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.
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.