Epistle Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22:34-40
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 neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.“
As we come to hear from the scriptures of the Gospel lesson today, I want to bring us back to three or four weeks ago. I may be stretching some of our memories, but Jesus was standing in the Temple, among his disciples, the crowds have been listening to him teach, wihle the Pharisees, the Elders and the Chief Priests have been listening in, but mainly to try and catch Jesus in a contradiction to the Law. Throughout the entire day, Jesus was teaching, and occasionally was challenged by the many different political groups of the day. The disciples of the Pharisees had been stumped, the Sadducees have been stumped, now, today in our Gospel lesson, a lawyer of the Pharisees comes to question Jesus to test him. The understanding of the lawyer in the sense of the Gospel of Matthew is not those who have studied law under the Roman rule, but rather these are those who are experts in the Law’s of Moses. As we read the Law, or the first five books of the Bible, these books are known to the Jews as the Torah, or simply translated: the Law. These books give both a narrative, a story of the Israelites in relation to God and the law of the Israelites. Under the Law of Moses you have the 10 commandments, you have Levitical laws that the priests follow, you have communal laws about how the community are to live, you have the sacrificial laws of what is required when a law is broken and you have the Great Sh’ma found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, “Hear O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD you God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart, Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away; when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates.” These words of the Sh’ma are words that were/are recited daily in a Jewish home to remind them to whom they serve and to whom they give thanks and glory for their salvation.
The picture up on the wall is a picture of a Jewish Bar-mitzvah being celebrated at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem. You may see the black boxes that are binded to the foreheads and forearms. These boxes also called tefillin or commonly called phylacteries, the Jews take literal the understanding of the instruction following the Sh’ma as they have bound to them in those boxes the words of the commandments, and the Sh’ma. It is much like the WWJD fad that had gone around a few years back. The wrist band was a reminder to those who wore it that they were a called child of God, and a Christian and thus our behaviors, decisions, and our words should reflect that of our Lord Jesus Christ. So this Lawyer of the Pharisees comes to Jesus and asks Jesus, OF all the Laws of Moses, from the 10 commandments, to the laws of communal living, to the Levitical laws, which law is the greatest. Jesus answered with the Great She-ma. The Love of God is firstly the greatest. But Jesus goes on to say that the second greatest is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I earnestly believe that each of us, you and I could answer this question just as Jesus had answered it. But to live out these words is wholly another story. You see, sometimes in order for us to Love God fully, what the Sh’ma says, To Love God with ALL of your heart, and ALL of your soul, and ALL of your strength, it may mean to go against what the world says is right. Paul in our Epistle lesson writes to the Church in Thessalonica about how they, the Christians, had suffered and mistreated them in Philippi because they declared the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the words that Paul writes that I want to pay special close attention to is this: “Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, NOT to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.” Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew ordered these two commandments, FIRST by loving God, SECONDLY by loving others as we love ourselves. This goes against the very nature of our world who tells us to continually look out for yourself, to make sure you have all that you need before we look to anything else. This speaks to the way in which we give to the church by giving to God before we give to others or even ourselves. This speaks to the way in which we respond when we come across an ethical dilemma, we look to Love God before we look to please our bosses or our colleagues. This command speaks to the way in which we even raise our children. Last week, the youth group went out to see the movie ‘Courageous’. What a testimony it is to the understanding of the seriousness of the endeavor it is to parent our children, to guide them in loving God and for the parent being the example of such faith. This double love command is truly the heart of the Law, the heart of the prophets, the heart of Jesus, and the heart of our Christian faith as we seek to have the love that was in Christ Jesus. The love that was in Christ Jesus was this, Love God, Love others, and in that order. It is often easy to become like the other helping organizations of the world who make others their first priority, but the Church, although we share in that mission of others, is firstly directed to the Love of God. This past week, we were having a discussion in “This Holy Mystery” class. And one of the discussion points that came up was about the frequency of communion. Why has this Pastor brought about more frequent communion? It is because in the grace of communion we come to the heart of loving God, we come to experience this Love and we ourselves in the great thanksgiving express our Love for God. The church is not like any other fellowship group, any other civic helping outreach, we are the church in which we order our Love firstly and rightly to God.
Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” On our cross today we have two words that may look foreign to us, but to Jesus and to the Jews they most certainly are not. On the left in Hebrew says Torah, and the Right says Nebuheim. The Law on the Left, and on the Right, the Prophets. What better understanding of these double love commands than for these two to hang upon the cross. The Law is about right relationship to God, and thus right relationship to others. The Prophets spoke boldly about bringing Israel into right relationship with God, and thus right relationship with each other. And was it not through the cross, this great act of grace, the greatest act of love to both following the will of God, and loving humanity who have sinned against God, are we called to Love God and Love Others. How to Love? Love firstly God, and because you Love God, you will love the other as Christ loved the other, a love that is freely given regardless of their faults, their sins, or their response.
For Holiness of Heart – UMH 401
Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Here is the citadel of all my desiring. Where my hopes are born and all the deep resolutions of my spirit take wings. In this center, my fears are nourished, and all my hates are nurtured. Here my loves are cherished, and all the hungers of my spirit are honored without quivering and without shock In my heart, above all else, let love and integrity envelop me until my love is perfected and the last vestige of my desiring is no longer in conflict with thy Spirit. Lord, I want to be more holy in heart. Amen.