North Shore Baptist Church
23 October, 2011
Matt. 22: 34-46
For the Love of God
(Scene 1: The Pharisees act to protect)
We have all heard it before; from parents, from children, from brothers or sisters, from bosses, from our spouses or partners. “For the love of God – pick up your room.” “For the love of God – stop stealing by baseball cards.” “For the love of God – Why did you cut off my Barbie’s hair?” “For the love of God – get me that report.” “For the love of God – turn off the tv and help with the dishes.” The love of God seem seems to be a powerful instigator. Or am I hearing it wrong?
The pharisees in today’s text also were appealing to the Divine Name. “For the love of God – he just shut up the Saducees when he told them there is an afterlife.” “For the love of God – did he actually say to give God what is God’s? Doesn’t he know what saying that will do to our reputation – to the reputation of our people? They tolerate us now, but not for long if he keeps saying stuff like that. For the love of God – we have to shut him up. He is dangerous. He is stirring the people. Maybe there can be a way we can trap him.” So the pharisees huddled up. There on the steps outside the temple.
People in the near by market had stopped to see this battle of wits. They witnessed Jesus take on these leaders with out breaking a sweat. In fact, as the pharisees were gathered at the top of the steps – Jesus and his disciples were sitting, rather, lounging on the bottom steps. One of the little children that followed him around was seated in front of him in the dirt. Jesus turned his head – looking up the stairs; eyes squinting in the noon day sun. Looking at the shilloutte of the pharisees. He paused like he was listening, then he just shrugged and turned back to the boy. The boy had just put a line through three Xs. Jesus’ Os did not stand a chance. Bartholomew just started laughing, “Haaa Haaa, Jesus, You just got beat by a boy” – poor Bartholomew, he always was the master of the obvious. And soon a chain reaction of laughter started – Jesus and the boy began to laugh, then Mary Magedelene and the rest of those around. This noise stunned the pharisees – “For the love of God – what is going on down there…Let’s go.” They scurried down the steps.
“Jesus.” The laughter was still going – Peter and the boys had begun to pantomime – well more interpretive dance – the event that had just transpired. The pharisee cleared his voice, “mmmmhummm. Jesus.”
Tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, he turned, “Yeah?”
“Jesus – if you could be serious for a minute. For the love of God demands we follow the commandments. Which one is the greatest.”
Jesus looked at him – “seriously” he thought, “this guy is supposed to be a religious leader and he is asking this?” Jesus replied like a teacher talking to a troubled child, “Love. The. Lord. Your God with all your heart. All your soul. AND all your mind. This, friend, is the first and greatest of all the commandments.”
“Whew” thought the pharisee who asked the question. Finallly they agree on something – maybe he isn’t as nuts as we though. But then, Jesus had to open his mouth again.
“But a second one is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the laws and the prophets.”
REEEEEE. Put on the brakes. “What do you mean by that?” Thought the pharisees. “That is not the answer we want to hear. For the love of God – this man has got to go.” They ran back up the steps of the temple. But Jesus turned to them, “Hey! What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
The pharisees froze. “What?” They thought. “Uhhh. The son of David (which translated properly is … what are you talking about…ummm..we have to say something, and we can’t say God, becuause that is just wrong – and it is something the kids would answer in schul.”)
Jesus sat back down on his step – the one he claimed when he was a boy, and said to them, “How is it then that David by the Sprit calls him Lord? Doesn’t he say in the 110th Psalm, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?’ If David calls him – the anointed, the messiah – Lord, how can he be his son?”
The pharisees looked at him. Looked at the 12 and the children and women with him, and then looked and saw everyone in the market place staring at them. They turned and ran into the temple.
“They-aaa don’ont kno-ow,” taunted master of the obvious, Bartholomew and the circle of laughter began again. Jesus watched them run. He knew what was happening, but after a beat he turned and joined the laughter.
(Scene 2: Next on Hoarders)
Who has heard of this little thing going on called occupy wall street? Or, Occupy Chicago where 130 were arrested last night at Grant Park? Who has seen the news clips of the protesters responses when asked what they are protesting? It seems like they are like the Pharisees at the end of the text. Not quite sure what to say – or at least not saying it in a coherent way. “We are protesting the corporate oligarchy.” “We are protesting the mortgage bankers.” “We are protesting unfair tax codes.” “We are the 99%.” So many voices and so many noises that it is unclear what the message is. But, have you really stopped to hear what they are saying? To listen to their stories? Have you been able to break trough the barrier the media has set up between the message and the people?
If you do that, you hear the story of a woman who lived in her house for years, but after a refinancing put her underwater – where she owes more than it is worth – she got foreclosed upon. You hear the story of man – 53 years old – who got laid off after the first round of the recession in 2008 and has yet to find work because he is too old – too close to retirement. You hear the story of a student who will have to become a wage slave because the only way for her to get through college – a prestigious one at that – is through student loans. You look at the crowds and you see your neighbor. You see people who are not out there to cause trouble – you see the faces of the United States. You see faces of the American Dream – you hear the stories of the American Nightmare.
