Matthew 22:34-40 - And when the Pharisees heard that he’d silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together at the same place. And one from among them, a lawyer, put him to the test and asked him, "Teacher, which commandment is greatest in the law?" And he began to say to him, "‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘you shall the neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets."
I think I may have mentioned this sometime in the past, you know, in another sermon; one of things that Debbie and I are trying to teach Maggie is that it’s really important to be loving and kind to people, to all people. Now those are the exact words we use: loving and kind. And although sometimes it seems as though we’re fighting an uphill battle, we hope that’s we’re making some progress, you know, impact, because I honestly believe her life will be a whole lot better if she truly is loving and kind to as many people as she can.
And you know, I think Jesus would probably agree, because that sure seems to be his point in that little passage we just read from Matthew, you know, when he told that less than sincere lawyer (imagine that, a lawyer having questionable motives), when he told him, "‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘you shall the neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets."
Of course this isn’t a surprise; we’d kind of expect that from Christ. I mean, if anybody here believes that Jesus doesn’t want us to love God and others, please talk to me after the service. I have plenty of time, the Colts don’t play until tomorrow night. No, I think we’d all agree that love is pretty important, at least it was for our savior.
But you know, it’s interesting, often we kind of leave it there. I mean, we just sort of throw out the word "love," you know, that we should really be loving people, but that’s about as far as it goes. And even though we may say it with sincerity, even passion, generally we don’t really explain what love means or how we supposed to show it.
And you know, I think that’s a real shame, because I’ll tell you, all this love business can be pretty confusing, especially considering the fact that in America, most people associate love with either your typical Mother’s Day card or one of those direct to cable movies that they show on Cinemax sometime after midnight, at least that’s what I’ve heard. You see, for most people, love is either a warm and fuzzy feeling or something I don’t want Maggie to think about until she’s around twenty-eight and finished medical school. That’s love in our world, and so how could a person not be confused and maybe even frustrated when he’s told to love God and others?
And I’ll tell you, it’s for that very reason that we’re going to spend a little time this morning talking about love, but not in either a Precious Moments or a Desperate Housewives kind of way. Instead, we’re going to take seriously what Christ said in this passage and look at the kind of love he was talking about and then we’re going to consider just how we might be more loving to both our God and our neighbors. In other words, for the next ten minutes or so, we going to talk about exactly what love takes, something that I think can make an enormous difference in how we treat others as well as how we feel about ourselves.
And you know, even though we as a society may be a little sketchy about what it is, I think what it takes to be truly loving is actually pretty straightforward and easy to apply. As a matter of fact, I believe love takes four very definite things, and let me briefly share with you what they are.
You see, first, if we really want to be loving, I think it takes some real desire on our part. But let me be clear, I’m not drifting back to Cinemax. No, to love God and our neighbors, we’ve got to want to do it; not just talk about it, but actually to show it. And you know, I think that’s exactly what Jesus was challenging not only that lawyer and the Pharisees he palled around with, but also his disciples then and now to do. I’ll tell you, I think it’s virtually impossible to show anything close to love if loving God and others isn’t a priority in our lives.
But to do that, well, we’re probably going to have to change some of our attitudes and perspectives. For example, we may have to get away from this idea that love is just something you feel and if you don’t feel it, you really don’t have to show it; you know what I’m talking about. It’s kind of like a kid looking at a plate of vegetables: in her mind, she may honest believe that if she doesn’t like broccoli she shouldn’t have to eat it. And you know, that’s the way a lot of Christians seem to think. If we don’t feel love for folks we consider the "undeserving poor," if we don’t feel love for people in other countries, if we don’t feel love toward men and women we don’t like, you know, if it’s not emotionally genuine, then somehow we’re free from having to show it. Man, if we ever want to demonstrate the kind of love Christ is talking about in this passage, we’ve got to leave this attitude behind.
And something else we may need to leave in the dust is the idea that words are just a good as actions,something else we often do in our society. I mean, if I say I care, if I say I feel your pain, and if I look sincere, than I really don’t have to do anything about it. I’ll tell you, there’s a reason they say words are cheap. No, if we do what Jesus is calling us to do, we need make loving something we really want to do. You see, I think love takes desire. That’s one.
And second, it also takes insight; it takes some understanding and wisdom. In other words, not only do we need the desire to show love, we also need to know how to do it and how to do it right. And you know, trying to figure that out, well, it just may take a little time on our part. I mean, if I want to love God with my whole heart and with my whole soul and my whole mind, if this is something I really want to do, I may have to go beyond just the stuff I’ve done in the past. You see, I might have to open God’s word so that I can find out what God really wants me do to.
Man, I might have to do that, because if I don’t, I may waste my life doing surfacy things that I think are right on the mark and completely miss that, speaking through the prophet Amos, the Lord said, "I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offering of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody or you harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." You see, that’s what God wants.
And you tell me, how in heaven’s name can I ever really show love for my neighbor if I assume that I already know what he needs and if I’m so busy talking about it that I never listen. My gosh, how can I love my neighbor if I never take the time to notice that he’s hungry or thirsty or that he feels lonely and lost or that what he actually needs is some help and some hope. Man, how can we be loving if we don’t know how. You see, I think love takes insight. And that’s two.
And third, if we’re serious about loving our God and our neighbors, it’s also going to take some strength on our part, because I’ll tell you, when you get right down to it, love takes a whole lot more effort and energy than never having to say you’re sorry or wishing the best for someone or saying you’ll pray for them. Unlike words, love certainly isn’t cheap. In fact, sometimes it costs an awful lot. For Christ, it cost his very life, didn’t it?
And for us, it may mean standing up to people and to values that ignore the will of God and that tell us that the only one you really need to love is yourself; we may need to take a stand even though that may put us at risk. And it may mean rolling up our sleeves and frankly getting our hands dirty; I’m talking about developing and supporting worship services that challenge people to do more than just sit in pews for one hour a week or maybe swinging a hammer and pushing a mop so that a neighbor can live in a descent home. And I’ll tell you, it may mean opening our wallets and putting our money where our faith is, believing that Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about when he said that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
You see, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no two ways about it; love is not for whimps. It just plain takes strength. And that’s number three.
And finally, in my opinion, love takes patience. It demands that we look beyond today so that we can see tomorrow. It requires us to accept that the love we show may be like planting an acorn, it may take a long time before you see a full, grown tree. In other words, we may have to wait to see the results of the love we show.
And I’ll tell you something, that may be a real challenge in a society where we expect immediate results. I mean, we live with microwave popcorn and instant grits; why not microwave faith and instant gratitude. But you know, that’s not how love works. As we approach God and dedicate a little more of our heart and our soul and our mind to him each day, slowly our relationship with him will grow and deepen. As we try to demonstrate to those around us the same kind of care and compassion that we would like to see ourselves, it may take a lifetime for us to see the results.
No, love isn’t like a gum ball machine: pop in a coin, turn the crank and get the gum. And if that’s what we expect, we’re going to be disappointed. But if we’re willing to be patient and to be loving not so that we can instantly get something back but rather because it’s the right thing to do, it’s the Christian thing to do; over time, not only will we see the world around us change slowly, we’ll grow into the men and women God created us to be. Love takes time; therefore, it takes patience.
Time will tell whether Maggie will become a person who’s loving and kind. I hope she does, but she still has a lot of growing and living to do. I reckon, we’ll have to wait and see. And for us, as we leave worship this morning, having heard Jesus say, "‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and your whole mind’ and ‘you shall the neighbor as yourself’ and knowing that love takes desire and insight, strength and patience, well, I guess time will tell for us too.