First Congregational Church
October 29, 2017
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 22:34-46 & 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
“Becoming More Human”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
At the end of their first date, a young boy takes his favorite girl home. Emboldened by the evening, he decided to try for that important first kiss. With an air of confidence, he leaned with his hand against the wall and, smiling, he said to her, "Hey, how 'bout a goodnight kiss?"
Horrified, she replied, "Are you mad? My parents will see us!"
"Oh come on! Who's gonna see us at this hour?"
"No, please. Can you imagine if we get caught?"
"Oh come on, there's nobody around, they're all sleeping!"
"No way. It's just too risky!"
"Oh please, please, I really like you!!"
"No, no, and no. I like you too, but I just can't!"
"Yes you can. Please?"
"NO, no. I just can't."
Out of the blue, the porch light goes on, and the girl's sister shows up in her pajamas, hair disheveled. In a sleepy voice the sister says: "Dad says to go ahead and give him a kiss. Or I can do it. Or if need be, he'll come down himself and do it. But for crying out loud tell him to take his hand off the intercom button!”
There are no kissing cousins or young loves in either of this morning’s scripture passages, but there is a lot of love. However, before we get to them, I have a few points of information.
In the Jewish tradition, there is a thing called the Shema, from Deuteronomy 6. “Shema”
is the Hebrew word for “hear” or “listen” and it comes from that verse, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your 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 and conclusion of each day. There was no other single verse from the entire Jewish Bible that the average person knew better than this one. It was - and perhaps still is - not unlike our Lord’s Prayer.
And in case it’s been a while, I’ll remind you that there are 39 books in the Old Testament. The first five - as a group - have different names, including the Pentateuch, the Torah and the Law. Of the remaining 34 books, 20 are categorized as the Prophets. When the two terms - the Law and the Prophets - are used together, they generally refer to the sum of the Old Testament; the prophecy of Christ.
Another rather relevant factoid is that God gave Moses 10 words, or commands, to take back to the people. But if you comb through the Old Testament as a whole, one could scrounge up some 613 commandments.
For those who haven’t been here, this morning’s Matthew passage continues a series of scenarios in which Jesus is giving hard lessons from the synagogue. He’s offered difficult parables and truths that will get him into big trouble. Despite the unrest and dis-ease of his situation, he keeps on teaching and preaching.
The passage from 1 Thessalonians is a continuation of a letter begun last week, from the great Paul, Timothy and Silas, a letter of encouragement to continue raising the bar of excellence, integrity and morality.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Whose Son Is the Messiah?
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.
We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
Thank you, Mary. The Rev. Dr. John Fairless is the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Gainesville, Florida, which looks like a rather busy church family with numerous ministries. The Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton’s title is Assistant to the Bishop in the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. However these two intelligent and aspiring men met, for several years they kept a blog called “Two Bubbas and a Bible.” Their postings have been of great assistance in sermon prep, especially since the Moonshine Jesus blog is no longer running.
It was Rev. Chilton who wrote what has been hanging in my heart, starting with a quote from G.K. Chesterton, who once said of this morning’s Matthew passage, “Jesus here tells us to love our neighbors. Elsewhere the Bible tells Jesus said we should love our enemies. This is because, generally speaking, they are the same people.” How true.
Back in the olden days of 2011, Rev. Chilton went on to say, “Politics certainly makes strange bedfellows; the Pharisees and Sadducees cooperating makes about as much sense as the Tea Party and the Re-elect Obama Committee working together; but these folks (were) are determined to keep Jesus from upsetting their very settled and profitable way of life.
So Jesus did two things. First he answered their question about the greatest commandment and then he shut them down with a semi-serious riddle from Psalm 110 - the riddle being about who is answerable to whom: David to Jesus or Jesus to David. It is an unanswerable question, somewhat akin to “which came first, the chicken or the egg,” One can only imagine the possible twinkle in Jesus’ eye when he implied, “Look, two can play at this game, and this time, I win.”
