God’s Reforming Love

luther

The Pas            Proper 25 – Ordinary 30 – Pentecost + 21

Year A – Reformation Sunday

29 October 2017

 

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

Psalm 1

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Matthew 22:34-46

 

Lord of the teasing riddle, whose questions undo our certainty and set us on a different path: give us a heart of passion, a searching mind, gentle strength of body and unseen depths of soul, so that we might love you wholly nd our neighbour as ourselves; through Jesus Christ, the law of grace Amen.

______________________

 

Do you know what has the power to change the world, as we see it, as we perceive it, today? Love. In fact, Coca Cola played on that theme in its Christmas advertising, in the 1970’s “All you need is love” was their slogan.

 

For that reason, the emphasis on love, not on the Coca cola commercials, today’s gospel is always one of my favourites. Today, Jesus gives us what we’ve come to know as “the summary of the law.”

 

Today, he tells us, in clear terms of who it is we love and how we express that love in our lives, that this act of loving encompasses the whole of the laws that God has given us to guide our lives.

 

Today, instead of telling us “thou shalt not…”, as a way to describe the laws of God, laws given to the people of Israel on the steps of the sacred mountain, Jesus tells us to “love”.

 

So, the greatest commandment, the greatest of God’s laws for our lives is to love. (Mt 22:37-38)

 

Child psychologists have told us for years, and my mother reminds me often, that when you tell a child not to do something, that is the very thing they want to do. And this isn’t restricted to just the young, but we can see it with all the children of God.

 

When the children of Israel were in the desert, when they received the laws of God, from Moses, they were told don’t worship other gods. Yet the Old Testament is filled with examples of the Israelites worshipping false gods and idols, falling away from the love of God.

 

Today, horror movies, and Halloween haunted houses have easily, and predictably played upon the theme of ‘don’t go into that obviously creepy and potentially haunted house,’ and we have the cinematic evidence to prove that this still makes a convincing form of entertainment, today.

 

But its not always this clear. Its not always as obvious as the next horror movie, play, or book based on someone insisting on entering a house that even the movies, play’s, or book’s locals won’t go near.

 

Still, when we tell someone ‘don’t’, that is what humanity gravitates toward. That is what builds barriers between peoples, and between us and God.

 

At one time or another, we’ve all fallen away from the love and the glory of God, especially when something bigger or better comes along, or when we’ve been promised that someone or something will put us and our actions in the limelight.

 

At the same time, today we are able to celebrate that 500 years ago Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his 95 theses, his 95 points for discussion to the church door in Wittenberg.

 

He wasn’t trying to change the world. he wasn’t looking to be the founder of a new religious denomination, or even to be the instigator of the Protestant Reformation. Rather, he was striving to learn for his own life, and for the lives of those around him, to love God, and love his neighbour, and to encourage us to do the same, still today.

 

Luther saw for himself how the claims of the church were a weight, financially and ethically, on the lives of those who lived more in fear of hell than in the realization that God loves them, loves each one of us more than the flowers of the field, more than the birds of the air. (Lk 12:22-32)

 

Luther saw how much we knew of God’s wrath, and that we knew almost nothing of God’s love. After all, he joined Holy Orders out of fear. During a storm, he made a promise to St. Ann that if his life was spared, he would leave law school and become a monk. A promise that changed his life, the social fabric of northern Europe, and the perceptions of the Church forever.

 

He lived in, and with, such a sense of fear, of terror of God, and of purgatory, that he was unable to find joy in his life. He was unable to even take his eyes off of himself long enough to see the same look of haunting terror in the eyes and in the hearts of those around him.

 

Yet, Jesus tells us, today to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mt 22:37b-39)

 

Yet, still today, we find that we need to be reminded that we are loved by God, by Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

 

We need to be reminded that God isn’t sitting over our heads counting every time we mess up and holding onto that tally for the time when we stand before God in judgement.

 

It is a fact that we are loved by God, and we are encouraged to love God, and our neighbour in return. Luther tells us that because of God’s love we are freed from the burden of the law. Because we are feed from the burden of the law, we are able to help our neighbour fully in the knowledge that it is out of the love and joy that we receive from God, every day.

