Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our first reading today comes from Deuteronomy, which is the fifth book of the Old Testament. Once again, we are hearing the Commandments, specifically, the one about having no other gods. When Moses talks about having no other gods before the one God, it might seem strange. But we have to remember that in ancient times, there were many gods. Most of the Israelites neighbors had whole lists of gods, statues to gods, and statues and altars as well. We are familiar with the Greek and Roman gods, but there were many more that have since been forgotten. But for the three religions of the children of Abraham—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—there is only one God.
At least that is how it’s supposed to be. But sometimes we follow other gods. Not real gods but common gods for our day. Martin Luther said that our god was anything that we fear, love and trust above all things. I think we can use Luther’s definition to see what false gods are being worshiped in our society today. Can you think of anything in your life that might fit Luther’s description?
Consumerism, the need to own more things than we need, craving power and control over others, at work or in our families. Social Media that consumes us, especially Facebook, Snapchat, Tik Tok–any of those things can come between us and God. I’m not talking about sports on Sunday, or stores being open 7 days a week, but how we let those and other distractions pull us away from loving God and loving our neighbor.
So, what are we do to when we realize we are sometimes putting other things before our love for God and our neighbor? We confess we are not able on our own to overcome these false gods and we remember it is God's grace that gives us the commandments, and God's love that guides us in living and working. We are given the commandments to help us live better lives and to treat each other well.
That’s what we hear Jesus say when he is questioned by the scribe in today’s gospel lesson. Jesus takes the commandments and turns thou shalt not into thou shall.
“The most important (commandment) is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31 The second is this, you will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”
So how can we practice loving God? One way is to take five minutes every day, maybe set the alarm on your watch and pause whatever we are doing and listen for God.
Notice where you see God’s presence around you. It may seem like a simple thing, but once it becomes a practice, you will notice your relationship with God will blossom.
How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? We follow God’s call for us into a life of discipleship. Look for little things you can do to help people. I told my son that anything you do that helps someone in need, even just opening a door, helping someone to pick up something they have dropped, or just looking someone in the eye and smiling is a good place to practice love. Just like taking five minutes a day, every day, to stop and rest in God’s love leads you closer to God. Seeing your neighbor and helping them will lead to acting out love of neighbor in more and more ways.
With God's help and the teaching of Jesus, we live can out these two commandments
and we will have a better chance of resisting all those other gods that we are constantly bombarded by. Things that are not bad, in themselves, but may become gods that distract from the one true God that both Moses and Jesus are teaching us about today. And that is grace, indeed. Amen.