All for Love
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 25, 2020
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Deuteronomy 34:1a, 5-12; Matthew 22:34-40
On the liturgical calendar, today is the 21st Sunday after Pentecost. It is also Reformation Sunday. The motivation behind the Reformation was a deep love of God and a desire to hold religious leaders accountable for their corruption and their blatant misuse of power. No doubt, many good things came out of the Reformation, including the Presbyterian Church. However, the Reformation came at great cost. Faithful people died for their beliefs. Religious property was destroyed, and the unity of the Western church was broken. In fact, division remains a hallmark of the Protestant movement. Sadly, it is a hallmark of the culture in which we currently live—for our nation is suffering. We are broken. We are divided. Looking out over the horizon, we cannot help but wonder if there is a path that can lead us to a brighter future for us all?
In our reading from Exodus, we happen upon Moses’ last mountain top experience. Accompanied by Yahweh, he goes up to the high places where the LORD shows him, from a distance, the Promised Land. In the presence of God, Moses dies. Then, we are told, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.”[i]
Moses was an extraordinary man of God and a prophet. But even Moses falls short when compared to God’s Son. The Letter to the Hebrews tell us, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.”[ii]
In many ways, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as the New Moses. Allow me to provide a few examples. First, when Moses is born, his life is spared while many baby boys of the land are killed at the command of Pharaoh. When Jesus is born, his life is spared, while many babies are killed at the command of King Herod. Second, when Moses’ life is in danger he flees from Egypt to Israel, and then later returns to Egypt. Jesus takes the reverse trip: From Israel into Egypt (as a baby) and then later back to Israel. Third, Moses does signs and wonders—like asking God for food and receiving manna from the heavens. Jesus does signs and wonders like feeding the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. And finally, Moses goes up on the mountaintop to receive the Law, while Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, goes up on the mountain to teach a new way of understanding it.
No wonder Jesus reminds the people of those beloved stories of Moses who delivered God’s Law to God’s people. Over time, the laws grow as rule upon rule is added. Finally, 613 rules become a burden that can hardly be born. And it is the Law that becomes the focal point for our Gospel reading. The religious authorities are trying to trap Jesus. At their wit’s end, they send in the brightest of the bright—think of him as Walter Brueggemann (retired Old Testament Professor from Columbia Theological Seminary). So here comes Brueggemann, who knows his stuff, with his question: “Teacher, what commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Since, in the minds of the Pharisees, keeping the law is what makes a person holy, this question is really about holiness. Jesus answers, “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.” Jesus answers the question by redefining holiness. Jesus does not choose laws over people, or people over laws. It is not one or the other, because the law is not about a list of dos and don’ts. At its heart, the law is about relationships—it is about being guided by love to act in loving ways.
All of the law is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ because in all things, in all ways, Jesus models how to be in relationship with God and how to be in relationship with the people God loves.[iii] Moses may have delivered the law to the people, but Jesus has the authority to condense it down to—not 10—certainly not 613—but two commandments: love God and love God’s people as you love yourself.
Undoubtedly, Jesus models love of God every time he walks away from the crowd to pray, every time he spends the night listening to his Abba Father, and when he boldly prays: “Thy will be done.” But from experience we know that loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind—loving God like Jesus does—is impossible without God’s grace. We cannot do it on our own.
While Jesus shows us how to love God, he also shows us how to love our neighbor. Throughout his ministry, Jesus shows mercy when mercy is needed. Jesus shows compassion when compassion is needed. Jesus speaks the truth when the truth is needed. Jesus embodies the words of Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, points us toward the spiritual Promised Land, a land where love reigns supreme.
Yes, we are living in divisive, troubling times. But Christ offers us a path forward, a path marked with mercy, compassion, and love. Christ is—and always has been—our only hope. With this in mind, I offer you a blessing, written by Ruth Burgess.[iv]
In the starshine and sunshine of God may you be warmed and welcomed.
In the stories and laughter of Jesus may you be called and challenged.
In the fire and breath of the Holy Spirit, may you be awakened and kept from harm.
May your home be a place of hospitality and kindness, a beckoning lamp in the darkness,
A shelter for questions and dreaming, a safe space for joy and tears.
Live well—and—may you celebrate life together.
May you grow in love for each other.
May you dance with the little ones,
The saints and the angels,
May you be cherished,
May you be blessed.
[i] Deuteronomy 34:10-12
[ii] Hebrews 3:1-3
[iii] Sermon Brainwave
[iv] A Book of Blessings—and How to Write Your Own, Ruth Burgess (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2001), p.54.