19 Pentecost Proper A25
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 22:34-46 Sermon
October 23, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
246 "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"
409 "Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus"
525 "As Pants The Hart For Cooling Streams"
411 "From Eternity, O God"
GIVE 'EM THE OLD 1-2
TEXT (vs. 36-40): 36"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37And [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
This past Friday was one of my duty days as a Chaplain for the Lincoln Police Department. We have an office located on the first floor of Central Police Headquarters on South 10th Street. That's where I sit to do a lot of the paperwork I have to do as a Chaplain.
Anyway, I was in the office doing my paperwork on Friday. I opened up one of the desk drawers, and somebody had put a small pile of laminated cards in there. On the front of this card are the words, "Never Compromise Your Integrity!" And on the back of the cards are eight questions, entitled "Ethical Dilemma Test." Allow me to read those eight questions to you:
1. Am I acting out of anger, lust, peer pressure, or greed?
2. Is my decision legal?
3. Would I do it if my family were standing beside me?
4. How will it make me feel in 20 years?
5. Is it worth my job and career?
6. What would I do if I were being video taped?
7. Would my loved ones be proud or ashamed?
8. Am I following the "Golden Rule?"
The questions on this card are intended for Law Enforcement officers, and they're placed on a laminated card so the officer can carry it around with them and have it for ready reference. And by the way, these questions were developed by the National Institute of Ethics, and are promoted by the U. S. Department of Justice.
Law Enforcement officers are held to some pretty high standards. Now granted there are some officers out there who do not act like professionals, and who stretch the proverbial tether to its limit all the time. And if an officer of the law is honest, they will also admit that they've been guilty of making stupid mistakes, or acting without thinking.
That little card is intended to make the police officer think a bit before acting. Those eight questions are things that every officer needs to consider before ever opening their mouth or taking action. And they can really hit home too.
Today, our Gospel lesson deals with just two items, and not eight. But those two items reach into the very depths of man's relationship to God, and man's relationship to man. So when the Pharisees ask Jesus about the law, he "gives them the old 1-2" as an answer. Love God, and love your neighbor. It can't get any simpler than that.
Let's take a look at what's happening in our Gospel lesson for today. We're still in that Holy Week narrative, the time between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Things are really heating up too. The Sadducees had just finished asking Jesus about marriage and the resurrection. Since the Sadducees openly denied the resurrection of the dead, their question was intended to trick Jesus. They wanted to know if someone's spouse were to die and they were to remarry, whose spouse would be who's in the resurrection. But since there is no marriage apart from this time on earth, it's a moot question. And that silenced the Sadducees.
But now it's the Pharisees' turn to question Jesus. And they thought they had a real doozy to throw at him. This would be sure to stump him. "What's the greatest commandment in the law?" they ask.
Now on the surface, this doesn't seem like such a bad question. In fact, I think it would be fair for anybody to ask that question and expect a good definitive answer. There had to be some logical order of importance to things.
But we have to consider the attitude of the Pharisees here to fully understand this. The Pharisees were considered experts in God's law; in fact, the Bible even calls them "lawyers" in some instances. The Pharisees had the laws all categorized, so that there are 603 separate laws; and if you add the 10 commandments into the mix, there would be 613. Those are a lot of laws! And if you add the Rabbinic code to this, that adds something like another 573 regulations. So there are a lot of things to keep track of!
The trap they have for Jesus is rather easy to figure out. They want him to tell them which of God's laws were important, indicating that God's other laws weren't important at all. They were trying to get him to contradict himself, and thus prove him to be a false prophet and teacher.
So instead of enumerating all of the laws, Jesus does a summary instead. God's laws can always be divided into two basic categories: laws that deal with our relationship to God, and laws that deal with our relationship to each other. In short, we are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. That's a lot of law crammed into two categories! If you remember your confirmation class days, we call this the "two tables of the law." And if you ever look at one of those drawings of the two stone tablets, and if it's drawn properly, you'll see the numbers 1 through 3 on the first tablet, and the numbers 4 through 10 on the second tablet.
The first and greatest commandment as Jesus describes, to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, is probably the easiest one for us to grasp. It's impossible to keep it perfectly as we should all know, but we can still understand it. It makes sense to us.
The second commandment Jesus is talking about is the one that continually gives us trouble in almost every area of our lives. To love our neighbors as ourselves is an almost impossible task to even comprehend, let alone actually do.
Jesus is asking us, as Christians, to love other people in the same way he loves them. We can come to church and sing, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" and we get a lot of comfort from that. But when it comes to those other friends Jesus has, then that's a whole different ballgame.
