The Ten Commandments are the overarching, guiding principles God gave us to live a godly life and live in peace and harmony with others. They also show us how we fall short and desperately need God’s grace and forgiveness. In addition to the ten general commandments, there were 613 laws in the Old Testament that Jews were to follow. (If you’re interested, you can read a list of them at http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm. How would you like to try and memorize 613 laws instead of just ten commandments?)
As you can imagine, people wanted to know what the most important commandment was. You might want to know too. Well, someone asked Jesus about the greatest commandment and he gave a simple answer. Let’s look at his answer.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
In addition to the 613 laws of the Old Testament, were the admonishments of all the Old Testament prophets and the teachings of countless rabbis. Jesus said all the laws and the prophets are based on these two simple commandments—“Love God and love you neighbor.” And really, if you follow these rules, you will fulfill every law and commandment listed in the Bible.
St. Augustine, one of the early leaders of the church, once said: “Love, and do what you will.”[i] The point is that if you love, you will do only good—to God and to others. If you truly love God, you would not do anything to disrespect God, injure God, or harm your relationship with Him. If you love people, again you will do only good for them. Augustine said a bad person can do all sorts of things we associate with good—they can prophecy, they can go to church, they can take communion, they can even be called “Christians”—but, he says: “…to have love and be a bad person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from himself.”
Love God with All…
Jesus said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind…” In other words: Love God with all everything you’ve got. Most of us want to pick and choose what we devote to the Lord. “I will come to church on Sunday—I will give God my time—but don’t ask me to do a service project in the community.” Can you imagine what good could be done in our communities if Christians would rise up and truly Love God with all their community service?
Or we say, “I will pray for the church and for people, but don’t ask me to give 10% of my income to the church.” Do you realize how much good goes undone throughout our nation because churches are in a financial stranglehold? The tithe is not brought into the house of God and all our anemic churches can do is weakly limp around making the best of too little funding. I look at our own church and dream of the amazing things we could do in this community if every member of our church truly gave a tithe. But instead, I look at the financial reports and realize that 9 out of 10 people sitting in this congregation each Sunday is cheating the church by not giving a proper tithe.
Or we say, “I will give God my money, but don’t ask me to witness—I don’t feel comfortable telling others what Jesus has done in my life.”
Jesus didn’t say, love the Lord your God with one thing and not the other. No, he said love the Lord your God with ALL—with everything in all areas of your life. I’m so glad Jesus didn’t love us the way we love him. Jesus gave us everything. It was his complete, unconditional, sacrificial love that redeemed us on the cross. And it calls for our complete, unconditional, sacrificial love for God in return.
There are two more points I want to make this morning and then we will celebrate Holy Communion. First of all…
You can’t love God without loving your neighbor…
1 John 4:20 says, “If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” God did not send Jesus to the world for just a few select people. God love the whole world and sent Jesus to save the whole world—everyone. And if God loves everyone, we—for the sake of our love for God—ought to love whomever He loves. Do you love God? Good. This is how you show love for God: by loving your neighbor. (And your neighbor is not just the people who live in your neighborhood. Your neighbor is every human being on the planet, because God love them all—including people who don’t speak your language, people who do bad things, people who live on the other side of the planet, people who practice a different religion.) If you love God, then love your neighbor. You can’t love God without loving your neighbor, and…
Have you ever tried loving people? It’s exhausting! People are rude. They’re ungrateful. They take advantage of you. They disappoint you. They’ll attack you. They’ll “love” you when you have something they want and forget about you when you don’t. And even the kindest, most patient, generous people in the world will soon burn themselves completely out trying to love people unconditionally the way God loves us. And here’s why: You can’t do it. You only have a finite amount of love in you. You’re cup only has so much love in it and once you pour it all out, you won’t have any more to give.
That’s why you can’t love your neighbor without loving God. You see, you need an eternal source of love. When you Love God, you are plugged in to the well of Living Water that never runs dry. It’s a love that can die on the cross on Friday and rise from the grave on Sunday. Any human who wants to love people unconditionally has to be plugged into the God who is the eternal source of unconditional love. You have to be filled with God’s love before you can love others properly. And you’ve got to keep filling up or you won’t have any love worth sharing with your neighbors.
So today, I invite you to come to the well. Jesus is here. He wants to fill you with his love so you can go pour yourself out. He wants you to love God with all that you have and all that you are so you can go love the world the way He does—the way He loves you. And if you will live this great commandment—to love God and love your neighbor—you will fulfill everything written in the Scriptures. But you can’t do it without God’s help. So let us pray for God to fill us with His love as we share this Blessed Sacrament.
"Father, God in Heaven, come fill us with Your love this day. Forgive us for the ways we have been selfish and even the ways we have tried to love others with our own inadequate means. Help us instead to love You with all that we have and all that we are so that we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves. I ask this in the name of Your precious son, Jesus. Amen."