Summary: This sermon is about the Great Commandment.
Recently Major League Baseball polled fans to see what they thought was the most memorable moment in baseball history. Was it Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard ‘round the world”? Was it Cal Ripkin’s consecutive games streak? Was it Nolan Ryan’s 7th no hitter when he was well past the age of 40? Could it be Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier?
A few years ago the NBA named its 50 greatest players of all time.
Who is the greatest? What’s the greatest? Who was the greatest president? Who was a better businessman, Bill Gates or Henry Ford? These are questions that have been hotly debated on various subjects for ages.
Turn with me to Matthew 22:34-40.
Jesus addresses our relationships, both vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others). What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love others?
What does it mean to love God?
Jesus says this is the chief command, the big one.
There was great debate among the religious leaders of Jesus’ time about the Law. Which command was the greatest? One said this, and another said that. The religious leaders were trying to trap Jesus.
We have just seen this in the recent political season. I have had the privilege (or curse) of witnessing a large chunk of campaigns in three states. Living in the Kansas City area, we were exposes to political races in Kansas and Missouri. Now the last couple weeks have been able to observe politics in North Carolina. Candidates use the other’s words against them. Candidate “A” makes a comment during a speech, and Candidate “B” says something in an interview. Two days later both are distorting what the other said.
The religious leaders were trying to get Jesus to say something they could use against him. Jesus stepped up and answered the question. He hit it out of the park. Jesus quoted a passage that was familiar to his listeners. The Shema was a passage quoted by all good Jews daily:
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
We are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. But, what exactly does that mean?
Our heart is the center of our physical life. Everything we do should bring honor to God. The places we go should honor God. Whatever we do should demonstrate love for God. The heart is our source of passion.
Our soul is the essence of who we are. It is what makes us unique. It is the fiber of our being. Who we are, as a person, should be defined by our love of God.
Our mind is our intellect and thought life. This doesn’t mean we just sit around thinking about God. It means that God drives our thought life.
Love for God should drive our life. This love is more than affection it’s our desire. Everything we do should bring honor to God.
When I first began dating Tammy, I had a certain affectionate love for her. I didn’t love her with all my being. My affection looker our for her well being as long as it didn’t interfere with my well-being. Now my love for her seeks her well-being, even when it’s inconvenient for me.
Loving God is more than affection. It is a matter of deep commitment. It means loving him when things aren’t the best or when life gets tough.
Jesus could have stopped there. Loving God wasn’t real controversial, but Jesus didn’t shy away from controversy.
To stop at loving God would have kept Jesus on safe ground. Not many would dispute that we should love God. But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to quote yet another Old Testament passage, “Love you neighbor as yourself.”
What does it mean to love our neighbor (or others)?
Who is our neighbor? Is it just the guy next door? Or the people in our subdivision? Jesus says it’s everyone. In the book of Luke, Jesus illustrates that through the story of the good Samaritan. A hated Samaritan took the time to help a Jew in need when his fellow countrymen walked by.
We can accept the fact that everyone is our neighbor, but what does it mean to love them? Love is not tolerance. Love is not putting up with someone. Love is more than affection. We need to love others as we love ourselves.
It’s easy to love those like us. We love fellow Christians. We love people that look and act like us. What happens when we find ourselves outside of our comfort zone?
I was young, just out of college, and looking to enter the professional ranks. I wound up at the largest law firm in Kansas City. There were around 1000 employees. By far, it was the largest place I had ever worked. I was naïve. I had a fairly sheltered upbringing. I had gone to public schools, but I had not been really involved. I attended a Christian college. Through college I worked at a Christian-owned print shop. I had also worked a couple summers at Nazarene Publishing House. Now, I was in the world. After I was on the job six months, I got a promotion. I started working with two other people. It wasn’t long until I realized these two people were quite different from myself. My response to them would tell a lot about whether or not I truly loved these two people. We had not become close friends, but we were friendly at work. I was taken aback when I realized these two people were homosexuals. Despite efforts of the media and other sources to get me to accept this lifestyle as a legitimate choice, I knew it was wrong. My challenge now was to accept these two as legitimate people, while not accepting their lifestyle as legitimate. If these two people were homosexuals, axe murderers or Sunday school teachers, it didn’t matter. Jesus died for them.