WHAT IS THE GREATEST COMMANDEMENT? SERMON ON MATTHEW 23:34-46 AND LEVITICUS 19:1-2 - FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered on Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
October 25, 2020
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 & Matthew 23:34-46
“What is the Greatest Commandment?”
In today's lesson from Matthew, an authority on the Law of Moses gives Jesus a pop quiz: "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
He says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Jesus is here quoting the Shemah, the scripture which was to be recited daily by all Jewish people in Jesus' day. We know it from the book of Deuteronomy: “Hear, O, Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one.”
Then Jesus goes on to offer the Pharisee a second, similar commandment. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Truth be told, our first attempts at loving are awkward and clumsy. Loving our neighbor is not something that comes naturally for us especially if they don’t look like, talk like, act like, vote like or believe like we do.
What do you mean?
Last week marked another “bomb shell” announcement that Pope Francis made. “Homosexuals are children of God and have a right to be a part of the family,” “What we have to create is a civil union law.” Francis simply makes clear his carefully considered wisdom that the commandment that matters most is to love thy neighbor as thyself.
The love Jesus is talking about here cost him his life, so this is love beyond mere sentimentality or emotion. Jesus teaches about the form of love that in Greek is called agape. This is a self-giving love, which is more concerned about the other person than oneself.
In a sermon delivered by the Reverend Jacqueline Lewis, Senior Pastor of Middle Collegiate Church, she talked about, what it means to love your neighbor. And she told a story that a rabbi had told her about how loving your neighbor means loving your neighbor’s cow. The rabbi said loving your neighbor is when you see your neighbor Sam’s cow out, you don’t say, “Ooh, Sam’s cow got out. That’s too bad.”
You don’t go, “Hmm. That might not even be Sam’s cow at all.”
You also don’t say, “Sam should have known better than to let his cow get out.” To love your neighbor means to love your neighbor enough, to go out and get the cow out of trouble, to bring it back where it belongs.
As Christians, are called by this commandment to love God, to love our neighbor and to love ourselves. And to love our neighbor means being willing to be inconvenienced, to love our neighbor means being willing to go the extra mile.It means placing the good of others before ourselves, which is at the heart of the Christian understanding of relationship.
This Sunday the Presiding Bishop calls upon us to well informed about the issues and the candidates who will lead our nation Today is “Vote Faithfully Sunday” in the Episcopal Church. “It is a Christian obligation to vote, and more than that, it is the church’s responsibility to help get souls to the polls.”
Nine days from today, the people of the United States will elect a president and many others to public office. This election occurs in a time of global pandemic, a time when there is hardship, sickness, suffering and death. But this election also occurs in a time of great divisions. Divisions that are deep, dangerous, and potentially injurious to democracy.
So what is the role of the church in the context of an election being held in a time such as this?
The task of the church in the first century or 21st century is to live by the precedent, to bear witness to the precedent and lift up the values of the precedent of Jesus in our time. What is the precedent Jesus calls us to live into?
We are to never forget those who have been made in the image and likeness of God. Especially those who are marginalized, ostracized, racialized. We are to make sure that those people are never minimalized.
Have the courage to not simply talk of love, but to put love into action. The love God has for you is patient and kind and will never fail. Choose to share that same amazing love with the people in your life. Amen.