Posted on Tue, Nov 8, 2011
Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for October 23, 2011
The Greatest Love of All
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
October 23, 2011
Love. We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about Love. I love Starbucks. I love my family. I love animals. I love flowers. I love Boston and Cambridge and Sarasota. I love Episcopal Divinity School. I love Troy Perry and Nancy Wilson. I love Metropolitan Community Churches. I love Trinity MCC. I love you. What does that mean exactly? How do I demonstrate the fact that I love all these people, places and things? What’s love got to do with it? What is the power of Love? What’s love got to do with it? What happens when a man loves a man or when a woman loves a woman and even as the song says, When a man loves a woman and, how does one really “Love Me Tender,” and what is The Greatest Love of All? Let’s think about that together. Would you pray with me? Loving God, when we fell in love with you, you so spoiled us that we came to know the meaning of love beyond measure. Teach us about love this morning and make the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts pleasing and acceptable to you. AMEN.
I’m thankful again this morning for the biblical scholarship of my friend and colleague Dylan Breuer. She often helps set me in a good direction in my own study of scripture. In this reading from Matthew’s Gospel, we are given the two greatest commandments in the Bible. First, to Love the lord you God with all of our hearts and second, to love our neighbor as ourselves. So what does this mean? The earliest Christian commentary on this text after the gospels, which we find in James 2:1-17, is a big help to us in figuring that out. When Jesus said "love your neighbor as yourself," he was essentially saying, "treat all those around you as you would your own flesh and blood" -- that is, as sisters and brothers in one family, deserving of equal honor and special care. When you read it, you may notice that this passage in James treats "faith" and "love" almost as synonyms; while American churches tend to read both as interior mental or emotional states, in first-century Mediterranean cultures true faith and true love are both matters of affiliation backed up with consistent action, of treating people with respect and enacting rather than merely professing compassion.
In other words, the kinds of facts we see laid out here show just how far we have to go in loving our neighbors as our own family. I think the organization Bread for the World has it right: we have, by our action and our inaction, built a world in which the deck is stacked against the poor, and serving God with our heart, soul, and mind means that we are called to bring everything we've got -- our voice and our political power as well as our financial resources -- to bear in living out God's mission of reconciliation and redemption for all the world. It's true that our sins, things done and left undone, have built a world in which coming from a family or a region trapped in extreme poverty means a death sentence issued before birth, a world built around the kind of favoritism that the Letter of James strongly condemns.
Now it is also true that Christ came to save the world from sin, and Christ is both calling and empowering us to do what it takes to eliminate extreme poverty in this generation. That means not only sending direct aid to feed people in all over the world, but also taking care of our sisters and brothers and their children right here at home. While we are trying to take care of them, we have to work to make sure that we give them and hand up as opposed to a hand out. We have to work to prevent the establishment of systems that keep people down, systems that trap people in situation that are next to impossible to escape. God calls us to love them all the way through and out of their difficult situations, not just to feed and clothe them and to stand by while nothing really moves forward for them. You see, the love of Jesus comes to set us free, not to trap us. The love of Jesus moves us forward rather than dragging us backward. The love of Jesus is expressed in a Gospel of Liberation that includes standing up for food, clothing, shelter AND equality and justice for every one of us and, if we must say so, every one of them, too. The love of Jesus, this greatest love of all is about freedom. When all of us experience that kind of freedom, then we will know exactly what it means to know the greatest love of all.
Finally, for today, the love that God shares with us never leaves us alone. I love this somewhat fictional story that Mona West shared this week about the death of Moses. The Rabbi's tell the story that when Moses was old and tired and learned that his time to die had come, he bargained with God to let him live. The five books of the law also pleaded with God, as well as the fire in the burning bush, and even the very Name that was revealed out of the bush...but their intervention was unsuccessful. God said to Moses, you must die, or otherwise the people will turn you into an idol. When Moses finally agreed to accept the inevitable, he begged God not to place him into the hands of the Angel of Death, who frightened him. And God agreed.
Moses spent the last hours of his life blessing the tribes of Israel. Then, escorted by the priest Eleazar and by his son Pinhas, and followed by his disciple Joshua, Moses slowly began to climb Mount Nebo. Slowly he entered the cloud waiting for him. He took one step forward and turned around to look at the people following him with their gaze. Tears welled up in his eyes until he could no longer see anyone. When he reached the top of the mountain, he halted. You have one more minute, God warned him so as not to deprive him of his right to death.
Then Moses lay down. And God said: Close your eyes. And Moses closed his eyes. And God said: fold your arms against your chest. And Moses folded his arms against his chest. Then silently, God kissed his lips. And the soul of Moses found shelter in God's breath and was swept away into eternity....
The greatest love of all. The love of God calls us to love our neighbors…all of them, as we love ourselves. The love of God carries us every step of the way through our lives. And even at the moment of our death, God kisses our lips and our souls fin shelter in God’s breath as we are swept away into eternity. The greatest love of all is God’s love for all of God’s creation. Let us be God’s instruments of love today and always; in Jesus’ name. God bless you. AMEN.