 

Jesus tells us, he tells the disciples, he tells the Pharisees to love each other as we have been loved, and by this the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples.

 

But to be loved, to love is still a choice in and for each of our lives every day.

 

Every day, we have a choice. Jesus tells us to love God, to love our neighbour, to love ourselves. Yet, we can, and often do choose the opposite.

 

“Teenager Sarah, stuck babysitting her baby brother, angrily wishes that goblins from her favorite book The Labyrinth will come take him away. When her wish comes true, Sarah must head into the Labyrinth herself to save him.”

 

The ‘punch line’ of the movie is when the character Sarah realizes that the goblin king’s importuning’s of love, that isn’t really love, depends upon her accepting his terms, her allowing him into her life. She grasps the one line that has eluded her since the beginning of the film: “you have no power over me.”

 

Choice. Free will.

 

In today’s gospel, those who wish to feel they are in control of their lives and the livees of those under their influence challenge Christ with delicately worded legal questions. “34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”” (Mt 22:34-36)

 

Yet, Jesus continues to teach us to love. God continues to show us love at every turn and it is when we are able to look at that love, to look at that situation and see how others desire to pull our strings as well as God’s strings.

 

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:     “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies     under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”” (Mt 22:41-45)

 

Like those who choose not to love, as God commands us to love, the Pharisees have wanted to trip Jesus up. They’ve wanted to prove their point, make sure that they have the upper hand, they can dictate who is loved and how that love is earned.

 

Yet in this desire to put Jesus in his place in their minds, they’re forgetting, they’re ignoring that Jesus is the Son of God. That Jesus isn’t just a prophet who heals on the sabbath.

 

They’re desiring to sit at God’s right hand and be in control of dispensing God’s generosity and God’s grace by their own standards, to those whom they feel are worthy.

 

In Luther’s day, those pulling the strings were the hierarchy of the church, the rulers of the day, the ones who were powerful in their positions, and comfortable with that power over the lives of those beneath them.

 

Luther’s only desire was to show the church where mistakes were being made, at the grass roots level, but in the end, he showed us how much God’ loves each one of us by giving us the word of God, the bible in our own languages, and encouraging us to read, to learn, to know how much we are loved by God.

 

Today, we need to be reminded to return to the pages of the bible to learn of the love of God, of the teachings of Christ. We need to be reminded of God’s underlying agenda – to love the whole world, to love all that God has created.

 

In the past 500 years, the church has grown in its diversity. It has grown in the number and the variety of ways in which Christians around the world choose to worship God.

 

At the same time, the church has grown in knowledge of not only itself, but how to minister to the world around us, constantly coming back to Jesus words today: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mt 22:37-39)

 

Just last year, beginning efforts of intentional reconciliation between Roman Catholics and Lutherans, Pope Francis co-celebrated communion with the president of the Lutheran World Federation, Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan, in Lund, Sweden. A step beginning the celebration of this the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, together.

 

And throughout human history we can see where divisions have happened, between peoples, between faiths, and between family members. Yet, at the same time, we are able to see where peace, where love, where the grace of God is sought as well, to continue to be the body of Christ, together.

 

We can see where the love of God shines through, we can see where Jesus teachings for each of our lives comes to the foreground as we return to the love of God, time and again.

 

Human history has never been an easy thing to face. It’s never been an easy thing to live through, because our actions today become tomorrows history. Yet at every turn, we come back to the idea of being loved by God. We come back to the idea of loving God, and our neighbour.

 

Not a love that requires one party or another to change, but rather to be changed by the nature of love that comes from God.

 

Not a love that requires giving up who we are, but rather love that helps us to grow into being the best that we are.

 

God has said, since the moment of creation that all that God has made is good, and that includes each one of us. (Gen 1:1-2:4)

 

Today Jesus summarizes all of the rules and regulations that we have put in place to keep an intentional distance between our lives and God as “Love.”

 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.

 

Sure, it’s a learning curve for each of us, every day. But as long as we remember to love, and to be loved then we are listening to and learning from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, today and always.

 

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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