1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
October 26, 2014
Candy’s Grandma Ronngren died penniless. A note was found when cleaning out her room that specified amounts of money to go to various family members, some as much as $1,000. The note expressed an amazing legacy of prayer and love.
Even before I had proposed to Candy, Grandma Ronngren welcomed me to the family with a Christmas gift of sardines having heard that I liked them.
You may not think dill pickles and cinnamon bread have much in common but Grandma Ronngren’s dill pickles and cinnamon bread shared the ingredient of love.
I would not suggest that Grandma Ronngren’s family was immune to heartbreak, tragedy and tears. Nor would I suggest that ministry careers are a higher calling that any other vocation in which God is honored, but I do think the legacy Grandma Ronngren’s love left to the Church is represented by 2 sons-in-law who were pastors, 1 grandson who has been a pastor, 1 granddaughter who was a missionary in Niger, now married to a pastor, 1 grandson whose career has been devoted to global disaster relief in the name of Christ, 1 granddaughter-in-law who is a pastor, and a second grandson-in-law pastor – me.
As we have walked through the Holy Week confrontations between Jesus and the Temple leaders, different groups seem to be tag-teams attacking him. The Sadducees thought they had him trapped by questioning resurrection, but he turned the words of Moses back on them. Matthew 22:34-46 says:
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Jesus quoted, apparently in Hebrew, Deuteronomy 6:5 about loving God, which faithful Jews recited in Hebrew every morning. And Leviticus 19:18 either in Greek or Aramaic translated from Greek, bringing the most lofty relationship with God down to earth in ordinary, daily relationships with people. To grow as a Christian, keep stretching your love for God and your love for your neighbors.
The two tablets of the Ten Commandments are the essential core of the Law: the first about relationship with God and the second about relationships with neighbors.
In reverse order, Micah 6:8 summarizes well the message of all the Hebrew prophets. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Mark 12:32-34 fills in a little more of the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer, which suggests Jesus may have recognized he was more sympathetic and spiritually sensitive than his fellow Pharisees. When the lawyer commended Jesus for his answer, Jesus replied, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus did not pull these two verses out of thin air. Luke 10:27 records how when Jesus and 70 of his disciples were in high gear ministry, before he came to Jerusalem, an expert in the Law asked how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus asked what he read in the Law. He answered to love God and love your neighbor, the same way Jesus answered the Pharisees, and then he asked, “Who is my neighbor.” In response Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, which sets a very high and broad standard for both whom we love and how we love.
With gratitude we received the news that Nina Pham has been declared Ebola free. She became a celebrity hero in Vietnamese communities not only in the US but around the world, and especially in Viet Nam (born in Ft. Worth). She has identified herself as a devout Catholic and said that when her mother discouraged her from accepting the request to care for Mr. Duncan in isolation, she said that since Jesus gave himself in love for us, as his follower and a nurse, she would care for him in the name of Jesus.
Now that Mr. Duncan’s family has left their quarantine and lost everything that was in their apartment, they are having a hard time finding anyone who will rent to them. As discouraging as that is, I have been heartened to see news reports of Wilshire Baptist Church supporting and advocating for them all along. So from another quarter, love has been expressed in the name of Jesus.
That Jesus turned the confrontation with the Pharisees about the greatest commandment back on them with a question about Messiah seems disconnected, but it is what stopped them from asking more attack questions. The question boils down to Christology – who is Jesus?
Part of the wonder of Jesus’ incarnation as God in a human person is that he receives our all-out love for God, and it is his love that we spread when we love our neighbors. So Jesus enables us to stretch our love for God and our love for our neighbors, and thus to grow as his disciples.
Through the centuries, the Church has vacillated between lifeless rigidity and spiritual apathy. Just when it seems hopeless, God raises up people who fall passionately in love with God and love their neighbors in Jesus’ name. More than theology, love is what drove the Reformation almost 500 years ago that we are celebrating today.
We are coming to the conclusion of our annual stewardship emphasis. Next Sunday we will receive our pledges toward the 2015 ministry budget. We can look at that as an unpleasant necessity for paying the bills. We can look at it as an accounting process to manage our resources responsibly. We can look at it as an act of faith to follow what we believe God is calling us to in the year ahead. But what if we looked at our pledges as a way of loving God with all we’ve got and loving our neighbors?As I have studied the 1 Thessalonians passages we are reading in worship these weeks, I have thought about the interim journey between pastors we are making together. Look at how Paul described his relationship with the church. Those are the qualities you want in a new pastor, someone who will not only share the Gospel with you but share themselves with you, someone for whom you will become very dear. One of the challenges of interim ministry is that we come in for a brief time, get to love you dearly, and then move on. Candy and I have only been with you two months, but you have become very dear to us. Candy has commented several times her appreciation of your spiritual depth. I trust that in the time we are together we will grow as Christians by stretching our love for God and our love for our neighbors.