MATTHEW 22:34-40

MAY 31, 2015

Pastor: Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

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            A few years ago, a radio station ran a contest. "Just for fun, the disc jockeys said, "when you wake up to the sound of FM-106, call and tell us the first words you spoke when you rolled out of bed. If you're the third caller, you'll win $106."

            The first morning, a buoyant disc jockey said, "Caller number three, what did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?" A groggy voice said, "Do I smell coffee burning?" Another day, a sleepy clerical worker said, "Oh no, I cant believe its 6:15 already. Somebody else said her first words were, "Honey, did I put out the dog last night?"

            One morning, however, the third caller said something unexpected. The DJ said, "Good morning, this is FM-106. You're on the air. What did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?"

            A voice with a Bronx accent replied, Do you really want to know my first words in the morning?"

            The enthusiastic DJ said, "Yes, sir! Tell us what you said."

            The Bronx voice responded, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." There was a moment of embarrassed silence. Then the radio announcer said, "Sorry, wrong number," and cut to a commercial.

            For the pious Jew the first words of each morning are always the same, and they were the words spoken that morning on FM-106. They were first spoken by Moses. They come from the sixth chapter of the Old Testament book, Deuteronomy Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord, is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.

            This morning we begin a new sermon series which Im calling Five Great Loves.  In the New Testament Jesus gives his followers five love directives. As followers of his we are to love God, love ourselves, love our neighbors, love one another and, finally, love our enemies.  Well begin with the first and the most important of a Christians five great loves loving God.

            Listen to the words from Matthews Gospel.


            When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.


            By the way, this is the third of three questions directed at Jesus in this chapter.  They are asked back to back to back.  The first question was posed by the Herodians, the Herodians being a Jewish political party that supported King Herod.  For political expediency, the Herodians favored submitting to Rome.  Their question to Jesus was, Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?

            The second question was posed by another Jewish group, the Sadducees, a group that did not believe in miracles, and especially not in life after life.  As Ive said before, thats what made them sad you see!  They asked Jesus a hypothetical question about a woman who had married numerous times.  They asked him, In the resurrection whose wife would she be?  Which of the husbands would be hers in heaven?  They posed this question to illustrate the ridiculousness, at least in their eyes of the resurrection.

            The third question was posed by the Pharisees, a group big on keeping the law.  These were the law and order folk of their time.  Lets continue reading.


            Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? He said to them, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your should, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the 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 quotes the Old Testament twice.  He quotes the Deuteronomy passage which we referenced earlier and he quotes from the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, and in so doing he gives a bonus answer.  The Pharisees only asked for the greatest, the number one commandment, and he gives them the top two.     

            Of course, when reflecting upon the first and greatest commandment, what does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?  Three things come to mind.[1]

          First of all, doesnt it mean that we treat the things of God with respect, not only Gods name, but everything associated with God?

          Seminary professor Fred Craddock was invited to a rural church to preach at an evening service. There had been a terrible rain storm and the roads were not paved, but he was determined to get there, so through the rain and over the slippery road he slid around until he finally arrived at a little country church. But it turned out that while he was slipping and sliding his way out to the little church, the leaders of the church had called all the members and canceled the service. They called everyone, except Dr. Craddock. They didnt have his cell phone number, so they had two men go to the church to tell him when he arrived, No service tonight.

            Having no idea that the service had been canceled, Dr. Craddock parked out front and walked in. The two men sent to greet him were sitting at the front of the sanctuary passing the time by playing a game of cards. They werent gambling, they were just playing cards, but they were playing cards on the table that had written on the front of it: In remembrance of me, the communion table, the table of the Lords Supper.

            Now, you might say, A table is a table is a table, made out of wood. Nevertheless Craddocks heart sank to see the communion table being used to play cards.

          The ancient Jews believed that God was not holy, but holy, holy, holy. Even the name of God was so sacred that devout Jews would not speak Gods name. The Hebrew letters for God were YHWH, which we have translated as Yahweh or Jehovah, but the Jews would not even speak the name. They would substitute the names Adonai (Lord) or Elohim for God.

            Author Karen Burton Mays tells of traveling with a study group to the Holy Land.  In Jerusalem. They were interviewing a young Jewish scholar who had immigrated to Israel and become a naturalized Israeli citizen. One of the women asked him a question. In asking the question, she referred to God as Yahweh.

