Church Write-Up: Vocation, the Greatest Commandment, Love

Here are some items from this morning’s church activities.

A. The pastor told some of his personal story. After he received a master’s degree in history, he was wondering where to go from there. His dad suggested that he send his resume to two-hundred fortune 500 companies; he did so, and he received back two hundred rejections! He interviewed to work at a historical society, and that interview did not go well. He was frustrated with God, but he then thought that it would be a good idea to go into campus ministry. That way, he could mentor people who, like him, were lost. But, looking at the patterns of his life, he noticed that God continually called him to serve in urban and suburban ministries, so that is what he pursued. The pastor’s text was I Kings 19:1-15. Elijah was discouraged and frustrated with God, but God instructed him to fulfill his calling by doing the sorts of things that prophets do: appointing a king, and ensuring that the word of God was still proclaimed (in Elijah’s case, through a replacement). The pastor also told us that God is with us in our Elijah-like pits.

The sermon makes me think about the subject of vocation. It is good when people find their calling, when that is placed before them in neon lights for them to see. Many are not so fortunate, though. They may find themselves working lackluster jobs, the jobs out there do not accord with their passions, or they cannot find their niche. Often, when it comes to identifying one’s niche or spiritual gifts, the process can look rather artificial: I sort of like this, so maybe I will sort of enjoy serving in such-and-such a capacity.

I recently read this by Ryan Hauge:

“God’s will is found in the place where your passion and the world’s need collide.”

It’s actually much simpler and more freeing than this…God’s will and his pleasure are completely found in Jesus and those that are “in Him” are free to simply live their lives, most often in the mundane trivialities (in things we’re not particularly passionate about), with full confidence that we are doing God’s will and serving our neighbor’s needs.

What the pastor said this morning overlapped with some of that: we go into our everyday lives, as God is with us.

B. The Sunday school class talked about the passages in which Jesus addressed an inquiry about what the greatest commandment is. Those would be Matthew 22:35-40, Mark 12:28-41, and Luke 10:25-37. In the first two passages, the inquirer asks Jesus what the great, or greatest, commandment is. In Luke 10:25, however, the lawyer asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Are the two questions related? The teacher suggested that the questions are complementary: the lawyer was asking what commandments he should focus on, if he wants to inherit eternal life. The teacher was asking if Jesus’s hearers were satisfied with Jesus’s answer—-love God and love neighbor. Some in the class suggested that the Pharisees may have found Jesus’s response to be simplistic, for they felt that people needed to do a vast number of rules to please God and receive eternal life. Maybe, but at least one Jewish authority, the one in the story, is asking Jesus what the greatest commandment is. He was not thinking, “Well, you have to obey all of the laws to receive eternal life,” for, otherwise, he may not have asked his question. He must have figured that some laws take priority over others, even if all of the laws were important.

Jesus responds that there are two commandments: love God with your entire being, and love your neighbor as yourself. But if you love God with your entire being, is there room for you to love your neighbor? The teacher said that the two commandments are actually one commandment: we love God, in part, by loving our neighbors. The second commandment, love of neighbor, is the completion of the first one, love of God.

Someone in the class argued that the love Jesus promotes in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is self-sacrificing. The priest and the Levite did not help the injured man because they did not want to disqualify themselves from their religious duties. The Samaritan, by contrast, used his own time, money, and resources to help the injured man. The teacher seemed to be replying that love is not necessarily self-sacrificing, per se, as if it only exists if a person gives something up, but love goes towards others even if they do not reciprocate. The Samaritan could have been bitter about how Jews treated Samaritans and chosen not to help the injured Jew, but he chose instead to help.

The teacher said that the lawyer’s question of “Who is my neighbor?” was the wrong question, for he should have asked how he can be a neighbor to anyone with whom he comes into contact. That is tough. I doubt anyone pours love on everyone with whom he or she comes into contact. I question whether that is even possible. Plus, did Jesus even address that question about how to be a neighbor? Maybe, in a sense. The Samaritan showed love by having mercy towards someone in need and helping that person out. How that informs the way that I should treat everyone with whom I come into contact is a difficult question. It would be easy for me to say, “Well, the next time I see an injured person on the road, I will take care of him.” Or at least I hope I would.

I’ll stop here.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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