"This is a Test" Sermon from 29 October 2023

Do you remember the old announcement?

This is a test.
This is only a test.
screech - if this were an actual emergency,
you would have been instructed to….”

How many of us recall the Emergency Broadcast System?  Let’s see a show of hands.  Raise them nice and high.  Perhaps we need such an alert for our Gospel reading this morning.  Matthew warns us that the religious leaders and the elite are up to their tricks again. 

This time they send an expert in the Torah, the instructions of Moses.  The expert asks Jesus which of the over 600 commandments (248 positive, 365 negative) is the greatest.  All of the Laws were to be considered equal.  Yet Rabbis and scholars loved to debate the question.  So this is a definitely a trick question to trap Jesus.
The leaders want to find some way to trick Jesus.  They want Jesus to say or do something that they can arrest Jesus for.  This encounter takes place during Holy Week.  So, the religious leaders are especially hoping to find some charge against Jesus so they can put Him to death.

Jesus wisely responds with not one but two commandments:
"Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’
‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’

We frequently call these The Great Commandments.  Jesus sets them before us as the summary of the Torah: “on these two hang all the Law and the prophets” (v. 40).  The two commandments summarize both the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 as well as all of the teachings in the Torah.

The first, concerning God, is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5.  Jesus’ audience would know the source very well.  Deuteronomy 6:5 is called the Shema.  Faithful, observant Jews recite this prayer each and every day.  The Shema reminds God’s people, and us, that loving God should be our first priority.

The second, concerning our neighbors, comes from Leviticus 19:18.  Again, Jesus’ audience would know the reference.  Leviticus 19 outlines our responsibilities towards our those around us.  Our neighbors.  Loving our neighbors is probably the hardest part of Jesus’ dual commandment.

A Clergy Coaching network meme I recently saw reminds you and me: “Loving our neighbors is not the same as simply not hating them.  Love is not a lack of hate or of anything else.  According to Scripture, love has form and content and it compels us to act.  It compels us to actively seek the well-being of others.”

Jesus thereby calls us to love all those around us.  Our red neighbors.  Our blue neighbors.  Our LGBT+ neighbors.  The neighbors who don’t look like, think like, act like, and maybe don’t smell like us.  Scripture reminds us that these, too, are beloved children of God.  God loves them just as much as God love us.

John reminds us that love of God cannot be removed from love of neighbor.  The two are linked together:  We love because God loved us first.  But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars.  We cannot see God.  So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see?  The commandment that God has given us is: “Love God and love each other!” (I John 4:19-21; CEV)

Jesus becomes even more explicit in Matthew 25.  I have referred to that chapter several times before.  The nations gather before the King to be judged.  The people are divided into sheep and goats.  The sheep, it turns out, faithfully followed the King.  Even when the sheep weren’t aware of it.

The King tells the sheep: “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation.  And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’”

Matthew 25:34-36 (MSG)


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