You hear stories of how corporations who took – were given forgiveness of their debts by the landowner, and yet when they came across someone who owed them money they took her house away; they said you are too old to work for us – we can make bigger profits without you; you will be beholden to us because you want to live the American Dream and finish college. For the love of Mammon, people, you are nothing but cogs in the machine. You are nothing other than another human sacrifice to our god; it is better you than us.
These are the stories going on if you dare to listen. But what happens so often with us is that we get cut off from our neighbors. We loose touch with the stories of those around us. We like to think we love our neighbor as ourselves, but do we even know our neighbor’s name?
The pharisees knew Jesus was saying more than love the person next to you. When he said to them, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He was telling them the ethic by which they should live out the Great Commandment. When he said “love your neighbor as yourself” their minds – being scholars of the law went to Leviticus 19:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.
You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.
And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.
You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.
You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
The pharisees knew that loving your neighbor meant making sure they could eat. The knew that loving your neighbor meant not elevating the landowner above the laborer – all are equal in God’s justice. You were to love your neighbor because God freed you from Egypt’s bondage. Your covenant with God is to treat all with equity. The pharisees were trying to hoard God from the people. They money changers in the temple were trying to hoard grace from the people. The corporations – people in the eyes of the law – are hoarding profits instead of distributing wealth to create new jobs. The media is hoarding access in order to control the story. You and I are hoarding on to what we have in order to just survive. We grab the gleanings from the field or the grapes from the ground – they become ours. We become idolaters of the very things that keep us captive. We get so focused on surviving that we forget our neighbor – stuck in the mud, unable to even make it into the vineyard. We do not see them packing their car with the few belongings they can take with them. We are just trying to get by.
(Scene 3: For God so Loved)
It is his reaction to all the chaos of his time that makes Jesus’ message so threatening to the powers that be. He was not just turning over tables in the temple, but he was turning over the people. He was causing an unrest that threatened to upset the status quo. How can people tolerate the oppression of Rome and the misleading of the temple hierarchy if they truly loved God with all their hearts, all their souls and all their minds? If they followed his ethic of loving your neighbor as self, how could they not touch the untouchable, show women equity, be led by children? Jesus’ message was shaking the bedrock of their very society. God’s message was shaking the bedrock of God’s very creation. It is through Jesus that God began to shape what is to come. It is through Jesus – the son – that God’s rule touched this world and showed us what it means to be loving of ones’ neighbor.
We see it in Jesus sitting at the temple step playing tic-tac-toe with a boy. We see it when Jesus confronts a Legion and expels them from a man – freeing him from the oppression that for so bound him. We see it when Jesus goes to the room of a little girl and says wake up. We see it when Jesus calms a stormy sea. We see it when Jesus takes a couple of loaves and fishes and makes sure no one goes home hungry. We see it when Jesus, knocking the dirt off his shoulder, tells a paralytic to get up. We see it when Jesus tells a woman her faith has made her well. We see it when Jesus runs into a widow of Nain and tells her her son is not dead but alive. We see it when Jesus runs to hug is friend Lazarus. We see it when Jesus take bread and wine and offers them as his body and blood. We see it when Jesus willingly took upon himself a cross. We see it when Jesus said from that cross, “forgive them; they know not what they do.” We see it when Jesus breathed his last and the veil in the temple was torn; bringing God’s full glory in to the world. We see it in Jesus’ lifeless body – hanging on the cross broken and bloodied – having given his life for his neighbor. Having died saying this is what it means to love your neighbor. For the love of God is so great that God gave God’s only son – so that we might know life abundantly -that we might have eternal life.
(Scene 4: For the Love OF God)
Jesus’ love for neighbor, though did not end in that broken and battered body. No, God’s upsetting of the status quo goes beyond the grave. It explodes forth from the grave. God’s love is not bound by anything we try to put in its way. The band Side Walk Prophets put is this way:
I am the thorn in Your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist
But You love me anyway
I am Judas’ kiss
But You love me anyway
See now, I am the man that called out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then, I turned away with this smile on my face
With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night, I still called out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life
But You love me anyway Oh, God… how you love me
For the love of God is so great that the scales can be peeled back from our eyes, and we can come to recognize our neighbors. For the love of God is so great that we have a hand to help us through our darkest hours. We we are so torn up inside that we can not name our weakens – the love of God is there. When our stories have been edited into 20 second sound bytes – God knows the rest of the story.
Sisters and brothers, the greatest and first commandment is to love the Lord our God with our whole being, and we do that by following the second command – to love our neighbor as our selves. We have been given much by the grace of God – though sometimes the only security we fee we have is to hoard our gifts – God has freed us to love our neighbor. God has given us more than enough. Our gifts go to feeding the homeless; providing space for those in recover; giving room for kids to play soccer – to loving our neighbors. Friends, we have a legacy in this church – we are a place where all can come and be recognized for who they are. As children of God.
For the love of God we stand at this corner. For the love of God we proclaim a message of grace and forgiveness. For the love of God we hear each others stories. For the love of God we offer our gifts each year. For the love of God we pray the Holy Spirit keep moving in our midsts; so that we can be a witness to the world that this is what it looks like when you know who the Messiah is and what happens when you embrace the radical table turning love of God.
For the love of God – our hearts break as we stand in solidarity with our neighbor. Our hearts break so that we can be filled – daily, no, constantly – with the love of God. For the love of God.