TITLE: What Would It Look Like SCRIPTURE: Matthew 22:34-46
Washington D.C. D.C. is a tough town -- and I'm not talking about its poorest neighborhoods. D.C. is a tough town, beginning at the top.
I visited D.C. when Nixon was President. I rode the bus by the White House, which was surrounded by protestors carrying signs and shouting slogans. I thought how terrible it must be to live like that -- a prisoner in a grand home fenced in by hatred.
Twenty years later, I was in D.C. when the Senate was questioning Clarence Thomas, who had been nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court. I was driving my car near where those hearings were taking place -- listening to the hearings on my car radio. It was ugly. Whether you think well or poorly of Clarence Thomas, you will have to admit that those hearings were ugly. Maybe they were ugly because Thomas was a bad man -- or maybe they were ugly because his opponents were bad people. I really don't know.
But I do know this. I know that knifing political opponents is the big sport in D.C. It's a Gotcha kind of town for political people. As someone once said, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that there ISN'T someone out to get you."
Jerusalem was that kind of town --powerful people jockeying for position -- opposing parties trying to outdo each other. Pharisees and Sadducees were the major players. Like Republicans and Democrats, Pharisees and Sadducees each thought they were right and the others were wrong. They didn't like each other.
But Pharisees and Sadducees could work together when it suited their purposes -- for instance, when someone like Jesus came along. Both Pharisees and Sadducees had a problem with Jesus. Jesus was rocking the religious boat -- and both the Pharisees and Sadducees had a lot to lose.
So the Pharisees and Sadducees worked together to defeat Jesus -- their common enemy. They tried to trip him up -- to get him to say something that would turn the crowds against him -- to discredit him.
The Pharisees started by asking a loaded question about paying taxes to Caesar.
And then the Sadducees asked a loaded question about the resurrection. The Sadducees, by the way, didn't believe in the resurrection.
I always enjoy reading about those controversies, because in each case Jesus skillfully turns the tables on his opponents. It's like watching an old Roadrunner cartoon. I used to love Roadrunner cartoons. Wile E. Coyote is always setting traps for Roadrunner. You know the trap is going to backfire on Coyote, but the fun is waiting for it to happen.
You see Wile E. Coyote struggling to get a big rock perched above a cliff. When he sees Roadrunner coming his way, he tips the big rock over the edge so that it will fall on Roadrunner. But Roadrunner comes along at the speed of light and passes the danger point without incident. Then we wait and wait, and nothing happens. Finally, Coyote goes down to the bottom of the cliff to see what went wrong. And then we hear a loud whistling sound -- and Coyote looks up -- his eyes get big -- and then the big rock smashes him into a little pancake.
Wile E. Coyote always pulls himself together and tries again -- but every trap that he sets snaps shut on him. The only question is how it will happen. I don't know why I enjoy that so much, but I do.
Whenever I read about the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trap Jesus, they always remind me of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. The Pharisees stick a loaded gun in Jesus' face -- and Jesus reaches out and bends the barrel so it points back at them -- and then gently helps them to pull the trigger.
In our story today, both the Pharisees and Sadducees have had one "go" at Jesus, and both of them lost. Now the Pharisees try again. A Pharisee asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment. That's the kind of question that the rabbis spent their lives arguing. No matter what Jesus answered, they would say, "What about this?" or "What about that?" Hopefully, by the time they were through with Jesus, they would have him trapped in a corner.
At least that was the plan. But Jesus answered so well that they couldn't figure out how to get at him. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered:
"'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" (vv. 37-40).
How could anyone answer better than that? The Pharisees didn't even try to argue with Jesus. Love God. Love your neighbor. The Pharisees were hoping that Jesus would say something stupid. They were hoping to make him look bad. But "Love God -- love your neighbor." How could they find fault with that!
Love God. Love your neighbor. It is common to ask, What would this world look like if people would actually do that? I am going to ask differently. What would this world look like if Christians would actually do that? Our world would be much more beautiful if Christians would actually love God -- if they would actually love their neighbor. Our community would be a more beautiful place.
Let me say that I see lots of evidence that many of you do love God. You show your love for God by your actions. When I look out at this congregation, I see people who come here to worship Sunday after Sunday.
- You come, because you know that God wants you to worship him.
- You come, because you love God and want to be closer to him.
- You come, to say to the people around you, "I love God, and want to be a part of God's team."
- You come, because you know that you can come face to face with God here, and you want that personal contact.
- You come, because you can learn something about God here -- about being faithful to God -- and you want to do that.
