Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46
When the Pharisees heard that he 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 neighbour 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
Sermon (Maryann Amor)
'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 neighbour as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”’
It took me quite a while to figure out what I was going to say in today’s sermon. I actually, and this is very unlike me, rewrote it yesterday when suddenly everything just clicked. It was spending time with the youth on Friday night, reflecting on that experience, that helped me to make sense of Jesus’ words in a new way…that helped illuminate their message for us as we grapple with being Christian in a secular world. But before we get to all of this, let’s return to the Gospel to set the context.
In the Gospel, Jesus is speaking with religious leaders. One of them, a lawyer, asks Jesus, what is the greatest commandment? Jesus’ response, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind is the answer everyone present would have expected. Every day Jews recite an ancient prayer called the Shema, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ Everyone gathered around Jesus would have known the Shema and its central place in their faith, so they would have been pleased when Jesus’ quoted it and they would have agreed with him fully…yes, the first and greatest commandment is all about loving God.
But notice, Jesus keeps speaking, he adds: a second commandment is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”’
With this second commandment, Jesus intensifies the faith, showing those present that while they might think being a good Jew is only about loving God, only about prayer, synagogue attendance, reading Scripture…Jesus tells them there must be more, they must love their neighbour. Jesus is expanding and increasing the difficulty of what it means to be a person of faith…it is not just about the vertical relationship between a believer and God, but it must also be about the horizontal relationship between a believer and those around them.
The commandment to ‘love our neighbour’ is where everything clicked for me yesterday. I realized that while the command sounds so simple, it can be really hard to know how to live it out. Sometimes it becomes nothing more than being nice, not rocking the boat. Other times, it becomes this overwhelming call to solve all those big problems in our world…like homelessness and the opioid crisis. But I think neither of these approaches actually do justice to what Jesus is saying.
It was while I was at youth group that I realized what it means to love our neighbour and how readjusting our approach to this command can help us continue our mission as Christians in today’s very secular world. Often youth ministry is viewed as frivolous, with many asking, why are you just going bowling or eating hot dogs and not teaching the faith, teaching teens all about the Bible and Jesus out of a textbook?? If we take seriously Jesus’ command to love our neighbour, we need to ask ourselves what is the most loving thing we can do for our young people? Is it sit them down and lecture them about the Bible or is it something else?
From my experience it is definitely something else…it is love. When teens experience love, when they experience a place where they can be themselves, welcomed with true hospitality and zero judgement, they will learn more about God and Jesus than they will ever learn sitting with a Bible or a textbook in front of them. To be Christian is to be a people who love, it is not to be a people who know the Creed, for example, or know who Adam and Eve are.
When we look at ministry in general, we can apply this same principle. The secular world is often pitted against Christianity…with many outside the church viewing us with suspicion and hate. But what if we didn’t worry about any of this, didn’t try and fight back, argue about how the secular world doesn’t understand us, but instead we just did whatever we could to be a place of love, a place where no matter who someone is, no matter what they think about our faith, they enter these doors and they feel loved. There are people today, right now, who are craving this kind of space. What difference could we make in their lives if all we did was love them and this manifested itself in how we practice being Christian. With Christmas coming, a time when so many are singing about the newborn king, what if we shaped all we do here based purely on love of God and neighbour?? If we put love at the centre, putting love before all of our traditions, our wants, our needs…what kind of experiences could we create for others? What love might they feel when they enter these doors, maybe apprehensive to be stepping into a church, maybe feeling unsure about what they might encounter here.
To love our neighbour means that we prioritize love above all else. This is, I think, what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel. He is not saying be nice, fix the big problems in the world, but he is reminding the religious leaders of his day and us that God calls us to love and it really is this simple….think about other’s needs, whether they are the youth or those outside the doors of this church, welcome them in, create a warm, hospitable, place of love and as you do this, others will learn who God is.
When I write sermons, sometimes hymns play in my mind and I like to share them if I think they could maybe be meaningful to some of you. To end this sermon, I am going to play a hymn that I heard growing up in the Catholic Church. I really hope it inspires you and helps you remember that the way to share our faith, the way to engage with the world is with love.