The Greatest Commandment - Matthew 22: 34-40, given at St. Peter Lutheran Church, Walburg, Texas on March 2, 2016
Intro – Thanks for having me on this Lenten Wednesday. I am blessed to be here, and hope that you are blessed by my presence. I hope that you will forgive, in advance, any ways in which my Christian Faith, mostly from a Baptist position, will not speak to you or is uncomfortable in some other way. I bring greetings to you, in Walburg, Texas, from the universal church – sometimes called the little “c” catholic church, and my home, Sunset Canyon Baptist Church, in Dripping Springs, Texas. I want to say thank you to Mike Vogler and Mary Mayes (my mom), for inviting me, and for Sharon Pickard in the office who got me ready to shepherd you. Let us pray:
Prayer: Father God, you are so unbelievable to have Christians all around the globe going through the Lenten experience, as we look forward to Good Friday and Easter. I pray that You will help this church get prepared to welcome the new pastor and his wife, Phillip and Amy Daniel, as they get ready to journey in this life together. I pray that You will touch each of us, in Your way, to make this Lent meaningful to us as we and Christ journey to the cross. May “the Sayings of Jesus” that I preach and has been preached during this Lenten season bless these people, and make the Lenten period more real to them. Take my voice away and let Yours come through, through Your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Illustration: When I was growing up, and attending Pecan Springs Christian Church - a Disciples of Christ church - in Northeast Austin, we had tales to tell (actually the other, older people had tales to tell and I just listened) of how Baptists were meeting on Sunday morning for two or more hours. How they prayed incessantly long, and sermons would last for over an hour! This was tough for me, because I thought: What about time for lunch, and what about the NFL Football game, or the PGA Golf Tournament? I know now, having gone to a Baptist church for the past 18 years, that the two hour services are what some Baptists do (or so I’m told), but not what we do! So sit tight and my time will be relatively short.
Beginning: When I first heard that y’all were having “The Sayings of Jesus” as your sermon topics during the Lenten Period, all kinds of ideas popped into my head.
Saying of Jesus Intro: I thought, the Beatitudes would be great. Eight sayings that Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, that took His audience by surprise. He was saying things like
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Things that turned their world inside out. There’s meat there, and plenty of “sayings” to run through, but probably too many for the time we have here.
Or, I thought, what about the “I Am” sayings from John’s Gospel. Jesus, in speaking to the crowds, Sadducees, and Pharisees said “I Am” seven different times in John’s Gospel to proclaim that He was Divine – God – Yahweh. Remember Moses and the Burning Bush? Back in Exodus 3:13-15 where God revealed Himself to Moses the great I AM THAT (or Who) I AM! But again, that’s is just too much to unpack for the brief time that we have.
Saying of Jesus – Main – Matthew 22: 34-40 The Gospel that I read this evening is what I want to focus on. It is written down in Mark and Matthew, and Matthew’s version is the one we are focusing on today. Mark was written first, and scholars think that Matthew and Luke were, in part, based on Mark and the “Q” – a document that has been lost for some time. Mark’s version, which is in Mark 12:28-34, the scribe is genuinely asking the question, and says after Jesus speaks, “He’s right,” at which Jesus tells him “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Matthew remembers it a little different. He says the lawyer (they are so tricky (I am one!)) asked it to “test” or trick Him! Jesus apparently shut them up with His response.
But let’s look at it from the Lenten Lutheran perspective. The Old Testament scripture from today (Isaiah 53:2-12) is attributed to Moses in the Talmudic tradition, but attributed to Jesus in Acts 8:32-35. It speaks to us of a suffering servant. One who did all he did – for us! So much that on the cross, Jesus quoted from the Psalm (Psalm 22:1-2), which we read “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” These things we must keep in mind as we, ourselves, journey to the cross.
In the Lutheran church (as I understand it), Almsgiving – or helping the needy is appropriate any time of year, but the Lenten Season is especially time to act on it, as it is one of the Lutheran practices. It is observed in this church, one way, by giving away offerings that you give on Wednesday during lent. Let us see, then, what Jesus teaches us.
Background:Matthew Chapter 22: Matthew is almost at the end of his gospel (28 Ch). In Chapter 21, Jesus came to Jerusalem for the last time. Within a week, He would be put to death. He was speaking to the Chief priests and the Pharisees. And told them the parable of the wedding banquet. You recall: Many are called, few are chosen. He was trying to talk to them about themselves. It did not go over well. The Pharisees were trying to trap Him by asking if they should pay taxes. Then some Sadducees came and asked Him about the resurrection (the Sadducees said there is no resurrection); the wife marries seven men, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Not going for it, Jesus said they were wrong and hadn’t read the Scriptures. The crowd was involved (and silencing the Sadducees in front of the multitude is not a good idea). Then, seeing that the Sadducees were silenced, the Pharisees began to ask Him about the commandments to test Him. And we come in there...
I am reading from the New International Version Matthew 22:34-40 New International Version (NIV)
The Greatest Commandment
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So what do we make of these “sayings of Jesus?” It was at a time when He had come to Jerusalem for the ultimate sacrifice. It was at a time when the Sanhedrin, as a whole, were trying to find something to try Him for – some sin, some mistake in the law as they saw it, something! The Pharisees were people that were experts in the law. The rabbies had 613 commands or “laws” that you had to abide by (248 positive commands, corresponding to the number of parts of the body; 365 negative commands, corresponding to the days of the year); Maybe the “lawyer” was trying to get Jesus to say that you didn’t have to abide by some of the law, to trick Him.
