October 29, 2023
Deuteronomy 34.1-12 — Moses dies on Mount Nebo seeing but never entering the promised land.
Psalm 90 — “You have been our dwelling place.” God is eternal; we are ephemeral.
1 Thessalonians 2.1-8 — Paul defends his ministry
Matthew 22.34-46 — The Great Commandment.
Moses is a model of someone used by God. He’s not an especially heroic figure. He mostly just does what God tells him to do. He’s a tireless leader, but not a great inspiration for his people. (They whine at him more than they admire him.) And in the end he doesn’t get to enter the Promised Land he’s led these people toward for 40 years. No shining victory for him. Still, when he dies they mourn him. Well done, good and faithful servant.
So the story of Moses, and the exodus, and in fact the whole Pentateuch, comes to an end. The camera pans across the promised land in the distance, and then focuses on Moses and fades out…but, wait— did you notice, off to the side—for one little sentence, seemingly out of place—there’s Joshua. What’s he doing there? Like all biblical stories, this one ends with “THE END….” There’s always those dots. There’s always “to be continued.” Every Bible story ends with a new beginning. No matter how dramatic the final scene, you know there’s going to be a sequel. It’s as if resurrection is baked into the biblical imagination. From Creation to the New Jerusalem, the Bible is all about transformation. It’s not just about arriving in the place we’re trying to get to, it’s about the journey, the process, the continual becoming that is life with God.
In the Gospels Jesus is asked dozens of direct and implied questions, some honest and some loaded with traps. (This has a little of both. Rabbis loved to debate which commandment was the greatest, and there were lots of different answers.) Jesus always answers people’s questions with another question, or he changes the question, or he turns it back on the seeker, or he tells a story. Except this one time. Here he directly, simply, literally answers the question. Let there be no mistake, no “various interpretations.” This is the literal, absolute, infallible Word of God. Love God and love your neighbor. Period. Mic drop.
For Jesus every commandment is a variation on how to love God and neighbor. Nothing else matters. This is Priority #1. But, my oh my how consistently we make this the second commandment, or the hundred and twenty-second. We dilute and even replace our love with all sort of other goals: to be right, to win, to stay safe, to protect our security, power or status… Imagine if this were our Number One Priority every moment of every day. Instead of winning the argument, might we listen? Instead of judging others might we pray? Instead of hoarding goods might we share?
Many people count among what it means to be a Christian to follow the Ten Commandments. But that’s what makes you Jewish. We don’t have ten commandments. We have one. Jesus identifies “Love God” as the greatest commandment but notes that it has a flip side: “Love neighbor.” It’s really one commandment. You can’t do one without the other. Jesus sees “Love your neighbor as yourself” as “Love your neighbor as God.” (In John Jesus turbo-charges it and actually labels it his “commandment” to us: “Love one another as I have loved you.” That’s a pretty high bar.) Jesus reiterates the old prophetic message that to love God is to love your neighbor. How you treat your neighbor is how you treat God. “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” Imagine if this were how we saw our neighbors, if we actually saw our respect for them as our worship, our treatment of them as our offering, our love for people as the sum and end of our faith. Wow.
Call to Worship
Leader: Holy One, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
All: Alleluia! We love you!
Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
Have mercy on us, and lead us to do your will.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Fill us with your love, that we may love fully, in the Spirit of Christ. Alleluia!
Leader: God of Love, we worship you.
All: Christ, Prince of Love, we thank you.
Holy Spirit of Love, we open our hearts to you.
We receive your love. We wonder at your love.
We offer your love to all the world.
Fill us with your love. Amen.
Leader: Spirit of Love, we are children of your delight.
All: We who are born of your love sing your praise.
Spirit of Love, you enfold us in your blessing.
We who are healed by your love give you thanks.
Spirit of Love, you, you flow through us into the world.
Alleluia! We who bear your love bless you.
Come, Spirit of Love, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: God of Absolute Compassion, you have loved us
with all of your heart and your soul, your strength and your mindfulness.
All: Christ, you have loved us as yourself.
Fill us with your love, that we may love you by loving our neighbors.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
5. [Or may be used as a Response / Affirmation]
Leader: What marvelous love God has lavished on us!
Just look at it! We are called children of God!
All: That is who we really are.
But the world does not recognize us or take us seriously,
because it has no idea who Christ is or what he is up to.
But friends, that is exactly who we are: children of God.
And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we will end up!
