The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s063g14  Sunday 30  26/10/2014

‘you shall love the Lord your God’  Matthew 22.37

You and I have heard these words innumerable times before - you perhaps even more than me.   Many liturgies preface the general confession and absolution with these words, so they are brought before us each and every Sunday; far more frequently than that other favourite text: ’no one comes to the Father but by me’.  (1)  We don’t really need to be reminded of them, after all we are the ones who come to church, we are the ones who keep the church, and therefore the space to express our love to God, going.

But I have a problem, because the hearers of these words - the devout and the orthodox - would not have argued with them either.   They too loved the Lord - they lived for their religion probably far exceeding our attempts.   Indeed I suspect that they even tried to love their neighbours as themselves as readily and as successfully as we.

Church has traditionally been (to quote the 'Rule of Life' on my confirmation certificate  22/6/1962): 'To be present at Divine Worship every Lord's Day, and to pray daily.  To receive Holy Communion regularly and frequently.  To make humble repentance and confession of sin.  To make devout and regular use of the Bible. (and) To support the Church and Ministry by gifts and service.'    These are all the hallmarks of devotion and orthodoxy.  I imagine a certificate for a Bar Mitzvah would replicate these words with few changes.

Yet, for all this, the orthodox and the devout had Jesus killed!

The import of last week’s sermon was a review of the conflict between the theologically literate and Jesus - spanning two whole chapters of Matthew leading up to Jesus’ diatribe against them in Matthew 23, the very words following our gospel reading for today - about love!

Unless we put this in context, we fail to see that our devotion, our orthodoxy, our theological literacy, essentially no different in substance, if not in detail, to theirs, might also be crucifying Jesus anew.   And I begin to think that the orthodox and the devout, christian no less than others, trivialise the divine.   They trivialise the divine by believing that God is inhibited by non-compliance to a set of rituals, beliefs and lifestyles defined by our own personal peccadilloes.  

So for me there is a missing key to all this, something fundamental to following Christ, that is independent of, indeed antithetical to, our own devotion and orthodoxy.   And for me this missing key is incarnation, the blessing of all humanity by the divine; that all creation and all humanity is imbued with the divine.   We cannot be complete without others.   Our definition of God cannot ever be comprehensive because each and every person has something more to contribute to our understanding.

So we cannot love God by ourselves.   We must have an appreciation that the divine is found in others and that the divine purpose is about unity in global diversity.  

Loving God and loving neighbour cannot be merely a personal ethic.   If it is not an organisational and global ethic, it is worse than useless.   As Jesus lamented: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!’  (2)   Is our ‘christian’ Jerusalem so complete and self-sufficient, having no need for others who ‘are sent to it’?   We are called to recognise and acknowledge our own corporate provisionality - this is the essence of the message of the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.   Indeed the whole of the bible can be viewed as a chronicle of the failure of any one religion to guarantee anyone a life of unbridled health, wealth and happiness.   Our continuing health, wealth and happiness is inextricably linked to the health, wealth and happiness of everyone else.

So any religion, christianity no less than any other, that claims sole possession of truth, is thereby essentially inimical to the general well-being of humanity as a whole, and therefore cannot claim to be divinely inspired.

So the exclusive church - rather than being the vehicle of truth, sustenance and health - becomes the greatest obstacle to the message of God’s love for all.

And I begin to wonder who the commandment is referring to when we are asked to love our neighbour as ourselves.   In times past we might have hoped it was the reasonably unobtrusive neighbour, but baulked at the invading Visigoths, the communists, the fascists, or whoever.   But today the enemy doesn’t necessarily bear weapons.   In some church circles it sometimes seems they are the different, the ordinary people who front our television viewing, leading ordinary sort of lives, people who actually don’t go to church or profess themselves ‘Christians’.   In times past our ‘entertainment’ were the lives of the saints and the stained glass windows.   Today we have embraced the Gestetner and the Overhead Projector and wonder why young people look at us strangely.   Radio, television and the internet all tell us that most people are actually little different from us, that most people are afflicted with the same insecurities as ourselves.   Young people now applaud when people in the public eye disclose their mental health issues or come out as something other than straight.   So ‘When Lutheran Pastor and author, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Webber was invited to an evangelical online conference called The Nines, she noticed that one of the topics for discussion was the 'issue' of homosexuality .. (and she) .. decided that instead of talking about LGBT people, that people attending the conference would benefit from hearing directly from LGBT Christians. The result is a remarkable video with LGBT people talking about why they are Christians, why they do not appreciate being considered an 'issue," and why they are 'the Church.’’   (3)   If others who are different, are issues, we are seeing them as less than the persons we are.

We are trying to compete with the world which is rather different from embracing and loving the world.   Incarnation defines how we are to love others and it determines if we are loving a god made in our own personal image or the God in whose image all - male and female, rich and poor, european or indigenous, religious or secular, straight or otherwise - are made.

1.  John 3.16
2.  Luke 13.34