TITLE: Two Necessary Loves SCRIPTURE: Matthew 22:34-46
A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. That sounds sinister -- and it was! This was a Pharisee, and Matthew has told us that the Pharisees were trying to figure out how to destroy Jesus (12:14).
The lawyer began by saying, "Teacher!" Now he didn't really think of Jesus as his teacher. He thought of Jesus as a charlatan -- as a young man who had come too far too fast -- as a brash young man disrespectful of authority -- as someone who needed to be brought down a notch or two. That's what this lawyer was there for -- to bring Jesus down a notch or two.
But there was a crowd of people who thought well of Jesus, so the lawyer was careful. He began by saying, "Teacher" -- by showing respect -- by pleasing the crowd. Then he asked, "Which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
That doesn't sound sinister, does it? Rabbis debated questions like that all the time. The idea was to argue your way to the truth. Rabbis challenged each other over and over -- working inch by inch toward getting at the truth.
So this man asked, "Which commandment in the law is the greatest?" But his intent was not to get at the truth. His intent was to draw Jesus into a debate and to cause him to make a mistake. It didn't matter to the lawyer whether he got Jesus in trouble with the Jewish people, which was one possibility -- or with the Romans, which was another -- as long as he managed to discredit Jesus. That was his purpose.
Jesus answered the question by saying:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the first and great commandment."
Good answer, Jesus! Nobody could argue with that! "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." The Jews called that the Shema, and they said it every day. It was part of their spiritual discipline. The words came from the book of Deuteronomy, and they served as a reminder that God comes first. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Good answer!
Jesus could have quit there, because nobody could challenge that answer -- but Jesus didn't play it safe. He continued:
"And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Love God! Love your neighbor! Jesus said, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
The law and prophets were the most important parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jesus said, "On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets" -- he was saying that these two commandments -- love God and love your neighbor -- tell us everything we need to know to please God. The Jews had hundreds of laws and thousands of legal opinions, but Jesus was saying, "These two commandments tell you everything you need to know. Guaranteed!"
So Jesus stepped up to the plate, not once, but twice -- and hit home runs both times. Love God! Love your neighbor! Who could find fault with either of those?
Matthew, who wrote this Gospel, tells us that the Pharisees gathered together. I can just see them pulling into their little huddle -- trying to figure out what to do next.
There is more to the story, but I would like to stop here. I want to focus on these two commandments. Love God, Jesus said. Love your neighbor! "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." We need to hear that today! There are so many voices out there telling us what to do. Buy this, they say. Do that! The airwaves are full of television preachers -- and pop psychology gurus -- and politicians -- and snake oil salesmen -- all telling us where to find happiness. Some are telling the truth, and some of them are just selling snake oil. We need a moral compass to help us to find a straight path through the maze of advice.
That is what Jesus gives us. He gives us two simple rules. Love God! Love your neighbor! Those two rules are like a star in the sky -- bright -- steady -- unwavering. They serve to guide us safely through the confusions of life.
It isn't all that easy to follow those two rules, but it is easy to remember them -- and remembering them, we can strive to observe them. None of us will ever observe them perfectly, but some in this congregation already come close.
You know people like that -- people who love God and neighbor. You wish that you knew more of them. They are wonderful people – often older people who have been following Jesus all their lives -- people who have, after long years of discipleship, come close to getting it right. But I have also known young people who love God and neighbor. How I admire them! They are like beacons -- drawing people to God. There is nothing lovelier than a young person who loves God and neighbor.
People who love God and neighbor make this a better world. They are like a tree that gives shade -- like a wellspring that gives water. People who love God and neighbor are blessings planted by God to enrich our lives -- to change our world.
And God calls us to be like them. God calls us to become a blessing to others.
I read recently about a man who loves God and neighbor. His name is Joe Ehrmann. Joe played football for thirteen seasons with the Baltimore Colts. After retiring from pro football, he began a ministry with kids. Several years ago, he became the defensive line coach for the Gilman High School football team.
Ehrmann is a Christian who brought a new philosophy to coaching football. He doesn't think of his job as winning games. He thinks of his job as turning boys into men -- -- responsible, decent, caring men.
When he begins a practice session, he shouts, "What is our job as coaches?"
The boys yell back in unison, "To love us!"
Ehrmann shouts, "What is your job?"
They respond, "To love each other!"
You might imagine that a football team trained to love each other might be a bunch of sissies -- but you would be surprised. In their conference games, Gilman was undefeated for four of the past seven seasons -- and they were number one in Maryland in 2002 -- and 14th in the nation.
14TH IN THE NATION!!! IN FOOTBALL!!! That doesn't sound like a bunch of sissies, does it!
And so far this year they are undefeated -- 4 and 0 (as of October 5, 2005. Other teams have noticed, of course, and are scouting Gilman to see if they can figure out Ehrmann's secret. Ehrmann has a couple of secrets -- neither of which is much of a secret. First, he knows football. He was a winner with the Colts, and now he is a winner at Gilman.
But just as important, he has determined that his most important goal is to help boys grow into men -- responsible, decent, caring men -- so he teaches team members to love each other. He teaches them to love other people too. He teaches them to watch for a kid eating lunch by himself. When a football player sees a kid eating lunch by himself, that football player is expected to go and eat lunch with that kid -- to talk to him -- to help him to feel included -- to help him feel important.
Ehrmann says, "Well, we've had pretty good success. But winning is only a byproduct of everything else we do -- and it's certainly not the way we evaluate ourselves."
Jesus summarized everything that we need to know in these few words:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind."
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
If we will do that, we can be sure that we will be pleasing God. And, if we please God, we can be sure that God will please us -- will bring us joy.
He might even make it possible for us to win a football game.
But regardless, he will make it possible for us to win in the game of life.
SERMON IN A SENTENCE: Jesus assures us that all the wisdom that we need to know is summed up in two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor.
Benediction: As you leave this place, may God’s love surround you,
uphold you, and empower you to be agents of love in this world. Amen.
CHILDREN'S SERMON: Giving Your All
When you get ready to run a race it is not enough to have a strong body; you must also prepare your spirit for the race.
In the 1930's there was a famous horse named Seabiscuit who liked to race. He was an unlikely horse - smaller than the horses he raced against and not as beautiful. He had crooked legs and an unusual way of running. The thing that made Seabiscuit a champion is that he had a "big heart." Having a big heart means that he had a great desire to do his best. When he ran he gave all he had with his body and with his spirit. He won many races. His spirit was so big that he gave hope to the people who watched him run - many people had lost their jobs during that time.
In the Bible Jesus talks about having this kind of spirit. The Pharisees asked Jesus, "Which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
Jesus replied, "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."
We may not be running a race, but Jesus teaches us to honor God by having a "big heart" - doing our best and loving God with all we have. Everyday we have the opportunity to give our all - love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind.