Sunday, October 23, 2011

my sermon from this morning: matthew 22

We'll be in Matthew 22 again today if you'd like to have it open.
We’re going to go in kind of a circle this morning.
If you like straight lines,
I hope you’ll be patient with me.
Jesus, you might remember,
is mid way through the last week of his life.
He entered Jerusalem in Triumph on Monday.
On Tuesday he went into the Temple as if he owned the place purging and clearing out the money changers and sellers.
He went back out of the city that night to stay with
Mary, Martha and Lazarus
and came back Wednesday morning.
And now here we find him locked in combat
with not only the Jewish rulers of the day--the Pharisees,
but also the Sadducees,
and, by this time
the support of the crowds is beginning to be tenuous.
In each story he tells in chapters 21-22,
he makes the extraordinary claim of being the Messiah,
someone who knows the will of God (21:24),
who does the perfect will of God (21:27),
who will suffer for this obedience (21:38),
and who ultimately will judge those who reject him (21:39).
In the two sections we missed he places himself
above all earthly powers (22:15-22),
and gives intimate knowledge of heaven (22:23-33).
And now, in these two sections, he ties it all together.
And, we'll find, that no one dares to ask him anymore questions.

So let’s look at our text.
A lawyer of the Pharisees comes
and let's clarify, quickly,
that this isn't the kind of lawyer we're used to,
but rather, an expert in the law of God,
and, in this case,
a spokesman for the pharisees.
He’s not just a random lawyer walking up,
this is a loaded question intended to entrap Jesus.
He asks, 'which is the greatest law?'
This particular question was kind of a hot topic of the day.
There are documented to be 613 laws in the Torah,
and many many teachers of the day
spent much much time categorizing them
and giving some more weight than others.
Which laws are the weightiest, the heaviest,
which are lighter.
The ordinary person would encourage such a debate, surely. Because the weight of the whole law was very great.
To keep every law would be very difficult,
indeed impossible.
Part of what happened in this over all debating
and clarifying
and arguing
is that Pharisees
in particular
began putting hedges around the law.
The law to keep the Sabbath,
for instance,
is so weighty,
so important,
that to help you not violate that law,
they added helps--
don't walk this far, don't kindle a fire, etc.--
which then became subsumed in the law itself.
So, even by the time of Jesus,
the law had grown beyond the 613.
The purpose of the Law from God’s perspective,
was to get at the heart of the person following it.
The Law starts with the persons relationship with God
and moves on to action and right living.
But over time,
as all the helps and hedges were added,
the focus and purpose of the Law shifted
to be mainly that of action, of doing all the right things.
As you read through the Old Testament,
you’ll see God increasingly angry about this shift--
You bring sacrifices, he says,
but your hearts are far from me.
You’re going through the motions.
I don’t want your sacrifices.
I want your hearts.
Jesus, from the beginning of his ministry,
went straight to the center of this problem.
He calls the Pharisees whitewashed tombs--
all the right action,
but with a heart of death.
In order not to hear this message,
the Pharisees accused Jesus of actually trying
to overturn the law,
or get rid of it,
or supersede it.
Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests,
everybody held the Law of Moses,
even if they disagreed about how to interpret it or live it out,
in a place of supreme honor and authority.
If they could all get Jesus to put himself over the law of Moses they would be the winners--
he would loose the support of everybody
up and down the whole length of Israel.
But you'll notice here that Jesus very very much just does not supersede the Law.
In fact, he cuts right to the heart of the law
they all say they follow.
Let's look at what he says.
'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart a with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend,
or hang,
all the Law--that's the first five books of the Old Testament--
and the Prophets--that's the rest.
If you know anything about the Old Testament,
and the Law of Moses in particular,
this is the center point of the Law.
This--Love the Lord your God bit is called the sh’ma.
You say it when you rise up and when you lie down.
You write it on the door posts of your house.
A really devout person would write it and put it in a little box and strap it to the forehead,
binding and strapping it to the arms.
Sometimes Christians try memorizing a Bible verse,
usually John 3:16.
But its not the first thing we say when we rise up,
we don’t breath it in and out all day long,
we don’t have it as the frame
around which we view all other things.
And having, maybe, learned John 3:16,
how many of us can name all ten commandments
or any other portion of Holy Scripture?