There's an old poem that our Seminary president told when I was in school, and I jotted it down in my notebook. It says, "To dwell above with saints we love, oh that will be the glory; but to dwell below with saints we know, now that's a different story!"
When I began my sermon today by reading those eight ethics questions for Police Officers, the final one said, "Am I following the 'Golden Rule?'" Do you all know that the Golden Rule is? I'm sure you've heard it before, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Now you won't find it worded exactly that way in the Bible, but it is a rendition of Luke chapter 6, verse 31: "And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them."
Simply stated, the way we treat others is the way we can expect others to treat us. What goes around, comes around. So we shouldn't be surprised that if we act like a total jerk, then that's the way we're going to be treated.
There are so many things to think about when it comes to dealing with other people. When we are angry, we can say and do a lot of things we regret. When there's lust in our hearts, we can do some pretty stupid things to feed it. When we're trying to please others, we can throw our own standards right out the window. And when there's money or power motivating us, then we can be guilty of all sorts of bad things when our goal is misplaced. And in many instances, our bad judgment can even result in breaking the law.
How am I treating my neighbor? Would I want my children watching me and doing what I am doing? How am I going to see this when I look back on it later on? Is this going to cost me my job and damage my career? What if someone were taping this and it got posted on You Tube? Is this something I'd want my mother or grandmother to see? What would they think? Is this the way I want to be treated?
You see, this "love thy neighbor as thyself" thing has some deep meaning to it! And if we're supposed to love others the same way Jesus does...well, that's something we almost want to forget about. We can't do that, so why should we even try?
That's the problem with the commandments, isn't it? We break them, and we do it all the time. That first and greatest commandment to love God is sometimes referred to as the "umbrella commandment." Every other commandment falls under the first one. If you could keep that first commandment perfectly, then you wouldn't need to worry about any of the others. You would be able to keep them perfectly as well. But we know we haven't kept them, because we have no righteousness of our own.
The one thing that stands out in this dialogue is the word "love." When the Pharisees ask Jesus about the law of God, Jesus responds with "love." The Pharisees were all caught up in the law of God. What Jesus presents to the world is the love of God. And that's where we need to keep our focus as well.
"Jesus loves ME, this I know." This is something that gives me a great deal of comfort and hope. Jesus loves Pastor Dan even during those times when Pastor Dan just isn't too lovable. Isn't that true for you also?
If we look at the last verses of our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus asks the Pharisees a question of his own. "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" The Pharisees give a correct answer. They say he is David's son, one born of the house and lineage of David.
But that's only partly true. The Messiah, or the Christ is also the true Son of God. Even David himself knows that, because he calls him the divine name of "Lord." If he were to be simply the earthly offspring of David, then he would be no different than any other human being. Any of David's family could have been the Messiah if that's all it took.
That's where we see God's love in action. God broke into our human world by sending Jesus to be our Saviour from sin. Jesus, the promised offspring from David's line, who is true God himself, came to this earth for no other reason than because of his love for humanity.
Our love of God is our response out of a thankful heart for what God has done for us through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. God loves the unlovable, even the likes of you and me. He takes us, washes us clean in his blood, and gives us a robe of righteousness. Because of nothing more than God's love for us, we are guaranteed an eternity in our heavenly home. That's the end result of faith alone, and the reward given for the price Jesus paid for us.
Loving our neighbor is also our response out of a thankful heart. God makes it seem so easy, but in actuality it's anything but easy. When people are acting mean, or objectionable, or hostile, how in the world can we show love? How can we be expected to even be civil when this happens, let alone loving and caring and forgiving? Oh Lord, it's so hard for us to do. It seems like such an impossible task. It's almost more than we can bear. How can we handle it like your children and ambassadors of your divine love?
Just a few days from this account recorded in our Gospel lesson, Jesus will be looking down from the cross and he will say, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." That's love for the whole world shown in the most adverse of circumstances.
Today in our Gospel lesson, Jesus gives the Pharisees "The old 1-2." That's an expression borrowed from the sport of boxing, where one fisted glove is immediately followed up by the other in order to deliver a very powerful blow.
The powerful blow Jesus is delivering is answering a question of the law with the two-fisted answer of love. Even though these instances of love still describe the law, the attitude is entirely different. The Pharisees wanted to please God by works of the law; but Jesus wants us to give thanks to God by doing what pleases him out of love. And that's the difference between night and day.
Sometimes I think it might be a good idea for us to carry around a little card to make us think before we act. We probably need those little reminders like the Law Enforcement Officers do. But we have one simple rule that should do it for us: Love your neighbor as yourself. And we must do that, even when that neighbor in our estimation isn't so lovable.
This morning, I think it is fitting to conclude this with the words John wrote in his first epistle, chapter 4, verses 7-12: "7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us."