When the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, "‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity 10/03/21
God Means What He Says
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
This morning I intend to preach on only half of the Gospel lesson. It is not that the whole Gospel and all of the words are not important - it is just that I want to focus on the answer Jesus gave about the greatest commandment in the Law. For a change, I don't want to talk about the context of the lesson or what else may have been happening in the Gospel - just the words. These words of Jesus mean the same thing no matter what other context you apply. They answer the question more completely than the questioner probably intended. The message I want you to take away with you this morning is the title of my sermon, "God Means What He Says."
Of course, God means what He says. Why else would He say it?
But if He means what He says, why do so many people act as though He has not spoken - or say that they know what He has said, and then act as though He did not really mean what He said? When Jesus gave this answer, it was uncontroversial, according to scholars. It was the answer anyone would give to this question. When Jesus faced this question according to the account in Luke 10, He challenged the Lawyer who asked it to answer it for himself, and the answer the lawyer gave was the same. The Jews have known it since before the time of Christ. Christians have known this answer ever since the time of Christ, and yet none of us seems to live according to the answer Jesus gave.
All that the Law, the revealed will of God, commands, desires, and encourages is love. God commands that we love Him with all that we are and have, and that we love our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves. We don't see a lot of that, of either sort of love - love for God or love for our neighbors - that measures up to the command of God. We don't see it in society and we don't see a lot of it in the church, do we?
The first thing the Law commands is that we love God. God isn't talking about some simple emotional thing. He isn't saying that you should feel all warm and squishy about Him. That is where the current crop of Christian music seems to get it wrong. They talk about feelings. I am so uplifted by God, and my heart soars, and I feel so wonderful because my God I so great and warm and good to me!
God says you should love Him with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your mind. He doesn't mean love - as in a feeling you get. He means love - as in how you think and speak and behave. When you love God with all your heart, your love for God controls and gives form to the emotions and passions of your life – not that you have a specific emotion about Him, but that all of your emotions are shaped by Him and His value and presence in your life. It is a love that includes emotion, but which also transcends them and shapes their power in your life.
You are to love God with your entire soul as well. The soul, in Biblical imagery, is the seat of the will. You are to use your will in connection with - and guided by - love for God. Everything you want, and all of your plans and intentions are to be shaped by love for the Lord and, therefore, by His will. For the child of God, the lusts of the flesh are to take a back seat to God and His will. The desires for comfort and beauty and such are secondary to love for God. Personal goals and plans are made in the presence of one's commitment to the true God and in the light of what is God-pleasing and God-serving.
Finally, you are love the Lord your God with all your mind. Every thought is to be taken captive to your love for God. What you know, and what you choose to know, is subject to God and loving Him and serving Him. We often waste our time and our brains on things which have no relationship to God - baseball statistics, football standings, the words to our favorite country music songs. Those things are not evil - and you can do know them as a faithful Christian. It is just that loving God with all your mind means that everything you take the time to know is part of your love for God, somehow - and that you use your mind in service to your love for your Lord by learning and knowing the things most clearly and closely connected to Him.
Think about it. We experience puppy love pretty much the same way. When a young person, for example, has a crush on someone, they teach themselves what the one they love likes and they try to share those emotions - like the same things. They plan their lives around the other, changing their desires to coincide with the beloved's so that they have more in common and more to share. They will often learn things just to please their new love, and to experience who they are more completely. Oftentimes, for teen-agers, they discover quickly that the desires and interests and knowledge of the other does not fulfill them, and they grow tired of the infatuation, and "fall in love" with someone else. Sometimes they don't fall out of love, but grow into a deeper love - something most husbands and wives do quite deliberately. They learn to like and to share the will and thoughts of the one they love, and find that sharing pleasing.
That is how love for God works within us. You love God with the use of your emotions, rather than just as an emotion. You love Him with your desires and will by shaping it around Him and His will. And you place your mind in the service of knowing Him and that which enables you to live in Him and for Him more fully - and so know Him better and love Him even more. Of course, the Law commands that you do this perfectly - with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind.
