple beauty drawing you in; a stream that glistens in the sunlight; so inviting, distant snow capped mountains and floral glades. A picture so vivid that you feel like you have been transported into it. Behind this alluring canvas, two nails from which it hangs on the wall.
The entire scene; life, is held up by the "nails" of "loving God" and "loving your neighbor." All the laws in the Bible - every rule, and all the predicted future events culminate in a relationship with Jesus!
Loving Jesus? It starts by loving others and expressing the love that He has shown you. The following essay is a touching story which I heard at a Winds of Worship conference in the 90's. It still tugs a heart string or two today. It was the closing thought for a sermon after which dozens responded to the altar call.
As she stood in front of her 5th-grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy.
Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant.
It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X's and then putting a big "F" at the top of his papers At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child's past records and she put Teddy's off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise.
Teddy's 1st-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners...he is a joy to be around."
His 2nd-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle."
His 3rd-grade teacher wrote, "His mother's death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn't show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren't taken."
Teddy's 4th-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school. He doesn't have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class."
By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy's. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume. But she stifled the children's laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy stayed after school that day just long enough to say, "Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to." After the children left, she cried for at least an hour.
On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her "teacher's pets."
A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.
Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.
Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he'd stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life.
Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor's degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer...the letter was signed, MD.
The story does not end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he had met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit at the wedding in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.
Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. Moreover, she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together.
They hugged each other, and Teddy, now the doctor, whispered in Mrs. Thompson's ear, "Thank you Mrs. Thompson for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference."
Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, "Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn't know how to teach until I met you."