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Loving God & Neighbor (Matthew 22:34-46) Proper 25

October 23, 2011

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Matthew 22:34-46


Loads from the Lord today.  First:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.”  Heart, soul, and mind!  That’s the Hebrew way of saying all of you – the whole lot of you – every last bit of you.  Love the Lord your God with every thing you’ve got.  This is the first and greatest commandment if any of you were wondering. 


The second is like the greatest.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”   


Love!  This is what the Ten Commandments require!  Commandments 1-3 are summarized by Jesus this way:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.”  Commandments 4-10 are summarized this way:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The love of God and the love of the neighbor go hand in hand.  Side by side.  Can’t have one without the other.  You can’t claim to love God if you don’t love your neighbor.  And vice versa. 


Love.  What is it?  Is it a feeling?  Something you fall into?  A warm fuzzy?  No.  No.  No.  Does that shock you?  Absolutely, because you’re all so used to defining love in the way of the latest Nicolas Sparks book, the Twilight novels and movies, Lady Gaga’s “Caught In A Bad Romance,” Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me,” soap operas like “Days of Our Lives,” or such TV gunk shows like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette.


So what is love?  IT IS THE ORIENTATION OF THE WILL IN ACTION TOWARD ANOTHER!  It is a choice!  An act of the will!  The essence of loving God and neighbor doesn’t mean you have particular feelings.  You may have feelings associated with love but love essentially IS NOT A FEELING.


When I ask younger couples why they want to get married, they usually say:  “Because we love each other.”  But from now on I’m going to respond to that answer this way:  “That’s nice.  Now come up with a good reason why you want to get married.” 


Shocked again?  Good.  Why?  Because we have everything backwards.  LOVE DOESN’T DEFINE AND SHAPE MARRIAGE!  MARRIAGE DEFINES AND SHAPES LOVE!  Love is an orientation between husband and wife BECAUSE THEY ARE HUSBAND AND WIFE.  The same could be applied in the other direction.  When couples want to end their marriage because they’ve “fallen out of love” I’m going to say:  “That’s nice.  Now come up with a good reason why you’re ending the marriage.” 


Love isn’t something you fall into.  You fall into holes.  You fall into ditches.  You fall into pits.  You don’t fall into love.  Falling means losing your balance.  Falling means losing your control.  Falling is an out of control experience!  People have nightmares about falling!


Love, however, is a deliberate act of the will.  A choice.  To love means to deliberately turn yourself to another.  To love means to give away something of yourself to someone else expecting nothing (absolutely nothing) in return!  In the New Testament “love,” as a fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life, is described in these terms:  “love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way.  It is not irritable or resentful.  Love does not rejoice at wrong but in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  That is the life of self-sacrifice.  The death of the self and all selfishness!  TO LOVE IS TO BE TURNED OUTWARDLY – AWAY FROM YOUR SELFISH SELF – TO SOMEONE ELSE!


And who would that be according to Jesus?  God.  And your neighbor. 


You have many neighbors.  More than you’d ever realize.  The person at the doctor’s or dentist’s office.  The person in line at the grocery store.  Your roommate at the nursing home.  Your husband, wife, child, and yes, even your in-laws.  The church member sitting next to you.  Your co-workers, fellow students, or the boss at work.  Anyone that God puts in your life is your neighbor who needs your love.  No matter whether you like them or not.  No matter if they like you or not!


And if you don’t love your neighbor – the very people you can see, how can you claim to love God whom you can’t see?


The Lord Jesus links the love of your neighbor with the love of God.  You love God by loving your neighbor.  The cup of cold water, the cup of coffee, the glass of iced tea or milk that you give to someone who is thirsty YOU GIVE TO GOD.  The macaroni and cheese, the cheeseburger, or tater tot casserole you give to hungry mouths, YOU GIVE TO GOD.  The comforting note or consoling words you give to someone who is suffering, YOU GIVE TO GOD.  The time and money you give to edify and enrich the lives of others at home, work, in the community or in the congregation, ARE TIME AND MONEY OFFERED TO GOD. 


Now, how do you love God?  First, by having no other idols in your heart.  By giving your whole-hearted fear, love, and trust to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You love God in the use of His most holy name in worship and prayer and by your glad attention to His Word.  You love God by honoring the authorities He has place over you, by caring for the health and well-being of your neighbor’s body, by not adulterating marriage in any way, by improving our neighbor’s property, investments, and money, by defending our neighbor’s reputation, and by being content with what God has given us.  Those are some of the ways that you love God and your neighbor.  I could go on but we don’t have the time.


When you love in those ways, you reflect God’s love to others.  The problem is this:  you want to but you don’t.  I don’t.  You and I fail to love God and our neighbor.  In fact, we rebel against it.  We revel instead in revenge, spite, grudges, and hate.  So it is high time for all of us to repent!  To confess the love of self and the idolatry of the self! 


And so the next question given in the text:  “Who then can be saved?”  After all, we cannot do perfectly what Jesus says in the text.  None of us love God the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  And none of us love our neighbor as ourselves. 


“Who then can be saved?”  None of us if our attention is on ourselves and on our loving. 


And so Jesus directs us to Himself!  “What do you think of the Christ?  Whose son is He?”  Well, He’s the son of David. I.E. from the royal bloodline of King David.  The messianic king!  But He is also David’s Lord!  David’s God!  He is the God-man!  God – begotten of the Father from all eternity!  Man – born of the Virgin Mary! 


Jesus, the Christ, came as the head of new humanity.  He is the human God intended humanity to be.  He came to be the holy One as His Father in heaven is holy.  He came to restore the image of God to our fallen and sinful humanity.  He came to love God with His whole heart, with His entire being, with His whole mind.  He came to love His neighbor as Himself. 


Jesus came to love you with God’s love.  Jesus loved you when you were the least lovely or loving.  Jesus is love to the loveless.  He loved you to death on the Cross.  “While we were yet God’s enemies,” He died for us!  While you were dead in your sins Jesus gave His perfect and holy life into death.  And now His Passion, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday benefits are yours!  Eternal life is yours in Jesus!  All your sins are forgiven in Jesus!  The complete and perfect love of God is yours in Jesus!


Faith in Jesus does give birth to love, fruit of the Holy Spirit.  When you love, it is because you have been loved first by God in His Son Jesus.  Christ’s death and resurrection frees you to love God and your neighbor.


You no longer have to love.  You GET to love.  You don’t love in order to be saved.  You love because you are saved in Jesus.  You don’t love to win God’s favor.  You love because God favors you already in Jesus.  You don’t love so that God will love you.  You love because God has loved you so incredibly in Jesus – with the greatest love you will ever know – the bloody crucified love of the Cross.


Greater than your love and greater than the Law that judges your love, is Jesus the Christ who loves perfectly – David’s son and David’s Lord.  On Him hangs the sin of the world.  On Jesus hang your life and your salvation.


In the Name of Jesus.    


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