Sermon Sunday October 25, 2020
Some of us remember the 1970 movie “Love Story.” It was a real tear-jerker and featured Ali McGraw (Jennifer) and Ryan O’Neal (Oliver) as the lead characters. The two came from very different worlds, but “fell in love” as college students. Probably the most popular and enduring line from the movie was: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
I disagree. Love means you better learn to say you’re sorry!
So many popular songs and sayings attempt to tell us about love and its meaning. Love is a many splendored thing. Love hurts. Love conquers all. All you need is love. And we use the word love so loosely and casually. I luv ice cream. I luv football. I love mommy and daddy. I love God.
Once again, a group of Pharisees appear, but they do not engage Jesus directly. This time they bring a lawyer (a professional theologian) to serve as their spokesman. And once again, the lawyer asks Jesus a question in order to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” His question is insincere since he addresses Jesus as “teacher” in contrast to the disciples who call him “Lord.” He is playing a game of one-up-man-ship.
The rabbis had counted 613 commands in the Torah, the Law (first five books of the OT). 248 of them were positive commands, while 365 were negative ones. This always happens with legalistic religion. The “thou shalt nots” always outnumber the “thou shalts.” Besides, who on earth could possibly keep track of all 613 commandments?
Nevertheless, Jesus answers the lawyer with: “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 one is like it – you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The first one comes from the ten commandments, and the second one from Leviticus 19:18 – “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus further states that all the OT law can be summarized as love of God and love of neighbor. The two loves are inseparable.
Love for God cannot be separated from love for people. Love that is demonstrated in practical acts of establishing God’s justice through feeding the poor, housing the homeless, clothing the naked – these acts display our love for God. The original command from Leviticus was not that we will merely engage in occasional acts of loving kindness, but it is a social vision. The religious leaders, like the Pharisees, had failed to create this sort of society. Love for God and neighbor are intertwined. To love the neighbor by seeking his or her welfare also involves loving yourself. Our individual well-being is intertwined with the well-being of others. In the words of I John: “those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (4:20).
Biblical love does not consist simply of warm, fuzzy feelings. After all, love is a commandment, and it is impossible to command “feelings.” Love is at the farthest pole from sentimental feelings and is related to the OT word for “covenant love” or “steadfast love.” The primary component of biblical love is not affection, but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our hearts as we consider all that God has done for us. Warm feelings are not what the commandments demand of us, but rather, an unwavering commitment. Love for God is a disposition and a way of life – a direction and a life of actions according to God’s will revealed by Jesus’ words and actions.
Similarly, to love our neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean that we must always feel affection for them. Rather, to love our neighbor is to imitate Jesus by taking their welfare seriously. Do we love God and neighbor imperfectly? Of course, we love imperfectly because we are imperfect people.
But, just maybe, our love for neighbor will teach us how to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. And, perhaps our love for God will teach us how to love our neighbor as ourselves. The message of Jesus in this passage is clear: love God totally, and the love of God is expressed in love of neighbor. Thanks be to God. Amen.