Summary: PENTECOST 23, YEAR A - To Love God with all that we are and all that we have is only half of the Greatest commandment. The second half is to become divine conduits of God’s love to ourselves and to our neigbors.
Karl Barth is a world famous theologian and prolific author. He has written volumes on theology which are required reading in most seminaries. Once he was in Richmond, Virginia addressing a seminary audience. He had spoken for several hours and then had been drilled with questions. Finally, growing tired, he said, "I will take just one more question." A seminarian student asked, "Dr. Barth, you have written so much and said so much in your life. Could you please sum it all up for us give us just one thing we all could live by?” How would you answer a question like that? If you had to boil down the essentials of life into one sentence, what would it be? Jesus was confronted with that very question. As Matthew continues the story of Jesus’ debate with the Scribes and Pharisees he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Of all the law, all that God has made known, what is the one principle we can live by? And without a pause Jesus answered, “Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Good answer, but suprisingly not a new answer. In fact Jesus was repeating some well known teachings. Love God - no Jew would disagree with that statement. Of all the obligations the Torah demanded, every rabbi, every scribe, every priest saw this as essential, above every other obligation in life. It was the Shema, the beginning of the Covenant of Israel. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God the Lord alone. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.” It was the beginning and the end of all Jewish piety, it was the source for every one from king to ditch digger. On that point there was total agreement. There could have been no dispute. But Jesus didn’t stop there and that is the problem. Jesus went on to paralleled this greatest truth with another - “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Any well trained Jew, any skilled teacher of the Law could retort, “This one is like the first and greatest commandment? But what about the 10 ? have no idols, honor God’s name, keep the Sabbath,... Why this above those Moses himself carried from the presence of God on Sinai?” Because, said Jesus, ‘you keep these two and all others are fulfilled.’
So what did Jesus mean when he said, “Love God...” Is it singing hallelujahs, sitting in church - or even on a committee, and giving generous donations. Or is it something else? When you think of people who are said to love God do you think of people like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, Peter and Paul, and the 1000s of others who have devoted themselves to serving God? Is this what Jesus meant when he said, “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind?” YEAH!!! But what Jesus was pointing to, what all these people share in common, is not that they were saints, or had chosen a religious vocation. What they hold in common is a passion for God. A passion like Christ had a passion. A story is told of a New Hartford, Ct, minister Rev. Edward Griffin who wrote to a friend, that although revival was breaking out in the surrounding communities nothing was happening in his town. In response he entered his study one day and cried to God to bless him, and remember his community. While he was praying the words of the 62 Psalm came to him, “My soul, wait thou only upon God, for my expectations is from him.” It was so powerful that he set that passage as the text of his sermon. On the following Sunday morning he was so wrought up in spirit that when he went into the sanctuary he was unaware of anyone else. He didn’t see them because his focus was wholly on God. When he had completed preaching the sermon 40 men followed him home, seeking the God who could capture such devotion.
We can understand this passion to love God so fully, we can recognize it in others and even long for it in our own lives. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. And that’s a problem isn’t it. We would like nothing more than a warm fuzzy spiritual connection. But Jesus won’t stop there. Jesus understood loving God has a corollary - an equally valid passion. Love your neighbor as yourself. To have a passion for God alone is not enough, but to be filled with His passion for us and for our neighbor that is to know God’s love. It’s one thing to have a passion for God, but the second commandment is about being filled with God’s passion for us, for ourselves and for our neighbor. True devotion to God transforms us into conduits of his devotion to us and to those around us. That is what was amazing about Rev. Griffin - Though his focus was on God alone, it impacted all those around him, and was, in the end, the answer to Griffin’s prayer for his community. Love God with a palpable passion, then share that love with your neighbor. If you think that is humanly impossible, you’re right -- it is. But God never said we had to do it under our own power. Rather we are to give the love that we have to God love God as we are with what we can of heart, mind and soul and allow God to transform that love and us, into divine conduits of God’s unending love to us and our neighbor. Human love, united with Divine Love, in a gift of Love. Does that really seem so impractical? Is it so hard to live that kind of love? Only if you expect the impossible.