Oct. 26, 2008 Sermon
Stepping Stone #5 – (Mission)”Beyond”
Stepping Stones- markers along the way of our journey with God. Baptism, The Book, Belonging . . . as Christians who are taking the journey of faith, these are milestones for each one of us. This morning we are talking about the step Beyond our selves, stepping out in love for God and neighbor by doing Mission.
This is not just another step in our personal development or faith formation. This is the heart of the Christian life. This is what Jesus our Lord places at the center of our relationship with God.
Look at the passage - - Episode of folks trying to get Jesus in trouble. This is a test of the depth and breadth and clarity of Jesus’ teaching. Sadducees have failed to trip him up, so here come the Pharisees:
These guys know and love the law. They understand the law as God’s gift to them, to help them live lives pleasing to God. They adore the law. Their goal was to obey all the commandments of the Old Testament. When we think of the law, we might think of the Ten Commandments. But the perfect ten is just the beginning of the law the Pharisees loved. By some count, there are 613
Well, there are 613 commandments in the Old Testament. There are 365 negative commandments in the Old Testament, “Thou shalt not!) and there are 248 positive commandments (You shall!!).
Daniel Clendenin (one Presbyterian pastor) notes :
Nearly every aspect of human life is touched on by these laws: Birth, death, sex, gender, health, economics, agriculture, jurisprudence, social relations, hygiene, marriage, behavior, and even ethnicity. (Gentiles like us were automatically considered impure.) Everything from menus planning to tattoos is covered.
The Pharisees’ intent was to trap Jesus into saying something disrespectful or something nonsensical. Those were really the choices: If he held up one law as more important, he’s be disrespecting the rest, and disrespecting God who gave ALL the laws. And if he didn’t – if he said here as he had before that he had come to fulfill ALL the law – then the easy follow up question would be, “So getting a tattoo is as bad as murder?” Trying to rank sins . . . that’s a no win conversation, let me tell you.
It’s no surprise that Jesus wasn’t tricked. He responds to this test out of His own love – not only for the law, but for God who gave it and the people who receive it in faith.
The first part of His answer comes from the Shema - the most often repeated statement of the Jewish faith: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
And, Jesus went on, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This command, too, comes from the law the Pharisees loved. It comes right between rules against slander, rules for having sex with a slave, and rules about how long a fruit tree should be planted before you eat of its fruit. In fact the whole verse is:
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against anyone, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Just like that, our Lord and Savior, God’s own Son linked love of God with love of neighbor. On these two, he said, hinge all the law and all the other sacred writings. I’ve heard it explained (Edward Marquart – Sermons from Seattle) that these two commandments function like hinges for a door. When you look around at doors – cabinet doors, interior doors, all old doors, there are two hinges. The door doesn’t work, it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, it isn’t any good to anybody as an entrance or an exit unless it has two hinges. Not one. You can’t hang a door on one hinge. It takes both hinges to hang a door. And Jesus makes sure we know that love for God and love for neighbor are both essential to a right relationship with Him.
The New Testament makes clear that this connection between professing to love God and showing actual loving actions toward our neighbors is central to the Christian faith. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus saying this exact same thing. The Apostle Paul repeats the commandment in several of his letters. So does James – emphatically! And the letters of John – especially the first one – are like dissertations on this theme. Our affirmation of faith this morning comes from the same place that John writes, “If people say, “I love God,” but they hate their brothers and sisters, they are lying. Those who don’t love their brothers and sisters cannot love God. Whoever loves God must also love their neighbors.”
I guess here is where we could ask “Why?” Why do I have to love my neighbor in order to love God? God is so good, and my neighbor is a pain in the neck. God is always with me, but I can shut my neighbor out. God loves me, but my neighbor doesn’t think I’m so hot. Why does loving God mean I have to love my neighbor?
Jesus doesn’t get into the “why” questions. He just says, these two commandments are vital, do them and live. He doesn’t say think about them, or sing about them, or memorize them, or recite them 5 times a day. He says DO them. These are not the two best suggestions. They are the two greatest commandments. And they go together.
The question for us isn’t why – it is “how?” And for that question, there are answers:
Each of us has many opportunities to treat others in a loving way every day.
We can do kind things for members of our family. But we can do more:
We can consider the well being of those with whom we share our schools, our communities, our workplaces, the roads we drive on and the stores where we shop. But we can do more.
We can purge our closets and our pantries of coats, and clothing and cans of corn that poorer folk could use. But we can do more.
We can be the church in mission. The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning. Mission is just a church-y word for love. It isn’t even the more au courant word. To be hip now, Presbyterians have to say the church is “missional”. Whatever. Mission means that
As a church, we can pool some of our resources with brothers and sisters in the church and extend help to homeless women by furnishing a room for them. That how we love. We can send our young people to work with impoverished children in Benton Harbor Michigan. That’s how we love. We can help underwrite a medical team’s trip to Honduras to surgically repair children’s with hare lip and cleft palate. We do it for love. We can provide cleaning supplies and construction materials to victims this year’s floods through Presbyterian Disaster Relief. Because we would need those things if it happened to us. We can set aside part of the crop from our church farm to help farmers in Armenia get established. Because love of others is Jesus’ command.
These are some of the steps that we take as members and friends of Philo Presbyterian. Our Board of Deacons are so excited to tell you about these projects at the luncheon following worship today. Love is exciting and this is all about Love.
We love our neighbors by stepping beyond our selves, beyond our church walls and our church family. By stepping out in faith and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Shall we take that step together?