The Greatest Commandment

Scriptures: Psalm 63; Matthew 22:34-40

Guest Speaker: Donna Williams

You have heard it said that we are creatures of habit. But I want to tell you that we are creatures of complexity. We do not live simple lives. We have complex issues with our work, our health, our home, and our faith.

We often don’t do things the simple way. In the 21st century, this language for what we do is called multi-tasking, which is the unique and, many times, successful but stressful ability to be doing several things, all at one time.

We juggle being a parent, or a spouse, or a student, or an employee. We juggle school, homework, sports, meetings, and practices. Often we feel like we are stuck on autopilot, just putting in our time, going through the motions, with no control of our lives.

We are definitely creatures of complexity, from how we live our lives to how we interact with others, from who we are to even what we have. Let’s not think for a moment that we are, or were, the only ones to take something simple and make it complex.

God gave the Israelites something simple to follow, the Ten Commandments. Just ten simple rules to follow. Were the Israelites content with just ten commandments? Oh, no. Oh, no. In the Old Testament, we find 613 separate commandments.

If you follow those, there are 365 negative commandments, which means they begin with “Thou shalt not.” And then on the opposite side, there are 248 more positive commandments which begin with “You shall.”

If we were to try to follow all those complex laws in order to be considered righteous and faithful, we probably would think the original Ten Commandments were pretty simple and pretty easy to follow.

The Sadducees had heard and seen the many parables that Jesus had done. Also, Jesus had said that he was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and that he is the God of the living, not the dead.

For those of you that were here last week and heard the Scriptures read, you heard that Moses heard these very same words, from the burning bush. These words are also repeated in Mark, chapter 10. We can understand why people felt that they were under assault from this man who claimed to be God, and who was doing godlike things.

But this man was a Jew. He should have known better. No one was God, but God. The Pharisees and others like them wanted to put a stop to it. The situation was getting out of control. The only way to stop this man, who called himself Jesus, was to discredit him.

So in Matthew 22, we read that it was not just an ordinary Pharisee, but a lawyer, who asked Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” And Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

Then he added another commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he ended by saying, “On these two commandments hang all the laws and the prophets.”

Therefore, Jesus didn’t just tell the lawyer and the Pharisees the greatest commandment, Jesus told the lawyer that because of these commandments, there was no need for interpretation by the lawyer. Anyone can remember two commandments, even little children.

So who needs experts in the Law? It’s all really quite simple. Like much in life, it’s easier to comprehend and agree with, than it is to do.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Two very simple sentences that stopped the Pharisees completely. How did this happen?

Because Jesus was right. There is no law, no commandment, to this very day, that does not find its root in these two sentences. Jesus reminded the Pharisees that responding to God’s love is not about rules. It’s about relationships.

Remember, it was God’s perfect love that the Pharisees created all those rules. They wanted perfect behavior for perfect love. Jesus changed this by teaching that the only response to love must be love for God and love for each other.

The question from the lawyer was intended to trap Jesus, and give the lawyer and the Pharisees even more ammunition against Jesus. If we could put ourselves in the Pharisees’ shoes, listening to Jesus on that day, would it be a question we would have asked also? What is the greatest commandment?

We might say to Jesus, “Come on now. Is there something we have missed? Can it really be this simple? You know, Jesus, in the Bible, you have many commandments. Such as: Do not make idols. Repent. Be holy. Sell all your possessions. Give to the poor. Do not be afraid. Feed the people. Live by faith. Be humble. Turn the other cheek. Do unto other.

We would probably say to Jesus that there is surely just one rule, one law, that is the greatest of these. We too would be looking for some kind of reassurance that we are doing the right thing, doing what we are supposed to be doing as Jesus’ disciples.

Would we go away scratching our heads after hearing Jesus, and wondering, had we heard him correctly?

Living in today’s world, we want the complexity to stop, to be removed from our lives. It only distracts us from our faith, our spirituality, our mission, and our goals in life. We want some comfort and peace of mind that we are just not spinning our wheels, trying to multitask everything we are supposed to be doing as Christians.

