Homily for Proper 30, Year A, 2014
Sunday, October 26th, 2014
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 22:34-46
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; … and love your neighbour as yourself.”
As usual, the adversaries of Jesus were trying to trip him up. In this particular instance, it was a lawyer, that is, someone trained in the intricacies of the Torah, the Jewish law. And so he asked Jesus which one of the commandments in the law is the greatest. Now there are some 613 commandments in the Jewish Torah. This expert in the law listened patiently and waited to see how Jesus might make a statement by which he would convict himself. However, Jesus was just about as tricky as the lawyer, and he responded with the traditional Jewish daily prayer, the Shema, an acclamation of faith in the oneness of God and our obligation to worship him alone. “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul and mind.” How could this be argued? And then Jesus further added, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” which echoes everything we hear in the prophets about the sort of worship God desires, which is a compassion for those around us and justice for the poor.
This silenced his opponent, for the lawyer knew he could argue neither of these points. What is very interesting about this is that it is not the law itself to which Jesus turns, but rather to a prayer; which always reminds us that our prayers inform and shape our theology. Theology is the art of interpreting, and reflecting upon our relationship with God and God’s world. It is not the other way around. We do not start with a law, or a theology, or a set of beliefs and then shape our relationship with God out of them; rather, we start with a relationship with God and we build our theology out of that relationship. The rule of prayer is the rule of faith, or belief. This is precisely what Jesus did. He started with our relationship with God, and then moved to our relationship with God’s creation in our fellow creatures and then proclaimed, “all of our theology hangs on these two things.”
I find this a very comforting thought. And when you think about it, all of our Christian theology revolves around this very simple truth, that in Jesus Christ, God is reaching out to you and me for a relationship. We might even say it more simply, that Jesus IS our relationship with God. Jesus makes God’s love known to us. All of our theology about the Incarnation, the Cross and Resurrection, the Ascension, his coming again – all of these things point to the one essential fact that in Jesus God reaches out to us in relationship and invites our response. Each aspect of our theology attempts to explain this relationship. In the Incarnation, in the Cross, God seeks to be with us in poverty, in humility, in vulnerability. In the example of his birth in the stable, and his death upon the cross God is reaching out to us. He is with us in our humility, in our pain, in our vulnerability, and bears those things with us and for us. In the Resurrection and the Ascension, God draws us into his divine life. We embrace his risen body and his risen life and we embrace God, and thus share in his glory. It is all relationship. And it is a relationship of love.
And what of our theology about the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, the Church Militant, and the Church Triumphant? These are ways of talking about our relationship with each other, both now and in the age to come. When we speak of the “kingdom” we are speaking about a newly ordered community in which all our relationships are seen in light of the relationship we have with God in Christ. It is through God’s Spirit who animates our relationship with God in prayer that our relationships with each other will find new hope and joy.
Thus, it seems to me that when Jesus is asked which law is the greatest, by responding with a prayer, he in essence is saying, no law is the greatest. He rather is changing the conversation and asking do you believe God loves you? Do you love God? And if these things are true, do we recognize that love in the love of our neighbour?
Is this not what really matters? To know that we are loved?
This week we heard the powerful story of another lawyer, this one a woman named Barbara Winters, who upon hearing gunshots near the national war memorial ran toward those shots. What she encountered was a dying solider, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. And what were her words to that dying man? “You are loved… your family loves you… everyone loves you… we are all so proud of you… You are so loved…” And when later asked why she said what she said, she responded simply, “When you are dying, you need to know how loved you are.”
This is the entire theology of the Gospel wrapped up in a single sentence. “When you are dying, you need to know how loved you are.” To a dying race, to a people who constantly hurt each other, who sin against each other, who make terrible mistakes trying even to do the best, God comes to us in Jesus with the words “You are so loved… I love you … you are so loved.” God believes that we need, more than anything else to hear these words from him: “I love you.” And he speaks these words to us in Jesus Christ. We are further called to speak these words to each other, to run toward the fire, toward the gunshots, toward the tragedy, towards death and proclaim life in the words “I love you” to those who desperately need to hear that they are loved. To know that we are loved by God, and to share that love with one another in the midst of forces that attempt to drive us to hatred, upon these two things hang all the law and the prophets.