Exciting or Scary

Matthew 22:34-40

“Bodie the dapper Shiba Inu pulls in $15,000
a month as a dog model.”

That was a headline from a newspaper this week and considering that Elvis Presley’s dad once told to him there’s no money in playing music I wonder what Bodies’ Father said to him. I must admit Bodies ’a good looking fellow and good luck to him although I doubt he has any idea of what’s really going on.

We live in a changing world that’s exciting and sometimes beyond comprehension and I heard a scientist say that the only thing limiting us is ourselves because he is now to the belief that if we can think something up, it will only be a matter of time before we can make it happen and if that’s true, that is both unbelievably exciting and unbelievably scary because going on our track record our inventions are normally used for both the good and the bad. But above all, does this not sound like the tower of Babel ringing in our ears where the goal was to be as God. A goal that I would suggest that in our world of Babel is not something that we wake up in the morning with on our mind, but rather has crept in like the analogy of “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” Not a targeted attitude but a sub conscious “birds of a feather flock together situation” because there are some things we do that we know are not in line with being a Christian and in our own way we fight them as best we can, but there are other things that have crept up on us and become part of our makeup. Things not inheritingly bad and things that we are free to do, but things that fit the description as mentioned by Paul in 1st Corinthians 10:23: “I have the right to do anything,” but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.

How true that statement is because free in Christ we are free. Free to muck up and free to make mistakes. We know that because of Jesus love for us, His never ending forgiveness and the redemption He brought for us on the cross. Fall down, get up. Get up, fall down that’s life as a Christian just as it is for those that are not.

My point today is not about being forgiven of our sins in Christ because that’s the show stopper.  Because you are, as is every repentant person who turns back to God and asks forgiveness in the name of Jesus. A repentance that may not stop what we do, but more like the addicted that wakes every day to a desire to no longer follow that path but then in weakness of body and spirit falls of the wagon as the day goes on and the process starts again. The inner fight that God sees. The fight he fights with, alongside and for us and whatever the earthly outcome, a heavenly fight that has been won by Jesus Christ who turns to His Father and says, Father, I have walked those shores and I know what they are up against and for them to keep the faith in such times is enough and so I ask that you forgive them.  And forgiven you are. Just as you are free in that forgiveness.

Forgiveness in Christ is not my point because that’s a given to all who trust in Christ. My point today is about discernment. Not discernment leading to our salvation, but discernment because of our salvation.

The discernment of things that we cannot base on brief and changing portions of time, but discernment based on the only sure words in an unsure world which is that of scripture. Scripture, God’s Word that is not to be torn apart and used as the right to start wars or used for selfish or misconstrued beliefs and conquests. But the whole of scripture in its entirety. A statement that rolls easily off the tongue but to actually get a full grip on is somewhat impossible through the eyes of fallen human beings and so thankfully, Jesus in today’s Gospel helps out and when asked mischievously by the Pharisees who are trying to set him up of “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” Jesus replies: “You shall love your Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets.”

And if loving your neighbour as yourself isn’t difficult enough, in John 13:34 Jesus goes further and adds:  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Jesus has somewhat upped the ante because this is not just some fuzzy feel good love, it is the love of action. Love of action as best shown in God the Fathers sacrificing his son Jesus Christ for you and me. And in that action, in Jesus walking this earth we see God the Father of love.  Our God who created this world so that His love might be shown. His love that is more than a motive for doing something good for someone; but is an actual activity or event. Our English word “love” is used in four different ways. Firstly, in the sense of strong preference for something, like “I love chocolate”; secondly, mutual desire, as in “I want you and you want me”; thirdly, in the sense of an emotion, i.e. the tone of a desire, being warm rather than cold; and fourthly, a love that puts the other person first, a love that’s full of goodwill, even to one’s enemy, critic or opponent.

No one demonstrated that fourth love better than Jesus Christ, who is Love Incarnate, love in visible human form. The kind of love Jesus showed in all situations was new and different. A love that Jesus did more than speak about, but the love he showed and did with no strings attached to those in greatest need, regardless of their past or present standing in the community. A love so intense yet given so freely that no wonder He was constantly attacked by those who felt He was playing down the need to keep the laws of Moses.

And so asked by these Pharisee’s, the master law keepers of what is the greatest commandment, Jesus first of all makes clear to them that there isn’t just one, but two greatest commandments that belong inseparably together and yet again we see Jesus constantly resisted every attempt to drive a wedge between love for God and love of neighbour, insisting on their vital interconnectedness. These two commandments stand or fall together. Take away these two commandments, and the Old Testament falls in a heap. Nothing in Scripture coheres unless these two are observed. Jesus reminds His audience that the Old Testament consists of the writings of the prophets as well as the laws of Moses. The prophets constantly sought to bring God’s people back to what’s central: God’s covenant with us, a covenant that involves showing the same mercy to others as God has shown to us and we cannot turn a neighbour away without turning God away because Christ’s love for you gives depth, richness and joy to life. His love is a liberating love, liberating you from fear, doubt and disappointment. Nothing can separate you from His life-changing love. “We are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us (Romans 8:37).” Our Lord therefore invites us to love our neighbours as He has loved us. He opposed any narrow definition of who our neighbour is. In His parable of the Good Samaritan, He changed the lawyer’s question from “Who is my neighbour?” to “Whom am I going to be a neighbour to?” Our neighbour isn’t simply someone who is in need, but someone who is an indispensable, inseparable part of our lives – they are an extension of us in our daily interactions.

Our neighbour is a moving target. It may be someone who’s crying on a bus to whom we offer a tissue, or someone who falls over at the supermarket whom we help lift up. We don’t need to waste time wondering if we love the other person before your eyes. We can act as if you do, and consequently we will grow in love for him or her. To love our neighbour is evidence that our love for God is real and genuine. Love of God endears our neighbour to ourselves as we thank God for all the people who have shown love to us. To love our neighbour is not a chore, but a gift given to us from God.

It’s so easy to say “I love everyone” and yet fail to practice love to someone who’s a part of your life every week. A Russian novelist wrote about an evangelist who travelled Russia telling about God’s love. Yet that same man couldn’t stand to be in the same room with anybody else. One man slurped his soup; a woman cackled when she laughed, another person snored when asleep. And so the author concluded, “Although he loved God in general, he couldn’t stand people in particular.”

In contrast in the story, “The Great Hunger”, an anti-social newcomer moves into a rural community. He put up a fence with “No Trespassing” signs. To keep out trespassers, he put a fierce dog behind the fence. One day his next door neighbour’s little girl crawled under the fence to pet the dog. The dog killed her. The rest of the community ostracised him. No one sold him grain to plant his crops, and he became destitute.

One day he looked out to see a man sowing grain in his field. He discovered it was the father of the little girl.

“Why are you doing this, you of all people?”

“I am doing it”, her father replied, “To keep God alive in me.”

That father knew of the inseparable link between love for God and love for neighbour, and he knew to put it into practice. That is the love we strive for.

A love we may never achieve this side of heaven, but in knowing of His love for us, there is reward in the striving, the reward that we’ve heard God and come to understand that even the smallest fraction of His love worked through us can ease the pain of others, increase their happiness and even can change lives.

A love like that doesn’t travel the world like a tourist on his or her own and return with only things to talk to people about, but love that travels with companions who share getting lost and being found, share the joys and hardships of situations and don’t think to leave the other behind, but slow down so they can catch up or even better, go back and ask if they would like to rest for a while.

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