What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed,
we’ll see Christ – and in seeing Christ, become like Christ.
All of us who look forward to Christ’s coming stay ready,
with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own
Collect / Prayer of the Day
God of love and mercy, we love because you first loved us.
Open our hearts to your love as we listen for your Word.
May the light of your love fill us, warm us, re-shape us, and empower us to love,
in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
Spirit of Love, speak your Word to us, that your grace may fill us, and flow to those around us, and fill the world. Make us instruments of your peace, vessels of your love. Amen.
God of love, you who are merciful and gracious: our hearts are divided, torn between love and fear. Speak your Word to us, heal our fear, and fill us with your love, in the gentle presence of Christ. Amen.
God of love, you create us in love. You promise us your love. And you fill us with the spirit of your love. You desire to convey your love to us each moment, even now. We open your hearts to your presence and your love, so that we may become more perfectly loving, in the spirit of Christ. Speak to us, Lord, and teach us to love. Amen.
God of love, all that you do for us is love. All of Creation springs from your love. Christ embodies your love. And your loving Spirit lives within us . You create us in love, and for love. Speak your Word of love to us now. Help us to hear, and to let your Word of love become who we are, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
God, you who are Love,
we open our hearts to your love,
that we may hear your word of Love,
that you may purify our love,
that we may become more loving.
Love of God, grow in us.
Prayer of Confession
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of love, help us to see ourselves with the eyes of love,
to see all that is in us that is loving,
and all that is not loving.
By the grace that we know in Christ,
receive us, forgive us, heal us, and perfect your love in us.
[Silent prayer … the word of grace]
A meditation on Psalm 90
Infinite One, we live within you.
We are little bits of your infinite life.
You form us from handfuls of mud,
and we, your handfuls, return to mud.
Life is changing and transitory:
we will not outlive the grass in our yards.
When we set our little lives
against your infinite desire for us
it is fearsome.
We can try to erect monuments
as artificial extensions of our life span,
but who are we fooling?
Teach us to be present in this moment,
to find wisdom in loving presence.
Accepting that our life is passing,
each morning we meditate on your steady love;
we embed the day in mindfulness.
Even in the drudgery we endure,
even in the evil we see and do,
you are present,
and opening the eyes of our hearts,
we find joy.
Open our awareness to your loving companionship
and your miraculous presence in all things.
Our hope is not for lives that are long but deep,
deeply rooted in your presence.
We do not seek immortality, or greatness,
or influence that outlives us,
but to belong in your life.
Our accomplishments are not ours to measure
but belong in your hands.
May all that we do
be in your hands.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
1. [from 1 John 3 – 5]
Leader: See what love God has given us, that God says, “You are my children.”
All: Indeed, that is who we are.
We know love by this: that Christ died for us—
and so we seek to lay down our lives for one another.
We love because God first loved us.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
We know that God lives in us, by the Spirit of Love God gives us.
Little children, let us not merely speak of love, but love in all our actions.
God’s commandment is that,
trusting in the love of God’s Chosen One, Jesus Christ,
we will love our brothers and sisters also.
If we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.
This commandment is not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.
This is the victory that conquers the world; this is our faith.
We love you, God, source of all being, Lover of all Creation.
We give our hearts to you Jesus, our loving brother, you who healed and blessed, who taught the way of love, who embodied the perfect mercy and compassion of God. You were crucified and died in love, and in love you were raised to new life.
Holy Spirit of Love, we live by your presence and power in our hearts, guiding us in the Way of Love, the path of justice and mercy. By your grace we give ourselves to your work, and we entrust ourselves to your delight. Beloved God, in the love and the presence of Christ, in the power of your love in us, may we fall in love with all the world, for your sake, dying and rising with Christ in love. Amen.
We love and trust God, who is love, whose love is manifest in all Creation, in our lives, and in all people.
We love and follow Christ, who embodied God’s love. In his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, and his granting to us of his Spirit, he filled us with that love as well.
We live by the Spirit, the presence of God’s love in us. In that love we participate in the Church, Body of Christ, in loving God by loving our neighbors. Love is our faith, and it is a gift from God. We thank God, and ask God’s blessings, that we may love in the name of Christ and the power of the Spirit, to God’s glory. Amen.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
Blessed are you, O God, Creator of all things,
ruler of the world and all that is to come.
In love you created us; in love you sustain us.
Although we wander from your love,
in faithful, steadfast love you come to us,
accompanying us even in our captivity,
delighting in us even in our sin.