Who among us does it perfectly? Instead, we love the fun, and the comfortable, and the pleasant. We enjoy the titillating, and the salacious. The dirty story tickles us. Comfort of the moment and temporary happiness pleases us. We love them even when they have no connection to our love for God - and often even when it is clearly contrary to our love for God.
We all want the good life - whether that is the best thing for us or for the mission which our Lord has given us. We desire for ourselves - when God commands us to think about the other guy first. We will to our own advantage, even when the better thing is to ignore our advantage and take care of the other guy. It is just simple human nature - and we are, by nature, sinners.
We often fill our minds with thoughts and images which are not holy, but profane. We use our minds for thinking how to take advantage of the other guy – or to rationalize our values and behaviors which are not consistent with our professed love for God. We use our minds to explain away the commands of God and our failures to be the sort of people we know that God would have us be. Rather than loving God with our whole mind, we use our minds to justify our sins and our ignoring what we know is the will of God.
But God means what He says. He not only expects us to love Him with every fiber of our being, He commands us to love our neighbors in the same way as we love ourselves. If we want to be comfortable, we are to see to the comfort of our neighbor. If we want to be respected in the community, we are to respect our neighbor - each and all of them. If we love ourselves by feeding ourselves, we are to see to it that our neighbors have food to eat - good food. If we expect people to take the time to listen to us and understand how we think and how we feel - then we are to love our neighbors in the same way, with our time, our attention, and our understanding.
This is the conduct and life of the child of God. This is not optional, as though you could choose to do it or ignore it, nor are we allowed by God to decide it is too hard for us, and quit. Forgiveness does not alter the validity of this command. These two commandments are the sum and substance of the will of God contained in all of Scripture. God wants - and commands - and expects every Christian to do these things. God means what He says.
But who is equal to all of this? Who does it perfectly? No one.
Well, that is not precisely true. But only One has. Only Jesus has loved God with this perfect love - and His neighbor in the same way as He loved Himself. He loved God with His affections by making God's love for us His own. He placed us higher on His table of values than Himself. What does it say in Philippians? Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And He loved God enough to go all the way to the cross and the grave according to the plan of the heavenly Father.
He loved God so completely that God's will became His own - and even in the depths of terror - "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death" - His Father's plan and His Father's will were His own, and He prayed, "Not My will, but Thine be done."
Jesus knew where He was going and what was going to happen, and He knew what He must do — even to the point of crying out in thirst when He had no intention of drinking, but only that every word of Scripture might be fulfilled. He knew everything He needed to know - and chose not to know the things that He did not need to know, things that we not for Him to know - so He could honestly tell His disciples that no man knows the day or the hour, not an angel in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father knows the hour of the end of the world. He loved God with all His mind.
And He loved us, His neighbors, in the same way and just as much as He loved Himself. A greater love has no man that this, that He lay down His life for His friends. He loved us to the cross, and into the grave, that we might be redeemed and our sins forgiven. Because of Jesus, your sins, whatever they may be, have been forgiven, and you are given the gift of resurrection from the grave and everlasting life in glory with Him. Death and illness no longer have a claim on you. You will not die, but live.
And we have His promise that in this world He is with you to keep you and guide you, and that all things will work together - by His deliberate direction - for good for you and for all those who love God - those who are called according to His purpose.
The perfect love for God and man has existed, and does exist in Jesus Christ our Savior. It is poured out on you. Your sins and lack of love have been completely forgiven.
Now, go and sin no more! God means what He says. Forgiveness does not wipe out the will of God or invalidate it. God still wants you to love Him with that love which commands every fiber of your being - your heart, and your soul, and your mind. And He still commands us to love our neighbors - the people around us - as we love ourselves. It is time to re-examine our lives and our priorities and our thoughts and our desires - and shape them according to our love for God. No excuses. Jesus has fulfilled the law of God in your place - and your sins are forgiven - but they are forgiven in order to redeem you into the glory of God and holiness of life - not to excuse deliberate and on-going sin or exempt you from His will.
After all, what is the will of God for us? <Our salvation.> And who would want to be exempted from that? Remember, God means what He says. Love God, and love one another! And give thanks!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, October 03, 2021
God Means What He Says