Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

10/30/11 Sermon

Matthew 22:34-46

May the words of my mouth….

Our scripture today is made up into 2 parts that appear to be unrelated. The first part speaks to Jesus’ greatest commandment while the second is a conversation with the Pharisees about who the Messiah is.  But when you set back and look at these 2 scriptures together, we see that the 2 actually fit together nicely.

One points to who Jesus is, the other points to what Jesus’ mission was.  One is about identity, the other is about action. One is a noun and one is a verb.  Both parts of this scripture have in common, Pharisees who fail to see Jesus for who he is.  And by missing out on who Jesus is, they miss out on the awesome opportunity to be speaking to God in the flesh; God with skin and muscle right in front of them.  And at the same time they missed out on God’s mission He had for them.

Instead their faith was all about bare bone rules…..they were living out a lifeless, legalistic mission that included following over 600 rules.  613 to be exact. 248 of their rules had to do with their understanding of 248 body parts. The remaining rules, 365, correlated to the number of days in the year.

And while they were indeed experts on the letter of the law, they were clueless on the spirit of the law.

So Jesus comes along to put life into their lifeless mission of following rules by giving them just 2 simple commands: 2 commands that give spirit and life to the law.

Love God, love neighbor.

Now these Pharisees knew about this loving God part; this first part. It was known as the Shema that came from the Old Testament Torah in Deuteronomy chapter 6.  But Jesus adds the second part of loving neighbor because this part puts action into loving God.  

You see, while loving and obeying God is important, you cannot really love God without loving others.

You can’t love God without loving what He loves. The two are intertwined.

So Jesus, who is God in the flesh; skin and muscle, comes along to put skin and muscle on their lifeless faith.  He puts meat on the bones of their mission by commanding them to love God by loving others.

So what does this have to do with us today?

Well it’s a reminder to us of what God is calling us to do as well.  And unfortunately, we can be a whole lot like these Pharisees.

Christians can be good at quoting scriptures and rules, even the rule to love God and love neighbor.

In fact Jesus’ greatest command can be part of a churches’ mission statement.

But just because we quote it, doesn’t mean we have muscle and skin on it.  If we aren’t really putting it into action, then we’re really no different than these Pharisees whose faith was simply about following the letter of the law.  So today Jesus is coming to us, God in the flesh is coming to us, to remind us and call us to put muscle and skin on His command and mission to love God and love neighbor.
 

We’re not to just talk about loving God and loving neighbor, we need to live it out just as Jesus did.

But how? How does one truly love God and love neighbor?

Well to help us remember how we put some meat and muscle to loving God and loving neighbor, I want to spell out literally the word L--O--V--E.

So let’s begin with the first letter of the word love, the letter L:

And I want to talk about 2 words that begin with the letter L:  Listening and Learning---

Now, we put skin and muscles on Jesus’ command of loving God and loving others when we Christians are about the intentional practice of listening and learning.

To listen means we spend time with God in prayer. Listening means we create a space to hear God’s love for us. We simply give ourselves to God who accepts us just as we are.

Unlike anything else we know, God accepts us unconditionally which leads us to respond in love of Him.  I like what Val Fossett started here on Sunday mornings. She and others are getting together to listen to God, soaking in God’s love.  It’s a time of intentionally allowing God to have you, to give you a sense of peace while experiencing God’s unconditional love-----listening to God allows God to change us to love others.

Of course besides listening to God in prayer, learning about God also changes us to love others.  As we learn about God, we learn of God’s love for us which also leads us to respond to love Him as well as love others.

On Thursday mornings a group of us have been getting together to study Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. And as we study God’s word together we’re being reminded that we are God’s chosen, beloved children. We are part of God’s family.  By learning God’s word, God gives us an assurance and peace and affirmation. We experience God’s love and are inspired and empowered to desire to love others as he loves us.

Now along with the “L” of listening and learning another way we put muscle and skin on loving God and loving others is when we have the “O” of an Outward Obedience.

Outward Obedience is about us obeying Jesus’ call to love others by looking for ways to serve others.  So many in our churches today have turned their faith to an inward practice of loving God only.  They pray and read scriptures on their own or even with others but there’s no outward aspect of loving others.

