Rainbow moments: Journeying in love


A report of Duncan’s sermon this morning.

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no greater commandment greater than these. (M12:29-31)

Duncan’s talks over these few months aim to be what he called this morning ‘A curriculum of love.’ It has come to him forcefully this year that if love is the greatest thing, the most important aspects of Christian faith – as Jesus claims in the words above from Mark’s gospel – then we should be focussed on love in everything we do as individuals, together with others, and as a church.

That’s why, back in August, Duncan began exploring the implications of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,’ and today turned to Jesus’ reflection on it.

Duncan pointed at the church windows. Their frosted glass was probably intended to encourage those inside to focus on God; but the opaqueness of the panes makes it impossible to see clearly the world outside.  Love, Duncan suggested, is the lens through which we can focus on the world and the people around us with great clarity and compassion.

We all – and ministers are no exception – look for encouragement, for an indication that we are on the right track. And over the last couple of months, as he has preached on the Shema, Duncan has been given what he describes as ‘rainbow moments’, touches of clarity which come with a sense of givenness, a whisper of the wind of the Spirit.   Love is everything, Duncan realised with a renewed sense of freshness. God is love. God so loved the world. We are to love God, love one another, love ourselves, love our enemies. Love is central.

And out of the excitement and clarity of this, came Duncan’s resolve to spend a year walking us through ‘a curriculum of love’, viewing everything through the lens of love. Duncan’s not sure where the journey will take us, but he invites us all to join him on this journey. We started by thinking about our love for God, now we’re beginning to reflect on love for those around us. In the months ahead we may well consider the importance of the right kind of love for self, and look at the implications of love for creation, as we face the global crisis of climate change.

Back at the start of the year, Duncan had some months of study leave which was deeply welcome. At the turn of the year he felt tired, exhausted, drained – ministers are often always ‘up front’, teaching and preaching, with little time simply to receive.  Duncan was encouraged during his study leave by being able to attend worship services as one of the congregation, with no expectations upon him.  And he told us that in future, it’s important that he ensures he has time simply to ‘receive’ rather than constantly giving out.

When Duncan took part in the annual Church of Scotland Golf tournament, he was partnered with a naval chaplain called Scott, based in Plymouth. Scott talked about the quality of the presentations at Mars Hill Church in the US and the way they impacted on the service personnel he was chaplain to.

When he got home, Duncan looked at the Mars Hill web site (which he wholeheartedly recommends), was captivated by a series of  podcasts on the Book of Revelation, and then – another ‘Rainbow moment’ discovered a series on the Shema. ‘I didn’t copy their sermons,’ he said with a grin. ‘Their dynamic was different from what we’re doing here.’ But I learned a lot from them.

And thus he realised that the ‘curriculum of love’ should be structured round a reflection on the Shema and the related teaching of Jesus.

There was another ‘rainbow moment’ when Duncan encountered a book – The Jesus Creed by Scott McKnight.

Scott McKnight had been teaching a course on spirituality in the US, based on one of Richard Foster’s books. They were looking at different steams of spirituality – for example ‘charismatic spirituality’; ‘Quaker spirituality.’  But where, McKnight wondered, does this connect with the spirituality of Jesus?

And he concluded that Jesus’ teaching on the Shema showed that for Jesus, its teaching lay at the heart of his spirituality. From his earliest childhood right through to adulthood, his life had been firmly embedded in then often-repeated Shema – minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week. And so, as you’d expect from a man shaped by the Shema, Jesus’ teaching focusses on journeying in love.

Scott McKnight resolved to focus his own life, his own spirituality on the Shema, and to encourage his students to do the same thing. He began repeating the Shema morning and evening, and discovered that its words impacted on his way of living. Soon he found himself repeating the familiar words many times a day as he realised that its teaching was at variance with his immediate impulse, to which it cted as a corrective. The Shema helped shape his life so that love, rather than negativism shaped his life.  His students were similarly changed by the practice.

Duncan was quick to assure us that he wasn’t presenting the Shema as a magic formula which would solve all our problems as Christians. But there is something significant in looking at our lives through the lens of the Shema. These words can shape our lives as they shaped the life of Jesus. as the Spirit awakens them within us.

Duncan follows the daily reflection of the Northumbria Community, which contain a version of the Shema. He encouraged us all to use the Shema, to see how it impacts on our lives in the middle of all the messy situations of life.

Let’s find out how often, when the Spirit of Love awakens within us, we act differently than we would have done had we followed that first, ‘gut reaction.’

In conclusion we watched together this video by Scott McKnight on The Jesus Creed.

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