Sermon for 11/9/14

Gospel text: Matthew 22: 34-46

Yesterday morning I drove to Harmony, Minnesota. It was extremely windy. As I made my way there, I noticed the bare branches moving swiftly. Most of the fields had been plowed but a plenty of tractors were still out in the fields. All sorts of corn husks and leaves blew across the roadway. The car even swayed a bit on the road. I didn’t feel especially grounded. Everything was blowing in the wind.

This sense of being tossed about in the wind is not unfamiliar.  We experience it on an individual level. We experience at work. We experience it in our congregations. There are so many different directions in which we are pulled. Winds of change…sometimes change that feels like it’s happening too fast. Uncertainty of priorities. Distractions…oh so many distractions. Sometimes we don’t feel grounded. It’s hard to get focused when you’re being tossed about.

The words that Jesus speaks in our Gospel text are words that re-root us. They are foundational. They are the whole Old Testament boiled down into two commandments. Love God. Love neighbor (i.e. everyone…even enemies...even people who annoy us). They provide firm footing in a world and in a book that can sometimes become overwhelming.

Love is an important topic for Jesus. When Jesus talks about love, he doesn’t talk about a warm emotional state. Many times, we associate loving with deep affection. Deep regard. Deep appreciation for or liking of. The kind of love that Jesus talks about – agape in Greek – is defined as a strong preference for the well-being of another. It’s love expressed as commitment for the another’s well-being and quality of life.

The context in which Jesus speaks these words is of much importance – perhaps nearly as much as the words themselves. Jesus doesn’t speak these words to a group of his highly devoted followers in the middle of a weekend feel-good retreat. He speaks them to a group of skeptics in the midst of a series of days that didn’t at all go like he had necessarily hoped or expected.

Matthew 20-28, the last 8 chapters - span the last week of his earthly life. Today's text comes from Matthew, Chapter 22.

  • Jesus comes into Jerusalem, the Palm Sunday scene
  • Next thing: Cleansing of the temple....Jesus sees that a highly religious space has become a marketplace that is preying on people, especially poor people
  • In Jerusalem, Jesus experiences constant questioning of his authority; a lot of interactions with Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes. Both groups of highly religious individuals. Well-intentioned. Great depth of knowledge. But sadly – had gotten off-track. Misusing religion as a tool to separate instead of include. Judgment over grace. 
  • In these chapters, Jesus talks quite a bit about the REAL kingdom of heaven and who gets in...and it isn't never who the listener expects
  • “Teacher, Teacher” people say. They all have so many questions – so many “tricks and traps.”
  • There is a sense of frustration from Jesus...he is highly misunderstood and distrusted in what seems to be every direction he turns. 
Jesus gets to Jerusalem and experiences vast amounts of religious hypocrisy. Religion was being used as a tool to divide and separate people. Instead of using the law being a tool to bring justice, he saw it being twisted. In that moment, today’s Gospel text occurs: “What’s the MOST important command?" a law-specialist asks. It's another potential trap for Jesus. His questioners imagined that no matter what, he'd have an answer that could be questioned.

Jesus speaks clearly about the TWO most important commandments. And then uses some clever word play to express that people don’t know all there is to know about the Messiah.

Jesus got into Jerusalem and saw what he’d seen his whole ministry. People being blown by the winds of distraction, temptation, ego, and pride. He saw people who allowed their desire to be right to supersede their desire to show grace, justice, and forgiveness. It must have been painful to see. So he looks out upon the crowd and he boils it down. Like a pot of maple sap being turned into maple syrup….he boils it all down. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Not mushy, affectionate love. Self-sacrificing love that priorities needs beyond self.

I talked to a friend about this text earlier in the week and she said, “I wish everyone were about to do that.” And I said, “Yeah…I wish I could do that…for even a solid hour…love God and neighbor.” It’s not easy. Agape love. It’s the real deal. It’s committed to the needs of others. Thanks be to God, Jesus ends the Gospel of Matthew with a promise, “And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Living into this vision is something we do THROUGH AND WITH Jesus. We mess up…we continue to get blown in the breeze…but Jesus sticks with us. And we encourage one another.

We celebrate the times when we get it. When somehow, through the Holy Spirit’s help, we love. They are little glimpses of the kingdom.

Today is Campus Ministry Sunday. Two sites: Sites in Winona and Mankato. Places where love is being expressed abundantly. I had the opportunity to go to both sites to put together a video. And interview many people. They described what it feels like to be welcomed.  Pastor Corrine in Mankato told me about Independent Theo...a weekly place where students come to ask questions and enjoy fellowship. Pastor Tammy told me about the food shelf that is set up for college students to come in on an as needed basis. Agape love. 

A couple weeks ago I spoke with Sue, a member of your congregation, who is starting to work on this year’s health fair. She shared about last year’s. A time when the congregation hosted and invited people to come and learn about caring for themselves – honoring the image of God within. Community members came and had an experience of being welcomed into this place. Agape love. 

Today's choir of children warmed our hearts. There were volunteers who practiced with them. There were parents and grandparents who brought them to practice and encouraged them to let their lights shine. Agape love. 

Wherever we’re at – whatever we’re experiencing – however the winds are blowing in our lives today -Jesus comes to us with a hand of acceptance and welcome and says, “Love.”

It’s about agape love of God and agape love of neighbor.

  • It’s a love that forgives.
  • It’s a love that is humble.
  • It’s a love that puts other people’s needs first.
  • It’s a love that finds opportunities to serve.
  • It’s a love that doesn’t always need to be right.
  • It’s a love that sees God within.
  • It’s a love that sees God in others.
  • It’s a love that transforms brokenness.
  • It’s a love that heals. 
  • It’s a love that assumes the best about people.
  • It’s a love that releases cynicism. 

Jesus invites his followers to root ourselves in the love of God – so that we are able to love God and others.

May we experience God’s presence, grace, and forgiveness.

May it inspire us to love abundantly in the week ahead. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Truly appreciate and love your sermons. Thanks for posting.