One of the most prominent Reformed theologians of the 20th century was Karl Barth. Karl was a man who dedicated his entire life to working to the pursuit of theological knowledge, a man on par with Martin Luther and John Calvin.

Karl wrote ten volumes on theology called Church Dogmatics. Yet in spite of all that Barth knew and all that he wrote about theology, when he was asked what the most important truth he had learned in his theological studies, Karl Barth answered, “Jesus loves, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It doesn’t get simpler than that.

Jesus loves us for the Bible tells us so. And it is the love of God, through Jesus Christ, which teaches us the meaning of the law. We all know that the word love has been greatly misused. It is a terrible, complex word for many of us.

Therefore, it is important to remember the Biblical understanding of what love is. Love in the Bible is more than just a sentimental, emotional feeling of affection and gratitude we may have for someone. God loves us with an unchanging commitment.

We are to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The love God has for us teaches us how to love God in return, with our whole being, with a whole heart, a whole soul, and our whole mind, so that with everything we do and say, with everything we are, we are totally committed to this awesome God. As Jesus says, this is the first and the greatest commandment.

But lest we think that this is all we have to do, Jesus reminds us of the second commandment, which is rooted in the first. To love our neighbor as ourselves, to love each other with the same commitment that we have toward God, and that God has toward all His people. To love God is to love our neighbor, and to love our neighbor is to love God.

To love God is to love our neighbor, and to love our neighbor is to love God. To follow God’s law, then, is not a complication. It is an act of love.

Will you go from here today, searching for the hidden meaning behind the words that have been spoken, for the message between the lines? Will you go to your homes, still trapped in your complexity, of the rules and laws that are written in our Bible?

Or will you go from here today, not creatures of complexity but creatures of love? Will you go and live with the good news of the Gospel, that the law was given, not by a heavy-handed God, but a just God, a loving God, who calls us to love God with every ounce of our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Will you go with a new insight, with a renewed and transformed understanding of the law, that the whole law is about love, not about rules? About really loving God and one’s neighbor. What a remarkable and refreshing way to look at all the things that we have to do, just being Christians.

I’m going to have you consider three questions. Question 1: Do you love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind? I hope you answer, Yes.

Question 2: Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Again, probably we all answer, Yes. Question 3: Are you living your life as proof of your probably Yes answers to questions 1 and 2?

The third question is more challenging to answer than the initial one. After all, it’s very easy for us to sit here in the sanctuary and proclaim our complete agreement with Christ’s commandments. The hardest part is following and doing them.

The most troublesome part is the use of the word “all,” such as all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind. However, the answering of these questions, the living of these commandments, is not only crucial, it is our credentials. It is our mark of a character as being Christians. In other words, we can’t talk the talk if we can’t walk the walk.

As you leave today, returning to your complex lives, keep this thought in mind. In your heart, and in your mind. The greatest commandment is to love. God has only one expectation of us, and that is that you love God with your whole self.

Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we’ll say Yes when we should have said No, or we’ll say No when we should have said Yes. However, if the love for God is the core of our lives, then our love will never, never be a mistake.

To love God is to embrace and deliver the good news. To love your neighbor is to share your self, as well as the good news, because you have come to love the people.

At the end of our life, no matter how flawed it may be, if we lay our life, which probably will be dented, cracked, and damaged, before God, if we lay our life before God, as a gift of love, God will accept that and He will save us.

In closing, as we near the Halloween time of year, being a Christian is much like being a jack-o-lantern, made from a pumpkin. God lifts us up. He takes us in. He cleanses us. He opens us up. He touches us deep within, ridding us of our sin, leaves us with a new, smiling face, and then puts the light of love inside our heart.

Let love guide you in your lives of faith. Let the guiding light by which you follow God’s law, let it be the simple truth. Let it be the fruit of your faith. Amen.

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