12 October 2020

Homily for Trinity 18 - 2020

"Where Does Your Love Face?"

Matthew 22:34-46

It’s been a rough few days for Jesus! On Sunday, He rode into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” and then cleansed the temple. That angered the religious leaders. On Monday, He cursed the fig tree and taught some Greeks. Now, on Tuesday, He’s had His authority questioned. He’s had to teach some hard things by means of parables. And He’s been peppered with gotcha questions to test Him. Would He pay taxes Caesar? Does He really believe in the resurrection?

Now some self-righteous teacher of God’s Law tests Him about the greatest commandment. It’s the ultimate gotcha question: “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” Would they finally catch Him or trip Him up? Would they confirm that He’s actually on their side against the Sadducees? Jesus gives a “two-for-the-price-of-one” answer: “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. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The two go together, hand in glove—love your God and love your neighbor.

What does this mean? Bible commentator Frederick Bruner gives a helpful picture. When  Jesus gives this “love command” as supreme, Bruner says, “he opens the hearts of believers, like flowers to the sun, to their living posture. We were made for love…. [Jesus] does not so much give us an activity that can be calculably done as he gives a direction to face.” (Churchbook, 794). When our Lord commands us to love our God and love our neighbor, He does not so much give us things to do; He gives us a direction to face. Of course, that direction to face bears fruit in things to do.

Where does your love face? In the first and greatest commandment, Jesus says your love must face God-ward.

That’s easier said than done, though. You see, you and I are so accustomed to looking in the mirror and taking selfies. We’re quite efficient at looking out for number one. Martin Luther used the Latin phrase “incurvatus se”—being curved in on oneself. We might also call it “navel gazing” or “belly-button-itis.” And what happens when you walk around in life with your face directed toward your belly button? You run into lots of things and get hurt.

We are accustomed to the “love God” command showing us our sin. As our catechumens learned last week, when God gives His commandments, He demands full compliance, perfect completion, no exceptions whatsoever. In God’s grading scale 100% is the passing grade; everything else—even 99.99%—is a failing grade. We do not love God as we should because we cannot. It’s rather difficult to face God-ward when we are so prone to facing self-ward.

When Jesus says, “Love God,” He says, “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” We can also say, “With all your will, with all your emotions, and with all your reason.” If you love God with your whole heart, you make God’s will your will. If you love God with your whole soul, you fully desire God more than anything else. If you love God with your whole mind, your every thought is continually directed toward God.

Whoever loves God with the heart but not with the whole heart is straddling the fence. That’s not love for God, because God wants to fill a person’s whole heart. Whoever loves God with the soul, but not the whole soul has a lukewarm love. God will spit that lukewarm love out of His mouth. Whoever loves God with the mind but not the whole mind does not yet know God as their highest good. That person may suppose to love God, but really only loves God’s gifts and creatures.

Where does your love face? In the second greatest commandment, Jesus says your love must face neighbor-ward. This is the pure extension of love for God. As Paul said, “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Again, this is easier said than done. Just reflect on how every human being loves himself or herself—on how you love yourself. You do not merely love yourself, but you love yourself sincerely; not coldly or lukewarmly but ardently. You never seek your own hurt but always your own safety and benefit, even when it’s most difficult to achieve.

So to love your neighbor as yourself, you must think the same way toward every other human being—whether he’s a friend or enemy, whether he’s godless or devout. Your Lord commands you to love each person as sincerely, as ardently, and as continually as you love yourself. He calls you to defend your neighbor from all harm, just as you would protect yourself. He summons you to seek the profit and benefit of your neighbor as though it were your own profit and benefit. A person loves his neighbor as himself only when his whole life and all his actions have the purpose of serving the neighbor, even to the point of giving his life for the neighbor.

Where are the Christians who can say that nothing but God’s love dwells in them? Where are the Christians who can say that their whole life is only and always a joyful service to their neighbor? Where are the Christians who first face only God-ward and second face only neighbor-ward? When you examine yourself and are honest with yourself, you must join David in falling on your knees and confessing: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Ps. 143:2).

So it’s a good thing we have another question before us today: Where do you face God’s love? The first part of our Gospel reading is all Law; the second part is sheer, sweet Gospel. The first part of our reading brings us a gotcha question from the Pharisees to Jesus. The second part gives us a gotcha question in the other direction—from Jesus to the Pharisees. He asked them: “Whose son is the Christ?” They thought the question was too easy: “The son of David,” of course! Okay, then, why does David also call Him, “Lord”? “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’”?

Yes, the Christ is David’s Son, fully flesh-and-blood human. That means He’s also your neighbor who loves you as Himself. He has faced you in His incarnation, in His life of love and humble service, in His crucifixion and in His resurrection. “See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down” (LSB 425:3). He is also David’s Lord, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God” (Nicene Creed). His perfect, divine love has also faced His Father from eternity and for all time. It’s the same love that led Him to come down from heaven for us and for our salvation. It’s the same eternal love that meets us face-to-face in the washing of rebirth, in the words speaking forgiveness, and in the meal giving His very Body and Blood for healing and living in love.

Where does your love face? Both God-ward and neighbor-ward. Of course, you and I are most imperfect in loving God with our all and loving our neighbor as ourselves. That’s why we seek our refuge not in our love, either for God or for our neighbor. No, we seek our refuge, our comfort, our confidence, our very peace in His love for us. “Love so amazing, so divine,” it “demands my soul, my life, my all” (LSB 425:4). Amen.

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