"Go Deep"

Matthew 22:32-40

Jul 6, 2014

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            Growing up in Southern California, we played sports outdoors year round.  Two sports mostly: baseball and football and mostly in the street in front of the apartment in which my mom and my sister and I lived.  I don't see kids playing sports in the streets much anymore.  Sports seem to be more organized today than it was when I was a boy. 

            When it came to football, if a car happened to be parked on the street, well that aided the running of passing routes.  Just go to the red car and cut left and I'll hit you with a pass.  Being the fastest among my friends - I know how difficult that is to believe today - our quarterback would call the play.  "Carlos go to the blue car do a button hook, and Meyer, you go deep." 

            That's what Jesus instructed us to do.  He instructed us to go deep.  Open your bibles to Matthew 22:34, and I'll show you what I mean. 

 

            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.  Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? He said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and 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.

 

            Let me set the scene.  It's Tuesday of Holy Week, three days before the crucifixion.  Jesus has engaged the Pharisees in a heated, verbal debate.  It's the second of two hot topic issues that they spring on Jesus.  The first hot topic issue came earlier in verse 15.  Look at that with me.  Same chapter.  Verse 15.

 

            Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.  So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.  Tell us, then, what you think.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?"

 

            What we have here is an example of mouth-to-mouth manipulation.  The Pharisees intentionally flatter Jesus.  They butter him prior to springing their trap.  I'm reminded of that old saying about flattery:  chances are when someone slaps you on the back that person wants you to cough something up.  This is an example of that.  The Pharisees engage in heavy backslapping here and they hope to trip Jesus up, catch him off guard, but it doesn't work.  When they hear Jesus' answer about taxes, they go away marveling at what they had heard.

            But they did not go away for long.  They come back at him a second time, right after Jesus had put the Sadducees in their place, and here's where we pick up the story.  The second time around they ask him another controversial question, this time about the greatest commandment.  In our day we debate other issues.  Where do you stand on same-gender marriage?  How do we best remedy the immigration issue?  Who's really to blame for the mess in Iraq ... Bush or Obama?  We debate other things.  We don't debate the most important commandment, but that was a hot topic at that time, even rivaling their first question to him about taxes.  The scribes counted 613 laws or commandments to obey, and some even argued that the commandment to wear fringes on one's garments was the greatest of the 613.  So, suffice it to say, the Pharisees had placed Jesus in a volatile, emotionally charged, spot.  

            Did I ever tell you that I was on ESPN for a fleeting moment?  When our kids were young every other Thanksgiving we would drive out to Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family, and every other year my sister and her family would drive here to Omaha for Thanksgiving.  Well, one year we scored tickets to the Nebraska-Colorado football game in Boulder and we went.  Those were the days when McCartney was the Colorado coach and the rivalry was heating up, and we had end zone seats and during one of the breaks ESPN zeroed in on my nephew, Adam, who must have been about seven or eight at the time, decked out in a red parka, hood over his head.  He lives in Colorado, but he's a huge Nebraska fan, and I photo bombed the picture, and when we got home friends said, "Hey, we saw you during the Colorado game."  It wasn't quite fifteen minutes of fame, more like five seconds of fame, but I'll take it. 

            Anyway, being dressed in red in a sea of angry Colorado fans was not the most comfortable moment of my life.  And the fact that Nebraska won the game, did not help matters.  In fact, we had other opportunities to go to Nebraska-Colorado games in Boulder, Colorado, but once was enough.  It's no fun being in the middle of a hostile, rude crowd. 

            That's were Jesus was on this Tuesday of Holy Week.  Furthermore, the Pharisees knew Jesus was winning the game, and they were frustrated and angry and they asked him a loaded question, perfumed with flattery, "What's the greatest commandment?"  He responded,

 

            "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."  This is the greatest and 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.

 

            Listening to Jesus' response I'm reminded of the Gentile who came to a Jewish rabbi and asked him, "Teach me the whole Torah, the whole law, while I stand on one foot."  In other words, make it brief.  Before I lose my balance give me the essentials, the Cliff Note's version of the law.  That's what Jesus does here.  He summarizes the whole law, the whole Torah, in two sentences.  All Moses ever said, all Jeremiah ever said, all Isaiah ever said, all Jesus ever taught in the Sermon on the Mount, all of this is contained in these two sentences.  And the greatest commandment, that part about loving The Lord with all our heart, and soul and mind, relates to our Vision Statement.  I'm referring to the part that reads, "As we move into the future God has given us, we will support one another in deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ, as well as introducing Christ to others."

            On May 5,1998 the Ford Motor company dropped the advertising campaign which they had used for seventeen years.  They changed it to, "Better ideas.  Driven by you."  That campaign did not last long.  But do you recall their advertising slogan of the 80's and most of the 90's?  It was, "Quality is Job One!"  Well, Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, and to us, "Loving God with all you got, is job one!"

