My Two Loves

Matthew 22:34-46

“I keep a baseball bat under my bed in case someone tries to break in and pitch a no hitter.”

“Our scariest president was probably Rushmore, because he had four heads.”

“Wait, what do you mean Jesus loves me? Did he say something to you?”

Okay, can anyone guess what all three of those lines have in common? They are all funny tweets that have appeared on Twitter.

Now I’ve got to admit, I LOVE emailing. And I see the great value in texting. I even glance at Facebook from time to time. But I don’t understand Twitter. I don’t tweet. For those of you who are like me, let me explain tweeting.

A tweet is a message that you post on a social media app called Twitter. The message can’t be more than 280 characters long. That message goes out to people who have signed up to receive your tweets. They, in turn, might forward on your tweet to all of those who have signed up to receive their tweets.

So your original tweet might go all over the world to people you’ve never met. The challenge of a tweet is to say something funny or provocative or profound … in just a few words.

Here’s some examples of actual tweets: Funny: “Everyone says to follow your dreams, so I went back to bed.” Provocative: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future!” Profound: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Now let me ask you another question. If Jesus were to post a twee today, what do you think he would say? I think his tweet would come right out of today’s Gospel passage. It’s a very succinct answer that he gives to a very difficult question meant to trap him.

Travel back with me to 1st century Jerusalem. God gave Israel 10 commandments. But the rabbis of Jesus’ day counted 613 additional commands. They taught that all of Gods’ commandments are equally great. Because whatever God commands is great no matter how insignificant it might seem to us. To rank them would be the height of human arrogance.

So here comes a Pharisee, skilled in the law. (Today they might use a debate moderator.) This lawyer has crafted a question to trap Jesus.: “Rabbi, what kind of commandment is greatest of all in the Law?”

He isn’t asking which commandment is the greatest, but “what kind of commandment” is the greatest? It’s a clever end run around the question of ranking commandments. It’s as if he were asking,  Which is more important: the Moral Laws or the Ceremonial laws? Which is more important: Worshipping God on Sunday or Feeding the poor on Wednesdays? How do you answer that?

Jesus replies with a tweet that was 112 characters long. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.

There is a certain irony in his answer – but you would need to be one of those Pharisees to appreciate. Because that Pharisee who asked the question would have started his day praying the Great Shema from Deuteronomy. “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Sound familiar? And if you were a pious Pharisee, those words were written on a little scroll that you wore on your forehead in a leather box called a phylactery.

Jesus doesn’t choose between categories of commandments. He goes much further and gives them the greatest commandment…..which they should have already figured out for themselves! You shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind. “Duh!”

Now we’ve heard that commandment so many times that we don’t really hear it. It’s like the pledge of allegiance or the Lord’s Prayer. But think about what he is saying.

I spent a summer working in a VA hospital ministering to veterans suffering with schizophrenia. Now some people think schizophrenia is multiple personalities. It’s not. It’s a mental disorder characterized by a separation between a person’s thought processes and his emotions. There’s a splitting of mental functions, a personality fragmentation and a disconnect in the thinking.

Symptoms can vary with people as can the severity. And some people can struggle through life without addressing their disorder. But the bottom line for them is that life doesn’t work. And they might not even know why it doesn’t work. But they do know that living with schizophrenia untreated can be a living hell.

When it comes to loving God, some people suffer from Spiritual Schizophrenia. Spiritual Schizophrenia is a disconnect between their thinking and their behavior when it comes to God. The disconnect shows up in different ways: 

Take worship. Their worship can be very exuberant, very engaged, very emotional. They worship with generous feelings and there’s nothing wrong with that. But they don’t Worship with their mind, with their intellect – They don’t confront their doubts, They don’t ponder upon God’s Word

Then there are those who lavish God with words of praise.  They are generous in their outpouring of gratitude for God.  That’s good.  All prayer should begin with praise. 

But when the alms plate comes around, they’re not so lavish They tip God. Why the disconnect?

There are the faithful church goers who love God on Sundays  But then they forget about God on Weekdays

Or they might love God at home, they might say grace before every meal, they might have nightly devotions, But when they step out in the public square, God gets left at the house. They forget about God in the workplace

Jesus says: Don’t compartmentalize your love for God. Don’t divide your love for God. Love him completely, comprehensively, unconditionally and unreservedly.

Let your love for him coarse through every part of your very being. All your heart. All your soul. All your mind.

And notice something else. He doesn’t say, “Love God.” He says, “love the Lord YOUR God.”