            Kindly, the young scholar said, Before I answer your question, I must explain that we would never utter that name as you have done, never speak it aloud, because it is too holy, too sacred even to be spoken. Then he went on and answered her question. Ms. Mays said, His words were a good reminder as to how far we have come in our journey out of holiness, when we hold nothing sacred, not even the spoken name of God.

          Second, doesnt loving God with all our heart and soul and mind also mean that we would desire to spend time with God? Isnt that what we do when we love someone? We want to spend time with that person. Remember when we first fell in love? We simply could not spend enough time with our beloved. In fact, thats what Im looking forward to the most when Trudy and I are both retired.  Im looking forward to spending more time together.

            I think the same applies in our relationship with God. That is why saints through the ages have devoted so much of their life to prayer.

            There is a science fiction writer named Robert Sawyer who is known for including spiritual insights in his novels. In one of Sawyers books, people from earth are having their first encounters with alien life from other planets. One of the scientists from the planet earth is surprised to learn that the aliens not only believe in God, but also spend eight hours a day in prayer. The scientist from earth asks, What in the world are they asking for that it takes them eight hours?

            The alien is shocked by the question and says, What does prayer have to do with asking for things?

          What a profound insight. What does prayer have to do with asking for things? And yet I suspect that is how many of us spend our prayer time making our requests of God. Why is that? Could it be that in our self-centered little world we are confused over who is the servant, and who is the master? Rather than spending time giving God His marching orders for the day, should we not spend time each day quietly in Gods presence listening to what God would like for us to be doing? When we truly love someone we want to spend time with them.

          Thirdly, doesnt loving God with all our heart and soul and mind affect how we live our lives?

            Pastor Jimmy Brown tells about the first girl who ever caught his eye. They were in second grade together. Up until this point he confesses that he just wanted to throw rocks at girls, but this girl was different. He didnt want to throw rocks at her. Her name was Sherri and she was as cute as anything young Jimmy had ever seen. She had short little pigtails and wore the sweetest little dress with a great big teddy bear on it. She also had the prettiest smile, especially with that middle tooth missing. And she could jump out of a swing farther than any of them. In short, Sherri was great, in his estimation.

          He remembers one day this lovely child passed him a note during class and it read, Do you love me? He says he didnt even know what love was, but he learned early that girls like to hear you say that you love them, so he checked, Yes on the note and passed it back.

            At recess that day Sherri came up to him with a big smile on her face and said, Say it. By this time he had no idea what she was talking about.

            Say what? he replied.

            Say that you love me, she said. It kind of embarrassed him, but he went ahead and said, I love you.

          The next day Sherri came up to him and said, Do you really love me?

          Yes, he replied.

          Do you mean it? she asked seriously. A lot of the boys tell me they love me, but some of them dont mean it.

          Even at the tender age of 7, says Brown, he knew the right answer to this question. Of course I mean it.

          He says that satisfied her for that day, but on the following day she came up to him again and said, If you love me and you mean it, then why dont you show it?

          Good grief, he was thinking. I let her have my special GI Joe eraser, I stopped pulling her pigtails, I even made Tommy and Billy stop calling her names. What more did she want?

          Youre supposed to hold my hand, she said with a stern look on her face. And play with me at recess. And sit next to me during free time . . . youre supposed to show it.

          Almost twentyfive years have passed since that day, says Pastor Jimmy Brown. It always makes me laugh when I think back to that second grade class. It also always amazes me how God can use the ordinary events of life, even that of a 7-year-old boy, to teach us about Him. For instance, God asks the same questions that the little girl asked me. Do you love me? Quickly we check off the appropriate box, Yes. Of course I love you, God.

            Do you mean it? God asks. Because a lot of people say that they love me, but some of them dont mean it.

          “‘Of course, I mean it, we quickly answer.

          “‘Then show it. God concludes. If you love me, keep my commandments, said Jesus (John 14:15). 

          How do we show our love for God? Let me count the ways. Treat with respect the things of God; spend time in God in prayer and worship; and live the way God wants us to live.

[1] The three things comes from A Lesson From Jay Lenos Mom, a sermon by King Duncan.