Worship October 25, 2020
I welcome you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Do you hear the voice of God calling, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Do you feel the Spirit moving among us, moving us to acts of compassion and justice.
Do you know the love of Jesus.
We love because Christ first loved us. Come, worship God together.
Lord of light and hope be with us today as we are gathered to hear your word. Help us open our hearts to the commandment to love, even when loving is difficult. Give us the courage to be people who will commit our whole lives in your service. For we ask this in Jesus’ Name. AMEN.
Hymn TFWS #2008 Let All Things Now Living
Scripture Matthew 22:34-40 (CEB)
34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together.
35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him.
36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.
40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Many years ago my high school choir performed numbers from the musical play –
“Fiddler on the Roof.”
The play is set in an impoverished Russian village, populated largely by Jewish families, at a time when Russia was ruled by the tsar. The people of the village were of simple faith and lived off the land. They heard little news of the outside world and their lives were governed strictly by their age-old traditions. Traditions that were passed down from generation to generation.
Learning this music caused a curiosity to well up in me. I wanted to sing all the music and learn about the people and the culture.
I do not remember how but I was able to see a showing of the play. I remember the curtain opening for the first act, the attention of the audience is drawn to the roof of a house on the stage. A violin begins a haunting tune and the shadow of a fiddler, violin tucked under his chin, is seen playing and dancing merrily on the roof.
The lights come on the stage and the first person we meet is Tevye the dairy farmer. His opening words go something like this. “A fiddler on the roof? Sounds crazy no?… You might say that every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck … It isn’t easy! … How can we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word. Tradition! Because of our tradition we have kept our balance for years … Because of our tradition everyone knows who he is and what God expects of him…. Tradition! Tradition! Without our tradition our life would be as shaky as… as … as a fiddler on the roof!”
Like Tevye, the Pharisees were concerned with tradition. The Pharisees believed that the Law that God gave to Moses consisted of two parts, the Written Law as documented from the teachings of the prophets and the Oral law, the oral traditions of the Jewish people.
Like Tevye, the Pharisees knew that without Israel’s traditions life would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof. Like Tevye, they knew the importance of knowing who they were and what God expected of them.
The Pharisees tried to trick Jesus by asking him a theological question. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (v. 36). Jesus, not one to be outsmarted, answered by quoting the Old Testament and the tradition that the Pharisees respected so much.
37 Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. (vv. 37-39).
The Pharisees are not hearing these words for the first time. There is nothing new in Jesus’ answer. This is not something original. These words were written and known in Jewish writings long before Jesus’ time. Hundreds of years in fact.
The book of Deuteronomy was written many years before Jesus was born and in fact is the fifth book of the five books of law we know as the Torah, The written Law of the Jewish people.
In Deuteronomy 6:5 Moses wrote – 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.
Every Pharisee, every Jew — even Tevye the dairy farmer in the village of Anatevka — knew those words. These words are the essence, the beginning and the ending of Jewish devotion. These words were to be recalled in the morning and in the evening. They were to be taught to the children. And they were recited just before the moment of death.
Jesus continues ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 39).
Jesus went to the core of the Pharisees’ tradition — and his own – remember Jesus was a Jew.
He also quoted the law found in Leviticus, the third book of our old Testament and the third book of the Torah, that deals with how to act toward your neighbor. And then Jesus adds, “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (v. 40).
The Jews had been out to trap, to trick, Jesus and they tried a number of time and in a number of ways
- First, the Pharisees tried to trick Him with a question whether taxes should be paid to the Emperor or not.
- It seems they thought this question could get Jesus to condemn himself with his own answer.
- Then the Sadducees, another Jewish group, stepped in and try out a tricky question on Jesus about a woman who marries seven times.
- Which husband will she have when the dead will be raised to life?
- Again a question to trick Jesus because the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.
And now the Pharisees test Jesus again to try and find out where he stands in regard to the traditional faith, the faith of the prophets. And in his reply, we find that Jesus had a great respect for tradition. He goes to the very core of the Jewish faith and quotes passages of the Old Testament, the Torah.
Jesus has great respect for the traditional faith. This was the faith he grew up with, the faith he was taught and loved, but not necessarily the traditional interpretation of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees idea when it comes to who is to be loved goes like this.
- Everyone was to love God, that was compulsory.
- But everyone else was graded as to how much love they were to be given.
- There were those people to whom it was a responsibility to show love.
- Those on the outer circles of the community, like outcasts, sinners, tax collectors, Gentiles, Samaritans etc,
- some were to be loved less, or others were owed no love whatsoever.
- The Pharisees had established many laws that directed people whom they were to love, and whom they could ignore.
By saying that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor put a whole new slant to the traditional interpretation.
To love God that was clear enough but to also say to love one another in the same breath puts both of these commands on an equal footing. This was very different thinking for the traditional Jews.
This means one is not more important than the other. To love God is to love my neighbor and to love my neighbor is to love God.
This was new and radical thinking when Jesus spoke the words.
In fact, we still cannot make any sense out of Jesus’ radical command to love our enemies unless we first recognize the love that God has for us. You see even though we are sinners God loves us.
The love of God and the love of our neighbor are inseparable. You cannot claim to love God if you don’t love your neighbor.
Essentially the entire law of God can be boiled down to two simple commandments: Love God with your whole being; and love whomever God puts next to you as you love yourself.
