The Pharisees and keepers of the law think they finally have Jesus where they want him. They have been arguing with him for quite a while now. But now they are trying to get him to stumble. They asked Jesus which one of the 613 laws was the most important. There is no way Jesus can answer this question correctly. There are all kinds of different laws about resting on the correct day, eating the right things, and when to do sacrifices. It’s a no win situation. This is the equivalent of your wife asking you if she looks good in that new dress. If you say yes you look great…so you are saying that if I wasn’t wearing the dress I wouldn’t look good and if you tell her she doesn’t look good in the dress…look out because that wont end well. This is a no win situation for Jesus. But once again Jesus is ahead of the teachers of the law. He responds that the greatest law is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and he threw in a second command as well, “You should love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says that every commandment falls into line behind these two.
There are all kinds of laws in the Old Testament and New Testament, but they all boil down to one word….Love. Love God and Love your Neighbor. Those are pretty simple command on the surface. Love is a word that we throw around on a whim a lot. We are quick to say we love all kinds of different things. For example, I love Cane’s chicken. I love the Green Bay Packers. I love gummy candy. The love of all those things is passive; these things are not able to return my love for them. All they can do is taste really good (in the case of the candy or chicken) or win a lot of games (in the case of the Green Bay Packers). This is not the love that Jesus is talking about in our text. The love described in this text is active; it requires action. Love isn’t an interior emotion, affection, or attraction in the Bible. It’s an action, a behavior, a commitment to seek the good of another no matter what. To love God then is to love God’s children and seek the best for them.
It is the active response of the faithful person to the love of God because God’s love is also active. In the Old Testament, God chooses to love Israel above all nations and to bring his love through this chosen people. To love God with all one’s heart, and soul, and mind, is to choose to respond to God even as God chooses to love us. Feelings and emotions do not enter into the equation. There is no cupid involved in this kind of love.
In fact, nearly every choice we make — what we wear, what we eat, what we drive, what we give, what we share, how we spend our time — reflects an opportunity to love God by loving neighbor…or not. There are days where it would be way easier to stay in bed than come to worship. The sheets are too comfortable, or I want to beat the lunch rush, or it just takes too long to get little Jimmy or Suzy ready in the morning. There are all kinds of excuses we can make to stay at home on Sunday mornings. But just by being here this morning you have decided that worship was important to you. This is another opportunity to love God and love our neighbors. This is our call. We are committed to love our neighbors because God first loved us.
A couple of years ago, Laura and I went on vacation to England. One night we met up with Laura’s sister who was visiting friends in London. All of us went out to eat on thanksgiving night. When the night was over, all of us went our separate ways. Laura and I got on the subway and headed back to the youth hostel where we were staying. When we were about half way to our hostel, Laura realized that she had forgotten her purse. After I gave her an exasperated look, we get off the Subway at the next stop and got on a train heading back towards the restaurant. We got to the restaurant where someone had thankfully turned in her purse, although all the money she had in it was missing. So we get back on the train to get back to our hostel only to find out that the subway stops at midnight, so the train will stop quite a while before it gets to our stop. At this point in the night, I am tired and crabby and panicking at the thought of trying to find our hostel from a completely different stop in a huge city that I don’t know at all. So I am sulking, as we get off the train disappointed at the turn of events. As I am trying to figure out where in world we are, I hear five 20 something boisterous Spanish guys. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, but like us they seem to have no idea how to get where they wanted to go. They didn’t speak very good English, but we were able to find out they were staying at the same youth hostel that we were. So we figured we could either get completely lost in London or find this place together. Very quickly our night went from disappointing to entertaining and energetic. I didn’t tell any of these five Spanish gentlemen anything about our predicament with Laura’s purse, but they were quick to show kindness. Even with the language barrier they were quick to strike up a conversation. They have never been the America, but they wanted to share why they loved the U.S. It basically boiled down to three things in their mind: beautiful women, Chuck Norris, and something about the amazing infomercials. Then, being nice Spanish gentlemen, they helped me serenade Laura with Spanish love songs. They did most, if not all, of the singing and even picked a flower that I supposed to place in my mouth to give to Laura. (I think they might have got the flower from someone’s front yard, but let’s not get picky). We eventually made our way to the hostel, but I still think about those guys even though we only knew them for about an hour of my life. These five Spanish guys didn’t have to show any kind of kindness towards Laura and I. They had just met us. We were complete strangers, we could barely understand one another. But these five strangers went out of their way to show the kind of Love that Jesus is talking about in this text. It is a love that overcomes all kinds of barriers.
It is a love that was first given to us only a few chapters later than the Gospel text we read this morning. When Jesus gathered with his disciples in a room and shared a meal with each of them. It is a meal that we will participate in today. A meal that fills us up when we come in tired, broken, and worn out from the week that was. A meal that renews us and fills us up for the week ahead, so that we can make it to another Sunday morning to be filled up again. This is how much God loves us — enough to demand that we care for one another; enough to forgive and renew us each time we fail; enough to give us back to each other to try once, again, to live the law of love; and enough to give us the body, blood, and resurrected life, of our Lord Jesus … all in the name of love. This is why empower is one of our values. We are empowered through this worship service, through gathering together with one another, through hearing the world, through taking his body and blood.
At Messiah we have made this love the foundation of who we are and what we are about. Our mission statement is “loving God, love each other.” God’s gift of love, through the sending of God’s son–Jesus, empowers us to share God’s love in active ways with our neighbors-those we haven’t met yet, those who are strangers, and maybe even those that doesn’t speak the same language as us.
This love will look differently to all of us. For some it might mean committing to come regularly to worship to experience God’s love so that we can share it with others, for others it might mean being involved in our outreach ministries to share God’s love through serving, for others it might mean getting to know people in this community better by joining in on Wednesday night Messiah night meals, and for others it might be being committed to loving a family member who is difficult enough to like let alone love. No matter what this love looks like I pray that this worship experience fill us up so that we can be empowered to share God’s love with the world. Amen.