(Preached at Alger First UMC on 10/26/2014)
Scripture: Matthew 22:34-46-“When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. One of them, a legal expert, tested him. ‘Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Now as the Pharisees were gathering, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “David’s son,” they replied. He said, “Then how is it that David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, called him Lord when he said, The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right side until I turn your enemies into your footstool’? If David calls him Lord, how can he be David’s son?” Nobody was able to answer him. And from that day forward nobody dared to ask him anything.”
I’ve honestly been confused as to how these two exchanges work together. We have the Pharisees asking Jesus what the greatest command is and Jesus telling them to love God and love people, they’ll be fine. Then we have Jesus explaining how the Messiah can’t be just the Son of David, but is also the Son of God. There are some great truths in both exchanges, but I never knew how they fit together. But when the lectionary gave me this Scripture, I thought it was time to figure it out. So what we’ll do is talk about each exchange on its own, and then bring them together at the end.
2 Greatest Commands
- So we see Jesus having a series of exchanges with the Pharisees and Sadducees. In case you don’t know, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were basically two groups of people who followed two schools of thought within Judaism. There are a lot of differences and a history of disagreements between the two groups, but that’s really all you need to know for today. And one of the people asks Jesus what the most important commandment is. This is actually a very good question because while the Jewish people started off with the 10 commandments, they’d been expanded to over 600 laws covering all aspects of life. One person couldn’t possibly keep all of these laws, so this question of the greatest commandment was a big one-we can’t keep all of these commands, so what should we prioritize?
- And Jesus said that famous statement-“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And the second is equally as important, love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says the whole Bible is held up by these two commands-Love God and love people. It’s like they’re the nail that you pound into the wall and the Bible is the picture you hang on it.
- Now it’s important that he said to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. These three things were kind of seen by the Israelites as the three elements that made a whole human being. The heart is the seat of your emotions and understanding. Your soul is the source of life itself, the breath of God that animates us and gives us life. And the mind is the home of all of our intellectual powers. So Jesus is telling us to love God emotionally, intellectually, and in a way that penetrates to the very core of ourselves.
- What that means is that we are to love God with every part of ourselves. If we get all emotional about God and say that we know a lot about God, but we don’t let that affect what we do, we aren’t loving God how we’re supposed to.
- I really like stand-up comedy, and there’s this one comic I really like name Louis C.K. Now, a lot of his stuff is pretty raunchy and vulgar, I’ll admit that. But he has a way of using his comedy to bring some pretty deep truths out in the midst of all of that. I was watching one his specials the other day and he was telling this story about one time when he was on a plane. I’ll try to recreate this for you. He was sitting first class, which is always so ridiculously better than flying coach, right? You get to board the plane before anyone else, you have so much more room, and you can sit there sipping champagne while you watch everyone else gets on the plane. And everyone always looks so angry as they board the plane, but if you’re in first class, you can just sit there and watch. And Louis C.K. said that there have been several times that he’s seen soldiers board the plane with everyone else. And it always kind of surprises him. They don’t fly off to war in some green plane and parachute out the open door with someone yelling “Go, go go!” No, they board a plane like everyone else. And they always sit in the back, they never sit in the first class. And Louis was saying that he always has the thought of getting up and giving them his seat, he knows it would be the right thing to do. Now, he has never done that. But he’s thought about it. And he even feels good about having such a moral thought. He tells himself “Oh that was such a nice thought, you’re such a great person for thinking that.” But he’s never actually gotten up and offered them his seat.
- Does that sound absurd to you? I mean, why would you pat yourself on the back for thinking of doing something good when you haven’t actually done anything? But that’s exactly what we do when we say we love God and don’t love neighbor. These two things are completely linked together. If you’ve gone to church and Sunday school your whole life and you know a lot of information about the Bible and if you get emotional about God-you’re singing your favorite hymn and you just get so emotional that you start crying; neither of those things means that the love of God is truly in you. It means that you love God with your heart and with your mind, but it hasn’t seeped into your soul. When that love finally seeps into your soul, it leads to loving people. Truly loving people as you love yourself and even putting yourself aside so that you can love people more.
- Now this next exchange is a little bit confusing. Jesus changes topic and asks the Pharisees “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
- Now, in case you don’t know, the Messiah was a big figure in first-century Jewish beliefs. The Messiah was to be the future savior of Israel, the one who had been promised by all of the old prophets from the Scriptures to come and redeem Israel.
- But the question of “Whose son is the Messiah?” gets into some of the intricacies of Jewish theology and beliefs that I think are incredibly interesting, but we don’t have time for that. Basically, in this exchange, Jesus was expanding their beliefs about the Messiah.
- In the first century, Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire. And the Jewish people really hated that. They believed that God had chosen them out of all of the other nations to be God’s chosen people, and that they were supposed to be God’s nation, an independent country who collectively follows the will of God, free from the influence of pagans, of idol-worshipers, of anyone who does not follow God.
- But then Rome conquered the area. And Rome was kind of seen as the great beast from the north, they were idol-worshipers, they were pagan, they worshiped their own emperor as a god, and a lot of the things about the Roman way of life went against the Jewish religion. So not only was Israel under a foreign power, God’s chosen people were being ruled by pagans.
