How Do You Love
Tony E Dillon Hansen
Sermon based upon Matthew 22:34-46, Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1
A post on our Facebook page has this wonderful quote from Paul Tillich “The first duty of love is to listen.” And is that not accurate? Because if we don’t listen we don’t hear, we don’t care. If we don’t listen with open heart and open mind as well as open ears, then are we really listening? Let us today ask “how do you love” and let us listen for love today.
As we have been walking through Matthew, we have heard Jesus sharing parables to describe the kingdom of God as a place of grace and love for all but also how people receive blessings (or perhaps how some do not, like the wicked tenants). Jesus, in Matthew 22, is asked a question about the law. There is no parable here - “just the facts ma'am.” Jesus reaches into the Torah, Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.
Law can be a tough read, and as Kathryn Schifferdecker remarked, if you were ever needing a way to fall asleep, reading the law or Leviticus can help. As someone who has taken a couple law classes, reading law can be good sleep inducer, but law can challenge the best of us to find needles in haystacks because we look at not just the law but interpretations (e.g. Supreme Court decisions.)
Among the most intense and difficult classes I have taken, my undergrad Constitutional Law class ranks near the top. I enjoyed the class because we studied and learned how constitutional laws have been interpreted and gradually expanded to grant rights to more Americans over time. Yet, Prof Hagel gave us only 4 grades, and he wrote exams like the mid-term with 30 possible points but because the questions were THAT HARD - immediately gift the class 10 points. I understand why because with law, one has to study nuances and many court decisions – including dissenting. This was a difficult class.
Here, Jesus does a simple but thorough exegesis of the Holiness Code, that of all of the laws (not just 10), these two define us and our relationship with God.
We read from Genesis that God created the world as “very good” and makes holy. We are created in the divine image. We are gifted creation and commanded to take care of this garden along with those in it. God wants us to flourish.
Leviticus, as great sleep medicine it can be, gives more detail to how we can flourish with God. As part of the Holiness Code, there are more than 10 commands but how one might live those.
There is simplicity in this text but challenges too. Let us walk through some.
"You shall not render unjust judgment..." When you see people on the news protesting, what have you said? When people are in pain, do you say "you did this to yourself," or do you sit a moment and listen, as Tillich says?
"You shall not go around as a slanderer..." Think of how more friendly our political seasons would be if we didn’t slander – what would politicians do? Yet when you talk about people, do you point out their deficiencies, their disabilities, or their errors, or do you try to lift up and cheer on to keep going?
"You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor..." The systemic failures and injustices of jealousy and fraud could be solved simply by being fair.
"You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin..." Ask yourself who is your kin; your neighbor? Isn’t hate a bit expensive? Let go of hate or consume you it will.
"You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against any..." for vengeance and judgment belong to God. Remember Jesus’s words about removing the log from our eye before removing the speck in others. Sometimes, we need to forgive ourselves too since we know that we fail.
Go even a little further into Leviticus 25 to the laws of Jubilee where all debts are to be forgiven regularly. Can you imagine how this would mess with our current financial system? Think of how much freedom is buried in debt. Think of why Jesus tells us to pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” There is freedom smothered by debt.
The cornerstone of these commands, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." If we go a little further into Leviticus 19: 33-34 “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt…”
So How do you love? How do you love your neighbor (or the alien)? This isn’t just empty words or questions. This is as Kathryn suggests “a profound theological statement about life with God.” Holiness is a gift from our Creator - something we don’t get on our own. While we sin and fall short, Holiness is “the work of God in us.”
This is showing love and compassion. This is lifting up and revealing grace among us. This is letting God be with us and in us.
You, made in the image of our Creator, you - made with love to be God's servant here on Earth, you share that love.
We can put a lot in trying to be perfect, holy and acing that class. That can be exhausting. These may be worthy ventures, but we don’t do this alone. Yet, each of these needs honest effort, action, and reflection that is rooted in the holy promise, the holy command.
When we are true, when we lift and not degrade,
when we do good business and not fraud,
when we welcome neighbors (and aliens) as our kin,
when we love,
then we do God’s work!
When we let love find us, bind us and warm us,
we make room for grace abundant.
Avoid being the “wicked tenant” of God’s creation. Don’t cheat or be unjust. There is little nuance to interpret.
We can walk and talk with compassion and love that God desires. Thus, taking care of our neighbors, our community, our church, and letting room for people is inviting not only people but inviting God into our lives. When we live into the moment, live into love, live freedom from debt - because you forgive, you live and dwell with God. That is how you love.
It is not only about ourselves but those that ask to represent us. In this election season, we know that politicians are like us - fallible and flawed. When we look at the list of people on the ballot (or even for our church) we should ask which one lifts up and makes room for God to work or perhaps who does more slander. We should ask which one invites us as good people to lift up and share.
“You shall be holy for I the LORD your God am holy.” That to love God with all your heart and mind because God is inside you and made you holy. In all of our brokenness and darkness, God made you holy; God made all of us - full of love. It is for this reason then we must love those around us because they too are made of this holy love.
Let life flourish; let God show you and dwell in you!
That is God’s promise and gift. Let love be you!
Like the great power ballad “Love Song” by Tesla,
“So look around, open your eyes.
Love is gonna find a way,
find its way back to you.
Love will find a way.”
…And Vote like your love depends upon it.
Thanks be to God!