The Command to Love
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
24 October 1999
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
And so today we have a lesson about loving God and loving our neighbour. Many of us would have found televised pictures of the Queen having a party with an extreme and oppressive dictator this last week distasteful. Here is a man with an horrendous record of oppression and whilst we arrange for the deportation of Pinochet, the red carpet is being rolled our all over London and police being driven around to conceal the presence of demonstrators. And so we have the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount, and what do we make of it.? There will be no direct answers to some of our questions, but there are some helpful things to remember as we are faced with the moral dilemmas which we face.
There were 613 precepts in the Torah. This presented a problem for those who took them to be a revelation of God's will for Israel. How could you cope with them all. Would it be possible to prioritise? Are some more important than others? A distinction was made between 'heavy' and 'light' precepts.
A heavy one Deuteronomy 5:16 "Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you. Honouring one's parents was considered to be 'heavy'
A light one Deuteronomy 22:6 If you come across a bird's nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. 7:You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life.
Both were important but not as equally so! Then some teachers provided a summary of the law to help. Rabbi Hillel said
'What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour, that is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary on it, go and learn it.'
So likewise Jesus give a summary of the Shema - Deuteronomy 6:3
Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.
And Leviticus 19:18
'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.
The interesting feature of Jesus teaching is that he brings together love for God and love for our neighbour in a single command.
Concerning love of God
We need to be reminded continually that church life with its blur of meetings and activities and scriptural interpretations is not what it is all about. God can become lost in the shuffle, our love for God can be distracted. This is to our loss. Love of God is the central focus of our lives which gives everything else which we do connection and purpose. Leave that out and it is like leaving out the air from car tyres and wondering why the thing is all wrong. Love of God gives our life perspective and it also gives us self-esteem. We are enriched or diminished by the objects of our affection. Loving God as the absolute and infinite cause of all that exists, ennobles us as nothing else created can. We become more like God, the more we love God. Love of God affects all the other loves which we have, be it of wife, husband child whatever. Love of God does not detract from other loves but enriches all our love. It teaches us what Love is.
Love of Neighbour
The most challenging thing which Jesus says is when he defines in Luke exactly who our neighbour is. Because he makes it transparently clear that our neighbour is not necessarily our friend. Jesus used the story of the Good Samaritan to speak about who we should love. The expert in the law who asked this question of Jesus would have thought of the Jewish victim as the good person. However to the Jew there was no such thing as a Good Samaritan. We tend to loose the force of this story by calling the Samaritan 'good'. Of course we do now know of him as good, but to the Jew the Samaritan was the enemy. It was common teaching at the time that we should love friends and hate enemies. Jesus new teaching is that we should love our enemies. Luke 6:27 27:
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' love those who love them. 33:And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' lend to `sinners', expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
We can we all love the lovely. Pretty young things always find it easier to get along in life than those with less than their fair share physical beauty. The secret of real love is that is it is not only shared with a few. Real love depends on the nature of the lover and not upon the beloved. We can see this in the life of Christ. He did not demonstrate his love for us in loving those who deserved it. The love of Christ was a love which transcended the beauty or suitability of those around him. Indeed to demonstrate the overwhelming nature of his love he was drawn towards those whom the religious people would find least lovely! His was not a ministry with the in-crowd, Jesus was seen to associate most especially with the outcasts, the unlovely and indeed the despised, both morally, socially, physically and spiritually. Thank God for each one of us.