Sermon for October 25, 2020 Twenty-first after Pentecost Living into the Greatest Commandment
I believe it true, that one on the universal constants is; change happens. Sometimes it is dramatic and by times it is generational. Change is one of the few things that stays the same. Looking back over the expanse of time of the Hebrew people as recorded in the First Testament we see with clarity that many things changed. From the Garden of Eden to the promised land, from leader to leader, from understanding of Yahweh, and even God was moved to change an action from time to time.
From the span of one person’s life the change was not obvious and so we often hear that leaders and even God are stubborn and unmoving. As the people of Israel arrived at the edge of the promised land the only constant in the collective memory was travelling. Being a settled and stationary people was a distant memory told in story about days long ago.
In the Exodus reading the people of the day experience a dramatic change. We hear of the death of Moses; the only leader these people have ever known. They stand gazing at the Promised Land and a new leader is named in the person of Joshua.
In the reading today, which is essentially the same as last week’s reading but this time in Matthew not Luke. We hear that change is about to happen. The people are standing on the edge of the promised land (so to speak) and there is fear.
The teaching for today begins with the failure of the Sadducees to silence Jesus so the Pharisees have a go at it. They ask; what is the greatest command in the law? Those last three words are important for the Pharisees and Sadducees held to the firm belief that the law was God and God was the law, there was no separation of the two.
Jesus’ answer ushers in a seismic shift/change in the understanding of God. “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”
Yeah…correct answer, bravo you got it right…and just as the applause started Jesus said “and there is a second…”you shall love your neighbour as yourself”. This is when the Pharisees’ mouths flutter like guppies, they look at one another and stutter for words. In this moment the rigid, stoic boxed in God of their world is broken open. All of a sudden God is about heart and love and others. All of a sudden the sterile certainty of God is messy and available and unpredictable.
Now before we get too puffed up, we have positions to unlearn before we can live into the hard work of loving God and neighbour. At some point long ago white folk decided that people of colour were commodity, for work and enslavement. When Europeans bumped into North America or Turtle Island they thought that those here were not worthy. In Canada, religious educators forced the people of the land into schools so that they could become more ‘white’ and educated and well more like them. It can be argued in limited fashion that this was done with the best of intentions but that falls flat very quickly. In our day, we know better, we know all people are created in the image and likeness of God, that all people have value, that creation is worth being cared for and even saved. And yet there is a staggeringly large proportion of folks who are unwilling to learn this truth about the nature of God.
God spent thousands of years travelling with the people of Israel, then God relented and allowed King Solomon to build a temple but never imagined that the people would put God inside and lock the door. Since then God has been trying to convince us that that did not work, even to the point of sending Jesus to show us that God was not in that box. And still we are most comfortable with ‘God in a Box’ so that we can define and limit God according to our ego and version.
There are many teachings that unbind God and chasten us to let God out of the box and to actually seal and lock the doors once God is out. But for now listen to these two pivotal and expansive teachings of Jesus; God loves us so much that God sent the Messiah/Jesus to break open our restrictive understanding of God, and Love God with all your heart, mind, body and spirit and extend that love to your neighbour. Our fear of what happens next is over-compensated for by the extreme love of God. It seems to me that when we break free of our strictly and tightly held idea of God…then we are able to begin living into the Greatest teaching of God and Jesus.