- So the Jews at this time were living in this tension. They longed for their independence, they thirsted for freedom. So these desires fused themselves with the prophecies about the Messiah. So the Messiah came to be seen as a person sent by God to kick the Romans out of Israel, to boot out the unrighteous, the sinners, the pagans, the idolaters, the outsiders, the non-Jews and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. Not only that, but the Messiah would also conquer the surrounding nations and expand Israel’s borders. The Messiah was seen as someone who would come and usher in what they called “the age to come”-when the kingdom of God would become a present reality, where the Israelites, God’s chosen people, would live in peace with each other and all of the surrounding nations would be subdued and everyone would live righteous lives, worshiping God and living the Law. The wars would stop. The violence would stop. The persecution would stop. The temptation from outside, ungodly powers would stop. The pain and anguish and frustration would stop, and the kingdom of God would be established and the world brought to their knees in worship of God.
- Now doesn’t that sound like amazing? I could get behind that, I could get really excited about that. Don’t we all want something like that? Don’t we all want someone to swoop down from heaven and take care of all of our problems, all of our pain? But Jesus has a problem with it, that’s why he asks the Pharisees about the Messiah. Do you see what the problem is here?
- What was wrong with what the Pharisees believing that about the Messiah? Jesus is saying here that they are limiting the Messiah. They are limiting God. He was saying “That’s great that you have this whole grand vision of the Messiah flying down from Heaven and booting the Romans and all of the non-Jews out of your land, but that is such a limited vision.” He was saying to them, and I think he’s saying to us, “You believe in a small god, therefore the future you imagine is small. God is bigger than anything you can imagine, and the future that God has in store for you is greater than anything you can imagine.” Jesus is inviting us to hope for something much better than this life. Jesus is asking us to believe in a bigger God, a God who is not just the god of this church, the god of this village, the god of this state, the god of this country. Jesus is asking us to believe in the real God- the huge, vast, all-encompassing, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God. Because that God has a huge future in store for us. The coming age that we hear about and read about is greater than anything we can imagine.
2 Greatest Commands + Huge God = Living into God’s future now.
- Now here’s the crazy thing-this future is not just a far off hope. Jesus is not saying “Yeah, the world sucks right now, but don’t worry. If you fight through it, if you live the good Christian life, you’ll go to heaven after you die and it’s going to be awesome!” No. That is a small future from a small god. The God Jesus is inviting us to believe in has a future that is breaking into this world right now.
- The Kingdom of God is breaking, crashing into this world at this very moment. The future that we imagine where there’s no more pain, no more worry, no more tears, no more war, no more suffering, no more fear, we can begin that future today. Right now. How? By loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul and loving our neighbor as ourself.
- I want to introduce a concept that we’re going to be hearing for the next few weeks. It’s this phrase: Living into God’s future now. What does that mean? It means living in a way that brings the future that God has in mind for us into this world right now. And it all starts with the greatest commandment. What’s the greatest commandment? Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And that leads to the second commandment, just as important. What’s the second one? Love your neighbor as yourself. That is how we live into God’s future now.
- Now we as a church are already doing some great work towards living into God’s future now. The Missions Conference that we just finished up, that is a perfect example of that. As a church, we had a goal to promise to give $36,000 to missions in the next year, and we raised over $34,000 of that goal. If you didn’t get a chance to fill out a Faith Promise card or if you think you have some more money to give to help us reach that goal, we have some more Faith Promise cards, or you can talk to Mike or Patti Vollmar or Rose Waugh about that. But do you know what those numbers mean? They mean that this church loves God in a way that leads to loving our neighbors. That money is the way that this church loves our neighbors and lives into God’s future now.
- And that’s not it. The Community Outreach Center that we’ve been working on is another way that we are loving God in a way that leads to us loving our neighbors, our literal next-door neighbors. That building is that way that we are living into God’s future now. Through that building, we have the opportunity to bring the kingdom of God crashing into the village of Alger. And who knows what that will look like? Who knows what good God can do through that building? Who knows the impact that God can have on this community through us using that Community Outreach Center.
- Tomorrow, members of your Administrative Council and Building Committee are going to be meeting with our District Superintendant to do some more work toward discerning what God’s vision is for this building and how God would have us move forward with this building. Because as most of you know, we’ve had some setbacks. There’s been some unexpected twists and turns in the road as we’ve worked hard to get this building built. Now we’re finally making headway into this project-we have a contractor who is going to start working on the building soon. We are not stuck anymore. But we know that if we do this without seeking God’s guidance, we are going to fall flat on our face. So if you are on the Administrative Council or Building Committee, I would ask that you make this a priority. If you are not on those committees, you can come to the meeting too, we won’t kick you out. But I would ask that we all pray for this process, that we would all drench this process, not just the meeting tomorrow, but the whole building process in prayer. Why? Because this is the way that we are living into God’s future now. This is the way that we are bringing the kingdom of God crashing into Alger.
- So that’s what I’ll leave you with church. Are you living into God’s future right now? Are you loving God in a way that leads to loving your neighbor as you love yourself? Because that is our calling as Christ followers, and that is the work for which the Holy Spirit will be working in us to complete.