The readings for this sermon are Leviticus 19:1-2; 15-18, and Matthew 22:34-46.
Leviticus 19:1-2; 15-18
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
“‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly. ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord. ‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”
The Greatest Commandment
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.”
Whose Son Is the Messiah?
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
“The Lord said to my Lord:
Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”
If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
This week, I started to write down some of the lessons I have learnt about life.
If you were to ask me what was the greatest poem I have ever read, I think If by Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) would fit the criteria. Travelling on the underground recently, I saw a poem, which I think during Covid-19 and these unprecedented times is a new favourite. It is by John O'Donohue.
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
Jesus was confronted by Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees who wanted to trap Jesus by asking difficult questions. The Gospel reading today asks which is the greatest commandment. There are 613 commandments in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, so which one is the greatest? We know the Ten Commandments, surely it is going to be one of those? Instead, Jesus sums up all the 613 commandments with these words: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He goes on to say the second greatest is “Love your neighbour as yourself.” It is a helpful response, and the two go together because to show that you love God, you surely must love God’s creation. Therefore, we must love our neighbour whoever they may be.
Both of these commandments are mentioned in the Torah. Deuteronomy 6:5, which is part of the Shema Yisrael that Jews say twice daily, contains the first and "love your neighbour", is taken from Leviticus 19:18. So, it is not new, but Jesus has pulled these two together to summerise how we can truly worship God. It is how our Christian lifestyle is defined; the vertical dimension of loving God crossed with the horizontal direction of loving our neighbour. We know who our neighbour is through the parable of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbour is anyone who is in need.
I sometimes forget how radical the concept of only having one God is. In Roman times, I think there were over 60 gods that you could worship, including, of course, the famous Olympian Gods: Jupiter, Venus, Apollo, Diana, Neptune and so on. It is radical to go from the safety of having so many powerful gods to pray to when you need help, to having only one. Even more remarkable, this one God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. The Roman Gods never once had a thought for us, so through Judaism, this concept of God, creator of the universe, wanting time and a relationship with us is groundbreaking.
When I compare the Ten Commandments with the response Jesus gave, worshipping God, having no idols and not misusing God's name fall into place. Loving my neighbour means I will honour my mother and father, I will not commit adultery, murder or steal, and I will not give false witness or covet other people’s goods. The Sabbath reminds us, as Augustine (354-430) said, we have to love ourselves. We cannot love our neighbour as ourself unless we love ourselves. The Sabbath provides us that day of rest whereby we can not only appreciate God’s wonder, but it also allows us to recharge, restore and renew.
Jesus goes one step further in our reading. After answering all the questions, Jesus poses one based upon Psalm 110. This Psalm, written by King David, is the prophetic notion that the Messiah will not just be of David’s line, but will also be far superior to David, so much so David calls him Lord. Jesus’ question stumps the would-be questioners and silences them. We see Jesus as being beyond human, touching the divine, and it is that acknowledgement of his true self that quiets the crowd. We too have to acknowledge who we are for we often have a mask that we show the world; one we believe the world wants to see for which we will gain acceptance and love. But if we are to truly love ourselves, we have to remind ourselves of our true self rather than the self we portray to others.
So, we offer to God who we truly are knowing that God will accept us, love us and transform us.
This sermon was first preached by Rev'd Martin Wheadon at Gants Hill United Reformed Church on 25th October 2020
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon