Monthly Archives: October 2011

“Is Love Really Enough?” 10.23.11 Sermon

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

Matthew 22:34-46 • October 23, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

Most all of us have heard the word “love” before we came to worship today. And many of us have heard this gospel reading before, whether in the gospel of Mark or Luke or in Matthew as we have today, which by the way is a little bit different. I challenge you to take a look at that when you get home.

I think Tina Turner might have shed light on this gospel text when she sang “What’s love got to do with it?”

Or maybe the lawyer in this encounter with Jesus is just prepping Jesus to see if he is ready to take the bar exam. By then end of the story today though, we clearly see that not even the lawyer is ready for this bar exam. I question whether any of us sitting here today is ready for an exam like that.

The challenge with encountering Jesus in texts like today, is that if you think of the Bible as a book of rules, you’re never going to be ready for the exam. To the Pharisees, there were far more than just a list of 10 things – there are actually over 600 laws that they were trying not to break.

To look at love in Jesus’ commandment today, it’s important to understand what the meaning of love is from a biblical perspective. In that song by Tina Turner and in much of our own understanding of love today, we think of it as an emotion. In other words, love is a passive response to something around us – outside of us. The challenge here is that is not the only aspect of love that Jesus is speaking about today. Biblical love is not just emotional love.

How do we connect with or even understand this kind of love? A pastor once surveyed several of his Sunday school children with the question, “What does love mean?”

Karl, age 5, said, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving lotion and they go out and smell each other.”

Elaine, age 5, said, “Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Brad Pitt.”

Mary Ann, age 4, said, “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”

Tommy, age 6, said, “Love is like a little old man and a little old woman who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”

Bobby, age 5, said, “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

And Jenny, age 7, said, “There are two kinds of love. God’s love. Our love. But God makes both kinds.”

Biblical love is not passive and it is far more than just being an emotion. Fuller Theological Seminary preaching Professor Clayton Schmit says this, “Biblical love is the active response of the faithful person to the love of God. To love neighbor as oneself is to act toward the other as one would act toward those close to you. We treat the stranger as well as we treat those that we love emotionally.”

Schmit goes on to say that, “We can love with our heart: through generosity to God’s people. We can love with our soul: by worshiping God and praying for our neighbors and ourselves. And we can love with our minds: studying God’s word and letting it correct us, enlighten us, and send us out in loving action to the world.”

Or this insight from one of my favorite thinkers in the world today and a member of one of the great bands that has written some of the most significant hymns of our time about life as God’s children in the world today. I’ve heard Bono from U2 say this several times, “True religion will not let us fall asleep in the comfort of our freedom. Love thy neighbor is not a piece of advice, it’s a command.”

I bet that there are a significant number of you that helped during the flooding this spring in our city and state. You may have worked on a sandbag line, helped someone move out of their house, cooked a meal for someone, or offered prayer for everyone affected by the whole situation. Whatever the case was, I want you to know that your response of love toward your neighbor began with God’s response of love toward you in Jesus.

Several weeks ago we asked our congregation to share their favorite scripture verses with us. An amazing number you offered your favorite verses. These verses are now being assembled into a booklet that will be given to over 400 children in Kindergarten through sixth grade as they continue to study scripture in Church School and at home with their families. Your response of love toward these children, more than 400 of them which I assume you don’t know all of them personally, began with God’s response of love toward you in Jesus.

Last weekend over 300 people attended a benefit breakfast for the Flood of Love in the Lynne Center. Flood of Love is an effort taking place throughout our synod to raise money and bring awareness to several congregations that were severely damaged or completely destroyed by flood waters this summer. Your response of love raised over $3,000 for our brothers and sisters in Christ, most of whom you have never and will never meet. It began with God’s response of love toward you in Jesus.

God loves us that much. And God’s love is way more than an emotion. God’s love commands a faithful response. Jesus’ words to us today give us direction on what that response is supposed to be.

Tina Turner may have given us a starting point as she sang “What’s love got to do with it?” But once again, Jesus shows us the way. A Pharisian lawyer tests him by asking what the greatest commandment is. To which Jesus replies with love – love with your heart, love with your mind, love with your soul, love toward your neighbor.

Love Wins is the title of one of my favorite books of the year. In it, Pastor Rob Bell writes, “Love is what God is, love is why Jesus came, and love is why he continues to come, year after year to person after person.”

So, I close this time in our worship with Pastor Rob’s final thoughts from his book. Pastor Rob writes this, “May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins.” Amen.


