Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church


Matthew 22:36-40

Mitzie was pleasantly surprised earlier this week when I actually gave her a sermon title… "What in the World is Love?" I had to admit to her that it wasn't original with me… I ran across it in my reading early in the week… but it hit me right between the eyes because it was exactly the question I was already pondering in response to our text this morning.

Once again… in our story this morning… we find the religious leaders trying to trick Jesus with what seems to be an impossible question. Aside from their ulterior motives… this was apparently a favorite pastime among the rival religious leaders of his day. Argument and debate were cornerstones of Jewish theological reflection and development. By this time in Jewish history the Pharisees had enumerated 613 commandments in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible… some considered onerous or extremely important… and some light or less important. Much as we are still doing today… the religious leaders spent a great deal of time arguing about the importance of these "commandments" and looking for ways to avoid breaking them. "Thou shalt not" was their favorite maxim.

Generally speaking in these arguments there were two ways to win… you could come up with the correct answer… or you could pose a question which couldn't be answered. Last week we saw the Pharisees and Herodians… who were generally on opposite sides of any theological argument… teaming up to ask Jesus a question they thought could not be answered… at least not with impunity. But Jesus confounded them with his response.

In the few brief verses we skipped between last week's story and today's story we find another rival group… the Sadducees… attacking Jesus with yet another impossible question. Having been silenced once again by Jesus' response… the Pharisees step up to the plate… with no runs… facing the greatest strike-out pitcher who ever lived! You'd think they'd be getting the message by now wouldn't you!

Actually… this is the last story in Matthew about the religious leaders trying to outsmart Jesus with debate and argument. Once again Jesus… who answers this time first with a correct answer… and then with a question that cannot be answered… outsmarts the religious leaders. At this point… having been unable to humiliate and discredit Jesus in the usual way… they move on to more lethal methods.

This morning I want us to think a bit more about the answer that Jesus gave the Pharisees about the most important commandment. When they asked:

36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

In our culture we have, I think, a rather strange concept of love that makes it difficult for us to understand just what Jesus was saying… let alone experience love in the way in which he commands it. We tend to think of love as an emotion… something we feel… preferably with intensity! Once in awhile… in our spiritual life… we may have such an emotional experience… and such an experience is a great source of joy. But emotions… including that occasional spiritual high… are simply physiological reactions to external stimulation… and physiological reactions are fleeting. They pass quickly and we are back to our rather mundane reaction to God and to life… which doesn't feel at all like love as we are lead to believe it should be experienced.

I'm reminded of a movie made in 1970 called "Love Story"… a simple, modern boy-meets-girl story set against a New England college backdrop, tinged with tragedy by the girl's sudden illness. Comments about this movie ranged from "absolutely the greatest romance film ever made" to "sappy… sappy… sappy…one of the worst of the 70's". Love in our day and age generally means romance and we are either enthralled by it or turned off by it. Certainly we all know just how fleeting it is!

I never saw this film… partly because I am turned off by "romance" in general… but mostly because I was turned off by it's tag line… "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Whatever this meant with regard to the movie… it simply did not ring true to me. To my way of thinking… love means always having to say you're sorry! There's a song lyric that goes, "You always hurt the one you love… the one you shouldn't hurt at all." I think that is true more times than we care to admit… and the only remedy is to say we are sorry… and mean it! When was the last time you said you were sorry to someone you love?

I suppose my attitude about saying I'm sorry comes from being raised in the reformed faith where confession is an integral part of our relationship with God. It is certainly one way in which we can express our love for God. But how else do we do that? I don't pretend to have any definitive answer to that question… perhaps it can be food for thought for you this week.

Perhaps one way of thinking about expressing your love for God is to think about how you express… or fail to express… your love for yourself and for other… which is, of course, the second commandment… "like unto the first." In truth… we really have no other way of thinking about expressing love except as we experience it in our own lives. What do you experience as love from others… and how do you express your love for others?

Let me in closing suggest a few ways that seem to be common to all human beings. Isn't it true that you feel most loved when somebody accepts you just as you are with no hidden strings attached… when you are affirmed more for who you are than for what you do or give… when your joys and sorrows are shared without advice… when someone goes out of their way to do something for you even when you don't deserve it… when someone sticks by you through thick and thin no matter what.

Many of us suffer from psychological dis-ease because we did not receive this kind of love in our formative years. In the end it is this kind of love… received first from God… that allows us to love God, to love ourselves and to love others in this way. It is in giving and receiving this kind of love that we become whole again. Amen.

A Sermon Preached on October 24, 1999
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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