Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 25 October 2020.
• First Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12 (Death of Moses: saw the promised land, denied entry to it, buried by The Lord)
• Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17
• Epistle: 1 Thessalonians: 2: 1-8 (Arrived from Philippi having been treated badly there)
• Gospel: Matthew 22: 34-46 (The Greatest Commandment – love God with all your heart, soul, mind. Love your neighbour as yourself)
One of the most abused words in the English language is ‘love’. For many it speaks of romantic attachments, and for others is may show a liking for a landscape, a wine, or a piece of music.
In this it becomes self-indulgent, even self-centered. It is about our own feelings and preferences. We become the people who decide what we love and indeed what love is. We set the parameters for love and these are easily entangled with self-interest, expediency, sentiment and plain convenience.
This way of looking at love is quite inadequate and so we have to start again.
In the gospel Jesus starts by endorsing and strengthening the commands of the law: to love is not an option or an emotion but a command. It is an act of will and obedience.
And love starts with God, and not with self. It is God who sets the agenda and in the Old Testament it is there in the law of Israel, her worship and her peoples’ relations with one another.
But in the bible there is a cascade of love and it is expressed in different ways with different priorities.
It starts with God. In John’s 1st letter, he says (ch 4: 10) ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ God is love (4: 8) and this is central to who God is and what He does.
And His action in giving the best that He had, He shows the extremity of that love. He gives and gives and gives and gives, limited only by our willingness and ability to receive His love as He gives it.
This is a love that is ordered but is in the nature of God as a community: pre-existing all else and made of none, while the Son is not made or created but begotten and the Holy Spirit is neither made nor created nor begotten but proceeding.
But Jesus is the fullest expression of the person and love of God that we can comprehend and receive. It is His willing and loving obedience to the heart-wrenching love of God that brought Him into the world and then to the cross.
Our love exists only because in creating us, God has given us the capacity to love, and it is perfected only when it matches the character of God’s love itself.
But then Jesus’ final commandment to His disciples at the Last Supper was to love one another as He had loved them: with the same commitment and determination for one another as Jesus had already shown them. Nothing less would do.
But then He taught us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It is a different kind and character of love and it applies to the neighbour as we encounter him or her.
It is a matter of that person’s need rather than our convenience, and this is the point of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. It does not demand that we like our neighbour or that we be guided by personal inclination – only that we love that person and tend to him or her as we would tend to ourselves.
Finally, John instructs us not to love the world. It is there in verse 15 of chapter 1 of his first letter. This includes the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. All can mislead and misdirect us especially if we place them above and before our love for God in Jesus Christ.
There is of course the place for romantic love that leads to the birth and nurture children, just as there is the love of family and love of country and people. But if love is to be strong it is also to be ordered.
Here the psalmist has something to say about love, and in Ps 19 we are led into a praise of the things and the will of God:
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired than gold, yes than much fine gold,
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
But there is also something else in what Jesus had to say about loving God.
It is the way in which we are to love God and it comes directly from the Book of Deuteronomy.
It is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind: to love Him with all that we are and have and to devote our attention and priorities to Him. But to love God with the mind is perhaps more taxing. It is to enter into the mystery of God, not always having all the answers to the questions and problems that life throws at us. It certainly means not having control.
It is to love God when all the senses have gone dead, when sight and understanding fail and when chaos and mindlessness surround us.
It is to love God as a child loves his or her mother – no questions or arguing, just a simple trust and abiding. When there are intellectual challenges that we cannot meet, it is a love that waits and ponders.
It does not throw tantrums, bang on the floor, slam doors and shout at everybody within earshot.
It abides, rests, and trusts, without abandoning its intellectual capacity: it waits for the revealing that will come, as will all things, in due season.