Sermon for 22 Pentecost, Year A
Based on Matt. 22: 34-40
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"Loving God & Neighbour"
One of the popular songs that I recall several years ago went something like this: "What the world needs now is love sweet love, it's the only thing there's just so little of." Albert Einstein is reported to have said that if the world is going to survive, people must learn how to love.
What people crave, want and need from one another is ultimately love. The Bible teaches that, at the heart of all things is a God of love. Indeed, love is God's primary attribute, nature and essence. First and last, God is loving. In our gospel today, this is what God calls us to be. Jesus teaches us that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second is to love our neighbours as ourselves.
What the world needs; what people crave, want and need; what God wills; is summed up with that one word: love. In some circles, it has been and maybe still is rather unpopular to even speak of the word love, since it has so many connotations which cause misunderstanding and confusion. Yet, as Christians, I believe that it's a cop out to abandon the word love. Our task and challenge is to reclaim the word love in such a way that is faithful to our Scriptures and traditions as well as meaningful for people today. One of the best ways of doing that, I believe is not getting bogged down in definitions, but to teach through stories. For it is through the telling of stories that the meaning of love is revealed.
Most of the world's greatest problems are caused by a lack of love. Many of the crimes that people commit are due to a lack of being able to give or receive love. I remember the tragic story of several years ago about a young man named Richard. This young man's story is one of one heart-break after another. It's a story of child neglect and abuse. Richard's life was full of abandonment, betrayal and rejection. He, along with his brothers and sisters were wards of the state and were separated and reunited many times. Richard was sent from one foster home to another, without anyone ever dealing with the root cause of his problems. He needed help, love and acceptance.
In desperation, he attempted suicide unsuccessfully more than once. Neither social services nor foster parents were able to help Richard. In fact, the last foster parents that Richard lived with were told by his case worker that Richard was not suicidal. After all of the rejection, abuse and betrayal, Richard could no longer cope~he successfully committed suicide. By the end of his life, he had lived in 16 different foster homes. He was a person who ultimately craved, wanted, needed love. His crying out for love tragically fell on deaf ears. There are millions of Richards in our world who are also crying out for love. What the world indeed needs is love sweet love.
Jesus, in the gospel today hits the nail on the head when he says to love God and neighbour is what people need the most in life. His words are just as true and relevant for us today as they were in his own day. What, then, do we Christians today make of these words of Jesus to love God and neighbour?
Many people today speak of love in relation to their selfish needs and interests. For example, some people say: "I just love apple pie," or "I love my new computer." When love is used in this manner, the emphasis is, most of the time, on the self and not on others or on God. However, Jesus turns that around in our gospel today, by focusing on love of others and God. Thus, to be a loving person; to love God and our neighbour means that we think of the needs and interests of others and God. Interestingly enough, most of us discover that when we spend our live fulfilling and serving the needs of our neighbour, our own needs and interests are also fulfilled. In this way, we love God too. I know that is true of me personally.
When I feel too turned in upon myself, I become less concerned with serving my neighbour and more distant from God. However, when I am more focussed on serving my neighbour, I discover that I'm more connected with God and content with myself as well. On many an occasion, while I've served my neighbour, my neighbour has often given me much more than I feel that I've given them. This, it seems to me is the nature of Christian love-it is always in the process of growing larger and larger as it is being spread to the world.
I rather like the translation of I John 4:7b, by the Roman Catholic biblical scholar, Edgar Bruns, who rendered the verse this way: "Everyone who loves brings God to birth." Isn't that true of Christian love as it's shared and spread throughout the world? It is in the constant process of being born ~of giving birth.
The following story, told by A. Dudley Dennison, Jr. underscores how our Christian love is being born to the extent that we're willing to literally go the~in this case~many extra miles in serving the needs of one's neighbour.
"A Canadian hunting guide, putting aside all thought of self, dropped everything to enable a Cleveland man to reach the bedside of his dying father one thousand miles away. The Ohio resident was deep in the northern woods when he got word of his father's illness. He had despaired of reaching home before his father died. But the guide insisted on helping. Leaving his job, his wife, and four-year-old daughter, the guide made the fourteen hour drive and refused all payment for his services. "I've never met a more wonderful man," exclaimed the grateful son."
In the early Church, a non-Christian would, on occasion, make the following remark about the Christians: "See how they love one another." According to one tradition, the beloved disciple, John, now very old and too weak to walk anywhere, was carried into church every Sunday by his friends. As the worship ended, they would assist him to his feet, and he would bless the gather faith community, saying: "Little children, love one another."
One day, a church member got the idea that the old disciple was saying the same thing too often, like a pastor repeating the sermon over and over. But the elderly John had an answer for that: "There is nothing more to be said. It is the final word. If we love one another, that is everything." In the end, they will indeed know that we are Christians by our love.
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