Matthew 22:36-46

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah?[a] Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit[b] calls him Lord, saying,

44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

May God bless to our understanding the Words that we hear today.

When I was growing up in Kalamazoo Michigan, every Sunday morning we WERE in church. And EVERY Sunday morning I heard these words recited within the liturgy of the service.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Every week for years I heard this. It was ingrained into my very being from an early age, Love God, Love your Neighbor.

  This past summer I’ve had the chance to worship twice in my home church and I was somehow comforted to realized that these words were still being offered during the worship service.  I was reminded why this is such an embedded piece of my own theology, my way of understanding who I am…when I am able to be my better self…who I am as a Christian.  Will you pray with me please?

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

 

Did you know that there are 612 man-made laws for living listed in the Old Testament?  That is on top of the 10 commandments, the laws given by God to the Israelites at Mt. Sanai.

For centuries our ancestors in faith did a great job living and not living within the confines of these laws, picking and choosing which ones to follow and not follow depending on what seemed to suit their needs.  For centuries, Christians have done the same thing.  We mostly ignore the 612 laws found in Leviticus, citing them as too “Jewish” or not applicable to modern Christians…at least we ignore them right up until we want to condemn someone else and then we know right where to turn to do some good, old fashioned Bible bashing.  It’s a dangerous game, but one that has been going on for thousands of years, because in a sense, that is the game the   Pharisees are wanting to play.

Jesus is clever here because instead of lessening the importance of the rest of the laws, he is able to show us how all of the laws hang together in two simple tenets, and that’s because Jesus sees the law very differently than the experts do and his response is about understanding God’s laws not as rules and regulations but in emphasizing the love. The Law is about loving God and loving one’s neighbors.  It is living the love not trying to figure out how to avoid the law.

We have, I think, a real love/hate relationship with laws and commandments. We love having something to guide us and we hate having to live within their strictures, especially when we talk the language of, COMMANDMENT. There is no wiggle room in the word commandment, it’s pretty cut and dried. So when I hear the words commandment and love  I start to wonder how can humans be commanded to love…what kind of love is it that needs to be enforced by a commandment? We tend to define love as a feeling that causes us to behave in a certain way.  When we don’t “Feel the love” that influences and lets us justify our behavior or our lack of right behavior.  It leaves room for us to say; “I DO love my neighbor...BUT!”

No one can force us to feel something we don’t feel, but scholar Douglas Hare points out something interesting.  Hare notes that “Jesus is talking about ‘biblical love’, a love that is marked, not by warm feelings of gratitude, but by ‘a stubborn, unwavering commitment.’  Commitment is a setting of the heart, something we choose to do, a way we freely choose to live our lives.  Commitment is that mysterious mingling of feeling and action, a beautiful dance between the two.”

A setting of the heart. I really liked that, a setting of the heart. It makes sense to think about this biblical love that Jesus is taking about as a setting of our hearts…it is a setting, a decision to act that affects how we feel.  It may involve giving generously to support our church, or faithfully putting the needs of our family first, or maybe even learning to forgive as a spiritual practice that makes us more forgiving people. It seems that when we decide to set our hearts in a direction, toward something or someone, and when we do the things that fulfill that commitment, our feelings often follow afterward.

 I often tell the story of when my mom and step-dad decided to get married 30 years ago.  My mom told us kids that we didn’t have to love Ivan, but we did have to be respectful.  She asked us for a commitment of respect and our feelings followed. I think it’s the same thing here. The laws of giving and Sabbath and loving, I believe, are God's way of getting us to do what we need to do, what's good for us; these laws give us the direction for setting our hearts.

Now I know, right this minute a good number of us are ticking off a list of people in our heads that we can NEVER forgive, that we don’t want to love.  And you are probably right…there are some people because of abusive behavior, because of evil intentions…well, maybe we cannot love or forgive those people.  BUT (there’s that big But again) why do we seem to hold that one person up as the reason that we can’t love all of our neighbors or still try to live out this commandment?  As a pastor, pretty much every time that I have preached the Great Commandments, there is always someone who approaches me after the service to tell me about a horrible person in their lives, someone that they just feel they cannot or should not have to forgive.  And I really, really do understand that, I struggle with that too, and maybe that’s the point, we just need to keep wrestling with it. We need to wrestle with God, with ourselves, to figure out how to live into God’s laws.

There is an excellent book by modern theologian Marcus Borg called Reading the Bible Again for the First Time.  Borg calls these two commandments the "great relationships," Borg says that this is a “remarkably simple vision of the Christian life. It is not complicated, though it is challenging." It's as if it all comes to this, for "at the center of a life grounded in the Bible is the twofold focus of the great relationship."
At the heart of being a faithful Christian, we have these two great relationships, intertwined. We know that we're called to love God and to love one another, not just the people we feel love for, but all of God's children. Somehow, we need to figure out how to do this because its important.

At the center of Christianity is what was at the very center of Jesus.  He loved everyone he met even if he didn’t like them, or he didn’t agree with them. In the moment of ultimate abuse, his death, on a cross, he was still able to ask God to forgive the ones who didn’t love him back. When we try to figure out the meaning of our lives, when we are trying to make sense of everything or anything we realize that Jesus is asking us to live better than we live, to find that God shaped piece of ourselves to shape our lives and relationships.

Thomas Merton said it best. In the book A Book of Hours he describes love in terms of the mystery and hiddenness of God: "Love," he wrote, "is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. If, therefore, I do anything or think anything or say anything or know anything that is not purely for the love of God, it cannot give me peace, or rest, or fulfillment, or joy. To find love I must enter into the sanctuary where it is hidden, which is the mystery of God."

Our challenge is to enter in to the sanctuary ourselves, to open up to the mystery of God. Maybe one way we can do that is to accept this mantra for ourselves every day: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  HA