Sermons That Work

Do You Love God…, Proper 25 (A) – 2005

October 23, 2005

Do you love God with your whole heart and all of your soul and mind? Do you love your neighbor in the same way? These are the tough questions of today’s readings. Loving God is not measured simply by being baptized, going to church, praying regularly, or by professing to be a Christian. Loving God completely, wholly, is born out of loving God through our love of all that is God in all of creation.

Loving God just as God loved Moses and the Israelites proved to be a challenge. God’s love delivered them from oppression. God made it clear that God never intended any of creation to oppress or to be oppressed. That is why God gave them so many opportunities to get it right. Moses led the people and saw God in a unique way. God followed through with the promise made to the Israelites and at the end of Moses’ life they stood together looking out over the summit into the “promised land.” Moses died knowing that they had arrived and that God had provided them with Torah so that they could continue to live the way God intended. Moses had spent his life doing God’s work and learning what it meant to love God and everything of God.

God’s love is also evident in Paul’s earliest record of his ministry. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul acknowledges that it takes courage to declare the Gospel in the face of opposition. Paul does not simply accept his ordination to share the Gospel but to do it with the gentleness of a nursemaid. How might we respond if someone would tell us that they care for us so deeply that they are determined to share not only the Gospel of God but all of themselves, because you have become very dear to them?

The officials in the Gospel of Matthew are thinking very narrowly when they ask Jesus to identify one of the more than 700 commandments as more important than the others. Their perception of what Torah meant did not include the perspective Jesus gave them. When they asked Jesus to tell them which commandment was most important Jesus answered with what seems like the broader meaning. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus knit together a pattern for us. He makes it clear that we must love God with every part of us, and every part of us must love all that loves God. Jesus modeled that for us in his life. He loved God even when it meant that he would know suffering and death. Jesus loved even those persons we might be inclined to judge. We have to ask ourselves if we could do the same. We have to ask ourselves if the readings seem unrelated to our lives or if we could see our own lives in them.

The world we live in might, at first glance, seem to be different from the Old or New Testament worlds—but are they really? We cannot deny the context of the Old Testament story. We read about the oppression of the Israelites and their journey to freedom but do we consider who is being oppressed today? Even more difficult is asking ourselves if we are ourselves oppressors or, more importantly, if we treat every person justly. How do we love God when we are not acting justly?

These are difficult questions. And we have to ask ourselves if we are living justly and loving God with our whole heart and soul and mind. But what does it mean to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind? Since all relationships touch our hearts, soul, or mind, we would have to say that this means that every part of us needs to love God. And if the second commandment is like the first, we are expected to love all relationships as we love God.

Jesus is not qualifying these relationships to mean only people or only the people we want to love. Jesus is describing all things in all of creation. And, it goes one step further, because Jesus also tells us that we cannot love God if we do not love all that God made in creation. This is what he meant by “the second is like the first,” and what is most difficult about the Gospel reading today because of the nature of the world in which we live.

This is the world that is being destroyed by consumerism and greed. The same world that turns its head as the rainforests burn away and glaciers melt away. The world where we would rather drive bigger cars, SUV’s and Hummers, that are consuming more of our world’s oil faster than we can produce. This is the same world that answers the needs for more fuel by destroying more and more of God’s creation. How do we reconcile our love for God with our whole hearts, souls, and minds with these facts?

How also do we reconcile ourselves to loving God with all that we are when we so willingly go to church and then partake in drinking coffee at our “coffee hours” in Styrofoam cups? How does it make sense for us to be more interested in loving the things that we buy with our money while looking away as we pass the person on the street who is asking for help? How are we loving God with all that we are when we choose to separate ourselves from others using God’s own words as our defense?

Every day God gives us many opportunities to “get right with God”. Every day when the sun rises we can either take it for granted or thank God for another day, acknowledging the miracle of each new day. Every day of our life we are interacting with the world around us. Do we loving all our world with all that we are—our hearts, our minds, and our souls?

It is not about proving that we get it and love God. It is about showing that we love God and get it with all of our hearts, souls, and minds.

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Christopher Sikkema