Sunday, October 26, 2014
20th Sunday after Pentecost
It was one of the most important questions ever asked. Oh there have been others worth asking, but this was the big one – so big that at least three people wrote it down two thousand years ago. This was one of those questions asked of Jesus in a time when he was being grilled with questions. They were trying to get him to answer just one wrong.
They asked him questions like: “Should we pay taxes to another king if God is our King?” “Who will you be married to in heaven if you were married more than once on earth?” These were tough questions for sure. Learned rabbis had been debating them for ages. Jesus gave answer after answer that left them scratching their heads. He gave answers they didn’t expect. He gave answers filled with a truth that they had never encountered. But none of their questions were as important as the one asked that day by the expert in the law. It was the one they all wondered about, with page after page of rules and rules about rules; with scrolls and then scrolls about scrolls.
The question: “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Ha! Surely they had him now. Would he say, “Do not murder” and neglect to mention, “Honor your father and mother?” Would he say, “You shall have no idols” and forget “Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife?” They had him…There was no right answer. How could he give one answer saying one was more important than the other, when they were all sacred? For the first time he would trip over his words. Jesus took a deep breath as if to say “Good question.” He gathered his thoughts, but he didn’t pause long. His answer echoes through the centuries. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. Ah, not one of the Ten Commandments, but still found in the Law of Moses. Jesus shared a phrase every Jew would know. It would have been recited in their worship services as a part of the Shema: “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One…And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” They had heard it a thousand times.
Just as they considered Jesus’ answer, though, Jesus kept talking. He said, “This is the first and the greatest, but the second is like it.” Wait a minute – They only asked for one. They had only asked for THE greatest. But Jesus couldn’t stop: “There is another commandment that is so like the first that they go hand in hand. I will not give you just one.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This one was a little more obscure. It is found in the Book of Leviticus, sandwiched in between dozens of other rules. (Leviticus 19:18) It is right next to “Don’t mate different kinds of animals,” and “Don’t wear cloth woven of two kinds of materials.” But to Jesus it was of almost equal importance to the first. Love is the greatest thing we can do. Love God. Love people. For Jesus, everything hangs on love. And his answer silenced the crowd. Who could argue with him? Who would dare say “Love” is not a great command?
Friends, I believe we need to hear this text today more than we have ever needed to hear it. Our world is in trouble; at least, that’s what the news tells us every day. Nations crumble as one dictator loses power to another dictator. Ethnic factions trample the rights of their rivals to preserve their own rights. Battle lines are drawn based on ancient disputes that lost their relevance centuries ago. People strap bombs on their chests and get on buses.
Life-threatening disease kills hundreds of people in one country; then it spreads to another and another, yet we only react when it steps into our backyard. One country enjoys an abundance of food, while people starve in another. One neighborhood is warm and well-fed, while homeless and hungry people live only blocks away. The world economy sits on the edge of collapse. We think it’s okay, and then something happens, and we are on edge again. You hear the world being described in all kinds of ways: unstable, financially unsure, volatile, money-hungry, greedy, unjust.
Here’s what I think it is: distracted.
Our world is filled with people who are children of God, made in God’s own image to love God and love God’s children. And when our world becomes: a world that runs on money; a world that runs on power; a world that runs on oil; a world that runs on fear; a world that runs on greed; a world that runs on sex; or a world that runs on the stock market, then we become a world distracted.
We were actually made for something really wonderful. The world isn’t a mistake; it wasn’t thrown together haphazardly, by some cosmic accident. There was a plan for all of this. We were made to love God and to love each other. Jesus says if we could just get that right, all of the other things and all of the other questions would fall into place. If we could just wrap our minds around living like Jesus taught us to live – according to those two great commandments – then we could change the world into what God intended it to be. I believe that we can change the world…I believe we ARE changing the world already. If you have been around our church very long you have heard people talk about our Thanksgiving Dinner. Many of you have participated in big and small ways over the years. Just to remind you – for over twenty years now, the church in Sand Springs has provided a delicious meal to families all over the city on Thanksgiving Day. Last year we delivered over 800 meals! That is pretty amazing when you look at the size of our church and our community. Those meals don’t come with a sermon or a Bible tract. Each person just receives a wholesome meal delivered with love from somebody who cares. That’s it – Just love. That is just one example of something that begins with a love for God – that involves heart and mind and soul, and a love for neighbor that is radical, so radical that we try to love them the way we love ourselves. That kind of love changes the world.
