- Parish House
Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – Deuteronomy 34: 1-12 & Matthew 22:34-46
The Rev. Dr. Keith Hearnsberger
In the Name of Our Loving and Life Giving God + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
An old saint, being asked whether it is easy or hard to love….replied: “It is easy to those who do it.” (CS Lewis, 1948)
Let’s say the last part of this quote together: “It’s easy to those who do it.”
Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew is filled with a series of questions and responses. First, the Pharisees question Jesus about the commandments in order to “test” him, and Jesus responds with the well-known words, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And then he goes on to add, “And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But it’s not done here. Jesus has some questions of his own. “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” And the Pharisees get themselves tied into a big mess and ultimately are not able to adequately answer Jesus. So, there are some interesting and intriguing questions being thrown around by Jesus and the Pharisees. But the overarching theme that sticks out to me, and to most of all who have read this message from this particular reading, is love. To me, Jesus in one of his most direct messages challenges the religious leaders with the audacity of Love.
Not only does this text have important questions embedded within it, but for me, it raises questions of my own. I love when I can pull a straightforward message out of scripture, which, by the way, is hardly ever. With my ‘black and white’ sensibility (one that I often must rely upon as a high school principal), clear messages from the gospel are such a WELCOMED thing for my meager understanding of God’s message to us. Upon first glance, it seems like the primary message in this text is pretty easy. Love God and love your neighbor. You got it. I can do that! But if we really listen to and ponder the words Jesus is saying, I think this text is a little more difficult than it first sounds. Love God with all your heart. I don’t know about you, but this concept in the 21st century reality of our lives is something that’s kinda hard for me to fully conceptualize, and I am on the brink of my Priestly Ordination! (Kate, don’t report me to the bishop ☺ ). How do you do that? How do you love God with all your soul? How do you love something with all your mind? Furthermore, we usually love things we can explicitly experience with our senses. Things we can touch, see, smell, taste, hear. How do we love God, something we can’t explicitly experience with our senses? How do we experience God in general? Who is considered to be my neighbor? These are all questions that rise up and don’t have any clear answers. So, Jesus’ commandment, which is the core of this Gospel passage, isn’t nearly as straightforward as first seemed. It seems to be bursting with audacity and becomes overwhelming for any who ponder too long. Audacity, as related by Mr. Webster, is synonoumus with boldness. Love..boldness..audacious..The Audacity of this thing called Love.
The words that Jesus uses for the first part of this commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 make up part of the Jewish Shema. Some of you may know that the Shema is the most prominent prayer in the Jewish tradition. It is a prayer that serves as a cornerstone for the Jewish faith. So, the first part of the commandment that Jesus gives, was most likely no great surprise to the Pharisees. They heard it before and knew it well. So I ask you, how many times have you heard the name of CS Lewis quoted in a sermon from a pulpit?
I began today with CS Lewis. I am sure Kate, Ragan, and Joyce will attest (and anyone that studies the art of homiletics with an Anglican professor) CS Lewis’ writings often times provide us with great ‘meat and potatoes’ for writing our sermons. In 1948, in the midst of a personal theological crisis in which he abandons writing concerning theological matters, we find one of his final writings regarding God. After having a humiliating debate with Elizabeth Anscombe in Oxford, we see that CS Lewis abandons his theological writings and turns to writing children’s literature for the rest of his life. If we listen to the Old Testament lesson today from Deuteronomy, I find a strange parallel between the theological Moses and Mr. Lewis. Moses, just like CS Lewis, has proved to be someone who had been a leader in leading people to new heights and depths of their understanding of God. They led people to experience the love of God in ways that was beyond their comprehension; however; right at the end of their journeys they failed to fully experience the reality of God, while still being all encompassed by God’s love. Hum…the audacity of love.
How many times in our lives do we fall short of being present in the reality of God’s love, while still being encompassed by it? In the midst of mourning, depression, personal conflict, addiction? How many times do we fall short of loving our fellow human beings just because they look different than us? Just because they are of a different political, sexual, financial, or mental existence than we might be? During the week, while editing this sermon, I often times stopped my thought process and myself and looked for the love that I could have, share, or give to someone. Was I embracing the audacity of love? Am I living out Jesus’ greatest commandment?
I think when we hear this passage in today’s context, it’s important to ask ourselves: what’s at the center of our lives? We can begin to find the answer to this question by looking at how we decide to prioritize what’s important to us. What are the things we decide to make time for? Maybe it’s time with family or friends. Maybe it’s work or our jobs. Maybe it’s our hobbies, or sports. But, how often do we prioritize loving God? How often do we prioritize loving our neighbors? I think what makes this commandment so hard to live out in our lives is that it requires that we more fully, and above everything else, put God and love of neighbor at the center of who we are. This isn’t always an easy thing for us to do in the busyness that life brings. It requires for us to love boldly the people around us even when it is most challenging for us to do. By requiring us to love all people, no matter how challenging or difficult it maybe, Jesus is inviting us to fall back on an identity rooted simply in the audacity of love. Love someone today; embrace someone that needs to see the Risen Christ in your love; and give yourself and someone the amazing gift of the audacity of love. It’s easy to those who do it.