Sermon for the 21st Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

Sermon for the 21st Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

Oct 25, 2020

Passage:Matthew 22:34-46

Preacher: Miriam Scott

Category: Love


Part of me feels like I lucked out this week, the gospel reading today is one of my favorites. Part of me feels exactly the opposite because I think it is also the most demanding scripture especially right now. Let’s see what we can find out.

  When I used to work as a personal trainer, I worked with a lot of people who really had a problem loving themselves. Somehow not having the kind of body that is currently en vogue, or popular translated into an inability to see their own self-worth. It was saddening and it was maddening to watch them struggle for something so arbitrary as a popular type of body. It was uplifting and it was empowering to watch them shed this poor self-image and replace it with confidence because they realized their bodies and their minds work together and can do so in harmony. They constantly stepped out of their body’s comfort zone and asked their body to do hard work, a kind of work their minds needed to convince themselves they were capable of doing. Because of their commitment, slowly but surely, they started to love themselves again the way they were always meant to. I am still in awe of their dedication to better themselves and the hard work they put in to get there. To once again, or maybe even for the first time, love themselves. 

Love. Such a short word with so much meaning. Such a short word with so much power, that it is the very core of Jesus’ message to us. As our presiding bishop Michael Curry is known to explain: “If it is not about love, it is not about God.”                                                                                                                                               

In our gospel reading today, Jesus is still being interviewed, still asked questions that are meant to trip him up, to make a false move give a wrong answer and to prove his enemies right. Last week we heard that the pharisees even teamed up with the herodians to accomplish that goal. The pharisees send their disciples and Herod send his politicians to trap Jesus. To no avail. They failed in trying to make Jesus sound like he was either a traitor to Caesar or to his own people. So, this time the pharisees bring out the big guns: lawyers. They must have figured if they cannot trap him with spiritual questions, if they cannot trap him with political inquiries, maybe a legalistic problem will prove to be his one weakness. I almost feel sorry for them. Round after round they go after Jesus, round after round they must have thought: this one will get to him, he cannot talk his way out of this one.” And round after round Jesus proves them wrong instead. Not only that, he does it with ease, he is not even sweating it. Almost as if he is divine or something…

But this one, this one is the grand finale! “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” This is indeed a tricky question. Legalists in the Jewish faith have pondered such questions at great length and over many years and there are a multitude of answers to them, not one is definitive. So, to ask Jesus to have a definitive answer is clearly designed to trip up him once again. And once again Jesus has the answer ready.  I just love what Jesus does here. He was asked to give ONE law as the proper answer. However, not one to be easily impressed with worldly authorities, Jesus gives them two laws that he explains are actually the same. The first one is this: “You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” There is that word: Love! Love with everything that makes you, you. All your heart, all your soul, all your mind. Let us think about what that means. What does it mean to love with all your heart, soul, and mind? It means that all our heart is filled with love for God, so there cannot be any room for hatred. It means that all our soul glows with love for God, so there cannot be any room for darkness. It means that all our mind dwells on love for God, so there cannot be any room for doubt. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that’s already a tall order. But Jesus is not even done yet. He continues and says: “A second law is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourselves.’” If this second law is just like the first law, then Jesus is telling us that loving our neighbor as ourselves is like loving God. Loving our neighbor is like loving God. Loving our neighbor is as important as loving God. Loving our neighbor is how we show our love for God. So, we must love our neighbor like we must love God: With all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. Our hearts cannot harbor hatred for our neighbors. Our soul cannot give in to the darkness we fear. Our mind must continuously think about how we can show our love to the neighbors instead of our doubts.  Again, I don’t know about you but I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. This is very demanding indeed. Yet again, Jesus is not done yet. He adds: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Translation: there is no wiggle room here my friends. There is not one neighbor you can exclude because of some other law or prophet. You must love the neighbor you do not agree with, and the neighbor who is an addict, and the neighbor who does not share your faith, and the neighbor who is just really annoying you... I can go on here but you catch my drift. With a few sentences Jesus silenced a lawyer, and he did not even speak legalese. Instead, he made full use of the meaning of the word love. Such a small word, such an all-encompassing impact. So, now that we have our marching order, which stripped down to its essence can be just this: LOVE, how do we go about it? There is a lot of hatred, there is much darkness, and plenty of doubt in this world right now. And if we’re honest it is in our hearts and souls and minds as well. As a result, this already tall and demanding order, this most important commandment seems even bigger and more imposing right now. Can it be done? 

I am reminded of my former clients. Remember, the ones that could not love themselves? Step by step, lift by lift, squat by squat, they taught themselves how to love themselves again. With every time they stepped out of their comfort zone, they created a new muscle memory. A memory that taught love. With every repetition of a push up, with every repetition of a lunge, with every repetition of a sit up, a new muscle memory laid the foundation for self-love. And after a while, all these exercises became easier.

  I think we can use this same principle for God’s greatest commandment. Some exercises are easy, like wearing a mask to protect your neighbor, others will require a lot of practice. To exercise our love for our neighbors and thereby our love for God, we must step out of our comfort zones. Regularly. We must practice until it is muscle memory. Practice talking to a neighbor you do not agree with. Practice being there for a neighbor in need even if he does not believe as you do. Practice giving to a neighbor for no other reason than their need. Practice voicing your support for the marginalized neighbor. Practice it, with repetitions. Again, and again until it is muscle memory and the hatred, and the darkness, and the doubt get smaller and smaller.  Until our hearts and our souls and our minds are filled with love. Love for God and therefore love for our neighbor.