20 Pentecost—Proper 25-A
October 26, 2014
Ps 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Rabbis tell us that there are 613 commandments in their Scriptures—and all 613 come from God, not as a burden, but as a gift—for when we know the mind of the creator we know the way to walk that goes with the flow of creation. But since that’s a lot of laws rabbis often argue which are the greatest and which are the least important.
Jesus gives his answer by putting together two verses: Deuteronomy 6:5—5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
And the second half of Leviticus 19:18: “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Jesus says from these two commandments hang everything else written in the Torah and in the Prophets.
No need to memorize the other 611—do these two and you’ll be in line with the will of the creator.
As Jesus says to another lawyer in Luke’s gospel: do these two and you will live.
Here’s the secret of life: do these two and you’ll experience all the blessings of the covenant.
It looks so simple—only there’s a problem.
It’s that word “all”. Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind:
But we don’t have access to all our heart—our hearts are filled with desires we can’t control—addictions, for instance, that harden our hearts and every heart is broken in other places.
We don’t have access to all our soul—the Greek word is psyche—our psyches are filled with unconscious complexes and compulsions that we have no conscious control over.
And we don’t have access to all our mind which is filled with voices and vices we cannot silence, much less control.
And we fair no better on the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, because we neither fully love ourselves nor are we capable of totally seeing that we are connected to our neighbors as in the same way the hand is connected to the body. Instead our default setting is to see our neighbors as strangers who are to be judged, or feared, or hated, and sometimes to be killed.
So from the get-go we are sunk.
So in these two laws we may have the secret of life but we are no closer to being able to live that secret.
I think of it this way: It’s like someone has a thousand pound barbell and says all joy and happiness is yours: all you have to do is carry the barbell wherever you go.
The day we recognize the fact that we are incapable of living as we know we should live and as we WANT to live—can be the first day of the journey of new life.
It is the day we climb off our pedestal of self-deception and moral hypocrisy and join the human race, confessing that we too have broken hearts, dark souls, and confused minds; and are scared of the other.
It is the day we see Moses, not just as the greatest prophet, which he is, but also as our brother, because he couldn’t hold that thousand pounds either, even though he had every advantage:
He is called by God at the burning bush to liberate God’s people, he spends 40 days in the cloud of God’s luminous darkness on Mount Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments, yet at the end of his life he hasn’t earned the right to enter the Promised Land.
Because God says to him earlier in Deuteronomy: “You shall die there on the mountain that you ascend and shall be gathered to your kin, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his kin; 51 because both of you broke faith with me among the Israelites at the waters of Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to maintain my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Although you may view the land from a distance, you shall not enter it—“
If Moses can’t hold the 1000 pound barbell, what chance do we have?
What about King David: he defeats Goliath in the Valley of Elah, he defeats the Philistines and returns the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, he whom God calls “a man after my own heart”.
Not even David can carry that weight it as he walks along the roof of the palace and sees Bathsheba bathing.
And David as a parent? Solomon becomes the great king, but David’s son, Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar. David’s son Absalom kills Amnon and then leads a rebellion against his father. Yet, at Absalom’s death David cries out, “Absalom, Absalom, would that I had died instead of you!”
So what good is the Law if we can’t do it?
Martin Luther, the greatest protestant reformer, says that in our frustration and despair to live the law we finally, by God’s grace, throw ourselves onto the mercy of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
By God’s grace we turn our lives over to the One who does love God with all his heart, soul, and mind. We surrender ourselves to the One who does love his neighbor as himself.
This is why Jesus starts talking about the Messiah after he gives the summary of the Law: the Messiah is David’s son, but he is also so much greater, that David calls him Lord, the one who sits at the right hand of God Almighty.
Jesus loves God and loves neighbor with the perfect one love from the heart of the Triune God.
And here’s the thing: Jesus carries the weight of God’s love, which means, beloved, that Jesus loves you and me and the stranger as he loves himself and as he loves God.
The Law drives us to despair as we look inside ourselves and see how weak our love is. Our only hope is to look at how great Christ’s love is for us. We are part of that weight he carries—all the way to the cross, to the empty tomb, all the way into heaven itself.
This is what we must focus on when our conscience is attacking us, when our soul is reminding us of how partial our love of God and neighbor is.
IN a few moments—five of our young people will celebrate the Rite of Manhood and Womanhood.
Their parents will lay their hands on them, acknowledging that their children are entering a new phase on the Journey to Adulthood.
But let’s be clear what is happening: these young people are not saying they no longer need their parents. They are not saying they’re ready to strike out on their own as free actors in the world. And certainly they are not saying they are capable of fulfilling the two great commandments.
What they are saying is that they are willing to take new responsibility for their own lives and to follow Christ, the One who loves them with all the love of their creator. The One who will lead them to become who God creates them to be.
Those of us who remember what it is like to be 13 know these young people are entering a time when they will gain personal power even in the midst of feeling helpless against the powers within them.
They are growing into the awareness that we have every day: Which is the awareness Paul puts this way in Romans 7: He writes:
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?25
By God’s grace we know this despair. Our prayer for them and for us is that we know the rest of the story—and surrender to it, for Paul goes on to say:
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit[a] of life in Christ Jesus has set you[b] free from the law of sin and of death.3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.[d]