St. Giles’ Episcopal Church
November 4, 2018 – All Saints’ Sunday
Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Mark 12:28-34
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
“Is there anybody here who loves my Jesus? Anybody here who loves the Lord? I want to know if you love my Jesus. I want to know if you love the Lord.” These words are the refrain of an African American song of witness to the love of Christ.
Love of God is the theme of our readings from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy and the Gospel of Mark. What could be more appropriate as we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday? Saints are people who love God deeply and witness to their love of God and God’s way of love in their lives, sometimes even by giving up their lives. Some saints are well known. I suspect that the vast majority of saints are unknown to any but God and the small circle of people whose lives they inspire and bless. What is the church but people who love Jesus, people who love the Lord. People who want to love God more deeply and witness to that love more faithfully. People who want to be saints, as we will sing today in our hymn “I sing a song of the saints of God.”
It would be impossible to overestimate the importance of today’s passage from Deuteronomy. It contains the first of the Ten Commandments given by God to Israel through Moses. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Jewish people refer to this as “The Shema,” the Hebrew for its first word, “hear.” Christians recognize this as the first of the Two Great Commandments which Jesus emphasized throughout his ministry, the second being “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
God’s people are taught to keep God’s commandments in their hearts; to recite them to their children; to talk about them at home and away from home – that is, everywhere; to remember them at the beginning and the end of every day. The verse which reads “Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” has led to several Jewish practices which you may know. When praying some Jewish men, especially Orthodox Jews, wear phylacteries on their left arm and head. These are small leather boxes containing scripture texts printed on vellum meant to be a reminder to keep the commandments of God. A mezuzah is a small parchment scroll on which the Hebrew words of the Shema are written. These scrolls are rolled up and affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes, reminding those who live there of their connection to God. The message is “remember, remember, remember!”
In our lesson from Mark’s Gospel Jesus repeats the Two Great Commandments. A scribe – someone learned in the teaching of Hebrew scripture – identifies keeping these commandments as more important than offering sacrifices in the Temple. Jesus replies, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” We know from the record in the Bible that Jesus attended worship at the Temple and in the synagogues. He did not dismiss such worship as unimportant. But he agreed with the scribe. Obeying the commandments to love God and our neighbors as ourselves is much more important. The church today does well to remember this right relationship between religious ritual and love taught by our Lord.
Sometime soon you will be contacted by one of our members to ask if you would be willing to meet with him or her to talk about St. Giles and what the church means to you. We want to have these personal conversations to strengthen our ties to one another and to the parish and to learn from you both what is good and helpful to you here and what we might do better. These meetings are an opportunity to broaden our communication with one another, to build up our community and make it stronger.
The people with whom you meet will leave you with a pledge card for 2019. We aren’t trying to hide the fact that this is stewardship season, the time of year when we need to know what your financial support for the parish will be next year so that we can make a realistic budget for 2019. I would encourage you to talk to the people who visit you about church finances if you have questions and concerns. The vestry and I want people to know and understand what funds are needed and how the money you give is spent.
We don’t want you to think that the “real” purpose of these conversations is to ask for money, with only a “pretend” purpose of sharing thoughts and building ties among us. It’s the other way around. We see these meetings as an opportunity for us to share with one another how important St. Giles has been to us, how important it is now, an opportunity for us to reflect upon how our hearts are tied to this church. You will remember that Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If I may put it this way, what we’re asking is, “where your heart is, will you commit your treasure?”
What St. Giles means to us and its importance in our lives is only part of the picture of why we need to remain a healthy, active parish. We are here not only for ourselves but for other people who may find this church and through the church come to know and love God more deeply. We are here to preach the Gospel, to teach children about Jesus, to meet the Lord in the Eucharist, to praise God in prayer and song, to learn about the Bible, to show one another kindness, to be a school for the Lord’s service. We are also here to reach out to people outside our parish, with our gifts of food and other essentials of living, of money, of Christmas gifts for children, of hospitality.
Our times are dark and the world is full of hatred and violence and lies, greed and misuse of power. The church can be a beacon of light in dark times. We don’t hide from the reality of the forces of darkness. After all, what could be darker than the cross of Christ? We bear witness to the reality of the darkness. But we uphold the light of Christ, for what light could be brighter than the light of his resurrection? It is important that we are here to proclaim the message that the light of Christ is never overcome by darkness, never. It is important that we gather together to remember that there is another way to live, not the way of the world but the way of love. This church is like our base camp where we are strengthened and renewed to go into the world to live in love and light, to stand up for God’s kingdom, to be faithful witnesses of Christ. The darker the times and the harder it is to live with love for our neighbors, the more we need to be a strong witness here to God’s way of love. Jesus said to his followers, “You are the light of the world.” We need the commitment of our members – time, talent, and treasure – to be the light God has called us to be, in this place and in this time.
“Is there anybody here who loves my Jesus? Anybody here who loves the Lord?” I know you love my Jesus. I know you love the Lord. Amen.