Summary: A sermon about the greatest commandment.
“The Perfect Combination”
Last week I was talking with someone who said, “There is an ordinary despair that so many people feel in the face of the enormity of the world’s problems.
What can one individual do?”
So many of us feel powerless in the face of so much pain.
It has been said that the Wall Street protesters, feeling that same sense of powerlessness, have taken to the streets to express their discontent, and to try and claim their power and their voice.
And similar protests have now spread all over the globe.
How many of you feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s problems?
It can just seem like too much to shoulder, can it not?
From a loved one who lies in a nursing home bed day after day and week after week…
…to our own aches and pains and feelings of mortality--despair tries to break through.
I mean, what is this crazy life about anyway?
And what can I do to make this a better place?
This is how the author of Ecclesiastes felt when he wrote, “Meaningless! Meaningless!...
…Utterly Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”
Then he goes on to write that Wisdom is meaningless, pleasures are meaningless, work is meaningless, riches are meaningless, success is meaningless.
He had lived a long life and had investigated all these things.
He had searched for meaning in everything under the sun, but had found none.
But thankfully, his search had not been in vain.
For at the end of the Book, he finally writes, “here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commands, for this is the whole duty of man.”
Ahhh…there is meaning after-all!!!
Praise God, praise God, praise God!!!
We know that the Pharisees were testing Jesus in our Gospel Lesson for this morning, but perhaps, at the same time “the expert in the law” who approached Jesus had a similar feeling of being overwhelmed when he asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
To us, the answer may seem a bit obvious.
But that is only because we have heard it and heard it over and over again most of our lives.
But for the Pharisees, there were 613 Laws to choose from.
How was a person supposed to keep track of them all, let alone prioritize them?
There were 248 positive commands, corresponding to the number of the parts of the body, and 365 negative commands, corresponding to the days of the year.
There was also the view that all the commands were equal…
…that means it was just as important to clean one’s hands between every course in a meal as it was to say…
…take care of the widows and orphans…
…which would have been a part of the “moral law”…
…whereas cleaning one’s hands would have been part of the “ceremonial law.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty overwhelmed just thinking about it.
Religious rules and regulations, many of the Jews found, were a terribly heavy load to try and bear.
Of the Pharisees with all their meticulous rules, Jesus had this to say in Matthew Chapter 23: “They tie up heavy loads and put them on [people’s] shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
And God, in the Bible, says more than once, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”
A colleague of mine recently wrote, “As a child I always followed the rules. I remember thinking when classmates broke the rules, ‘well, I won’t get caught doing that because I want to be a good Christian.’
She goes on, “I would distance myself from playmates who got in trouble because the rule says you’re known by the company you keep.
I based my relationship with God on rule-keeping because I wanted to be a ‘good girl.’”
And there is nothing wrong with this.
We should all hope that everyone wants to be a “good girl or boy.”
The problem comes in when the rules get in the way of our relationship with God and our ability to love others.
For the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, the rules had become more important than relationships.
Law superseded love.
Remember how disgusted they were that Jesus spent so much time with prostitutes and tax collectors?
Remember how much they despised Jesus for making friends with the outcastes and the marginalized?
Remember how angry they got when Jesus healed sick and diseased persons on the Sabbath?
The Pharisees hid behind their rules.
But what Jesus has pointed out through His ministry, His life, His teachings is that behind every rule is a wounded soul.
Let’s face it.
We are all broken.
And this brokenness leads some of us to take refuge in rules.
And rules are good.