The late Henry Hamann said in his book on Matthew’s Gospel: “Jesus does not separate love for God from love for man, since the latter flows from the former, and since without the latter the former is impossible”.*
Before we go any further, we need to understand what Jesus means here when he uses the word love.
That little four letter word “love” is used in many contexts. We talk about loving our dog, loving strawberries, and ice-cream, or loving a member of the opposite gender.
When we use the word love like that, we are expressing our affection and have warm feelings for whatever it is that we are loving.
Because we associate the word “love” with affection it’s no wonder that we have difficulty loving those people who annoy us, those who have hurt us, and those who don’t deserve to be loved.
When the Bible talks about love it primarily means a love that keeps on loving, it means commitment. We may have warm feelings of gratitude to God when we consider all that he has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that Jesus is demanding of us. It is stubborn, unwavering commitment.
It follows then that to love one another, including our enemies, doesn’t mean we must feel affection for them, rather it means a commitment on our part to take their needs seriously, just as God committed himself to taking our needs seriously by sending his Son into this world.
You see this in marriages where because of the aging process one partner has become physically weakened, difficult to live with, very demanding, and yet the other partner keeps on caring and putting up with it all.
That’s coming close to the biblical idea of love.
It’s that commitment even though it isn’t deserved. It’s that stubborn, unwavering commitment to the other person’s needs often at a great sacrifice to him/herself.
That’s where many marriages go wrong. The couple say they are in love – they have warm feelings for each but not the commitment.
When the warm feelings fade so does their marriage.
This kind of love doesn’t come naturally.
It is true that this kind of love comes from God but putting it into practice is something we must work on.
Love – commitment – is a deliberate action of the will.
To love means deliberately to turn toward another person and their needs, to give away something of ourselves to someone else without thinking of what we will get in return.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan and (Luke 15:25-37) we see an example of a man loving his enemy, committing his money, time and energy to seeing to the needs of the man lying in the gutter.
He stopped to help without regard to what the consequences might be.
All he could see was someone in need.
This kind of love/this kind of commitment is self-sacrificing. It is putting the other person first, whether it is God or our neighbor.
In all honesty, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that this kind of love has been in short supply in our lives.
In fact, if we could love perfectly then there would be no more sin in our world.
If we loved perfectly, if we were able to be truly committed to other people, then there would be no more violence, or war, what we say and do would only be gentle, kind and caring.
Because this is not the case Jesus came to pay for our lovelessness.
He showed us what true love is.
His love touched those that cannot speak for themselves, those that cannot hear deaf, the diseased, the disabled.
His love wept and washed dirty feet.
His love told of a shepherd searching for lost sheep, a Father rushing out to embrace and kiss his lost son as he welcomed him home.
His love turned the other cheek, and willingly walked that extra mile.
His love carried a cross — and died upon it!
His love welcomed each of us into God’s family, forgiving our sin in the water of our Baptism.
Because of Jesus you are perfect saints in the eyes of God.
Eternal life is yours in Christ.
Forgiveness of sins is yours.
The perfect love of God is yours.
We no longer have to love; we get to love.
We do not love in order to get to heaven; we love because heaven is already ours in Christ.
We do not love in order to win God’s favor; we love because we already have God’s favor in Christ.
We do not love so that God will love us; we love because God has loved us in Christ with the greatest love we will ever know, the crucified love of Jesus.
Jesus came to make us more loving.
What form this loving takes is not important, but what is important is that it does take place.
When you fail, remember Jesus loves you, and let his love shine through you into the lives of the people around you.
Scripture quotations from the CEB.
Sermon theme and concept provided by Pastor Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission. Copyright 2005
Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
Patient God, we find it so easy to say the words and write the check in response to the commandment to love. We can say we know of your love and that we respond in kind, but we far too often do not respond in loving ways toward others. We write checks to support ministries of mission without ever truly feeling the deep compassion that service demands. Dig deeper into our souls, O God. Expose our selfishness and the fears that seem to block true discipleship. Engage us in ministries of justice in which the kind of love that you call us to have is required, not just in our spoken word or in our offerings of monies, but in our very passionate nature. Free us and inspire us to love all persons, those whom we would deem unlovable, and those whom we find it easy to love. Help us love ourselves, respecting ourselves in gratitude for the gifts you have given to us; then move us to use these gifts in service to you.
We pray these things in the name of the one who guides us and loves us still, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray together, saying…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
Hymn UMH # 453 More Love to Thee, O Christ (verses 1 & 2)
All the rules and laws of our faith can be summed up in the law of love for God and one another. Everything “hangs” on that – the law of love. The United Methodist Church doesn’t just talk about love; we bring it to life in ministry: we offer hospitality, we build community, we act in compassion, we do justice work, and in all these things we worship and love God, and we offer our love to our neighbor. That is what this ministry, and our gifts, are about, and all of it hangs on love. Let us gather our gifts together and offer them to God in gratitude and praise.
Prayer of Dedication
With what you see before us, God, we demonstrate our deepest love.
Receive our gifts – our very best – as sweet offerings before you.
May they be the blessing to others that they have been for us. Amen.
HYMN UMH # 500 Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart (verses 1,4,5)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Go forth into this aching, hurting world with God’s love, offering healing, hope, and peace to all. Go in peace and may God’s peace surround you always. AMEN.
- We celebrate Holy Communion November 1, 2020
- Remember to Vote on November 3, 2020