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Showing posts with label Love Your Neighbor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Love Your Neighbor. Show all posts

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Beautiful Tune

Last week, we started a message series about the Beautiful Church, Christ's physical presence on earth. I told you Jesus shared the most beautiful truths of God's love the world has ever known. Unfortunately, His followers have not always lived up to His ideals. 

We shared a little illustration last Sunday to demonstrate how we shouldn't judge Christ's message by the poor performance of some of His followers.  Did you see it?

In our day, we take for granted how comprehensively Jesus Christian message has influenced our world.  We take so much for granted.  Just consider one aspect–how Jesus teachings are found everywhere in our conversations. We get the following expressions directly from Jesus.  How often have you used one of these saying or heard them used by someone else?

Salt of the earth

City on a hill

Love thy neighbor

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Good Samaritan

Prodigal son

Blind leading the blind

A cross to bear

Pearls before swine

Do not let the left hand know what the right is doing

Judge not lest you be judged

A wolf in sheep's clothing

Cast the first stone

Eat, drink, and be merry

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s

Sign of the times

Go the extra mile

Shout it from the rooftops

Log in the eye

And many, many others

Whether or not a person is a Christian, these sayings are used so often people forget they came directly from Jesus.  And understand, these are not just used by English speakers, but also in French, Greek, Italian, German, Dutch, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Hungarian, and Russian.

Without Jesus, we wouldn’t have these expressions or the ideas they automatically conjure up in our thinking.

However, as colorful as these expressions of wisdom are, they are only minor notes in the main theme of Jesus’ beautiful tune.  What then is the core of Jesus’ tune?  It is love.

Matthew 22:34-40
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.”

Love is the Greatest of All
Jesus teaching about love was revolutionary.  I can’t overstress this, because after 2,000 years we take for granted that love is the highest virtue.  One is tempted to think the world has always thought of love as Christians do.  This is not so.

Prior to Christ, the great civilization of the world did not venerate love like Jesus. Jesus lifted the commandments to love from the Jewish Torah, but these statements about love were buried among 613 religious laws and Jesus emphasized that we are to love not only our friends, but also our enemies.  Jews of his day were astounded at Jesus’ teachings about love. The main virtues for ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans did not include love.  They cherished ideals like wisdom, courage, self-discipline, and justice.  But there was no place among their greatest virtues for sacrificial love.

This is not to say that other great civilizations did not love, but their concept of  love was purely transactional.  A ruler might “love” his people, but it was only because doing so was in his best interest.  A ruler who loved his people and did good for them would earn the loyalty and support of his people.  Ultimately, this kind of love was an effort to “buy” support and honor from the people he ruled.  It was a transaction.  Even the love between a husband and wife in these ancient civilizations was primarily transactional.  Marriage was a contract more about what the husband and wife got out of the deal than about mutual, unconditional, sacrificial love for one another.

There was in ancient civilizations a concept of giving charity (in other words, a rich leader might pay to have a well dug for the community or to build an expensive temple), but these were done for the sake of getting honor and fame for the donor.  It was a transaction–a gift given in return for honor and fame.

But Jesus came along and said, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” He taught us to give our gifts in secret and don’t make a big deal out of it. Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.  35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”  (Luke 6:32-36)

Jesus was the first one to espouse universal, unconditional, sacrificial love.  It was revolutionary.  He said we should love this way because it is an imitation of God’s own character and we are made in God’s image and should love the way He loves.

Well, anybody can talk about love.  But these were more than just words for Christ. His mission on earth was to live out this unconditional, sacrificial love for all people. The ultimate expression of Jesus’ love was his death on the cross for the sins of the world. As Romans 5:8 says, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

The love Jesus championed was ludicrous to almost everyone in the first century. Jesus’ own people, the Jews, who knew about God’s love from their own holy Scriptures, would never have thought to love their Roman overlords.  They wanted God to destroy their enemies. People in ancient times might be willing to sacrifice their lives for someone who was worthy—maybe to die for their family or for their country or a great leader–but no one would die for their enemies or for evil-doers.  And yet, Jesus chose to die for sinners.  Ultimately, the Christian message is that every person is a sinner and none of us are worthy of Christ’s sacrificial death, but He died for us anyway.  This was a whole new concept Jesus revealed to our world.  Through the centuries, it has reshaped everything about the way modern people view love and sacrifice and the sacred value of every human life.

