St Thomas Anglican Church, Howrah & St Barnabas Anglican Church, South Arm, Tasmania

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TEXT FOR THE WEEK:

One of the leaders, an expert in the law, tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Matthew 22: 36

PRAYER OF THE DAY

Eternal God, you have taught us through Christ that love is the fulfilment of the law:  help us to love you with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength, and our neighbour as ourself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

READINGS:

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18       Psalm 91: 1-9         Matthew 22: 34-46

SERMON: the Great Commandment              

It was Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem and his enemies were circling him. The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus

They thought they’d found a weak spot which was the occasions when he had healed people on the Sabbath, which in their eyes was breaking the Fourth of the Ten Commandments. So they put to him a curly question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” In their minds the greatest commandment was “You shall keep the Sabbath holy. On it you shall do no work…” Strict observance of the Sabbath was the single-most defining behaviour of Jewish people of the time. There was a long history behind this emphasis on that commandment going back five centuries to the Exile.  The Pharisees believed they had trapped Jesus in a dilemma. If he had placed another commandment over the Fourth then he would have been condemned for attacking the cornerstone of Jewish identity but if he had nominated the Fourth commandment as the greatest he would have been condemned for flagrantly breaking it.

Jesus trumped them with an irrefutable answer. Instead of answering on their terms by quoting the letter of the Law, he appealed to the spirit of the Law by summing up the very essence of the Tens Commandments plus the myriads of ritual laws with quotes form the Books of Moses: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 6: 5) to which he added “Love your neighbour” (Leviticus 19: 10)

Four words: “Love God, love neighbour.” Too easy!?  It’s easier said than done because we need to be reprogrammed in our understanding of love.  Normally love means to like something intensely, for instance when I say “I love my baby grandson, he is so adorable” I am talking about something instinctual and pleasurable. By contract the love for others that Jesus taught and exemplified requires subduing natural instincts and overriding natural feelings to seek the best for someone who has no call on our affections.

When a Jew asked Jesus “Who is this neighbour I am supposed to love” Jesus shocked everyone with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He portrayed a Jew who had been robbed and left for dead. He went on to describe how other Jews on Temple business hurried past him, but then a hated Samaritan stopped and rendered him assistance. By this story Jesus redefined the Old Testament “neighbour” from  meaning a fellow Jew, to meaning anyone in need regardless of gender, colour, creed or worthiness.

The biggest mistake I can make in loving my neighbour as myself is to assume it means loving my neighbour in the same way as I love myself. This is problematical because the biggest barrier to loving others is my self-centredness. This is displayed when I project on to others my own thoughts, feelings and motivations. In seeking to love others as if they were me I ride roughshod over their own feeling and needs. The only way to overcome this is to seek to truly understand, appreciate and respect the other person. To truly love my neighbour as myself is to love my neighbour as much as I love myself, as opposed to the same way I love myself. We all have different personalities and needs but we all want to be happy, to be appreciated, to be listened to and to have our personal boundaries respected. Realising that sets us on the true path of love.

The best and last word on love is found in the First Letter of John chapter 4 verse 19 “We love because He first loved us”. It is fruitless, nonsensical and even destructive to set out to love God and others if we have not experienced God’s love ourselves. We can only truly love when we deeply experience God’s love. Underlying all other loves is the love of God in Christ. It is the gift of being cherished by God as his child, forgiven, protected and enlightened.

And that finishes the loop by taking us back to the commandment “Love God with all you heart”.  In the Hebrew language of the Bible to “to love” to “to know” and are synonyms. For the Hebrew people to “know” someone was to be intimately connected with them rather than being aware of their existence. It is in the sense of “I know my spouse” as opposed to “I know about Vladimir Putin”. What I mean is I am deeply engaged with my wife while by contrast I have just read about the President of Russia. So the starting place to be a truly loving person is to have a deep and intimate knowledge of God, the God who has made himself known in Jesus.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

Are you a good listener?

Are you good at listening to others with a view to getting understand and appreciate them?

Are you good at listening to God as you read the Bible, pray and gather with other Christians?

music

Ephesians 5:19   "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord."

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