I know that “changing the world” sounds like a pretty tall order, well beyond our reach. But I believe it is possible if we as a people are moved from distracted lives to lives focused on: the love of God for us, our love for God, and sharing that love with our neighbors. What I am asking you to do today is to join me in Loving Large in a world-changing way. Recent studies of how technology effects our brain found that all of our multi-tasking devices, including social media; and the pace and energy of television, have moved us from people with twelve-minute attention spans to people with five-minute attention spans. We are easily distracted. You weren’t made to live a distracted life. You weren’t made to have seventeen windows open at the same time, trying to attend to seventeen things, not doing any one thing well. You were actually made to do something wonderful. You were made to love; to love God and to love others. Jesus says a life that focuses on those two things gets all the others right. The people that were grilling Jesus with questions were distracted.
Sometimes it blows my mind to read the Scriptures and see how distracted the people were when they encountered Jesus. They actually got to see him, touch him, ask him questions, and hear his stories. But, like us, they were often too focused on other things. They carry their baggage of anxiety, worry and fear; baggage that causes them to miss how great Jesus is. Rather than get to know him or enjoy him, they need Jesus to do something, or answer some question. Time and again we see these people around Jesus asking distracted questions. “Hey Jesus, we know you are a man of integrity, so is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” And Jesus gives them an answer, but it’s an answer that says, “This is not the most important question.” Another group of religious experts ask him, “Hey Jesus, in heaven who are we going to be married to if you had more than one wife here on earth?” Again, Jesus gives an answer that astonishes them. But the answer points out that this is not the most important question. Finally, that one expert asked him THE question. And it is as if this was the question Jesus had been waiting for because this question would focus them. Stop trying to focus on so many little questions and concerns. Focus on the one big thing: love. You were made for love; to be loved, and to love.
The distracted life looks for what people can do for you. Most of the people you encounter each day are probably operating from the distracted life. That’s why we get frustrated with the checkout guy when he is slow. It’s why we get angry with other drivers on the interstate. It’s why you end up snapping at your kids. Because the distracted life thinks only of what others can do for you.
The focused life, however, considers how others need love. Would that be a change for you? What if every person you encountered from checkout clerk to spouse caused you to ask yourself, “How can I show love to this person?”
The distracted life sees the negative in other people. The distracted life most easily sees the negative, the insufficiencies, and the weaknesses in others. You can find them if you look for them because everyone has them. If you find yourself most often talking about the problems and faults that everyone else has, you may be operating in the distracted life.
The focused life sees the worth of all people. Jesus approached the people in whom the world saw only the negative. After Jesus encountered them, they felt worthy of love. What if your presence made others feel worthy of God’s love? It would change your world.
The distracted life can’t find enough time for everything. One reason is: there ISN’T enough time for everything. Another reason is that when you don’t know what your focus is, you don’t have enough time for anything. When your focus is on being a person who loves God and loves others, you can have a day when everything doesn’t get accomplished, and you still have a great day. Your purpose that day is not to get everything in the world done, to make everybody happy, or to do everything perfectly. Your focus is loving God and loving people. The focused life sees each day as an opportunity to share God’s love.
For the next four weeks we are going to talk about moving from a distracted life to a love-focused life: LOVING LARGE. Do you know what the greatest thing is that you can do with your life? Do you know what you were made for? To love God. And Jesus says the next thing is loving others. Each week I’m going to have a challenge for you. Most of them will be challenges to love your neighbor in extravagant ways. This week, though, the challenge is to love God. Would you take five minutes a day, to not accomplish anything, not produce anything, but to sit before God and offer your love to God? It may be in prayer, in thanksgiving, singing a song, or in silence…“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) We can’t do any of the world-changing stuff for others if we don’t first have a heart that loves God. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Lloyds TSB, “‘Five-Minute Memory’ Costs Brits £1.6 Billion,” accessed August 16, 2013, http://www.insurance.lloydstsb.com/personal/general/mediacentre/homehazards_pr.asp.