Jesus’ response: Love. To love God or Yahweh was part of the Shema, which Jews had memorized and recited morning and evening. In the second part of the Shema it is written: “to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.” (Deut 6:5) And loving one’s neighbor was also a command that was given to the Israelites in Leviticus (19:18).But then Jesus said: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” So instead of 613 laws, I only have to follow one: love? Sounds pretty good, but let us unpack it some more: The Law was given, some say, to show the people of Israel a different way: God’s way. Maybe to show them that they could not live under the law; it was too much for sinful man. The prophets, from major to minor, had something to say about it, too. They were supposed to be speaking the words of God to the people. And the people, for the most part, didn’t like it. For example, Hosea had to physically go through the heartbreak that God felt and feels when humans don’t relate to Him, by marrying a prostitute that continued to go out in the streets and ply her trade.
So what does Love have to do with that, especially love for a neighbor. When we when love (like God loves – agape love), then we love self-lessly. We are all about the other person, to make them whole, content with where they are, have hope, have a piece of what we have – God in us. The law was to teach humans that God’s way is different, and the Prophets were speaking God’s word to the people. God loving humans, even though they (or at least most of them) weren’t listening.But do we see self-less love today?
Illustration: It’s national election time in this country, and the candidates are out there, trying to get support to ultimately become the next President. It seems to me, whether you are Democrat or Republican, there is a choice, but from my angle, it is not a very good choice. Maybe it’s the system or our view of it. Take Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon. He is running for election to the President, yet he is really not making the headway that is required to get the Republican votes. We are in primary season, where votes are counted across the country and if they get enough electoral votes, they are the Republican nominee for President this year. According to the polls, Ben Carson is not going to have the electorates to run for president against the Democratic nominee.
Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio have increased their attention on the other big-three, calling them names and hitting the other candidates (although it is mostly Cruz and Rubio attacking Trump), what I would say is below the belt, to get people to not vote for Trump and for themselves.But listen to the eventual indictment of Ben Carson, a Christian.
I took this from the Kelly File, a Fox News show starring Megyn Kelly:
LUNTZ: I want a word or phrase to describe Ben Carson. I'm going to start with you. We're going to go down the row.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peaceful.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Distinguished.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brilliant.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sincere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Humble.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Intelligent,
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trustworthy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honest.
LUNTZ: How much better can you get to that?
CARSON: No one said handsome.(LAUGHTER)
But then, someone says:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish you had more fire in your belly. I want to see some unction. I don't want to be ugly to the people but I want to feel fire because I feel like if you're running against some of these guys you need that fire.
CARSON: Well, you know, the interesting thing is, I used to have a razor temper and I would go off the handle and I would go after people with all kinds of things. And it was really God who cured me. But he made me into a very calm person. I came to understand that to lash out at people, to punch somebody in the face was not a sign of strength, it was a sign of weakness. I also came to understand that it's a sign of selfishness if you're always angry and lashing out, because it's always about me, my, and I.
But do you see that with all those qualities, some of which are right out of the Bible, he is not enough because he doesn’t have enough “unction.” People in America like people who are tough and fight back!
But did Jesus fight back, in those terms? Not on earth, and not on the way to the cross....
Love:Jesus did agape love. And that’s where I think we should be as we journey to the cross. Love, self-less love for our God and, if we do that, each other. Agape is the word for love in Greek that is used here. Three are three other kinds of Greek words for love: phileo (companionable love), storge (natural affection/obligation); and eros (erotic love). Agape is love for the object (self-less love). It is unconscionable love, it is love which requires no response, and even if the response is negative, it keeps on loving.
DR. BEN CARSON’s, approach to agape is evident: CARSON: People frequently ask me, is it really worth it, what you have to go through to run for president? Have your character attacked and your reputation and your family and everything, is it really worth it? And the answer is, no. Not if you're doing it for yourself. But the answer is a resounding yes if you're doing it for others.
It is God’s love for us and should be our love for others. By the way, agape is used approximately 320 times in the New Testament, and is stated in 1 John 4:8.
1 John 4:8 New International Version (NIV)
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
We love God because of what He has done for us. We observe, during the Lenten season, His sacrifice for us. We do that by the ashes that some of us put on our heads on Ash Wednesday, reminding us – and perhaps more importantly – others of our love for God and specifically Jesus. Some of us do it by giving up something precious or sinful during this 40 days, and you do it by giving alms. The poor and the needy still need God’s help, and we Christians are the body of Christ. You give to those that need it: That is loving your neighbor because of God’s love for us.
So whatever you are doing, during this time of Lent, do it with humility - being humble that the almighty Creator took a part of Himself and died to have relationship with you; do it with awe – that God should sacrifice so much for us, while we were yet sinners; and do it with love – for God but more than that, for your fellow humans. We are down here as witnesses to what God can do and is doing for us. Let them see Jesus in you! May it be so, now and forever, let us pray.
Prayer: Father God, let us know a little piece of the journey that the Triune God took to have relationship with us. During this Lenten season, through your Holy Spirit, let us sense the trip the Jesus took, and what it means for us. Let us, then, love the people as a witness to Your love, that came down in Jesus. Amen.