This paradigm shift cannot be overstated. Jesus is the reason our world values love today. Whether or not you are a Christian or even believe God exists, Jesus changed humanity forever for the better.  And Jesus did not do it alone.

Jesus birthed the idea of God’s unconditional, universal, sacrificial love and died on a cross to prove it. However, it was the Church Jesus commissioned–people who believed in Him, followed Him, and dedicated their lives to His mission–who convinced the majority of the world, against all odds, that Jesus’ way of love is the best way of all.

I know the Church has played many sour notes throughout history, and people have often misunderstood or purposefully misused  Jesus’ teachings for their own selfish gain.  But contrary to the picture an unbelieving, anti-Christian world paints, the Church has gotten it right more than it has gotten it wrong. And when the Church has been true to Jesus’ Beautiful Tune, we have pushed the world to be a much better place. And many in the Church–just like our Lord–gave up their lives in the effort. History is colored with the blood of martyrs–some named, but most unknown–who gave their lives to advance the cause of Christ and teach people His love.

You can say what you want about the Church, but if you cherish the greatest virtue in the modern world, one of the things you ought to say is: “Thank you.”

Martin Luther King
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, a day to remember and honor this great civil rights leader.  Everyone knows what King did, but don’t forget he was the Rev. Martin Luther King. MLK was a Christian.  He was even named after the great 16th century Church reformer, Martin Luther. King’s conviction to fight for the equal treatment of black people was firmly rooted in his Christian faith that said all people are created equally in the image of God, and we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And we are to love our neighbor as ourself.

In one of King’s famous sermons, “Loving Your Enemies, he preached at Dexter Baptist Church:
“Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.  Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing. He realized that it’s hard to love your enemies. He realized that it’s difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he wasn’t playing. And we cannot dismiss this passage as just another example of Oriental hyperbole, just a sort of exaggeration to get over the point. This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master. Because Jesus wasn’t playing; because he was serious. We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can live out this command, and why we should live by this command.”

King’s commitment to Christ’s unconditional, universal, sacrificial love was so complete, he suffered beatings, imprisonment, and ultimately lost his life in service to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

If you remove from history Christ and His Church, you do not have a Martin Luther King, Jr. You do not have a motivation for non-violent resistance that leads to dramatic social change. You do not have the civil rights movement. You do not have the abolition of slavery. You do not have equal rights for all people or equality for women. You do not even have America, a land where we believe
“that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

What other essential virtues of our world today would be missing were it not for Christ and His Church boldly proclaiming for the last 2,000 years: “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself”?

Now I want to close by saying there is much more work to do. We have not yet realized the fullness of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. We who are Christians, who follow Jesus as Lord, have much work to do. And our work may include suffering. So let us pray for courage and determination. Let us pray for God’s love to fill us,
because the kind of love we need to do Christ’s work is not in us naturally. And let us pray for more laborers to join us in the vineyard, because the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.

And I call out to you–you who are listening to me right now, but are still not part of Christ’s Church. Perhaps you feel, today, Christ calling to you saying: “Come, follow me!” And so I join His invitation.  Will you join with me? Will you join with all the faithful followers of Christ from every place and every generations who have fought the good fight to share Christ’s transforming love with the world. I hope you will.

Closing Prayer from Martin Luther King, Jr. “Oh God, help us in our lives and in all of our attitudes, to work out this controlling force of love, this controlling power that can solve every problem that we confront in all areas. Oh, we talk about politics; we talk about the problems facing our atomic civilization. Grant that all men will come together and discover that as we solve the crisis and solve these problems—the international problems, the problems of atomic energy, the problems of nuclear energy, and yes, even the race problem—let us join together in a great fellowship of love and bow down at the feet of Jesus. Give us this strong determination. In the name and spirit of this Christ, we pray. Amen.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Greatest Commandment

Matthew 22:34-40

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  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. 

Matthew 22:34-40
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.” [i]

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… 

You Can’t Love your neighbor without loving God…
            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. 

Be Filled With His Love

            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."

[i] Augustine’s Love Sermon -