The Shema really starts out
Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength.
The heart, in the bible,
is the essence of a person, the true self.
The heart encompasses everything.
In this culture we also place the heart very high,
but our hearts are usually always talked about
in terms of emotions.
How we feel is what our heart tells us.
In the Bible, the heart encompasses emotions,
but it is really a matter of the intellect,
of the will,
of the whole person.
When Jeremiah says,
'The heart is deceitful above all else who can understand it?,
that includes the emotions,
but he really means the whole person.
The essence of who we are is deceitful above all else.
The mind and soul are gathered up in the heart.
With your mind you exercise your will,
you can choose and act in a certain direction.
The soul is eternal, we each of us has a soul,
the part of us that will go on forever.
In other words,
love the Lord your God with every fiber of your being.
No single part of you should be held back from him.
This catches us into a great pit of inadequacy.
On the one hand, we may feel very great love for God,
upon which we do not act.
We may sing and worship and raise our hands and pray,
and then in no way exercise the will towards obedient action.
In this way we feel love but do not have or exercise love,
and we fall short of the law.
On the other hand,
we may exercise great works of obedience,
we may work our fingers to the bone,
we may strive and strive to work
and in striving we aim to gain recognition or something
the actions are obedient,
but the heart may still be far from love.
And then we might both feel love for God
and do good works out of obedience,
but the All your Heart, All your Soul, All your mind
will land you in the pit.
Every fiber of your being?
That is impossible.

And you'll notice that no one says anything.
So Jesus goes on to ask them a question.
"What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?"
They say to him, "The son of David."
Its the obvious answer.
They wouldn't have had to think about it.
What's one plus one? Two.
Whose son is the Messiah? David's.
David was promised that from his descendants
would come the Messiah,
the savior of Israel.
You can't fault, entirely,
the average Jewish person for expecting a person, a son.
And yet, you can, a little bit.
Because David himself wrote a psalm, Psalm 110.
In psalm 110 David says,
"The Lord said to my Lord, '
Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’"
Jesus stops the quote there
but his audience would have known the rest,
"The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter."
Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head."

I was wasting time this week and googled this psalm.
For a long time after Jesus nobody wanted to admit that
1. David wrote it,
even though for centuries everybody knew that he had,
and 2. that David was talking about the coming Messiah.
And, let’s just look carefully at it for a minute,
the claim that’s being made
is that the Lord said to someone greater than David,
‘sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’
David, in other words,
wasn’t waiting for a human Messiah,
a really great guy who would just come
over throw some one or another earthly power
and just really be wonderful.
No, he was waiting for God.
God who will judge,
who will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.

Two days after Jesus quoted this psalm
he was horrifically and brutally murdered.
The whole crowd,
all the pharisees,
all the Romans,
just about everybody,
it seemed,
shouting for his blood,
not wanting to admit what was staring them in the face--
that God,
from the time of Moses,
through David,
through all the prophets,
had been preparing for this person--
a man, yes, but really God himself.
So every morning when they rose up and said,
Hear O Israel the Lord your God the Lord the Lord is One
and you shall Love the Lord your God with every fiber
of your being,
with your whole self,
not holding anything back,
the person they were looking at now
was that God whom they claimed they loved.

And they didn’t want it to be him,
so they killed him.
What are you going to do?
God so loved you,
did you know,
that God so loved you that he gave his whole self.
He didn’t hold anything back from you.
He gave his body, mind, heart, soul to the agony of death,
to the agony of separation from the Father,
for you, because he loved you.
Do you know,
when you fall in love,
how its ok to be a little crazy?
To do what might technically be considered stupid
because you’re so caught up in the other person.
When you’re in love all the junk of life falls away
and the clear vision
with which you can see the other person takes over.
God loved you,
Jesus loved you enough to do the most outrageous thing--
to put aside his glory,
to become one of us.
And we,
we like our power,
our self worth,
our cozy little lives,
so much.
Hear, Good Shepherd,
you shall love the Lord your God with everything in you.
You shall let his love and his name be written
on the doorposts of your heart.
You shall let his love be the frame
around everything that you think, or say, or do.
You shall let his love guide your soul
into the way of everlasting peace.
Are you afraid?
Are you wishing there is another way?
Do not be afraid.
The love of God is broader and wider
and more sustaining than any small love you have now.
He will not let you fall.
He will not loose you or forget you.
Give your heart, your soul, your mind, your body to him.


R said...

Haven't yet got through Matt's from last week- interrupted with 4 nappy changes, request for lunch, & now nap time. :P Will read yours while everyone sleeps, hah.


R said...

Thank you! Our sermon this week (on the same passage) was largely about how you had to love yourself before you loved others. Although she did tell the congregation to read chpt. 22 for themselves. That is something. ;) I got the impression that they asked her to fill in last minute and she wrote it that morning (several mentions of 'as I was researching this morning I learned...'). Does Matt still post the text for his sermons? I can read 100% faster than attempt listening in between bouts of screamie babies. :D Miss you all!


Dr. Alice said...

Thank you. This is the sermon I wish I'd heard yesterday. (It was Stewardship Sunday, so we got a lecture on why we had to pledge. Feh.)