Thursday, October 20, 2011

Matthew 22:34-46 - Sermon - Easily Complicated


Matthew 22:34-46
Easily Complicated
10-23-11

Did you know there are many ways you can sing Amazing Grace?  Chris Tomlin did a great rendition which we sang a month or two ago, but you can use the words but sing it using other tunes.  It can be fun, let me show you.
·         House of the Rising Sun
·         Gilligan’s Island
·         Sweet Home Alabama
·         If I had $1,000,000
·         Peaceful Easy Feeling

Sure that was a little fun be we do the same thing with the word love.  We can use it bring people to tears, when we look into someone’s eye and say, I love you.  It is the last thing people say as their spouse goes back to surgery or when you leave for a trip.  But in the same breath we can say that we love Cool Ranch Doritos.  We love our children but we also love the Carolina Panthers.  We love to walk on the beach or we love a certain pair of jeans.  We can toss that word around a lot without really giving it any type of meaning, but there are other times when we use it and it can move mountains and bring people to tears.

I was watching the news one day and they had a video of a soldier surprising his daughter at school.  I forget how long it actually was since they had seen each other.  But when she saw him she ran into his arms, hugged his neck and shouted, “I love you Daddy.”  I felt like I was Kevan Callicutt I had so many tears coming down my face.  The use of love in that context meant everything.

We are limited in our English language because we have only one word for love, L-O-V-E.  In the Biblical Greek language they had four ways of saying love.  Phileo means brotherly love, like in Philadelphia, the city of…brotherly love.  This is the type of love friends have for one another.  The next type is storge, this love is affection.  We can love our food or clothes this way.  We are attached to it but it is not as deep as our love for our closest friends.  Eros is where we get the word erotic from.  It is lust.  It is physical love.  It is the type of love that is made. [think about it]

In today’s scripture Jesus gets the third test in a series in this Chapter of Matthew.  If you remember last week the disciples of some Pharisees and some political fans of Herod came and asked Jesus about taxes.  In between that question and this question, we have the Sadducees coming to Jesus to ask about marriage in heaven and what happens if a woman married seven brothers in her lifetime.  Then we get today’s scripture which is the Pharisees turn.  Their disciples walked away from Jesus astonished that he said to ‘render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  When Jesus told the Sadducees that he was the God of the living not the dead,” they left in silence.  Now it was the Pharisees turn and they walk up to Jesus and ask him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

They were determined to get him.  This would get him.  There were over 600 of them to choose from.  Surely Jesus’ answer will give the Pharisees, the most religious, highly educated, and esteemed people in the community some type of footing to turn Jesus’ name to mud.  They wait on baited breath. 

Jesus’ answers them with something that sounds recited, from memory.  It sounds like Jesus answers them like we say the Lord’s Prayer, almost mundane and bored.  It is almost child like.  Jesus looks at them and says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  This answer really isn’t original.  It wasn’t like Jesus’ answer to paying the taxes or what to do about a woman in heaven who was married seven times.  His answer is so simple it is almost insane.

[Actually do these things as they are described]  There once was a preacher who stood in front of his congregation and wanted to test them on their Biblical knowledge.  He started off by glaring at them to make them stir.  Then he stepped down from the pulpit because he knew when he did that people started to get a little more nervous.  He walked up and down the aisle and he looked them in the eye and he asked them, “If you had to sum up the entire Christian faith, how would you do it?”  The congregation looked, similar to you all, a little nervous about why the preacher is down here looking at them.  He waited, no answers.  He glared at them even more.  He waited, still nothing.  Until finally a first grader, who had her head buried into the Children’s Worship Bulletin, raised her hand.  Left with no other option he called on her and asked how she would sum up the entire Christian faith.  She looked at him and said, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong…”

There would be no Jewish child who did not know these two pieces of scripture.  The first one, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” is from Deuteronomy 6:5.  All Jewish children were asked to memorize the first five books of our Bible and many did before they were 10.  This quotation of scripture would have been a piece of cake for any child standing near Jesus.  The same is true for the second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourselves.”  That is from Leviticus 19:18.  The reason Jesus answer has the tone of something recited from memory because it was and had been for almost 23 years at that point. 

