Love God. Love Neighbor.
Loving God. Love your neighbor. Change the World
A sermon by the Rev. H. Paul Canady III
Rector of Christ Church, New Bern, NC, on October 25, 2020
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” Jesus said.
Loving God and loving our neighbor is the summary of all that God had told the Israelites 1,500 years or so before Jesus’s time on earth. The law was first given on a mountain top to a man named Moses. Our readings from the Hebrew scripture in the month of October have traced that journey. Moses’ run as leader of God’s chosen people concludes with today’s reading. He gets a glimpse of what is coming next, even though he doesn't get to cross over to the Promised Land. It had not been an easy journey for the people or for Moses, or even for God, if we’re being honest. But God’s trust was in Moses, and Moses’ trust was in God, and God’s people, with the Law in hand, crossed over to the promised land.
The work that Moses the Lawgiver began on that mountain top with the voice of God coming from a burning bush carries for generation after generation through countless prophets of God, both Hebrew and not, right down to a carpenter from a backwater town in Roman-occupied Palestine who knew his birth and calling to be the Messiah, the Chosen One of God. Like any good Rabbi, Jesus knows the law inside and out. And since Jesus is also God-made-flesh, Jesus understands the intent of the Law better than anyone ever has or ever will.
A few years ago, a parishioner gave me this book. It’s called The 613, and it is the retelling in graphic-novel format of the 613 laws from rabinic tradition that was in development before Jesus’ lifetime. I’ll leave it over on the bench if you want to look at it after the service. It’s really great! Jesus took these 613 laws and boiled them down to the two most basic: Love God. Love your neighbor. Rule One. And Rule A.
The most important thing to remember about this moment in Jesus’ ministry is that he is not making up anything new. He is citing directly from the words God gave Moses on Mt. Siani. Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. Two sentences that were the very core of Jewish life and belief.
Rule 1, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ is also called the Shema, which means “Hear” because the first words of the passage in Deuteronomy are “Hear O Israel…” Jesus is holding up the belief that the point of the Torah, the Law, is not to be burdensome or weighty, but the aim is to orient one’s entire life toward God. And boy, did Moses know that since he spent 40 years on that effort!
But here is the thing: One cannot love God without loving what God loves and how God loves. And I get that it’s not easy. If it were easy, I wouldn’t be preaching on it. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Any deficit we have in loving God and loving our neighbor is rarely a lack of ability. It is most often a lack of the willingness to do it. And if we can’t put forth that effort, then what are we really doing trying to follow Jesus?
It is impossible to love God with all our heart and our soul and our mind if we oppress and exclude and deny rights and earned privileges to any of God’s beloved humanity -- even those we see as our enemy. While Jesus’ fellow Pharisees used the law to limit and exclude those whom they were required to recognize as their neighbors, Jesus uses the same text to obliterate the boundaries of neighborliness. There is no limit to the love God has for all humanity. And the only way humanity sees it is when we show it.
To love God is to love the way God loves -- completely and indiscriminately, even when it is costly.
To love God is to love what God loves -- which is everything and every one, even when it’s hard.
To love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, means to love God with our whole life. And it means we love our neighbor with our whole life, too. And if you need a reminder of who our neighbor is, I would point you to the story of the Good Samaritan in the 10th chapter of Luke’s Gospel.
To love God and love our neighbor is to build up people and communities, not defences and walls.
To love God and love our neighbor is to combat the causes of poverty and mass migration, and not combat the poor and migrants.
This Gospel passage takes place on the Monday of Holy Week. Just a few days after this, Jesus will face an unjust trial and brutal execution. It would appear that Jesus won’t get to see the next steps in what happens with the movement he began. Like Moses, he gets to the mountain top. But what is the promised land Jesus is seeing?
I think that the promised land is a land free from oppression, persecution, and exclusion, a land where all of God’s beloved creation is on a level playing field with equal access to the same rights.
Here’s what I said on this same scripture passage nine years ago: How many more promised lands would oppressed and occupied and denied people be able to enter if those doing the oppressing, occupying and denying focused more on loving their neighbor, focused on the fact that those who look different, speak different, love different, believe different are indeed our neighbors. And to fully love God, we have to love them, too.
It’s not always easy. In fact it is rarely easy. But the reward is phenomenal. We travel to the way of Jesus as one people, not as individuals. We do the hard work of loving God and loving our neighbor as the people of God, not as individual persons of God.
Because on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.