We continue to envision what it would be like to live in the kin-dom of God as a community of faith. But this week, we focus on the doing. It is important for us to understand that loving God and loving neighbor is not about cultivating attitudes or about generating feelings or emotions. Sure, it is great to have a warm heart toward those with whom we serve, but it is not a prerequisite. When we are given this commandment to love God and love neighbor, it is all about how we act, about what we do, how we show love in day-by-day encounters and in casual points of contact as well as moments of mission and ministry. How do we live in community, face to face with the people Jesus told us to serve?
Of course, we can pray, and we need to pray that God changes our hearts so that loving is always the first inclination. But such transformation can often come through practice. So, how do we practice loving one another as we worship? Perhaps it begins in the worship design. Do we allow all sorts of voices to be heard? Do we speak a language that everyone can understand? Do we pay attention to those on the margins of our society and our church?
Take a moment to introduce the passing of the peace. It is, in many places, a rote acknowledgment of those sitting around us during worship. But what if this week became an opportunity to go a little deeper? Instead of saying Christ’s peace be with you, we ask, “How can I pray for you today and this week so that you can know peace?” OK, that sounds a little formal. But can find a way to invite the congregation to practice making connections, to move beyond the surface into loving acts of acknowledgment. Instead of an empty ritual, we take a moment to be face-to-face with one another.
It might feel odd for a while. But that’s part of growing into the vision of who and what we might be together. This is the end that is in sight. It’s in sight because we practice it from time to time. We move beyond intellectual assent to the idea of loving, and we get down to living our love of God and neighbor in little ways as we worship and as we live. And we do it not from a distance but face to face.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.