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Love Responds

October 23rd 2011

The Gospel reading comes from the middle of Holy Week. Jesus has entered into Jerusalem and the conflict with the church leaders is mounting. The Pharisees come to Jesus with a question designed to trip him up - What is the greatest commenadment. Jesus response indicates that the law is summed up in one word - LOVE. Read to find out more....

Pentecost 19A (Proper 25A) - "Love Responds" - Matthew 22:34-46 - October 23, 2011

Grace mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

I have discovered that one of the toughest things about learning to be a pastor is all the memorization that is involved. It really isn’t one of my strongest gifts, so I have to use little memory devices to help me out. Like, did you know that stalactites come from the ceiling and stalagmites come from the ground because stalactite has a c for ceiling and stalagmite has an m for mound? I recently found this one out; there are 3 letters in the word new and 9 letters in the word testament, and 3 x 9 = 27, the number of books in the New Testament. And when you put the 3 letters in old and the 9 letters in testament next to each other, you get 39, the number of books in the Old Testament. I thought that was pretty cool.

I also used to find it hard to keep straight the difference between a Pharisee and a Sadducee. I would simply put them all together into a big pile of people who didn’t like Jesus very much. Our text today is set in the middle of a large conflict that is found in Matthew 21 and 22. It is holy week and Jesus has just entered Jerusalem to the praise of the people - The same people who use to rely completely on the church leaders. They were now praising Jesus name, calling him the Son of David, the Messiah. He went right into the temple and got rid of all the extra revenue they were making off foreigners.  Jesus then tells a few parables that really expose the sinful hearts of the church leaders. As soon as they figured out Jesus was telling them they were wrong they started figuring out ways to get Him out of the picture. But their hatred for Jesus was about the only thing they had in common. They had very different beliefs about how they should interpret the Scriptures.

So here is the memory trick that I use to keep them straight. A Sadducee is Sad you see, because he doesn’t believe in eternal life. They only believed that the books that Moses wrote where actually the Word of God, so everything that the rest of the Old Testament said about how there would be a bodily resurrection was just disregarded. A Pharisee thinks that the law is fair, as I see. They were really focused on God’s Law, and determined that there were 613 different commandments from the Old Testament. They had them broken down into categories based on severity of punishment or length. They were really focused on putting things into a man-made order so that one could be right with God.

Now both groups have a question that they want to ask Jesus, and they are hoping that by asking their question they can expose Jesus as a fraud and then be free to have him killed. The Sadducees start by asking Jesus what they thought was an unanswerable question about the afterlife. Jesus responds by explaining that there really is going to be a resurrection, He proves it is going to happen by quoting the book of Genesis, which they believe is God’s Word. Jesus responds to their disbelief by proclaiming the resurrection of the dead, the good news of the gospel. The Sadducees are amazed that Jesus could show them something from the scriptures that they had spent their entire lives studying, that would challenge everything they thought they knew.

Now the Pharisees are probably encouraged by this. Although their ultimate goal is to get Jesus out of the picture, it couldn’t hurt if their main political rivals get taken down a few pegs in the process. They don’t want to let Jesus get ahead either though, so they ask a question that they also believe will expose the ignorance of Jesus. They ask Him which of the many, many laws was the greatest. They have been studying the law for their entire lives, so they know this question has been debated so long that any one of the popular answers would have many counter-arguments. They were ready for a debate that would end with Jesus looking like He didn’t really understand the Law. Jesus, again, answers directly and simply. He replies “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” With these words Jesus tells them that all of the Law is important, and that the Law comes from the love of God. Then, as they consider that answer, Jesus responds with a question of His own.

He asks whose son the Christ is, according to the scriptures. The intended answer was as obvious as if you asked your child who died on the cross for your sins. Everyone knew the answer to this one, everyone knew that the Christ was going to be the son of David, it was in the Scriptures. The next question He asks is just as easy. How can David call the Christ his Lord, his God, if he is also his son? It’s pretty simple, He is both. But if they answered that the Son of David, who the crowd believed Jesus to be, was also the Son of God, they would be proclaiming that Jesus was God, and so they were stuck. Scripture was clear, but they did not want to believe it. What Jesus does here, though, is show us exactly how we are supposed to live our lives.

You see Jesus knew that these men were plotting against Him. There was more than just pride on the line, they wanted Him dead, and each question was designed to trap Him so that they could kill Him. In fact, they would later just go ahead and lie about what Jesus said in order to get a conviction in front of Pilate. Jesus, knowing all this, took the time to teach them about love.

The great commandment Jesus spoke of was that God loved the whole world, and we should respond to that love in kind, both to Him, and to one another. Love cannot be faked. It is either genuine or it isn’t love. Paul tells us that in Romans 12:9. And He knows that we can’t just conjure up love because we want to. He loves us first. He gives us genuine love so that we can respond to it.

And Jesus models for us that response. He doesn’t condemn the Pharisees and Sadducees to Hell because they are trying to trap him and kill Him. He shows them the Scriptures. He shows them in the very words that they trust in that He is the fulfillment of all the prophecy. He is the way to eternal life. Jesus convicts them with the Law and shows them the Gospel. Even as they are trying to kill Him, even when He is hanging on the cross, Jesus is trying to save their souls, praying on their behalf.

So the question you have to ask yourself is this: How do you respond to those who attack you? When you get a nasty, passive aggressive email, as you move your mouse over to that “reply” button, consider that you are about to respond to something. Are you going to respond to the hateful words of your co-worker with your own hate, or are you going to respond with the love of Christ? When you are having an argument with your spouse over how little time you have spent together lately, how the finances are being managed, how the kids are supposed to be raised, are you to respond by pointing to them, complaining how they haven’t been doing their part either? Or are you going let the love of God shape your answer?

When you are at school and you find out someone is spreading nasty rumors about you, is your first thought “how can I get back at them” or “how can I use this as an opportunity to love”? When someone on the opposing team cheats, do you use that as an excuse to cheat yourself?

When someone makes a mistake, do you use that as an opportunity to forgive them, or as ammunition for a later argument? When your neighbor comes home with a new television that is 2” bigger than yours, do you respond by buying a new television that is 3” bigger? Or are you going to respond by feeding a family that doesn’t have enough to eat?

God’s Law says to love. God calls us not to respond to the fallen, sinful actions of men, but to the perfect, powerful love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” God looked down at the suffering, broken world and said “I love you, and this isn’t what I want for you. But I promise I am going to fix it, even if it costs me my life.” And out of that love He sent His Son, to pay for the sins of those who tried to kill Him with His own life. And those sins that He bore on the cross belong as much to us as they do the Sadducees and Pharisees. But we do not get what we truly deserve for those sins. Instead, we receive mercy, forgiveness, and love. That is the love that we know, and will know forever as we live in Jesus’ glorious presence when we, like Him before us, are raised from the temporary slumber of death. And it is that love that empowers us to love. God’s love and forgiveness is poured into out lives through his Word and Sacrament and the Holy Spirit molds and shapes us to be loving to God and others.

Lord, teach us to respond to your love by loving with our whole hearts, souls and minds, responding not to the sinful world around us in kind, but in your steadfast love. Help us to love patiently, knowing that you are patient with us. Help us to keep no record of wrongs when others fail to live up to our expectations, knowing that through Your love you see only the righteousness of your Son in our hearts. Show us that love is not self-serving, so that we may joyfully give to others what you have lovingly provided us. Lord, teach us to love.

Amen.

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