Well I had to decide last week if I was going to talk about Valentine’s Day last week or this one so I chose this one. Hoping you all had a wonderful day celebrating with your loved ones and that you observed the ancient custom of eating chalky tasting hearts and spending $7 on a piece of paper with a picture and someone else’s words that you signed your name to and claimed to be your own.
So we are going to talk about Love. There are a lot of verses and passages in scripture that can apply to Love and that mention Love. However, I spent time last week in a theology class and because of that time, I want to focus on one important passage here today. So follow along with me to Matthew 22:34-40.
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 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.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
So Jesus is speaking here after he has entered Jerusalem and is beginning his finals days on earth. Jesus is openly teaching and preaching to any and all that gather. Several attempts are made by the local Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians (who are agents of King Herod) to figure out a way to stomp out Jesus and his message. They haven’t decided that Jesus needs to die yet, but the more times that Jesus shows them up in public and shows how foolish they are, the closer and closer they get to that idea.
Previous to this passage, the Sadducees had attempted to outwit Jesus with a discussion on the afterlife and Jesus had “silenced” them, as the passage here starts out with. The Pharisees, upon hearing of this, likely gathered in force to come to the aid of their Jewish brethren. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not of the same belief system or class, but both had quite a bit to lose if what Jesus preached on became the norm. You see, the Sadducees were the keepers of the temple. They maintained order and oversaw the ceremonies there. As the temple grew in importance to the Jews, the Sadducees grew in power. Soon only the wealthy and the upper crust of Jewish people could become Sadducees. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the keepers of the Law. The Law of the Jewish people was so powerful that these people were able to bend and amend the Law of God to their own will and pleasure. As Jesus spoke about a God that was all around us, and not just in the temple, the Sadducees became frightened. As Jesus spoke of a loving and forgiving God, the Pharisees became frightened. Thus the two groups, who had historically been opposed in almost every way, both found a common enemy in Jesus and his new teachings.
So the Pharisees come with a simple question. A question that they hope the Jesus will get wrong and then they have the power to proclaim him a charlatan and have him arrested. What is the Greatest Commandment? Now, keep in mind here that we are not just talking about the Ten Commandments of Moses from Mt. Sinai. The whole of the Old Testament, that is the Jewish Torah and Book of Law, contains 613 total commandments, or Mitzvots. Many of these Mitzvots were contrary to one another and thus the Pharisees were able to derive power by applying the ones that best suited them in any particular situation. If Jesus proclaims one commandment as the greatest, then they can find another one that is opposed to that one and then Jesus would be arrested for speaking against the Word of God.
However Jesus does them one better. He declares one of the only commandments that couldn’t possibly have any other commandments opposed to it as the greatest. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” No where else in any scripture does God ever declare or command anything less than this. The Pharisees were beaten by this one phrase, but Jesus continues. He adds a second commandment into the mix which is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus cements the argument into Love. God’s Love is greater than any Law or book or Pharisee, and if anything or anyone tells you different, then they are wrong. The Pharisees’ argument was beaten.
People, we live in a world that is filled with Pharisees. Every day you can hear someone misquoting scripture, or bending the words of God to better serve themselves. “The Bible says women shouldn’t be preachers!” Well the Bible also names several women as leaders and preachers in the new church so maybe you read that bit wrong. “The Bible says we should own slaves!” What is says is that in a culture where slavery is permitted, that those people should treat those slaves as well as possible, even to the point of freeing them. “The Bible says…” Yeah it also says in Leviticus that the Israelites shouldn’t shave their faces or wear clothes of mixed fabrics. How many of us have broken that one this morning?
I’m not up here telling you that the Bible is wrong. Absolutely not. The Bible is culturally appropriate and taking Laws that were set up for specific circumstances in certain regions of the world and trying to apply them to the 21st century will get messy. It will get confusing. It will get hard. That is why Jesus gave us this passage. When you question anything; when you aren’t sure what you should do; when you need an answer; go back to the Greatest Commandment, Love. Love God and Love Others. Nothing else matters. I had a preacher that used to use the phrase, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” The main thing is Love. Anytime there is discussion within the church bodies or even within a congregation on how we should proceed, the answer is always Love. Whatever we do, it needs to be focused and derived out of Love.
When I sit in a theology class discussing methods of Baptism or Communion or even Salvation, I get frustrated because too often the discussions lead us away from God’s Love. Why do we do what we do? Because we are trying to Love God with all our Heart, Soul and Mind. As the Methodist denomination ramps up for this big meeting in May, I can’t stand reading the opinions of pastors and bishops from across the country because too many of them have forgotten to Love. They are forgetting that God loves us and he loves everyone else in this world too. We are commanded by Jesus to Love our neighbor as much as we possibly can. We are to go as far as lay our lives down for each other. That’s what it means to love them as ourselves.
When I get up here to preach each week, I know that it is my responsibility to bring you all the Truth of God. I hope that each week you all take the information that I provide for you and learn how to apply it to your own lives. I cannot stand up here and tell you how this message is meant for your own situations in each of your own different walks. However, this one is easy and this one will work for each of you. In whatever you do, Love God. Don’t forget about God. Don’t turn away from God. Don’t obey God because you feel like you have to. Love God. Love being his disciple. Love that God Loves you back. Be in a Loving relationship with your Creator. Then, take that Love and apply it to each and every person you meet and interact with. “Wait, even that one guy that always….” Yes, especially him. Everyone. If you do anything less than show Love to every person you see each day, then you have fallen short of what God has asked of you. Thankfully, God loves you enough to understand and forgive you when that happens. That’s also why its so great to Love God.
This week I’m not going to ask you to go out and make a difference in the community. I’m not going to ask you to read your bibles more. I’m not going to ask you to donate more in the offering plate. This week, Love. Love everyone and everything that happens to you in your life. And while you’re doing that, don’t forget to Love God for your life and the relationship you have together. This is the commandment that Jesus gives. Keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t let the world or other people’s opinions sway you from your mission; that is to Love God and Love others. Nothing else matters. Keep the main thing the main thing.