Year A Proper 25, 25 October 2020
Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Committed to Love”
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 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.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
In Year A we have this whole succession of “Gotcha Jesus” encounters, all in a row. And Jesus wins the debates every time. It is clear and obvious. Not like the recent debates where the pundits claim their guy did no matter what.
Jesus wants to be had, but he will not be “got.” Gotcha makes for winners and losers. Jesus comes to bring all into the fold. It is not a win/lose arrangement. The way Jesus plays the game (and asks us to do the same by the way) is for us to keep loving till everyone is in. Everyone is loved and loving.
When I worked at Shrine Mont as a Camp Director, one of the great games they taught us to play was blob tag. The Blob started as one person, and it was a defined area like a pavilion, and then the Blob would tag someone. The first person usually took a while because the Blob was slow. But once tagged, the person became part of the Blob, and every person thereafter became part of the Blob. Once the Blob stretched across the whole width of the space, the game was pretty much over. All were in. I thank God that Jesus is not like that. We are not like that. We have a choice in all of this.
The lawyer inquiring of Jesus here in our Matthew passage truly wants to know, I believe. Of all the 635 commands in the Hebrew Scriptures, which is the number one priority? Which one should we make sure we cover first?
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” [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.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.
Jesus is not saying anything new here. He is stating one of those 635 commandments. It even echoes this first of the ten commandments:
Exodus 20: 2-3 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
God deserves our first and greatest allegiance. Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. The greatest commandment had been wrestled over by the rabbis for centuries and this was a common response to this question. And Jesus goes on, with another common continuation.
And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
In the second, Jesus is quoting Leviticus 19:18.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
We more often hear this conversation as the opening of the Good Samaritan parable in Luke 10, where the lawyer goes on to clarify who exactly is my neighbor. As humans, we so often tend to look for the loopholes and the exceptions we can exploit. God help us.
We had a good discussion this week as the Vestry met, on this idea of loving our neighbor. The Vestry starts each meeting with some Bible Study. I know it helps me to focus on what is most important before we get down to business. This week especially.
In our divided and troubled times, our love of neighbor has taken some serious blows. How do I love my blue neighbor, my red neighbor, my whatever neighbor? Jesus left off the first part of Leviticus 19:18 but it is implied, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge…” We will see how that turns out.
But I think like most hard things, we need to make a commitment to working through the hard things before they happen. We have wedding ceremonies for a reason, so that both families, all the friends, and the couple themselves gather to bear witness to the promises made. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…”
I remember all the hopeful anticipation when I made my vows. I remember being overwhelmed with love and hope. I also remember a few times in the 28 years since that I am glad I had those vows as a reminder of the promises made, of the friends who stood with us, of our families gathered to support us and pray for those vows.
Commitments are easier kept if done in advance, thoughtfully, prayerfully, solemnly, and yet also joyfully. Friends, we cannot say we love God and then hate ANYONE. John spells it out better than I can in I John 4 (19-21):
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
In a world driving us hellbent towards the destruction of hate or vengeance, let us commit, YES, COMMIT, to love our neighbors, our brothers and sisters.
If they are not loving, love them through it. If they are not nice, love them through it. If they reject you and anything you do, LOVE THEM ANYWAY.
For several years I worked and taught at an inner-city school which was faith-based. We openly talked about Love. We openly talked about God. Even so, the kids had a hard time trusting anybody, especially a big white guy called Reverend Rock. At first it was hard. The more and more I gave, the more cautious the kids were. I did not know what I was doing wrong. And often, some real ugliness would come out. Nasty, vile stuff. Thankfully it dawned on several of us that for the first time the kids felt safe enough to let some of that stuff go. They felt safe enough to put it down. When you burst a zit pus comes out. It is gross. It is nasty. It was painful and will be sore for a while, but it is the only way for it to get better.
We had to love the kids through their stuff, their holding onto it in self-defense, their exploring if it was safe to let it go, their letting it go and the release could be nasty and ugly, and then continuing to love them through the future that could come. Some of the kids have gone on to graduate from great colleges, or are serving in the military in advanced fields, or are great parents now years later.
Our commitment to love our neighbors is not, cannot be conditional, because the other word for the love we are trying to give is Grace. Grace is transformational, unconditional, and never-ending. It is the way God loves us.
It is the way we commit to love. Will you commit today to love God with all you’ve got and all of who you are? Will you commit today to love your neighbor as they are and who they are, and give that same love to yourself? It is a big ask, but I truly believe that this is the only thing that can truly change the world. Amen