Sermon for Proper 25, Year A October 29, 2017

Leviticus 19-1-2, 15-18                   Psalm 1                 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8                     Matthew 22:34-46

In morning prayer, as the scriptures are read, I read along in a different translation.  This past week, I found some of the differences particularly interesting.  The translation we use for Morning Prayer is the same used for our Sunday worship, the New Revised Standard Version.  I follow along using the Revised Standard Version.  I am not like my Old Testament professor or some of the higher functioning seminary students I knew who read in their Greek or Hebrew Bibles as they listened to the scripture being read to see how the translation used compared with the original texts.  Nor do I read along in the Revised Standard Version because I believe it is superior to what we use.  No, I do this simply because it is the translation in the Daily Office Book that was given to me at my ordination.

Still, hearing the differences is sometimes helpful and is a reminder of what I actually learned when I took Greek.  Every translation is an interpretation – meaning, when the Bible is translated from the language it was written in, the theology of the translator determines which words in English are used.  There are often many choices, so translators select the words that reflect their individual understanding of God.  Thus, if you are struggling with a text, it is sometimes helpful to read it in a different translation.

It was today’s gospel reading that reminded me of this fact, as well as the fact that it is often helpful to compare how a story is reported in the various gospels.  Just as translations differ, the gospels differ.  Today we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus being tested by the Pharisees, just as he was in last week’s gospel reading.  Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? ” Jesus responds:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus is quoting scriptures from the Torah – more specifically from Deuteronomy, and the Book of Numbers.

I’ve quoted this scripture before when I’ve been asked, “What is your favorite scripture.”  I might, however, like the way Mark reports it better.  In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins by saying, “The foremost is Hear, O Israel!  the Lord our God is one Lord.”   This is the being of the daily prayer which was to be said by all faithful Jews.  Jesus then says, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  Notice the difference here – Mark adds, “and with all your strength.”

The basic answer is the same, but the greatest commandment, as it appears in the various places in the scriptures differ in how it says we are to love the Lord our God.  Some verses say with all our mind, others say instead, with all our strength or might, but do not say our minds.  Mark includes both our might (or strength depending on your translations) AND mind.

Interesting, but does this matter?  Yes and no.  I have found that noting the differences in the gospels sometimes makes me stop and think – and that is a good thing.  The commandment, however it appears in the scriptures, can be summed up by saying we are to love God with our whole self – not just our hearts and souls.  Adding “our might” and “our minds” means we are to use the strength of our bodies and minds to glorify God.  Our love is not being passive, but is to be reflected in how we respond to our neighbors – the second great commandment that Jesus says is like the first.

Here I want you to note, that this second commandment is not simply about loving our neighbors.  To say that you must love your neighbor, “as yourself.” means we are to love our neighbors AND ourselves.

There have been times in my life when I did not love myself, and there are times now when I do not love myself as much as I love my neighbor.  Whenever I am selfish and self-centered, I do not like the man I am.  I want to be generous and caring, I want to be the man that God created me to be – but I am certainly guilty of putting myself first at times in my life.  And then, there are times when I fail to take care of myself.  I over commit and fail to do what I need to do for my own health – mental, physical, and spiritual.

To love our neighbor AS ourselves, means we are to treat everyone as well as we do ourselves, and if we do not practice self-care, then we are setting the bar rather low.  Finding the balance between self-care and selfishness is extremely difficult and not something I claim to have mastered – but we owe it to each other to try. Self sacrifice is sometimes required, but it is not our objective as Christians.

To be the people God created us to be, means to seek God’s peace within ourselves (our hearts and souls), and within our community.  It takes work to seek peace, it takes commitment, and it can only be achieved by us working together.

I can accomplish very little on my own.  In our cottage dinners, I have heard many of you talk about what you would like to see happen at St. Paul’s.  The last scheduled cottage dinner will be after our 10:30 service this morning – but it will not be the last time we talk about our future together.

St. Paul’s is here today because of the people who came before us, people who worked together to build this community of faith.  It is here because they made the commitment to sustain it and because the generations that followed them also committed themselves to supporting one another and this church.

Next Sunday we will have four baptisms.  The Cook family has recently joined St. Paul’s and all four of them will be baptized at our 10:30 All Saints’ Sunday Service.  At that service we will also read the names of people who have gone before us, people who have influenced our lives and helped make us the people we are today.  So, we will remember the contributions of people in our past and rejoice the addition of new members to this body of believers.  Our past is always behind us, but it has shaped who we are today.  Our future is always before us, but it is will be shaped by who we are today.

Jesus reminds us just who God wants us to be today.  God’s desire for us is for our lives to be filled with love – love for God, love for our neighbors, and love for ourselves.  God, being the source of love, makes all this possible.  Possible, but it is up to us to direct our hearts and minds to the task.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, you created us in your image and gave us the capacity to love.  Grant us the strength and courage to love you, to love our neighbors, and to love ourselves.   And, filling our hearts with love, help us, we pray, draw others to you.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.