The Greatest Commandment
The text for this sermon is Matthew 22:34-46. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on October 23, 2011, the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Dear Friends in Christ,
This afternoon something “out of the ordinary” is going to take place here at Resurrection. We’re going to have our first-ever “Lutheran Revival.” Have you ever heard those two words put together before: Lutheran and Revival? Probably not. And yet, we have another word that is used in Lutheran circles that comes pretty close: Reformation. It sure seems to me that both have to do with trying to get back to the basics of the faith, both as individuals and as congregations.
You’ll notice that we are on the cusp of Reformation. In the chancel area we have green paraments on the altar and pulpit. That’s for this morning as we observe the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Notice also the red banner over the baptismal font. By this afternoon everything will be red for today’s Revival Service and next week’s Reformation Service.
It sure seems to me that our gospel reading reveals Jesus’ approach to Revival and Reformation. The church of his day, both institution and people, needed new life and change. The Pharisees had reduced the relationship with God to obeying rules. They taught and acted as if the only way to please God is to conform to a set of “do’s” and “don’ts” and then everything is well and God is pleased. And Jesus dared to challenge that thinking!
The question the Pharisees posed to Jesus was this: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” The one asking the question knew this would not be an easy question since this answer had been debated numerous times. Consider what is entailed in providing an answer: There are 39 books in the Hebrew Scriptures. These books, Genesis to Malachi, were written over a 1500 year period. They describe events which occurred over 2000 years of history. There are at least 30 different authors. The books contain many forms of literature: history, poetry, songs, prophecy, wisdom and story. And the list of characters and event is staggering. How could anyone reduce that to a single commandment that is the most important?
Yet, Jesus does it. He provides an answer that shuts them up. “You shall love the Lord you 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.”
The amazing truth is that Jesus was not the first to state this answer. It was drilled into every Jewish child. It is part of the “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The Shema was traditionally recited by every Jewish child and adult at the start of each day and at the conclusion of each day.
So, when Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ tricky question by quoting a portion of the Shema, he was throwing back in their faces something they took to be exceedingly basic, something that was second-nature to even the youngest Jewish child. It reminds us of the time theologian Karl Barth is said to have been asked what he thought was the most profound of all theological truths. But instead of giving some jargon-laden, academic answer that used words like synoptic or kenosis and or the insuperable transcendence of God’s prevenient grace, Barth simply said, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” (Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations, eSermons).
How many of you remember that our congregation has a new Purpose Statement? It is a good idea to be reminded often of these well-crafted words: We believe God’s Purpose for Resurrection Lutheran Church is to Reflect the Love of Christ by Reaching , Loving and Caring. I especially like the explanation of the word “Reaching” in the commentary of our Purpose Statement because I think it picks up beautifully what Jesus is trying to say in the greatest of commandments: We reflect the love of Christ by reaching up to God in prayer; by reaching out our hearts for love and compassion; by reaching out to those in need; by reaching across the divides of prejudice that separate us; and by reaching through the darkness of despair, pain, grief, loneliness, and fear so that we may reflect the light and love of Christ. Those are very powerful words. To really put them into practice would really be powerful…
What do I hope happens this afternoon at our Lutheran Revival? I hope and pray that our hearts will be touched by the preaching of Pastor CeCee and the wonderful music from the musicians of the 4 congregations. I further hope and pray that the fellowship that takes place will strengthen the bonds we need to share as members of the Body of Christ and even more particularly as ELCA Lutherans in this area. At the end of the day, I hope and pray that the theme of today’s Lutheran Revival will be accomplished in each of us; that we can truly say we were Revived in our faith as Christians; that we were Refreshed in remembering our Baptism; and that we will continue to Rejoice in being part of God’s Family of Faith.
Loving Our Neighbor
Today we heard Jesus say that we are to show love. Did you hear that? He said “you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Point to your heart, to your soul, to your mind). Our children’s bulletin has a picture on the back of something we all have that can be used to love our neighbor. Tell me what it is (HAND). Later in the service you and I get to use our hands to show love to our neighbors (SHARING THE PEACE).
I have a song that teaches us about love and what Jesus wants us to do:
Love, love, love, love,
Christian this is your call
To love each other as yourself
For God loves all.