"Love God! Love People! Change the World!"

Date Sunday April 22, 2018
Service Fourth Sunday of Easter, Outreach Message #3
Text Text: Matthew 22:34-40
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "YOU are Witnesses!"

     It’s a trap, Jesus!

     Jesus’ enemies are setting a trap in today’s Gospel lesson. Yet, they are the ones who are trapped, that is silenced. And, in a way, we are trapped too. I’ll explain that momentarily. First, though, let’s place today’s reading in its context.

     It’s the last week of Jesus’ earthly life and he and his followers are in Jerusalem for the Passover, where he is involved in a series of disputes with the Jewish religious leaders and their disciples. The intention of each confrontation is to discredit Jesus, but he is careful and clever in his responses. In today's reading they asked him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

     According to the Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel, there was an expected response to this question, which was something like: “Every commandment in the Law is great, because all of them come from God, and it is God’s will that we obey all of the commandments.” That would have an acceptable and orthodox response.

     The thinking was that Jesus would answer this way to avoid negating any of the 613 commandments. But, when Jesus gave this answer, his opponent planned to follow up with asking why, if every commandment is great, he and his followers are guilty of breaking so many of them. Slam! The trap would shut, Jesus would be discredited and his followers would abandon him! (1)

     But, as is often the case, Jesus’ answer is unexpected. He reprioritizes the commandments with this response, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving God is the first and most important thing and to love God means loving God’s people. This, and other responses that Jesus gives, contributes to the withdrawal of the religious leaders, but also, unfortunately, to their hatching a plan to silence Jesus completely.

     Since Jesus is “our guy” we may give him a smug “way to go” and high five UNTIL we consider what it means to love God and others fully. It's confusing, says Commentator Clayton Schmit, because our culture tends to equate love with intense emotion, and to view love as a response to something or someone outside of ourselves.

     Here is a simple example: I attend a movie and it is the best one I've ever seen; the actors are great; the script is awesome; the message moved me. So, upon leaving I say, "I love that movie!" I'm responding to something outside of me. Of course, we usually think of this in terms of another person - someone who supports us and completes us and stirs up feelings in us - we say we love that one. It's a response to someone outside of ourselves.

     The challenge is, if we are honest, that it can be difficult to conjure up intense feelings for something as remote and mysterious as God, even though the Divine has been made know to us in Jesus. That's especially true since we do not always feel that we are loved by God, or sense God's presence.  To quote Commentator Schmit, “We cannot look into God’s eyes, wrap our arms around the Spirit, or even see the face of Jesus.” (2) And, loving our neighbor can be even more difficult, especially when that person is unknown to us or unlikeable or we object to something about him or her. How can we love that person? So, we may feel trapped by the two greatest commandments to love God fully, and others as we love ourselves, and determine that we just cannot do them.

     There is an escape hatch, though, because Biblical love is not passive; it is not a feeling or a response to someone or something, Biblical love is something we DO. We can love God with our heart through generosity to others; we can love with our soul by worshipping God, even when doing so is difficult; we can love with our minds by studying God’s word and responding to it. When offered to others, love is kindness, it's merciful action that is continuous and given equally.

     Listen to what Clayton Schmit says: “This means that, (love can be offered) to those with whom we are intimate, to those we do not know, to those who may be dirty or repugnant, and even to those who harm us, we can act according to the law of love. We can be merciful and gracious. To love the neighbor as ourselves is to make a conscious choice and act upon it.” (3)

     Remember, when we love God’s people (all who God created), we are loving God. Likewise, if we love God, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God’s people. As Christians we are constantly becoming those who love what God loves. That’s a process of transformation that involves prioritizing, participation, practice and persistence; loving God and other is something we DO.

     This month, and hopefully into the future, we are focusing on how to do that more, how to make a bigger impact, especially in the face of the significant needs beyond our church walls. When it comes to loving (or reaching out, or witnessing) we set priorities, we participate and practice, and we are persistent. But, if that's too complcated, remember this: Love God! Love people! Change the World! AMEN

 

(1)   “Love Supreme” by the Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Matthew 22:34-40, January 30, 2005, www.day1.org

 

(2)   Commentary on Matthew 22:34-46 by Clayton Schmit, www.workingpreacher.org

(3)   Same as #2