“Loving God and One Another"
Matthew 22:34-46 and I Thess. 2:1-8
October 26, 2014
Love God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your mind and all of your strength. And Love your neighbor as yourself. It is hard to know how to say something new about these most ancient of commandments, these commandments that summarize all of the Law and the Prophets, these commandments that we all aspire to meet in the fullness of the Spirit of God.
All I can do is give to you my view of these commandments and what they require and pray that I, and you, each day may come to a deeper realization of what is involved in them - a deeper realization, and a deeper actualization.
How do you love God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength?
The first thing I want to say today about this commandment concerns how it is expressed.
Why, are all four things, heart, mind, soul, and strength, mentioned in it?
Some would say it is for emphasis - to show how deeply you must love - and there is much truth to this - but still, the four words all point to different things, to different parts or aspects of our selves - parts that we can separate, parts that we can, and often do, compartmentalize in our daily living, even though we ought not.
There are people who say and who really believe that they love God - but who never take time to express that love in word or song or prayer, there are others who worship God regularly and who do good deeds almost all the time - but do so out of duty or out of a sense of pride or fear, their thoughts are not sanctified - not holy - the different parts of their selves are not in harmony, not at peace with one another. Still others pour out all their strength and mind power upon doing God's will, but do not feel positive, let alone affectionate towards God. They feel empty - even though they are doing the right things.
The daily grind can, of course, wear us down, it can put stress on us and foster the divisions inside us the divisions between heart, mind, and soul.
I rather think that is what was happening in the comic strip Peanuts one day when Charles Schultz has Charlie Brown say to one of the other kids - "I love mankind! Its people I can't stand."
Sometimes it is easier for us to love in the abstract than it is for us to love in the concrete.
God knows this about us - and He is forgiving when our love does not quite measure up, but still God calls us to love him totally - and out of that love, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The two commandments you see are bound into one - total love of God and total love of neighbor, so that one becomes, in a sense, the measure of the other.
Jesus says that we should love God with everything we have, that our love needs to go beyond simple expressions of assent, or agreement and be seen in every part of our lives.
We are to love God - and in the end - our neighbors - with the feeling center of us, the place of passion - the heart - and with the rational and thoughtful part of us - the mind - and with the mystical part of us - the part that in the end has the power of the "will" and the power of life and death within us - the soul. There should be no division within us and division without us - no division in other words between how we love God and how we love ourselves and our neighbors.
But having said these things about why the commandment is expressed the way it is expressed, I want to go on and say a little about how we love, especially about how we love when the path before us is not clear - how we love when in fact we feel divided.
As I said earlier - God knows that we are often divided within ourselves, that we have conflict between the different parts of ourselves, that desires seek to overwhelm us, critical thoughts seek to misguide us, evil spirits strive to whisper in our souls.
God knows this - and as I said - God is forgiving when our love does not quite measure up,
but still God calls us to love totally - So, how do I know if I am loving well?
What standard can I use to tell if I am doing a good job of it - especially since there are some people in my life who suggest that I could be doing a much better job of it. - especially since I know within myself that some of those accusations are true.
The very first thing I want to say about this is this: in the end the only love that counts is the love of God. Not our love - be it for God or neighbor - but God's love for us. It is on this and this alone that we stake our salvation. We don't earn our way into heaven. God embraces us in Jesus and calls us to come to him as a gift of his love.
That is the important thing - The rest is simply us trying to respond as faithfully as we can
because we want to - because God has given us a "response-ability," and because it is such a crying shame when we fail to respond as well as we are able.
How do I know if I am loving well. What standard can I use to determine if I am on the right track, especially when other forces within and without me are calling my love into question?
Well the answer is simple. You know you are loving well if you are living up to standards of the law and to the example of Jesus.
Paul was attacked by others as he went about trying to live up to his calling as an apostle and evangelist. They suggested he was not doing all things well, that he was in fact preying upon those he met - seeking his own welfare rather than theirs – deceiving them about what the good news was - and building up his own self rather than working for the glory of God and the good of others.
Paul faced the kind of accusations, in other words, that most of us face during our lifetime -
accusations that may be made by others, are simply made within us by our own self-doubts and our own awareness of our sinful nature.
What Paul does in response to the attacks on him is defend himself by appealing to a set of standards and to how he acted in accordance with those standards.
He uses words like deceit and slander - and holds up concepts like purity and responsibility. He refers to actions like shameful mistreatment and states how one ought to give oneself to others as we give them the gospel.
He speaks about flattering others and seeking personal praise - and about their opposites - seeking to please God and being tender with others.
And I am struck by reading Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, by the fact that there are standards by which we can determine what love is like -- standards which suggest to us what kinds of
actions we ought to be taking if we love God and one another.
They are the standards of the bible; the standards of morality: of morality as it used to be known in our world - the concrete and fixed morality of God - rather than the relative and ever changing morality of human kind of our cynical and corrupt time.
How do I know if I am loving as I ought? How can I tell if I am on the right path in how I show the love that God has given me?
To me the answer is found in the fact that the greatest commandments, do not replace the law and the prophets – they summarize them.
If we are feeling that somehow we are off course - that the love we feel in one part of our lives is somehow not showing up in the other parts then we can check out our performance by standards found in this book. We can check ourselves out - not as a way of judging or justifying ourselves - but as a way of improving ourselves - and thus of improving our world.
We, as Christians, have two testaments - the new message for us as Gentiles about God's love, the nature of his Kingdom, and about eternal life - and the original message which makes the new message make sense, which tells us who Jesus and who God is in the first place.
The first testament contains the law of God - which Jesus summarizes in today's reading - and it shows us how to apply that law - and the second testament shows us in Jesus the perfect
fulfillment of that law in human living - it gives us a great example to follow and to believe in.
In other words there is a whole message - and not just a summary there is a whole message - and we need to hear it if we are to understand what is going on in us and in our world.
That message reminds us that there are things like duty, responsibility, justice, accountability, punishment, prayer and power, peace and reconciliation.
Do I love as I ought? Am I on the right course? The answer is found in the answer to questions like: Do I have respect for others? Do I allow others to have their dignity? Do I in fact give myself to others out of love - or offer them only a sham of courtesy concealing some other agenda that I want to be about?
The answer is found in the answer to questions like: do I render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's? do I pay my taxes and accept my responsibilities towards my fellow citizens? do I support the work of the police and other authorities, or do I mock my nation's laws? do I lie or cheat to get ahead, do I share my bounty willingly, do I tithe my income so that God's commands are obeyed or do I give God only what I have leftover?
Do I do as God has commanded me and pray for my government? Do I seek his wisdom in trying to decide who to vote for - or do I vote for those who encourage me to live as if my concerns were the only concerns that matter and damn everyone else, especially if they are from another country, another race, or another religion?
There are a lot of questions we can ask ourselves to help us decide if we are loving God and one another in the way we are called to love God and one another.
And it is good to ask these questions - for they do keep us honest; and if sincerely asked - and prayerfully thought about, their answers can lead us and our world to a greater wholeness;
that is - if we want them to.
And ultimately that is what our love is all about, it is about our wanting to be, and trying to be, faithful to God.
It is about praying to God - Lord help me do what is right, Lord help me love as I ought to love,
make me more like Jesus, who lived and died to set me free. Thanks be to God. Amen