You heal us, you restore us, you set us free.
You overthrow the powers of evil and oppression,
not with violence but with love.
In Christ you have loved us with all your heart, mind, soul and strength;
you have loved us with your whole life.
Therefore with the communion of the saints, living and dead,
and with all Creation, we sing as one voice:
[Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.
[or alternate version]
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ:
who loved us more than life itself,
so that we might have life, and have it abundantly.
Though he was crucified, he rose from the dead,
for the power of love overcomes fear, and even death.
He lives among us still, extending to us your Covenant of love.
(The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
[Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ will come again in glory.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.
As we feast upon your love
may it fill us, so that we may embody your love,
love that is bold and courageous, full of tender hope,
and the power that changes the world.
[Spoken or sung]
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed. Based on Philippians 4]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) In gratitude we give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your delight. Use us and all our gifts, and make us gentle, strong and courageous, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
Fulfill Your Love In Me (Original song)
Fulfill your love in me, O Loving Spirit,
fulfill your love in me, O Heart of Love.
Verses:Speak the name Beloved in my deepest soul.
Hold me in your heart, your gentle loving. (Refrain)
Heal me with your mercy and your tenderness.
Bring to life the grace in me to love you. (Refrain)
Give me grace to love my neighbor as myself,
freely, with the love with which you love me. (Refrain)
Love Only ( Tune: Be Thou My Vision)
God, may your deep love shine bright in my heart,
may it be always your love I impart.
In ease or conflict, your love be my stay,
as your Beloved, your love to convey.
When people scare me so I feel alone,
help me see they, too, have wounds of their own.
Help me surrender my sword and my shield,
love and love only by your grace to yield.
God, by your Spirit, fill me with your grace, to
love and to heal in each moment and place.
Love and love only, through conflict or strife,
sets us all free and gives healing and life.
Love Will Bear Us Over (Tune : Holy Manna)
When our world is changing ‘round us and we long for good old days,
what that lasts will bear us over to new earth, new heaven, new ways?
Love will lead us when the path is unfamiliar, come what may:
set our heart to love our neighbors and our feet will find the way.
Christ gives us a new commandment: “Share the love that you’ve been given.”
When we do we’re resurrected, entering new earth and heaven.
When we love our neighbor more than caring for what used to be,
then our love will bear us over, then our love will set us free.
O Christ, My Way (Tune: The River Is Wide)
O Christ, my truth, my life, my way,
I give my heart to you this day.
I give myself, yes all of me,
that where you are I too may be.
O Christ, my way, the path I take
is love alone, for your love’s sake.
O be my heart, my strength and nerve,
that I may love and bless and serve.
O Christ, my truth, in you I see
the God who dwells in you and me.
But God remains yet far above
until I live in humble love.
O Christ, my life, I give my heart,
for when in you I take my part
and share your love, your work and strife,
I share in full your risen life.
O Sovereign Love (Tune: Amazing Grace)
Beloved, you who guard and guide and give for every need,
reign in my heart, O Sovereign Christ; direct each thought and deed.
O Sovereign Love, my root, my sun, my purpose and my peace,
I spurn the world’s vain, anxious rule, and trust your Law of Grace.
The Empire of your justice, God, with mercy’s clear command
shall be my home; my loyalty is to no lesser land.
In humble and obedient thanks I pledge my life to you,
to join your work of justice, God, to make the world anew.
Reign in my heart, O Christ, my Rule. In faith I am compelled
to serve you, who by love alone have conquered all the world.
Open My Heart (Tune: Open my eyes)
Open my eyes that I may see everyone ‘round me lovingly,
shedding my labels, habits and fear, see with a heart that’s true and clear.
Patiently, God, may I behold each blessed life as it unfolds.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.
Open my ears and let me hear unspoken stories, unshed tears.
Help me to hear with love shining through stories that no one’s listened to.
Tenderly, God, help me to hold what is within each person’s soul.
Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine.
Open my heart and grant me love, mercy for those I’m heedless of.
Help me to know each person I face as one you bless with gentle grace
Lovingly, God, please make me more mindful of those whom we ignore.
Open my heart, illumine me, spirit divine.
Set Me Free (To Love) (Original song)
From all that binds me, Love, set me free.
From all that binds me, Love, set me free.
Set me free, Love, set me free.
Oh Love, set me free for love.
From what I fear, O Love set me free….
From what I cling to, Love, set me free…
To live in perfect love, set me free….