Lectionary (Year A) 19th after Pentecost: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; I Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
Theme: One thing motivates the Christian, doing what the God who love us calls us to do.
Message: In a comedy spoof, an actor, playing a dead body in a scene, in complete seriousness asked the director what their motivation should be as they acted being dead. Our culture is very interested in the motives behind actions, at times seemingly more interested in the motives than in the actions themselves. All of this Sunday’s texts say the follower of God is motivated by one thing: God. God trumps all other possible motivations.
The Deuteronomy text records the death of Moses, “the servant of the Lord”, a prophet like no other in Israel, “whom the Lord knew face to face.” The text is honest enough to indicate that Moses was not perfect, it was due to Moses’ failing to follow God’s command that Moses was not going into the Promised Land (see Numbers 20:1-13). But Moses was sent by God to Pharaoh and Moses went, God was Moses’ motivation.
The Psalm reminds its readers there are a variety of ways to “number our days” – motivations that might drive our lives – but only one which will “establish the work of our hands.” And that is following the God who loves us with “unfailing love.”
Paul declares his preaching of the gospel was from pure motives rooted in a desire to be “approved by God”. Rejecting false motives like: pleasing humans, seeking the praise of people, and greed, Paul and his companions shared the gospel of Christ with the Thessalonians. They preached doctrinal truth and shared themselves as well, because the Thessalonians became dear to them – they came to love the Thessalonians. Preaching the good news (loving God) led to loving the neighbor. And loving the neighbor called for the good news to be told.
Jesus responded to the set up question, by summarizing the law – love God who loves you and cherish your neighbor. The God we are to love is not a generic, distant God – but “your” God – a God we have a relationship with. And so the whole of God’s working with human beings is in play. That love is seen in cherishing the neighbor. It is easy as John notes to say we love God, the proof that we love God is seen in the love we show the neighbor (I John 4:20-21). But what motivates us to love. In the passage two things – God’s love for us (implied in “your God”) and the second part of the passage which reminds us who is issuing the command. It is Jesus who is Lord – and who one day would sit at God’s right hand. Why do Christians love? Because Jesus, who is the Son of God, told us to. We need no other reason. And no other reason can be more important than this.
The preacher faced with these texts might be tempted to preach on the great commandment – love God – love your neighbor. But the Matthew reading does not end at verse 40 – it goes on to the end of 46. The lectionary in putting both the question of the commandment and the question about who Jesus is together is following the early church lectionary that did the same thing. The question of loving God and neighbor cannot be separated from the question of faith in God. Faith in this Jesus who is the Son of God, must lead to loving God and neighbor. And loving God and neighbor is impossible over the long haul with the fire of faith in the God of love who came to us in Jesus Christ.
During one of Israel’s incursions into southern Lebanon to oust militants who were firing missiles into northern Israel, a group of Christian Palestinian university students decided to take food and medical supplies into a village in southern Lebanon. Driving into the mountainous area the students came across an Israeli light armed vehicle crashed in the ditch with two Israeli soldiers inside hurt in the crash. The students, one of whom had medical training, bandaged up the soldiers with the supplies they had, and loading the soldiers into their own vehicle drove them to the nearest Israeli check point. As they helped the Israeli soldiers out of their vehicle, one of the soldiers asked, “You are Palestinians and were are Israelis – we are enemies – why are you helping us?” To which the students replied, “We are Christians and Jesus told us to love our enemies.” – From a letter from Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship Staff worker in Beirut
““As yourself.” The love of self is not a third command, much as we sometimes wish it were in an age when self-esteem seems in short supply. But the route to self-esteem is through the gospel’s doctrines of justification, atonement, and God’s love for us; it is not through commands of self-love.” – Frederick Dale Bruner
“Thus the greatest kind of commandment in the whole Bible is broken down into two kinds and into two commands: Love the God who loves you, and cherish the person who meets you. These are liberating. We carry around much unnecessary guilt because there are so many things we are told we should do – told by the church, by the world, and by our own conscience. Jesus’ Double-Love Command teaches us to attend to these two commands with all that we are, see where they take us each day, and relax.” – Frederick Dale Bruner
RE: I Thessalonians
“But more impressive than their disclaimer of unworthy motives and actions is the assertion of their loving care for their converts. The note of maternal affection in vs. 7 comes from the heart of Paul….No other attitude would befit the preachers of a gospel which proclaimed as Lord and Savior one who “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7) for the enrichment of others.” – F.F. Bruce
- “I love You, Lord, and I lift my voice”
- “O Master, let me walk with Thee”
- “O God, our help in ages past”
- “Take my life and let it be”
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
O Lord God, you are the holy lawgiver, you are the salvation of your people. By your Spirit renew us in your covenant of love, and train us to care tenderly for all our neighbors, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.