So the very fact that you have come to worship today is one way that you are expressing your love for God.
And, as I look out at our congregation, I see people who give time and money to make it possible for this congregation to do its work. I see well-to-do people who give generously from their affluence -- and I see people like the widow who put her last coins in the temple treasury. God cares less about the amount that you put in the offering tray than the fact that you have first given God your heart. That's what God really wants -- your heart. If you have given God your heart, you will give your money and time as you are able.
And, as I look out at our congregations, I see people who serve God in a thousand different ways -- from serving on a committee -- to singing in the choir -- to teaching a Sunday school class -- to helping set up tables and chairs. Each of those is your way of showing your devotion to God.
I could probably go on all day about this, but I won't. Let me just ask you to give some thought to this question. If you love God, what are you doing to show it? What would God want you to do to show him that you love him?
And then we come to the part about loving our neighbor. What would it look like if you would actually love your neighbor?
When I look out at our congregation, I see evidence that you do love your neighbor. I see people who take care of each other. I see people who have a warm smile and cheerful greeting for each other. I see people who reach out to strangers in our midst and make them feel welcome. Those are little clues -- clues that suggest that you really do love your neighbor.
I see people here who have responded to the needs of those who are less fortunate -- for those who have experienced disasters. Things like supporting local missions, soup mission, flood buckets, emergency fund, and more. Each of those things is evidence that we love our neighbor.
Bob Woodruff was co-anchoring ABC World News when he went on assignment to Iraq. He was embedded with an army unit when the enemy set off an explosion that nearly killed him. His wife, Lee, was vacationing with their children when she got word of his injury. She quickly flew home to arrange for someone to care for the children so she could fly to Germany, where her husband was being taken for medical treatment. Later, she and Bob wrote a book about their ordeal. The title is chilling -- In an Instant. In an instant, their lives were changed. In an instant, their world was turned upside down.
In that book, Lee talked about friends who helped her through those terrible hours as she tried to get things together. She talked about her friend, Karin Kukral, who brought her "a goodie bag for the plane, with magazines, candy, gum, aspirin, and a toothbrush." Karin gave her a big hug, did what she could, and then she left. Lee says:
"It was friends like Karin whom I would come to rely on and be amazed by.
These were the friends who refrained from calling repeatedly, friends who dropped off meals and slunk away. They made Costco runs for toilet paper, took my children for playdates, and drove them to soccer practices, confirmation classes, and countless other activities."
She talked about friends who came to the house and got things organized -- who brought food and flowers -- who took her children to their homes.
I was working on this sermon when I ran across that passage in that book. It reminded me of the way that church people often express their love for each other. When some church member family dies, there are groups of church people who prepare and serve lunch for the family after the funeral. However, we don’t do that for all church family and we seldom, if ever, do that for a non church family. I have personally been a part of funeral services and know that it did not happen.
It is such a kind gesture -- and one that meant a lot. It doesn't bring the deceased person back -- nothing could do that -- but there is kindness and it is a healing salve on our wound.
Or how about this! I understand that Martin Luther said that Christians are supposed to love their neighbors, and a man's wife is his nearest neighbor. Luther said that a man's wife should be his deepest love. Interesting thought, isn't it.
So, if you love your wife -- or your husband -- how do you show that? What would God want you to do differently? Let me just leave you with that question.
This love your neighbor business goes on and on, because Jesus teaches us to see our neighbor as more than the person who lives next door. Our neighbor is the homeless person living on our streets. Our neighbor is the child who is struggling with school, in part, because he or she gets very little support from his or her parents. Our neighbor is the Haitian whose home was flooded by Hurricane Gustav or Hurricane Ike. If Jesus wants you to love your neighbor -- and he does -- how would he want you to help?
Someone once wrote:
"The only hands that God has to bless the world are our hands.
The only feet he has to go into all the world are our feet.
The only voice he has to speak to humankind (sic) is our voice."
That isn't completely true, because God hasn't rendered himself helpless. But it is true that Christ calls us to love God and neighbor -- and a great deal that happens or fails to happen in our community and in our world depends on whether we do that.
This is one of those sermons that could go on and on, but I'm going to stop now. But first let me leave you with these questions. Contemplate these questions as you go through this week:
1. If you were really to love GOD, what would you do?
2. If you were really to love YOUR NEIGHBOR, what would you do?
3. If you were actually to do those things, what BLESSINGS would you GIVE?
4. If you were actually to do those things, what BLESSINGS would you RECEIVE?
Jesus calls us to love God. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. Let us be faithful to do those two things. Amen.