Sermon 29 October 2017 A – 21 Sunday After Pentecost

Todays readings for 21st Sunday After Pentecost
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2: 1-13
Matthew  22:34-46

Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton. 

Well this Sunday- looking at Matthew we will be thinking about what it means, to be, at the most basic level, a Christian. I say ‘basic’ because this little passage sets out for us the most central tenet of our faith. The context of Jesus giving this little bit teaching that has become our “two great commandments”, is that the Pharisees and Saducees and teachers of the law are trying to trap Jesus into saying something that they can condemn him for.

And as you are no doubt aware the Jews had added dozens of complicated extra laws on top of the ones that Moses gave them- and there were a lot more than just the ten commandments. I think what Jesus is doing here is taking an opportunity to go back to basics and make it clear to everyone- his followers and his detractors, what was really important in the sight of God. So let’s have a look at what Jesus says is the most important law.

The first thing that he says, “love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind”, won’t have been any surprise to them. While they might have clouded the whole observance of the law with lots and lots of extras this is always the starting point. The only thing that is a little bit controversial here is that Jesus has substituted “Mind” for “Strength”. This shows the influence of Greek philosophy in the world that Jesus lived in. The “mind” as an entity- the bit of you that you think with, was not named as such in Hebrew thought- it was called the heart- that was the centre of where you got things done. It is the Greeks who saw some separation between the thinking bit of you and the feeling bit of you. The Greeks would like you to be able to think “rationally” about things without letting your feelings come into it. This separation between the two is still very much what we think today. Jesus is acknowledging the culture in which he lives. The idea of the soul picks up the feelings, I think, as it is referring to the essential bit that makes you, you. We will come back to what loving God means, in a minute.

The next thing that Jesus said was radical. He then told them that the second commandment is “like’ the first. When he says like he means the same in essence, the same in its basic nature. Loving your neighbor as yourself is somehow, in Jesus’ thinking the same as loving God. Now this was a radical departure. The Jews did have a command about loving your neighbor but they had so many rules about how to do that that it had all become very complicated and nobody before had ever linked these two ideas together. The command to love God with your whole heart etc. was easy but to say that loving your neighbor was the same posed all kinds of problems for them now, just as it does for us today.

If we believe in God, as creator, and sustainer of our world, as the source of all that is good, then it is easy to say that you need to love God- that is almost obvious. Loving your neighbor is not so obvious. Your neighbor may be good and kind and helpful and so you will naturally love them, but what if they are not? What if your neighbor encroaches on your land, and uses your drive way. What if your neighbor lets his dogs out and they foul your lawn? What if your neighbor gets drunk and is abusive and insults you or your wife. There are lots and lots of senarios and the Jews were very big on knowing how to treat each other, they had rules for every eventuality and mostly they involved very stiff punishments for neighbours who did the wrong thing. And then of course you get the problem of just who is your neighbor. Jesus tackles this in the story of the Good Samaritan, doesn’t he? And there he makes it obvious that your neighbor is anyone who happens to come along regardless of race or creed or social status. These days we live in a global village, and I think that in a sense many people who live in the suburbs don’t have much idea of what that means. I have lived in a village and I can tell you, that everyone who lives in a village, and in the surrounding areas as well, is your neighbor whether you like them or not. And when something threatens- a bushfire for example, no one picks or chooses in fighting the fire. People don’t say, “Oh I don’t think I’ll go and help old so and so because he didn’t even buy a ticket in our raffle and I actually can’t stand him’. NO! Everyone in a village is a neighbor in the time of need.

However there is a lot of difference between helping someone in a crisis and loving them every day as you love yourself. We often hear, in our culture, people saying things like, “Got to look after number one” or “God helps those that help themselves”. Now both these statements are absolutely true- you do have to look after yourself and you do have to help yourself rather than waiting to be helped- that isn’t the question. The question is do we look after other people with the same dedication that we look after number one? Do we help ourselves and then turn around and help our neighbor? Because that is what Jesus is asking of us. He is not asking us not to love ourselves, not to care for ourselves and our own families, he is asking us to love others just as much. This requires a lot of love doesn’t it? I think that anyone who is a parent can relate to the fact that when you are expecting your second child you worry a bit. You say to yourself “I love little Johnny so much, there isn’t any love left to give the other baby,” or “I might love this next one but I can’t love it as much as I love my Darling little Mary”, and then when the new baby arrives all of a sudden you find that love is not finite but that your capacity for love doubles and triples and quadruples at need. However loving your own children is a much simpler thing than loving others outside your family- for a start you are biologically programmed to love your children- they wouldn’t survive without it. Finding a huge rich seam of love in our hearts for others can be much harder. It can be difficult to love the unlovely in our community, the dirty homeless man, the alcoholic woman who has a mental illness, the struggling families, the shut in and frail elderly, not to mention those who look different because of their colour or clothing. There is such a huge need for compassion and justice in our society and I want to encourage each of you to listen to what the Holy Spirit is calling you to, and to do your part in loving the loveless.

And we can do it together as a church. The church exists to be God’s hands and feet here on earth. We need to make good use of the resources that God has given us- our time, our talents and our money and use our church not to be a club for those inside but to do God’s work in the world- the work of loving.

Loving God can be a very abstract thing, you can easily say that you love God, and do things that you think will prove it, perhaps praying in the church every day, or reading your bible for hours- and these Pharisees that Jesus is talking to were experts in showing everyone how much they loved God, but what Jesus is telling us is that if we want to prove how much we love God, the second commandment to love our neighbours is how we should show God how much we love him. We need to show our relationship with our great and loving God, the source of all love, in an out pouring of love to those around. Being part of St Dunstan’s gives us an arena for doing just that, which is why St Dunstan’s needs your gifts. The time we spend loving our neighbours, the kind and encouraging words we say to them, the helpful things we do are the things that delight God’s loving heart. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a being who exists in a constant state of relationship, a constant dance of love, that is, perichoresis, the dance of love. God calls us to be part of his dance, God desires us to be part of his dance- dancing with him and dancing with others, our friends, and our neighbours, drawing them into the dance with us.

Jesus knew that there was no need for hundreds of laws, just one law, that is the law of love. Love God and show that by loving your neighbours as yourself.