07 October 2007

Homily - Trinity 18

Loving our Loving God
Matthew 22:34-46

“What does the LORD your God require of you?” That was Moses’ question to the ancient Israelites, in our First Reading. And what a relevant question it still is! What does God require of us? As Moses asks God’s people, both then and now, to ponder this, notice the list that he gives: “Fear the LORD your God…walk in all his ways…love him…serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and…keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD.”

It’s a pretty short list, when you just read through it. Sounds simple enough, when you merely recite the words. But that is one gigantic, horrendous, burdensome “to-do” list, if you really think about it! Fear the LORD your God? We don’t want to be afraid of anything! Walk in all his ways? What about having life our way and walking in our own ways, at least a little bit? Love him? Well, that sounds nice, but how does that mesh with fearing Him? Serve the LORD…with all your heart and…soul? We liberty-loving Americans really don’t like being servants of anyone, now, do we? And keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD? Well, that would be nice, but there are just so many – even counting only 10! – and they sure do seem to take the “fun” out of life!

And if that weren’t fearsome enough, Moses talks about circumcising the foreskin of our heart? Sounds painful. And he gives reason to fear God. After all, God is great and mighty and awesome. He takes no bribe – sorry, we cannot butter Him up! – and He executes justice – ooh, sounds harsh!

What does the LORD God require? It sounds like a lot! It sounds like everything! And that, dear friends, is the correct answer. God requires our all – not a partial commitment, not a marriage of convenience, not a social engagement once a week or every now and again. God wants us completely. God wants us all the way, with every fiber of our being, every thought in our brain, every feeling in our heart, every word we utter, and every little thing we do. What does God require of us? Simply everything.

You see, that shows us just how much He loves us. He’s not a burdensome taskmaster or a cruel slave driver. He does not require everything of us so as to watch us squirm in discomfort as we make futile attempts to measure up. It’s not like we must try to live our lives as square pegs vainly trying to fit ourselves into the round holes of His favor. Not at all! Rather, as Scripture also says, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7). He truly is our all-loving, jealous God who wants us all to Himself. After all, we were created to love Him above all things. He is our heavenly Father who first loved us by creating us to live exactly as He requires, not as robots, but as living, breathing human beings who joyfully love Him in return. As Moses also says today, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heavens of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples.” That’s just how much your LORD God loves you.

We can see that same love in Jesus, the Son of God, as He teaches in our Gospel reading. When a law expert from the Pharisees comes to test Jesus, God’s requirements again take center stage. The law expert says, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus recalls what Moses had said: “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 first commandment.” Again, God wants you to love Him with every fiber of your being, because He has already loved you with every fiber of His infinite, eternal being.

Then Jesus goes one step further than citing the one great commandment in God’s Law. He cites a second one…and He joins it with the first one in a most healthy and heavenly marriage. “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Ah, what God has joined together, let us not separate! If we love God, we will also love our neighbor. And how we treat our neighbor proves and shows how we love God. St. John, one of Jesus’ apostles learned this point quite well. He wrote the same thing: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn. 4:20-21).

You see, it’s not enough just to think or say we love God. It’s much more than a mental head trip in which we can picture God the way we want Him to look and act, and then claim we love Him. Loving God involves much more than sticky, sweet feelings for the Savior. When Jesus marries love for God with love for neighbor, He pretty much gives this message: “So, you say you want to love God? Well, show your love for God by loving the people whom God puts around you in life.”

Ouch! That’s almost as painful as that circumcise the foreskin of your heart thing. Or maybe it’s exactly the same! The proof for our love for God rests in how we love our neighbor. How do we love the neighbor who treats us rudely? How do we love the person who seems so cruel and spiteful toward us? How do you love the friend who puts you off or won’t answer your calls or emails? How do you love the co-worker who is such a jerk and treats you like dirt? How do you love the family member who seems either insensitive or just plain vindictive? How do you treat the person – whoever it may be – who is unkind, vicious, and hate-filled toward you? How do you respond? That shows how well you really love God.

To be honest, we don’t do very well, do we? Can we truly love our rude, cruel, or insensitive neighbor with every fiber of our being? Nope. Here’s where we falter and fall. Here’s where we inject ourselves with the poisons of bitterness, anger, hatred and malice – things that come from Satan, not from God. And what untold damage these poisons do! They certainly weaken us even more and prohibit us from truly loving the God who loves us.

So, our only hope and help come from the One Man who truly does love those who hate and reject Him – our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we see the perfect marriage of loving God and loving neighbor. He loves God and thus comes to seek and save us who are lost in our lack of love. And He loves us even though we human beings treat Him shamefully by putting Him on a cross. This Man who is both David’s son and David’s Lord, takes on our human flesh and blood to heal us from being so loveless. This Lord from eternity and David’s descendant suffers the nails in His wrists, the crown of thorns, the blood pouring out, the agony of suffocation on the cross – all out of love for the likes us of! This same Jesus, Son of God and son of David, rose again to usher us into the life of loving God and loving our neighbor for all eternity. You see, it’s how we were created to live, and it’s how He restores us to live in His life, death, and resurrection.

Now that’s what I call loving our loving God! As St. John says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:10-11). Remember that as you come to the Lord’s Table today. Here, your living and loving Lord Jesus Christ gives you His medicine of immortality – His very Body and Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. It’s the medicine that overcomes the poisons of bitterness, anger, hatred, and malice. It’s the medicine that heals you, so that you can love the God who loves you and the neighbor whom He gives you. It’s the medicine that sustains you to eternal life. And there our whole life, for all eternity, will be loving our loving God. Amen.

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