29Jesus answered, “First is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord, 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heard and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31And the second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no greater commandment than these.” — Mark 12:29-31
19Now the of God who had been traveling in front of the Israelite camp rose up and went to the rear, and the pillar of cloud rose up from in front of them also and went to the rear. 20And it went between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp, and when it got dark the pillar of cloud lit up the night, and neither group approached the other all night. — Exodus 14:19-20
And after the earthquake there was a fire, but YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire, the sound of complete silence. — 1 Kings 19:12
The movie â€œPrince of Egyptâ€ was one of those rare films that I went to see in the theater. I hate getting stuck in a theater, having paid my money, and finding out that I’ve gotten to a horrible movie, especially a movie about the Bible. I find it very hard to â€œsuspend disbelief,â€ as one is supposed to do in reading fiction, when the story departs so far from its source. But while â€œPrince of Egyptâ€ took its license with the story, it was less than one might expect in an animated film, and it certainly got the spirit of the events pretty clearly.
A great deal of the movie is constructed around the confrontation between the power God has given Moses and the power of the Egyptian wizards. In early scenes of this confrontation the wizards perform their magic with the snakes while the music in the background is â€œYou’re playing with the big boys now!â€ suggesting that the little magic Moses could bring was no match for them.
Then there is this moment, taken from Exodus 14:19-20, when the cloud moves behind the Israelites and becomes fire. In the movie they portray it as even melting some of the rocks. I remember it more, however, for the man in the row behind me. As the fire flared up,the rocks melted, the Egyptians shy away from it and move back, he said, â€œYou’re playing with the BIG boys NOW!â€
He gave a pretty good summary of the message of the Exodus story. â€œWho is in charge?â€ is the question being asked by Moses, the Israelites, and the Egyptians. The answer truly comes when the sea opens for the Israelites but swallows the Egyptians.
So Elijah can be forgiven, I think, for looking for God in the physical manifestations, in the fire, the earthquake, and the wind. But in that case, God was not in those physical things. God was not there to make an announcement that â€œYou’re playing with the big boys now!â€ Rather, he was there to call for faithfulness even in hard times.
So what does all this have to do with loving God? I’d like you to ask yourself a question. Don’t read on until you’ve given yourself a moment to think. What makes you truly love God?
I’m guessing there are many answers. I suspect many people think of protection, salvation, guidance. There’s the repeated call in the Psalms for justice, for judgment on one’s enemies, even for vengeance. The God who put the pillar of fire between the two camps can handle that, and he makes us feel confident. Others of us are attracted to the God who gave Elijah sheer silence.
I’m not concerned with the details. Love is shown in many ways. We respond in many ways. That’s a good thing!
I was thinking of this theme this morning when I remembered that it is September 11. We are made in the image of God, and as God intended our actions can reflect God’s love in our sphere. How we show love, and how we evoke the love of others varies widely. Why do we see so many stickers reading FDNY and NYPD? Because so many members of those organizations showed love on 9/11 and we love them for it. Even those of us who are far away and who had no loved ones in the twin towers appreciate and respond.
There were so many signs of love and heroism. There were those who knew the end was near, and yet encouraged their loved ones via cell phone. There were firemen who ran into the burning buildings, contrary to all good sense, hoping to save some lives. Police officers kept performing their duties even though continuing to do that meant putting their own lives on the line.
We’re used to thinking of certain actions as heroic, but under those circumstances, the heroes simply did what they knew was right for their circumstances. I doubt any of them thought about being heroes. They just knew what they had to do and they did it. As a nation, we love them for it. We honor them, and all those who stand ready as well.
In the years since, as our nation has responded, we have needed more heroes. Now they don’t run into burning buildings as often. Their task is justice. And again, we’re thankful for them. As their nation calls, they go out and tell the terrorists that they’re â€œplaying with the big boys now.â€ Let no debates about policy or arguments about how to use them diminish our regard or our thanks for their sacrifice.
13No one has greater love than this, that he lays down his life for his friends. — John 15:13