In this morning’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus tells the disciples, and all those who read God’s Word, that if we love him, we will keep his commandments. Which commandments?, you might ask…These commandments:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Now, you might think that Jesus did us a favor, distilling down his commandments to the greatest commandment, and one like it. Jesus actually commanded the disciples or those around him 38 times over the 4 Gospels. So really, he took his own 38 commandments, boiled them down to 2, and challenged us to show our love by following them.
Over time, those who follow the Hebrew Scripture, the Torah and all the laws and commandments of that faith have come to claim that there are over 400 laws or commandments for the faithful to follow. So Jesus may have even taken the essence of those 415 or 416 laws and reduced them to the greatest and the second greatest commandments.
So either way you look at it, 38:2, or 415:2, it looks like a bargain, right?
But hold on a minute. Have you ever wondered about how hard it is to follow these two commandments?
I know that on some level, we all love Jesus. We claim our Christianity when we show up for worship on a Sunday morning, when we place our hard earned resources in the offering plate, when we make a donation so that our children can buy a llama to give to a family that is struggling in another country. We don’t question our Christianity, meaning we don’t question the fact that we are followers of Christ.
But do we ever stop to think or reflect on whether we love him? Love is such a strong word! We love our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children, our friends…but is that the same love we use to love Jesus?
I suspect that Jesus has made our faith lives more challenging by linking our love with the way we behave toward God, and our neighbor.
It’s harder to follow the two great commandments than it is to check off the other 38, or the other 415 or so…
Don’t believe me? Try this: While sitting right here in church with me today, we can all imagine loving God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. We each may have our own way of showing it, but we can imagine it. I suspect that it’s probably a whole other sermon, for another time, but OK, one down. But what are we to do with loving a neighbor who, after posting a public rant of hatred, opens fire on innocent people in a convenience store, or grocery store, or work place? He’s our neighbor, but how in the world are we to love him? And I have no doubt that Jesus intended for us to love people like those who suffer from impossible mental illness and harm others. How in the world are we to love those who have never, and will never, be peaceful or loving, but instead only bring violence and hatred into the world. Especially when we haven’t even begun to grasp the consequences of their violent actions, or helped their victims recover and mourn. Some of our neighbors appear to be downright unlovable, don’t they?
And that’s the challenge, isn’t it? To show love to the unlovable.
That’s why it is so hard. If we love Jesus, we will love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I’m not even convinced that we have a good handle on what it means to love ourselves, but forget about that for a moment, and help me figure out how in the name of Jesus are we going to love the neighbors around us who perpetrate violence, who break our laws, who do harm to us, our family, and our community? Who have no intention of following any commandments except their own internal drive to hurt, harm, and hinder.
Their acts are the very definition of evil, but in our New Testament scripture from Acts, even Paul himself tells us that they are made in the image of God, just like we are: “Since we are God’s offspring…’
If we love Jesus, then he expects us to love the unlovable. Even if we feel unlovable ourselves. Even the ones who kill our neighbors, and then in a final, cowardly act, kill themselves or get killed by the police so they won’t have to be held accountable for their actions.
Thinking about those who commit horrible crimes, maybe by some tortured logic I can manage to feel sorry for their twisted and hateful souls…but love? I’m just not there yet. That doesn’t mean I don’t love Jesus, it just means I’m human, and experiencing some powerful human emotions.
So I’m going to work on it. I do love Jesus. I am a follower on his Way. And so I want to demonstrate to him, and to God, that I love God with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my mind. And as much as possible, I want to demonstrate to Jesus that I love my neighbors as myself.
Tabloids and TV talk shows will dissect the lives of those who snap, and harm or kill many people at one time, and try and explain how someone like that could grow up to be a mass murderer. We’ll have to move beyond the intellectual understanding, move beyond the seemingly impossible forgiveness, to even begin to approach the way to loving such a neighbor.
The Spirit of Truth abides in us and walks with us when we keep the two great commandments. The Spirit of Truth cannot prevent tragedies like the one in Santa Barbara, nor can Jesus, nor can God. We can’t change the way the world produces these broken and harmful children of God, but we can change the way we think and feel about them. It’s just not easy.
If we love Jesus, and I believe we all do, then we’ll find a way to love the unlovable. Love is, in the end, the only answer. Love is the only way we can address the horrors and atrocities that plague our world. It’s just that it’s not that easy. It will take all of us who claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior to work at loving the unlovable, to look deep inside ourselves to find the strength and courage to love those who make it impossible to love.
That means worshiping together, listening to God’s Word together, working together to fight injustice, and oppression, sharing our resources together, being relevant in our community, mourning with those who mourn, celebrating with those who celebrate, advocating for those who have no voice.
It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus suggests a personal and private answer for a worldly ill. It will be no less than our own very love of our neighbors that changes the world.
For a fleeting moment, as I contemplated the difficulty in showing my love for Jesus by loving neighbors like the mass murderers that have cropped up in the last 2 decades, I considered seeking out the world’s sacred texts, to see whether there was a religion that doesn’t require me to love unlovable people. But when you boil it all down, love is the foundation, the heart, of every religion, and in a similar way, at the foundation of even secular humanism.
As Christians, by keeping Jesus’ commandments, we not only demonstrate our love for him, and secure his love for us, we also secure God’s love, and God’s place in this world. The world is a better place because of love. Because of our love. We have God’s love to share, we have Christ’s love to share.
Let’s show the world what we’ve got. Amen.
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