As most any of us could determine, it all boils down to the business of loving God and neighbor. And it is not simply a matter of being nice and getting along. It’s easy to love God because a good many of us don’t think of God as sitting down next to us, perhaps in “our spot.” And God doesn’t say things to us that we are apt to take the wrong way, mostly because we may have not understood God’s motivation, or we may be tired, or sick, or sick and tired of being sick and tired. I think, that as a people, we are far more apt to forgive God, if there is any forgiving to be done, than to forgive another person. We can define God in such a way that God is not responsible for any of the pain of discomfort we experience in life. That way, we don’t ever have to be angry with or resentful of God.
That ‘loving your neighbor as yourself,’ tho, it is hard work. It involves getting beyond our likes and dislikes, it involves hanging in with individuals when the going gets tough, listening to their heartaches or pains or jokes over and over. Loving neighbor as self involves self-sacrifice and devotion even you’re not “getting anything out of,” the relationship. Sometimes it’s giving up something dear to you, to allow someone else to experience the joy that you find in that activity or object. Loving neighbor as self can involve taking the neighbor seriously as a child of God who deserves our respect and care, no matter how much we oppose their politics, tactics or way of life.
I don’t know about any of you, but sometimes I just have to laugh at God. Just before I began writing this message, I opened up the devotional called “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. I’d been thinking about these scripture passages most of this week, and then Ms. Young put it so perfectly. She wrote, as a note to me - and to you - as a note from God:
“Do not expect to be treated fairly in this life. People will say and do hurtful things to you, things that you don’t deserve. When someone mistreats you, try to view it as an opportunity to grow in grace. See how quickly you can forgive the one who has wounded you. Don’t be concerned about setting the record straight. Instead of obsessing about other people’s opinions of you, keep your focus on Me. Ultimately, it is My view of you that counts.
As you concentrate on relating to Me, remember that I have clothed you in my righteousness and holiness. I see you attired in these radiant garments, which I bought for you with My blood. This also is not fair; it is pure gift. When others treat you unfairly, remember that My ways with you are much better than fair. My ways are Peace and Love, which I have poured into your heart by My Spirit.”
If, as Jesus says, loving God and loving our neighbors are tightly bound and inseparably linked co-commandments; then we are forced to deal with love in the real world of people who are imperfect and incomplete, people who are at times undeserving of our affection or unresponsive to it; people who are sometimes incapable of loving us back.
The root of the word “religious” is ligare, which is also the French root of ligament, and from which we get the word liaison. Ligare means to tie to or to tie back. Ligaments connect muscle to the bone; religion ties us to God and one another. I often hear people refer to themselves as spiritual but not religious, and while spiritual is lovely, religious is earthy, and much more true to God, because it involves being connected to each other, regardless of whether we like each other or not, because it is what Christ has asked us to do. Like Paul, we have been entrusted with the Gospel, to bring that love to those who need it, so very many times to the very people whom we’d rather steer clear.
God in Christ took on ligaments and sinews and walked among us and suffered among us and died among us and with us and for us. God in Christ was raised from the dead and draws us together, ties us together, as the Body of Christ, held together by ligaments of love and sinews of service. And we, the tied together Body of Christ in the world, are called to the task of loving God, most especially by loving our neighbors and enemies in God’s stead and in God’s name.
So shall we pray. Heavenly and Holy God, we may not always consciously desire it, but we really do want to follow you in ways that make you proud of us, in ways that are pure and right. It is ironic that we are so good at taking that pride on our selves, rather than the humility that Christ showed us. So help us to see our neighbors as our other selves, and to realize that how we treat others is how we treat ourselves - and you. Set us free from the woulda’s, coulda’s and shoulda’s and help us to become more human - in loving you and those you have given us - here and at home and even across the globe. For all the opportunities you give us to rise up to be all that you’ve ever seen us to be, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.