What is interesting is when we think of the commandments we don’t usually think of these.  We go to Charlton Heston standing on the side of a mountain with two stone tablets.  We Christians have thrown a hissy fit when someone tires to disturb the Ten Commandments.  There have been numerous legal battles.  In May, Giles County, VA’s school board voted twice in two months to have the framed Ten Commandments removed from its schools.  There is 2.6 ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments that was removed from the Alabama state building a while ago that caused a huge controversy. 

Here is my thought.  I think the Ten Commandments are vitally important to know and understand because they are scripture.  But they are not what Jesus hung his hat on.  When he was asked what the greatest commandment was, he didn’t even get close to the Ten Commandments.  Here is the thing about the Ten Commandments.  They were used to set up a nation.  They formulated how a nation or society should work.  It makes sense to worship only God, to respect your parents and not to steal, murder, and lie.  That is how a civil society should act.  Yet there is one world that is vitally important to Jesus that doesn’t exist in the Ten Commandments at all.  L-O-V-E.  Yes the second commandment mentions it, saying that God will have mercy to the thousandth generation “of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  But the key part of that commandment was not to make any idols or graven images.  You could remove that line and still have the main focus of the commandment in tack. 
If you remove love from the two commandments Jesus gives us, you are left with nothing.

In fact that is what the two commandments are all about.  Love God and Love your neighbor.  If you follow these two then you will actually follow all ten mentioned in Exodus 20.  But you can follow all ten and not follow both two.  As Paul said, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)  You could not steal, not murder, not lie and still not love.  You could respect your parents, worship only God, and not have any idols but still not love.

Love is what transformed the Jewish law into the Christian faith.  Love is what changes the world as we knew it.  Love that looked like no other, acted like no other and sacrificed like no other.  Love came as God in flesh, as God incarnate, and lived our life, died our death, and rose again for our sake.  That is love.  That is Jesus Christ. 

There is a story of a certain medieval monk who announced he would be preaching next Sunday evening on "The Love of God." As the shadows fell and the light ceased to come in through the cathedral windows, the congregation gathered. In the darkness of the altar, the monk lighted a candle and carried it to the crucifix. First of all, he illumined the crown of thorns, next, the two wounded hands, then the marks of the spear wound. In the hush that fell, he blew out the candle and left the chancel. There was nothing else to say.[1]

It seems so simple.  We are to love God and we are to love our neighbor.  It is so straightforward that a child can remember that.  But Jesus knows that simplicity doesn’t necessary mean easy.  I wrestled with the second part of the scripture today.  It is in these last five verses that Jesus turns back to the Pharisees and asks them a question.  He looks at them and asks, “What do you think of the Messiah?  Whose son is he?”  They answer him, “The son of David.”  Jesus replies, how is it if through he Spirit David calls the Messiah Lord. How can the Messiah be David’s son but also his Lord.”  The Pharisees join their disciples, the Herodians and the Sadducees in astonished silence.   

It is in this section that Jesus wants to know who they think the Messiah is.  What does the savior of Israel, the chosen one look like?  They state that he will come from the line of David, which is true and is exactly what the Gospel of Matthew points out at the beginning.  But Jesus is shifting the conversation to dig deeper.  They have a two dimensional view of who the Messiah is and what he will do.  He will be the son of David, yes, but since he is also called Lord by David he will be more than that too.  Jesus is attempting to show them that what seems easy is actually more complicated.  The Messiah will not look like what they expect, considering he is standing in front of them and they don’t recognize this son of David and this Son of God.

Loving God seems easy, unless you are the confronted like the rich young ruler.  He has followed all the commandments until Jesus tells him to sell all that he has and give it to the poor.  Then loving God becomes hard.  Loving God is easy when surrounded by your friends and cherished loved ones.  It is hard to come and love God in worship when you are going through a divorce or when a congregation is going through conflict.

Loving your neighbor is easy when you like the people you live next to.  Yet Jesus doesn’t say our neighbors are the people next door.  He mentions they are the strangers, the sojourners, the aliens, the poor, the weak, the orphaned, the widowed, the children, the elderly, the Spanish Speaking, the dark skinned, the Arab, the Asian, and the enemy.  Now it gets more complicated.

Love seems easy, until we see where it leads and what it did.  Love is hard when we have to follow the one who embodied it and lived it out.  Love seems really complicated when it is nailed on a cross for our sake.  We have two simple commandments to follow, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”[2]  It is that easy and that complicated.

And all God’s people said…Amen.


[2] Other commentaries looked at but not quoted was William Willimon’s Pulpit Resource, Vol. 36, No 4, p.17-20.

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