I am remembering the story in Mark 12, when Jesus was asked a very honest question by a lawyer with an inquiring mind. What did Jesus think was the most important command in the Law? So often, when people asked Jesus questions, it was in order to trap him. But this scribe seems to be quite genuine in seeking Jesus’ counsel. Jesus answered and when he was through, the scribe could find nothing wrong with his answer. Jesus had reduced 613 commands to just two.
Jesus said we are to love God with all that we are, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. As Richard Vinson puts it, “The God who made all things commands our absolute and utter devotion and loyalty. Nothing we do will matter as much as whether we can take our ambitions, emotions, commitments, and thoughts and dedicate them to God.” Well said; love in this context is not about warm fuzzy feelings, but about a constant and consistent turning in God’s direction. But it is not easy to do is it? We have a lot to learn about loving God in this way.
Jesus also said that day that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. I suspect Jesus was speaking in this context, about love as something we do for someone who needs it. That is what Jesus was always going about doing. Loving our neighbor, doing love, sounds simple, but we know it is not.
I have always liked the story about a college professor of Christian ethics who handed out an exam that had 20 difficult questions. The instructions said to read the entire exam before beginning to write. Most students, seeing the number of questions, despaired of answering them all in the time allotted. They ignored the instructions and started right in on the first question. A few students wrote nothing at all. They just looked at the paper for a while and stared into space, as though they were trying to remember something. But one student completed the exam in a matter of minutes, submitted the paper, and walked out of the room, smiling.
That student was the only one who passed. That student was the only one who followed the instructions fully, reading through all 20 questions before reaching the final one. The final question went like this: "Congratulations! You have followed the instructions perfectly. There is no need to answer any of the other 19 questions. Just answer this one. This question is very simple, and it is the only one that counts. Write the name of the janitor who cleans this classroom." That question tried to measure how hard the students tried to love their neighbor, the custodian, whom most habitually ignored, as themselves.
Our worship theme in October is, “The Word That Knows No Equal.” That word is love. I pray that you will join us each Sunday morning for Bible Study and worship.
In Christ’s love, Pastor Joel
My mother-in-law likes to watch the Hallmark channel on television and is really glued to the screen when Hallmark provides “Christmas in July.” Well, if we can have Christmas in July, why not Thanksgiving in August? I am feeling especially blessed right now.
Mark Twain once told the story about a man who wrote to him when he learned how much Twain had earned for his magazine articles. That was a long time ago; still, Twain made about $5 dollars a word! “Dear Mr. Twain,” the man’s letter began, “Please send me a good word.” Then he folded a $5 bill in with the letter and dropped it in the mail. Soon after, the man received a response. On a single sheet of paper, Twain offered a single word: “Thanks.” Thanks is one of our best words, and it is the word that comes to mind as I think about all that God is doing among us and through us.
Thank you Cheryl and Jonathan and our summer choir for the gift of music, for words and notes that speak to our hearts that comfort and inspire us. Thanks to Suresh Persaud for filling in for me so ably in the pulpit. Thanks to our Board of Deacons for tending to their parish lists and leading us in worship. Thanks to our newly formed search team under the leadership of Willie King. Pray for them as they begin the search for a new pastor. Thanks to our Vacation Bible School team, led by Dee Wells and Lynda Rooney; as I write this, VBS has begun, and it appears to be another wonderful week of learning and fun.
My thanks to all those who have been so hard at work renovating our church kitchen. It is close to completion, and I know that it is going to look just great. It is a real labor of love on their part and we are so grateful for their efforts. Our Board of Trustees has been hard at work providing a new security system for our building, and a new air conditioner for the pastor’s office, for which I am profoundly grateful!
Thanks to Bernard Warren for a new ministry initiative. Bernard, through the Baltimore Faith Based Commission for Behavioral Health, has been busy in Baltimore city for some time, informing and educating clergy and their congregants about behavioral health care needs through “Lunch and Learn” seminars. He is trying to branch out to our area, and the first “Lunch and Learn” seminar will be held on July 26th at MHBC! Already, almost 30 people have signed on. Bernard and I are hopeful that this effort will continue in 2020; the current vision is for six additional seminars.
Thanks to all of our ushers for their service during the summer, and to all of our other teams and boards for their faithfulness in service. Thanks to all for their time, gifts, and treasure during the summer and all year long. My cup runs over when I think of what God has done and is doing through YOU. I believe the best is yet to be. Thank you God, the One from whom all these blessings flow.
Gratefully, Pastor Joel
So, this month we are going to be delving into the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Proverbs is part of what is called Wisdom literature in the Old Testament. During July, our Sunday school classes will be coming together to explore Proverbs in a study entitled, “Wiser Together: Learning to Live the Right Way.” And also during July, I will be sharing messages from Proverbs in worship and these topics can be found elsewhere in this newsletter.
Sue Ann Morrow helpfully suggests that we “Approach Proverbs one at a time, dwell on each one, consider it, think about it, relate it to our experience, argue with it, and probe it for the truth and wisdom to be found.” For example: “Why does the phrase “My son” appear 23 times in Proverbs? Which Proverb still seem wise to us today, and which do not? Picking up on that suggestion, I note that there are 31 chapters in Proverbs and 31 days in July, so I invite you to read one chapter each day in preparation for our time together.
It has been said that the book of Proverbs is the least read portion of scripture; (I would have guessed Numbers) that we pass by it on our way to somewhere else. That is probably true, but unfortunate, for Proverbs can inform our lives and living in important ways as we shall discover. Proverbs are more than a collection of wise, pithy sayings. They are instructions from God to his people. Just a sampling:
Contemporary proverbs can often be found in our culture. We might see them on the Web, in music, cartoons, or advertising; and I suspect that we live by them more than we may realize. You might be looking for some of these pithy modernisms in preparation for our July emphasis.
Enough said for now. I think this will be fun, and a great way to start off our summer together. Proverbs is witty, wise, and practical, revealing some of the principals that make life work best. I hope you will participate in our study and in worship each week in July!
Love in Christ, Joel
Pastor Joel Hawthorne