To the Jews he was saying, “You know this God.” This is the God that freed you from bondage. This God fed you in the wilderness. He brought you into a land of milk and honey.  He’s the one that demonstrated his love for you down through history. Why would you want to put any limits on your love for Him?

Each of you has a history with God. Each of you cite times when God was there for you. He’s personal. He’s not just God, He’s YOUR God.

Schizophrenics live a fragmented life. They can get by, but life really doesn’t work well for them. Spiritual Schizophrenics can get by in life. But it really doesn’t run well for them.

Life works better when we love God completely.

So what does it look like to love God completely? With all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind? Well, Jesus added a little addendum to his Great Commandment. He said: And a second is just like it, [Here’s the addendum.] “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And that’s because the two are inextricably linked.

Loving God is intertwined with loving your neighbor. That’s not to say that loving your neighbor is a substitute for loving God. Remember when the woman anointed Jesus with costly perfume? Judas complained,  “That perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus reprimanded Judas. “The poor you will always have with you, I’m here for a short time.”

On the other hand, Jesus was also critical of the “super-spiritual cop-out.” Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? The devout Levite passed the poor wretch lying in the road – because he had to get to the Temple to worship. He was super spiritual. He was so spiritual that he left his neighbor half dead on the road as he scampered off to worship God in the Temple.

Jesus had no problem with healing on the Sabbath. In fact he was criticized for it. But Jesus was not going to use God as an excuse to avoid loving his neighbor.

Jesus says love your neighbor. He didn’t say “love mankind.” God save us from the person who resolves to go out and rescue the whole world.

Jesus does not call us to a sentimental humanitarianism. Karl Marx loved the working class. But he could barely stand individual workers.

Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. Love is personal, love is individual. Love has a face. And that hunk of the human race that is given to us each day is the main way to love the world.

How do we love God in loving our neighbor? We can’t see God, we can’t touch him. Jesus says: “If you love me you will obey my commands.”

In the 60’s, an ethicist named Joseph Fletcher introduced something called – Situational Ethics  It was Einstein’s theory of relativity, but applied to ethics. 

According to Fletcher, right and wrong are not universal absolutes. There are no hard and fast rules. Instead, he said that right and wrong are determined according to each situation. What might be right in one situation – like telling the truth – might be wrong in another. It depends on the situation.

So Fletcher was asked: How do you know what the right thing to do is in any given situation? He said that the abiding rule is: Let everything be done in love.

Contrast that with what Jesus says: If you love me you will keep my commands. And those commands don’t change.

I’ve spoken of Corrie Ten Boom before She and her family were devout Christians in Holland during WWII. In 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and the ten Booms became part of the underground. They opened their home to refugees — both Jews and members of the resistance movement.  The family created a temporary hiding place that they would access by a trapdoor in the kitchen floor. They put a large rug on top of it and moved the kitchen table to stand on the spot.

At that time, German soldiers would perform a lightning search and seizures to round up all the young men they could find and send them to work in munitions factories.  One day, Nazi soldiers were on the prowl in the neighborhood searching homes. Corrie’s two brothers spotted them coming down the street just in time. They jerked the table back, snatched away the rug, and tugged open the trapdoor.  The two boys lowered themselves in the hiding place and the women returned the rug and the table to their spot and threw a table cloth on it.

The front door burst open and two German soldiers ran into the kitchen with their rifles leveled. “Where are your men?” Corrie introduced the aunts and grandfather standing there.

Corrie’s niece, Cocky, stared at the soldiers a second, then dropped her eyes.  The children had been trained never to lie. Corrie was hoping the child would make an exception in this case.

The soldier’s interrogated the child. Do you have brothers?”  “Yes,” she replied. “Where are your brothers?” Cocky did not miss a breath. “Why, they’re under the table.”

One soldier took hold of a corner of the tablecloth while the other crouched with his rifle cocked. Then the soldier yanked away the table cloth. Cocky burst into spasms of high hysterical laughter. The soldier furiously stormed out of the house. Corrie honored the truth telling with perfect protection.

It leaves us with a question: If loving God is linked with loving our neighbor, can we ever love our neighbor by breaking God’s commands?

The problem with tweeting is that it is very easy to do.  You can put a message on Twitter without having to back it up.  But if we are going to follow our Lord in a life of love, we are going to have to put our words into action.

A number of years ago, a chaplain was visiting a patient at a mental hospital in Washington, D.C. He spent the visit telling her again and again how much God loved her.  He thought she needed to hear this, since her mental illness was very distressing and her life as an inpatient was difficult. 

The woman listened to him for some time, and then she responded, “Chaplain, don’t tell me how much God loves me.  First, you love me.  Then I’ll know that God loves me.”