            Of course, when Jesus says, "Love The Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind," he's quoting a blast from the past.  He's quoting from the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy.  He's quoting Moses, and as some of you know, whenever there is a word repetition in the same passage ... like there is here with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind .. it is there for the purpose of emphasis.  Repetition means the verse should end with an exclamation point.  It means it should be underlined.  It should be highlighted with a day-glo marker.  It's a "read my lips," sort of statement.  It's saying, "Jot this down.  This is very important."  Loving God, going deep with God, is to be the number one priority of our lives.

            And my question to us this morning is simply this: is it?  Is going deep with God the number one priority of our lives and of our church?   I mean if were to bird dog us for a couple of weeks or a month, would they come to the conclusion that, "Yes, loving God, going deep with God, is the number one priority of our church and our lives?"  What do you think?  Well, if I were a church consultant, which I am not, and if a church asked me to come in and observe the church, to determine their commitment to going deep with God, I would look for three things. 

            First, I would look to see if the people in that congregation had a strong desire to draw near to God.  Trudy and I have been married for 43 three plus years.  I know we pale in the light of some of you, but still we like the fact that we have been married that long, and still really love one another.  And don't tell anyone this, especially don't let any young people know this, but Trudy was only 18 when we got married.  When someone comes to me and wants to be married and they say they are only 18, I cringe.  I take a deep breath.  I start calculating the odds of that couple ever making a marriage last.  Eighteen seems much too young an age to commit to marriage.  But Trudy did, and it's been a great 43 years.

            And do you know one of the ways I know Trudy loves me?  She wants to be near me.  She likes to hold hands, even in public.  She calls me every day, once or twice a day, just to check in.  And when I travel without her, which thankfully is not as much as I once did, she wants me to call her everyday when I'm gone.  Every day.  I know Trudy loves me because she likes to draw near to me.  So, I would look for that in a church.  Do people want to draw near to God?  Do they want to hang out with God?

            Second, I would look to see if they wanted to discover more about God?   Temma Ehrenfeld wrote an article recently for the magazine Psychology Today.  The article was "How to Grow Close by Asking the Right Questions."  Her opening claim grabbed my attention.  Quoting the research of a professor from Stony Brook University, she said you can build intimacy in forty-five minutes by simply asking thirty-six specific questions.  She said you could use these questions on a date or simply with people you already know well, to deepen your tie with that question.  Here's how it works.  You sit down and work through the questions one by one with each of you answering the same question before moving on to the next question.  The first four questions in order are:

            1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

            2. Would you like to be famous?  In what way?

            3. Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you're going to say?  Why?

            4. What would constitute a perfect day for you?

            So turn to the person closest to you and answer the first question, "Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?"

            I'm kidding.  I'm kidding.  You don't need to do that.

            Unfortunately, if we used this system in discovering more about God, we might become frustrated.  We might find ourselves saying, "What did you say?  I can't hear you.  Speak up!"  No, in discovering more about God I would look for one thing.  I would look for worn bibles.  Or in this day, I might look for a bible app on their smart phone or tablet.  Furthermore, I would look to see how many people are gathering together on a regular basis to learn more about the bible.  God reveals a lot of stuff about himself/herself in this book.  I would look to see if people were pouring over God's biography.

            Third, I would look to see how they do with God when things aren't going well.  George MacDonald said ... and by the way if you didn't know George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister.  He was a pioneering figure in the field of fantasy literature and the mentor of fellow writer Lewis Carroll.  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien cited MacDonald's writings as a major literary influence in their own works.  Anyway, George MacDonald said,  "To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved."  In light of that, how are we doing when it comes to trusting God?

            Our grandkids are coming to visit us in a couple of weeks and they are bringing their parents with them, so in light of that, let me end with a story about a grandfather and his granddaughter.  The grandfather came up with a clever way to discover what his granddaughter wanted for Christmas.  He took her to Toys R Us and they walked down every aisle of that warehouse of wonder for girls and boys.  The grandfather watched as she touched, oohed and aahed over different toys.  After a considerable amount of time, the grandfather said, "If you could have anything you wanted in this whole store, what would you choose?" 

            With wide eyes his granddaughter asked, "Whatever I want?"

            The grandfather smiled and said, "Yes.  If you had to choose, what would it be?"

            After a long pause, the granddaughter said, "I don't know.  I can't decide."

            Jokingly, the grandfather said, "I guess that means you want everything in the whole store!"

            With even wider eyes, and very seriously, the little girl said, "All right!"

            We can be like that little girl.  We want it all.  But what happens when we can't have it all.  What happens when God says, "No?"  Do we trust God's wisdom and oversight of our lives?  Have we grown that deep in our relationship with God?

            As George MacDonald said, "To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved."

            Amen.