The Great Commandment

Today’s reading is Mark 12:28-43Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.
Video available from 6am Sunday.

This past year has been tough for so many. In January 2020, I don’t think we could have guessed in our wildest dreams that 18 months later the world would still be struggling with global pandemic, from which we are though, thankfully and hopefully, emerging. But many in the world are still in its grip of this and there is a long way to go. In a time where the experience of grief, despair, fear and exhaustion have been all around us, we have also experienced the amazing grace of love, kindness, gentleness—and the joy, hope and healing this brings.

Christ’s Church is at the heart of this. We know that the love we speak of has its source and meaning in God. ‘God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them’. (1 John 4:16Open Link in New Window)

Much is often said about the ‘Church’, and sometimes in despair as our human focus becomes an institution. But the Church is so much more. In the Bible it is known in three different ways. First, as the Body of Christ the Church it is often defined as a local assembly or group of believers. Secondly, it is defined as the body of individual loving believers. Thirdly it is defined as the universal group of all people who have trusted in Christ throughout the ages. It is Christ’s church. ‘And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the first-born from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.’ (Colossians 1:18Open Link in New Window).

The Church of Christ will never fail, and if we are faithful to him, who has the supremacy, then in his name and by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, we shall not fail either.

‘I tell you’, said Jesus to Peter, ‘…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.’ (Matthew 16:18Open Link in New Window). Christ’s Church at St Matthew’s is made up of lots of Peters, people like you and me, and Christ’s Church at St Matthew’s will prevail.

We believe St Matthew’s is being called by God, now, simply but powerfully, to be a church, the gathered Body of Christ, caring for His Creation, and loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. We can become a transformative community of God’s grace and gentleness,

  • Living out and generously sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ so that,
  • lives and relationships are restored and transformed by God’s grace,
  • in our homes, communities and our city.

With a solid Foundation or Prayer, we seek to identity what we do within the key themes of Discipleship, Outreach and Community. With prayerful discernment, we all have our part to play.

Our passage today

I have chosen to focus on the reading about the Great Commandment, because in these few verses we are reminded by Jesus Christ himself of the reason and motivation for why we do what we do as church.

The argument about which is the greatest of the commandments, had been running for a long time. Was it one of the 613 commandments that the lawyers counted in the Torah? Was it one of the Ten Commandments? Is there a single commandment that sums up everything else?

What Jesus quotes in answer is not one of the Ten Commandments but an even more famous verse from Deuteronomy 6:4-5Open Link in New Window: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.’

The first commandment, the one that sums up all the others, is not about ‘duty’ but about a reorientation of our whole being: it’s a command first to ‘hear’—to pay attention to who God is—and then to ‘love’. This is discipleship. If you make that love the foundation of all that you are—mind and heart, soul and body—then everything else will follow.

But what does that love mean in practice? Jesus spells it out by quoting the other ‘love’ commandment from Leviticus 19:18Open Link in New Window: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

At St Matthew’s, we are being called—to hear God, and to love this community and city —to go deeper in our relationship with God so that our hearts are full… for the 64% of our local population who are under 40, the 52% of our local population who proactively state they have no religion—in a parish which straddles great poverty, substantial wealth and everything in between.

There is another ‘Great’ saying of Jesus in the Bible, alongside the Great Commandment, and that is the Great Commission – when Jesus gave to his disciples, a very specific mission. He said to them, before he left them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20Open Link in New Window). Jesus asked them to go, to go out into the world in his name.

The Great Commandment together with the Great Commission, give us, the Church of Christ here at St Matthew’s, in Kingsdown Bristol, the clearest possible purpose. As we think specifically today about how we can resource this church community for the mission of God in changing times, what is God saying to you in the words the Great Commandment and the Great Commission?

In spite of the challenges of last year, I and the staff team at St Matthew’s are looking ahead with excitement and hope, increasingly confident of God’s intent for this community of faith.

  • St Matthew’s Church is in a unique physical position in this city, our parish straddling an extraordinarily wide demographic diversity.
  • We already have a unique building, transformed into a versatile and flexible space for worship and community —and ready to be fully used again—done through the faithful vision, commitment and graft of our brothers and sisters 30 years ago, led by our dear friend Ray Brazier.
  • We still have a unique community of faith of many different ages and stages, with God given gifts, talents, passions and a generosity of spirit which has kept you together and kept you going through changeable times. God has invested endless potential in His church (and that’s you!)

In a way the wonderful banner we see as we leave church summarises much of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission—to ‘Go out into the city to love as Jesus loves us.

To help this happen, when, following pandemic times more people than ever are asking existential questions of life, meaning and purpose, we have to be able to practically fund and resource our ministry and make the most of what God has given us each one of us.

Financial stewardship

After hugely encouraging recovery in finances in 2019, in 2020 our stewardship commitments didn’t match our budget for the year. In addition, since then the effects of the pandemic on church income has made quite a hole. We also had unexpected emergency repairs to our heating system with no designated funds for such maintenance repairs. (As flagged up in the APCM letter, we are looking at this matter in some detail, and shall come back to you further in due course).

In addition, although we received some grants towards our CFY [Children, Families and Youth] work, we can’t rely on this again, as many others have great needs. We strongly believe in God’s call to us to reach out to the missing younger generations in our churches, and so it is vital for our purpose as a church to sustain and develop this ministry and to be able to fund it ourselves.

In broad summary, we had a budget deficit of £15,087 in 2020. In order to avoid another deficit for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, of £16,000, we need to pray for an increase in giving to cover this, which works out as an additional £310 per week between us all.

Our giving decisions are between each of us and God, when we place all that God has given to us before him again, and sacrificially give back to the Mission of God in the world. Our booklet and letter you will all receive, explains this in more detail. Please do read them carefully and spend time in prayer about your response.

I cannot, not do what I am doing. I long with a passion for this church community and this wonderful church building to be buzzing every day of the week, as an outward focused hub of Christ’s grace and gentleness, serving the community and our city of Bristol. God’s vision includes bringing the gospel to as many people as possible.

Please will you join us in taking another big step of faith, as we commit more of the resources God has shared with us, back to His mission? Let’s hear God, love our neighbour and go out into our city.

Remember that powerful verse from Malachi that Richard spoke about last week?

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,“ says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room for it.” (Malachi 3:10Open Link in New Window)

There will be a video version of the service.

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