Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Love: the Heart of Christian Life Matthew 22:34-46

In our Gospel reading Jesus replied to a Pharisee's question about the law, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” by pointing to two similar commandments instructing the law's adhrents to love,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and most important command. 39 And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NCV)

Jesus' words about love, in reply to the Pharisee's question about law, came straight out of the ancient legal code itself.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”Deuteronomy 6:4-5(NIV)

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.”Leviticus 19:18 (NRSV)

Jesus pointed at these invitations to love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) above everything else in the law. It seems so simple and so elegent. If you want to fulfill the law of God love God and others. The hitch is love for others doesn't exist in a vaccum inside of oneself. For 2000 years believers have been invited to live beyond themselves, in relationships, loving God and neighbors. Wise men have observed that no humans have static relationships (thanks Martin Buber). We are in relationship with real beings, God and the people around us, who change and who act entirely on their own. That means we're invited to love a real God and real people.

Jesus invited the Pharisee to fulfill the law by loving (ἀγαπήσεις) the Lord first and next loving (ἀγαπήσεις) your neighbors as yourselves. The invitation is to a life lived in love. For 2000 years Jesus' words have invited us into relationships. Edward Marquardt describes these two verses as hinges,

A door cannot open without two hinges on it. Only when there are two hinges can a door swing in and out. To love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor are the two necessary hinges on which the whole Bible swings. Without the hinges, the Bible/the door is relatively useless. The Bible becomes effective in a person’s life only when the two hinges are in working order.”

The commandments instructed ancient Israel, the Pharisees, and all of us today, to live in love. Jesus is inviting us to live now and in the future loving God and the people around us. It would be much easier to live in love if we could just wait until we get to the here-after to start; but Jesus didn't tell the Pharisees to wait before they started loving in some far away place or some far off time. His direction is to love in a broken world that knows sin, death, and the works of the evil one all to well. This is the same broken world that Jesus came to redeem.

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This week our church will gather 489 years after the Reformation and celebrate our heritage in the Word. We'll give thanks for a bold young priest who challenged the church he loved to be faithful to the Gospel. We'll remember the day when he pounded a 95 Thesis invitation to debate, to the door of Wittenburg University's Chapel.

As we celebrate the Reformation we'll keep our challenging times in mind. Our days, much like Luther's days on earth, were filled with uncertainty. Challenging times call for the church to be at its best and to hold fast to what matters. Our Reformation Heritage includes a call, even in difficult times, to listen to Scripture and to live boldly in the freedom of the Gospel. We can't wait for the perfect conditions in the church or the world before we start living out our faith; instead we need to start now so that we can be salt and light for the world.

2 comments:

LawAndGospel said...

Love the two hinges metaphor, and you are right- we need to start now to live into what it means to be in real relationship.

Nancy Marshall said...

Peace to you, Unlikely.
I've been meditating on this concept: the supremacy of love all week. 1 Cor 1:13 "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" came to mind. Without getting caught up in the "tongues issue"... the point I kept hearing in my heart was this job of a missionary... being salt and light to the world is NOTHING. It's noise. It's worthless unless I have LOVE, God's love. (There's no substitute.) So on Friday when I was exhausted from the day of teaching school and waiting an hour and half for a child to catch her bus that never came (the road had flooded), and still needing to clean the house for Friday Night Bible Study, and prepare food, and read over the lesson and shower...feeling a lot more like Martha than Mary. And as I opened the front gate, not even in the house yet, another child, a ten year old deaf girl and her father appeared at my door saying he had to go to work can I watch her... It's now 45 minutes until the people come for Bible study and I think...LOVE. That's the point. All the Martha things I do are worthless. They are just the frosting.

I think a week ago I might have hit the shower and said "God I cant do this!". But this week, I learned the focus, the central point. The stuff, the activities, the food..is not important. It's the heart that matters.

In retrospect I look back on yesterday night... it was an impossible thing... kind of laughable. But I look back and smile cuz it sure took a lot of nudging before I finally learned the lesson God was teaching me: the supremacy of love.

May you feel God's presence as you preach tomorrow.

Nancy