“The Fine Line of Emperor’s Things” 10.16.2011 Sermon

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

Matthew 22:15-22 • October 16, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

Wendy and I recently returned from a pilgrimage to Italy. We spent time in Rome, visiting massive cathedrals and basilicas and excess in almost every facet of what the word excess means. We also spent time near the homes of Benedict, Frances, and Thomas of Aquinas. These were places of greater peace than Rome. I’ve always considered these men to be some of the greatest early reformers of the Christian church – long before the likes of Martin Luther came along. I know I will share much more about this pilgrimage with you in the weeks and months to come.

Just returning from a trip like the one that Wendy and I have experienced challenges us to hear and see a gospel text like the one we have before us today differently. So I’d like to ask each of us gathered together in worship today a very direct question – brothers and sisters in Christ, is there anything that doesn’t belong to God? If so, what?

The Pharisees and Herodians, which by the way is a group that we know very little about – historically or biblically. They are probably followers of King Herod who always seem to show up in support of the Pharisees objection to something about Jesus. Anyway, they think they’ve finally figured out a no-win question to corner Jesus. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” If Jesus says yes, he’ll alienate all who struggle against Roman rule and believe that Israel must only be obedient to God and God’s law. If, however, Jesus answers no, then he’s immediately against the entire Roman Empire and has identified himself as a dangerous opponent. There is no question that Rome will deal quickly and painfully with such an adversary.

Having just returned from Rome – I have a greater appreciation than ever for the intensity and strength by which the Roman Empire ruled. Jesus simply saying, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” caused those who tried to trap Jesus with a no-win question to leave amazed. In October of 2011 in Bismarck, North Dakota in the United States of America – I hope Jesus’ response causes you and me to be amazed too. Jesus gives us a fantastic answer, but, what does it mean?

As people who seek to live as followers of the risen Jesus Christ, what does Jesus answer mean? What actually is God’s and what is the emperor’s? Or from today’s perspective, what is God’s and what is the city of Bismarck’s or the Bismarck Public School’s or Park District’s or Burleigh County’s or the state of North Dakota’s or the United States government’s?

For a Jewish person in Jesus’ day, this statement from Jesus makes perfect sense. For Jewish people, everything is God’s.

Let’s also remember that there was no such thing as a “Christian”, at least not as we know it today, when Jesus offers this insight. What then, can this possibly mean for us today, who are in fact people who call themselves Christian?

I think baptism can provide significant meaning of Jesus answer to the Pharisees and Herodians in today’s gospel. For a Christian, we are claimed by God in the water and word of the sacrament of Holy Baptism. In baptism, we receive the gift of relationship with God through a savior named Jesus as we are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit, forever. We are baptized in the name of God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, forever.

The gift that we receive in baptism is not concerned with separation of church and state or how much money we make or give away or whether or not paying taxes is important or what social and economic class we fall into. In baptism everything we are or ever will be, everything we own or ever will own, every penny we make or ever will make, everyone we love or ever will love, every act of kindness or hatred we have made or ever will make – are you ready for this – it’s ALL God’s. It’s all God’s.

So if it’s all God’s, how does this gift from God in baptism shape who we are and the decisions we make? Who we are in the community and our decisions about being connected to what our governmental leaders are doing or simply having an interest in what the PTO might be working on in our children’s schools. Who we live with and our decisions about the relationships in our lives – people whom we love very deeply or even the homeless man living in the park at the end of our street. Who we are economically and our decisions about money – what and where we buy things, how much we save or freely give in service to others. All of it, brothers and sisters, is God’s.

If I brought anything back to North Dakota from Italy, it may be this – I have deeper and more profound belief that everything truly is God’s. As a child of God everything that I have or am or every will be – is God’s.

In Rome, there is a fine line between what appears to be emperor’s and what might be God’s – especially if you look at the history that is all around you in a place like Rome.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, remember that you receive a free gift of relationship with God through Jesus in baptism. This is a gift that should cause us to respond differently than fighting over what are the emperor’s things and what are God’s things, because it’s all God’s.

One of my favorite prayers of all time is from St. Francis of Assisi. Wendy and I spent some time in Assisi and at the tomb of St. Francis when in Italy. I found his prayer from the 13th Century to be helpful this week as I challenged myself to answer “no” to the question, “Is there anything that doesn’t belong to God?” It’s a prayer that helps us remember that everything is God’s as we walk each day as children of God.

Let us pray, Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.