Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for this morning is the Gospel just read from St. Matthew chapter 22. Let us pray:
O God, because without You we are not able to please You, mercifully grant that Your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (H78)
So what do you think of the candidates? This is kind of the question of the day for many. We have passed the first debate and now move on to the second. Opinions are forming, or for many, have long been formed. We have now moved into that point of American politics where every question is loaded; everything we say and do has meanings and double meanings. Everything is taken out of context. A missed word, a thought that hasn’t been vetted by the marketers, well, one little slip and it’s all over.
Jesus would have been right at home.
That was the life Jesus lived. Oh, it wasn’t politics as usual, at least not in quite the same sense. It was instead a time when everyone wanted Him on their side. Everyone wanted to nail Him down. Was He a Pharisee or a Saduccee? Would he be on the side of the lawyers or the tax collectors? Who would get to claim the endorsement of Jesus Christ, the Man Who Would Be King?
So they pressed in around him. Thousands of them even. Near and far, Jew and Samaritan, the sinners and the righteous, everyone wanted to get their pound of flesh. Everyone wanted a piece of Jesus. Today we hear from a Pharisee/lawyer. He’s got the question for Jesus. ““Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”” (Matthew 22:36 ESV) This is the sort of question that the Pharisees loved. Of all the laws in the Old Testament, the ceremonial laws, the civic laws, the moral laws, which was the greatest? Whose side would Jesus be on?
We ask the same questions of God today. Does God care more about poverty and world hunger or life and abortion or euthanasia? Is it more important to God that we eliminate war, or that we preserve the resources of the earth? Do we provide water to the needy in Africa, or food to the homeless in San Francisco? C’Mon, God! Tell us! What is the most important? What is the biggest? What is it that I can do so that I know your will and what you would have of me?
The answer, of course, is both simple and impossible. Jesus replies to the lawyer by quoting Deuteronomy: ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37–40 ESV)
Love God with everything, your whole life. And love your neighbor with everything, as much as you love yourself. That’s it. We usually hear this summary as the Ten Commandments, but it does come down to that one, simple word. Love. Love means sacrifice. Love means not doing what you want but doing what the other needs. Love means not looking to your own needs, but trusting that others will care for you just as you care for them.
So the answer to the questions before? Simple. Does God care more about abortion or poverty? Yes. Does God care more about world peace or care of the earth? Yes. Does God care more about the thirsty in Africa or the hungry in San Francisco? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
And guess what? You can’t do it. You can’t navigate in this love stream. You can’t pick and choose and make the right choice and get it together so that you are now God’s perfect instrument in the world, always doing His will, always acting just as He would want you to act. You can’t do it. You can’t love God like that. You certainly can’t love your neighbor like that. It is simple. It is simple, and impossible.
Jesus says that on this question hangs or depends all the Law and the Prophets. That’s shorthand for the whole Bible. The Bible hangs on this question. How is it that we, God’s holy people, can love Him above all and love each other as ourselves? The answer? We can’t. Not on our own. You will never do it, and neither will I. No matter how hard you try. No matter how many ways you navigate these waters, you will sink. You will never be able to make that all work.
This is why all of this son-talk from the second part of our text is so important and even central for us. Is Jesus David’s Son or David’s Lord? Now I know what you’re thinking. WHO CARES? I can’t do all that God has asked of me, and all of this talk about Jesus genealogy doesn’t help one bit.
This is why it matters.
The Pharisees and the lawyers knew that the Messiah was going to come from David’s family. He would be a Son of David. This Messiah or Anointed One would be the King of Israel. He would rule over His people, and would see them through to the end. Mary was from King David’s family. So Jesus was a son of David because He is the Son of Mary. What the Pharisees had forgotten was that the Son of David would also be the Son of God. He would be David’s Lord.
As the Son of God and the Son of Mary, Jesus does for you what you cannot do for yourself. He fears, loves and trusts in God, His Father, above all things. He trusts that His Father would care for Him, even in death. Abraham did not have to slay his son, Isaac, but God did. Jesus trusts that God will see Him through whatever suffering, whatever price and whatever trial He would have to undergo.
What’s more, Jesus loves you as He loves Himself. St. Paul actually calls us the Body of Christ. We are His body. Without the Head we can do nothing, be nothing. Without the Head we are, well, dead.
But you are never without Christ. This is the genius and beauty of this place, this Altar, that rail, this Eucharist, which is His Body and Blood for you. Here, you are in Him and He in you. Here, the Head and the Body come together as one flesh. Here you have received every spiritual gift that will sustain you to the end (1 Corinthians 1:7).
This, beloved, is what it means to be in Christ, and to be baptized. You are now grafted to the tree of life. You are now living branches of the tree. Because of Jesus’ coming into our flesh and blood, you are in Him and He in you. And that is a very comforting thought indeed.
The politicians and statesmen of the day will always argue about what is the most important law to keep. We will always fail each other, because we each have different perspectives on what is important or unimportant. The key for you and I in living our life here and now is to understand that all things are God’s, and that we are in Him. Live, and love, and be free. For in Christ, all things are now yours.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith unto life everlasting. Amen.
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Trinity 18 (Matthew 22:34–46)
October 7, 2012