Jesus was critical of the Pharisees because their religion was very pious, focused only on the inward practices of prayer and study.  Our churches can have this same kind of inward focus. Small groups study and pray and have fellowship with each other but they have no outward focus of loving and serving others.  But Jesus shows us that to love God, we have to love what God loves. That means we love our neighbors.  We love all people, especially the hungry and the poor, the less fortunate, the lonely and the lost.  Every one of us, every group in this church, should have some outward focus in service of others.

Study groups, small groups even the choir can have as a part of their ministry an outward obedience.  I’ve heard of church choirs who have as part of their ministry a time where they go and sing carols at nursing homes or to homebound members.

For us to put muscle and skin on Jesus’ command to love God and love others means we have to have an outward obedience to serve.  And as we serve other human beings, an amazing thing happens: We grow in our love for people and in our love of God. We grow that way because God created us that way.

If you want to be blessed and truly follow Jesus’ command to love God and love others we must be outwardly obedient.

OK-----So we have the “L” and the “O’. Next we truly follow Jesus’ command to love God and love others by having the “V” of a Vocational Vision.

Now what does it mean to have a vocational vision.

Well the word vocation comes from the Latin word voice or calling.

Our vocation is our calling from God. It’s not our occupation but rather our unique and specific purpose given to us by God.

A vocation is about our passion; it’s what gives us meaning and purpose in life. It’s an interest that we have; it’s something we’re good at or know a lot about.  A vocation is something that brings a tear to our eye when we think or talk about it.  But very importantly, whatever it is, it’s grounded in loving God and loving others.

For many Christians, their vocation is often found in a pain or hurt they’ve experienced in their own life that God has helped them thru and is now calling them to go and help others who are experiencing the same.  Because of our own experience, we have a vision that can lead others to a freedom and a life and a smile again.

So today ask yourself, what is my passion? Where have I been hurt?   What am I good at? What interests me? Where do tears well up when I speak about helping others?  This is your vocation. This is where God is calling you to love Him by loving others.

Jesus has a mission for you………….

He has a vocational vision that puts skin and muscle on his command to love God and love others.

Now the last way we truly follow Jesus’ greatest command to us is with the “E” of Exercising our faith.

Exercising our faith is an activity we do each day. We listen and learn, we are outwardly obedient, we have a vocational vision but all of these must be lived out.  To love God and love others calls us to be intentional in doing it every single day.  It calls us to be proactive in our faith because if we aren’t our proactively exercising our faith it will become lifeless.

A widely known professor in a New England university started out as a practicing Christian, a man of faith.  Over the years, however, this all changed. He became known as an agnostic, then an atheist.  When asked about the change, he said, “I never consciously abandoned faith. Instead it was as if I had just put it away in a drawer, and later when I looked for it, it wasn't there."
 
For this man, his faith died because of a lack of want for exercise. 
 
Our faith doesn’t survive packed in an old trunk or kept in cold storage. If we don’t exercise it, our faith will weaken and perish.

 

For many Christians, their following of Jesus’ greatest command to love God and love others lacks any skin and muscle.  While they can recite the command to love God and love neighbor, they aren’t exercising it; their faith is not being lived out and so they have a lifeless, dull and boring faith.

Our churches in North America have been so inwardly self-centered and indifferent, that there is no thoughtfulness of loving God loving neighbor.  Our churches are not proactive. They just try to get by. They’re like a couch potato, preoccupied with things that do not satisfy.

Meanwhile there are many in our community who need help; so many who are lost; so many who are grieving, so many who are going thru divorce, so many who are struggling with addiction, so many living in fear. 
 
For us to make a difference, to bring life to Jesus’ command to love God and love others we have to exercise our faith daily.  We have to choose to make it a priority to listen and learn, to be outwardly obedient and to follow our vocation.  And as we exercise our love of God and love of others, God will transcend our love so great that we are even able to love and forgive our enemies. 
 
Today we’re being reminded of Jesus’ greatest command to us: to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

It’s a command that must be lived out, not simply recited.

Jesus is calling us today to put muscle and skin on his commandment.

Jesus was God in skin and muscle. He loved us so much that he came to be one of us, to suffer and sacrifice for us in order to give us eternal life.

Today, let us love him, by listening and learning, by outwardly obeying, by following our vocational vision while exercising our faith daily.

God has a mission for his church. Let’s put some life on his greatest command to us.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen