October 25, 2020

Pentecost 21A

To Love, With Your Whole Heart

GOSPEL

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.    Matthew 22:34-46

SERMOB

Do I love God with my whole heart and my whole soul and my whole mind? That’s a lot of love.  Do I love my neighbor, in the same way?  That’s an even taller order.    

These are the tough questions of today’s scriptures. Loving God is not measured simply by our acts of worship and our life of prayer.  Though it is also not loving God – to not worship and to not pray.  

It seems to me that loving God completely and fully, can only come from loving God through our love of all that is God, in all of His creation.

The scriptures introduce us to a God who embodies Himself in His creation.  And in the fullness of time the Word, through whom all things were created, took our flesh, in its splendor and in its fragility, upon Himself.  The one on one identification was thereby rendered complete.  Because of the awesome mystery of the incarnation, to love God is necessarily to love all that is created – the earth, its creatures and most certainly those creatures made in God’s very image and likeness and remade in the likeness of His Son.   

Loving God just as completely as God loved Moses and the Israelites proved to be a challenge for His chosen people and proves to be the very same for us.  If we examine and really appreciate the nature of that love, as captured in the Exodus story, it is boundless.

God’s love delivered them from slavery and oppression and from a life of unmitigated injustice.  In love, God journeyed with them through the desert wilderness, where any experience of hope could only be so terribly remote.  And when the time was right and they were ready, God’s love brought them into a land that promised an abundant future sown with the seeds of His enduring presence.  

While the Exodus myth is ancient, does it not present a scene that is so terribly contemporary?  I don’t know about you, but in my 75 years I have known any number of personal and communal experiences that fit the Exodus template.  

Before coming out I lived the bondage imposed by society’s homophobia.  The scriptures say that, “At the sound of the trumpet the dead will rise.”  The murder of Matthew Shepherd was for me a personal trumpet call to throw off those shackles and reclaim my freedom as a beloved child of God. 

For us as a nation, is this not a moment in which we find ourselves on a threshold looking at the possibility of entering a new tomorrow?  

A tomorrow that is less defined by fear and hatred of the different other and less accommodating and accepting of racial injustice in its every manifestation.  

A tomorrow in which we will return to cherishing the earth rather than raping it.  

A tomorrow where the separation and caging of children will never again find legal protection and always encounter zero tolerance. The candle on the altar this morning burns for the 545 children whom this administration on our watch has made orphans.  Four years is not forty years, but they have been long years.      

Yes, God’s love was so intense and insistent that it brought His people from slavery to freedom.  From injustice to genuine civility, mutual care and communion. And because the challenge to return so great a love in kind, is itself so great, God gives His people, in every generation, so many opportunities to get it right.  He does not lose patience with us as we struggle to stay the course of righteousness, to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him. 

Moses saw God face to face the scriptures tell us. In other words, there was no veil between the love of God and Moses’ love for God. Armed with this relational intimacy Moses led his people, he died bathed in the joy of knowing that they had arrived at the doorstep of the Promised Land, and also knowing that God had provided them with His law so that they could continue to live according to His will.

God’s love is also evident in Paul’s earliest record of his own ministry. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul acknowledges that it takes courage to declare the Gospel in the face of opposition. Paul does not simply accept his commission to share the Gospel but to do it with the gentleness and tenderness of a nursemaid. 

How might we respond if someone would tell us that they care for us so deeply that they are determined to share not only the Gospel of Christ, but also to share no less than all of themselves, because you have become very dear to them?

The Pharisees, in this morning’s Gospel story, are thinking very narrowly when they ask Jesus to identify the most important commandment of the 613 contained in Torah.  These laws intended to regulate each and every moment in the day to day life of the observant Jew. When they asked Jesus to tell them which commandment was most important, Jesus confounded them with simplicity.

“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”.                                                         

Jesus brings it all together for us. He makes it clear that we must love God with every part of us, and every part of us must love all that God loves. 

Jesus lived His own life loving in that way. He loved God even when it meant that he would know suffering and an ignominious and shameful death. Jesus loved even those persons we might be inclined to hold at bay or even ignore. And so, we ask ourselves, if we are prepared to do the same. Are this morning’s scriptures unrelated to our lives or do we see our own lives in them?

The world we live in might, at first glance, seem to be different from the world of the scriptures, but is it really?  As we read about the oppression of the Israelites and their journey to freedom can our thoughts escape a consideration of those being oppressed today.  Our consideration comes with an invitation to challenge ourselves as to whether or not we are ourselves oppressors or, more importantly, if we treat every person justly. How do we love God when we do not act justly?  If the second commandment is like the first, are we not expected to love all with whom we are in relationship as we love God?

Jesus is not qualifying these relationships to mean only people or only the people we want to love. Jesus is describing all things in all of creation. And, it goes one step further, because Jesus also tells us that we cannot love God if we do not love all that God created.  This is what He meant by the second is like the first, and this is what is most difficult about the Gospel reading today given the nature of the world in which we live.

This is the world that is being destroyed by consumerism and greed. The same world that turns looks the other way as the rainforests burn to the ground and glaciers melt away.  The world where we are so reluctant to curb and end our reliance on fossil fuels always at a greater expense to God’s creation. How do we reconcile our love for God with our whole hearts, souls, and minds with these choices?

How does it make sense for us to be more interested in loving the things that we buy with our money while looking away as we pass the person on the street, who while he may be in need of casual charity, is probably more in need of justice? How are we loving God with all that we are when we choose to separate ourselves from others using God’s own words as our defense?

Every day God gives us many opportunities to get right with God. Every day when the sun rises, we can either take it for granted or thank God for another day, acknowledging the miracle of each new day. Every day of our life we are interacting with the world around us.  Do we love all our world in its entirety, with all that we are, our hearts, our minds, and our souls?

It is not about proving that we get it and love God. It is about showing that we love God and get it with all of our hearts, souls, and minds.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna                                                                                                                          October 25, 2020