October 25, 2020
Leviticus 19.1-2, 15-18; Matthew 22.34-46
+ Last week, in my sermon, I preached about the Shema.
The Shema is a profession of faith from the Deuteronmony 6.5-9 that goes like this:
Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
The Shema is the prayer all Jewish men are required to pray twice each day, once in the morning and once at night.
Although I’m of course not Jewish, I also do that.
I also pray the Shema each morning upon waking up and each night before bed.
It’s a good spiritual practice.
But it’s more than that.
It’s the heart of what we believe as followers of Jesus and believers in the God of Jesus.
For me, as you all know, as you have heard me preach over and over again from this pulpit over the many years I’ve been with you here, this is what it’s all about.
This Gospel reading isn’t just a summary of the Law.
It is a summary of Christianity itself.
This is what we must do as Christians.
And seemingly simply (but maybe not so simple).
Now, I once was scolded a bit—this was at another congregation, mind you—for preaching too much about love.
“You always preach about love,” this parishioner told me.
I sure do.
And if it was meant as a criticism, I do not take it that way.
I wear it proudly as a badge of honor.
Because the fact remains that this is essentially all Jesus preached about as well.
And it it’s good enough for him, it’s sure good enough for me.
The gist of everything Jesus said or did was based solidly on what we hear him summarize in this morning’s Gospel.
Every sermon and parable he preached, was based on what we heard today.
Every miracle, and even that final act on the cross, was based solidly on what we heard this morning.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is clear.
Which commandment is the greatest? he is asked.
And he 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. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love you neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
He can’t get any clearer, as far as I’m concerned.
And it is these two commandments, both of which are solidly and unashamedly based in love, that he again and again professes.
Every day of his adult life, Jesus prayed this prayer.
It was the basis of his entire spiritual life.
And this commandment, along with the commandment to love others, is the basis for his entire teaching.
When he says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” we can also add the Gospel.
The Gospel, along with the Law and the prophets, is based on these commandments.
And so is our entire faith as Christians.
I don’t think I can get any clearer on this.
I hear so often from Christians—not a whole lot of Episcopalians, but other Christians—that their faith as a Christian is based solely on accepting Jesus Christ as their “personal” Lord and Savior.
I have no problem with that in actuality.
Our Baptismal promises in the Book of Common Prayer are based on accepting Jesus as our Savior as well.
In the Baptismal promises we are asked that all-important question:
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?”
And, of course, we do.
But, for Jesus, the real heart of the matter is not in such a professions of faith.
He never commands us to make such statements for salvation.
What he does command us to do again and again, to love.
To love God.
And to love one another.
And, as you’ve heard me say, Sunday after Sunday from this pulpit, when we fail to love, we fail to be Christians.
Any time we fail in these two commandments, we fail to be Christians.
We turn away from following Jesus and we turn away from all that it means to be a Christian. I think the organized Church sometimes misses this fact.
And we, as Christians, sometimes miss this fact as well.
We sometimes think: maybe this is too simple.
Love God, love others.
It’s just too simple.
Well, first of all: it is not.
It is not easy to love God.
It is not easy to love Someone who is, for the most part, invisible to us.
And, as we struggle with all the time in our lives, it is not easy to love others.
I don’t need to tell anyone here this morning that is sometimes very hard to love others.
So, it is not too simple.
But we still want something more occasionally.
We sometimes fall into the trap of depending on things like dogma, or the Law, or Canons (or Church Laws), or any of the other rules that define it all for us specifically.
Certainly, when we start doing so, we enter dangerous territory.
The fact is, all of those things, confessional statements, dogmas, church laws or any of those complicated rules, are pointless if they are not based on these two laws of loving God and loving others.
If anyone wants to know what Christians believe and who we are, these two Laws are it.
They define us.
They guide and direct us.
And when we fail to do them, let me tell you, they convict us and they judge us.
So, yes, I know I am guilty of preaching the same thing all the time.
But I do unashamedly.
I do so proudly.
I do so without any sense of remorse.
Here I stand.
Because all I am doing when I preach about loving God and loving others, is what Jesus did.
I am following Jesus when I preach those laws.
But more importantly than preaching about them, I hope we can all strive to live those laws in our lives,
I try to in my own life as Christian and as a priest.
I try to help others to do that as well.
So, let us love unashamedly.
Let us love without limit.
Let us love radically.
As our reading from Leviticus tells us, “let us be holy” because our God is holy.
Let the love that guides us and directs and, yes judges us and convicts us, be the one motivating factor in our lives.
Let it be the foundation and basis of each ministry we are called to do.
Let love—that radical, all-encompassing, all-accepting love—be what drives us.
And let us—each of us—be known to everyone by our love.
Let us pray.
Holy God, help us in our following of your Son Jesus that we me might embody and fully live out the Law of loving you fully and loving others with a true, all-encompassing, all-accepting love. We ask this in his name. Amen.