Reformation: Back to Basics

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on October 25, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.

Matthew 22:34-46

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘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.”

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Back when I was in first or second grade, we had this assignment during Valentine’s Day to write “Love Is” poems. Some highlights from mine include the following: 

  • Love is my sister and I when we aren’t fighting.
  • Love is getting donuts for breakfast.
  • Love is golfing with my family.
  • Love is playing at the lake.

What would you include in your “Love Is” poem?

Today, we read Matthew 22:34-46, one of the most famous passages in scripture, I’d argue. It’s all about naming what love really is. 

In the beginning of our passage, it’s said that there was a lawyer who asked Jesus a question, not sincerely, but in order to test him. He didn’t think very highly of Jesus, and we can gather that from his use of ‘teacher’ insincerely, which is in direct contrast to the believers calling Jesus Lord. Jesus had just defended the Pharisees’, but instead of being gracious or kind, they continue to test him, just as he was tested by Satan. 

So why did this lawyer want to test him? We’re not sure, but there are some speculations. Because there are hundreds of commands, the lawyer may have been trying to catch Jesus off guard and make it seem like he didn’t know them all. It also may have been that the lawyer wanted to put Jesus in a trap by asking him to choose the most important one, because it would seem suspicious for Jesus to declare one law as more important than another. 

But Jesus hears the question differently. He’s not going to choose which commandment matters most. Instead, he’s sharing how we are to interpret all the laws, and the words from the prophets as well. Jesus is telling us that loving God and loving neighbor is the attitude we are to approach the law with, in order to understand and share it with others.

The kind of love Jesus is talking about, however, is a unique kind of love. This particular word for love goes beyond relational love, mutual love, friendship love. It’s actually a kind of love that Christians use in covenant with God, a love that goes beyond feeling, which is not a commandment. The commandment kind of love Jesus is highlighting is a love of commitment and action. Love God, Love Neighbor means embodying steadfast love, which fully embodies God’s nature.

In many ways, this wasn’t a new revelation, when Jesus shared this with the lawyer. In fact, it’s one of the oldest things in the book. Because if love is about embodying God’s nature through commitment and action, we have to assume that this kind of love has been around as long as God has.

Love God, Love Neighbor is radical. It’s political even. Because when we believe this, we have no choice but to also strive to embody it. We fight for it. We put so much value in it that even the sheer phrase, Love God, Love Neighbor, means that in order to love one, we must love both. Such a basic phrase, but one that has shaped most if not all of the positive progress made in the church. 

Today in the church is a special day called Reformation Sunday. It’s the day we honor Martin Luther, who was working to reform when he nailed the 95 Theses to the door in Wittenberg. We honor Reformation Sunday with this in mind. To reform means to make changes to something in order to improve it. 

We often think of change as something that also includes loss, and honestly, it does to some extent. But change doesn’t mean getting rid of something that is good, throwing away a full set of traditions or practices. In the church, reformation means getting back to the basics. 

Martin Luther’s goal wasn’t to completely throw away the system. He wanted to make the church better, and his plan to do that was to go back to the basics of faith. Similarly, when Jesus was talking to this lawyer, he reminded them about those basics that needed to be returned to. Love God, Love Neighbor.

Last week, Bill shared with us about the work of the Laity, and the value of faith as it relates to the work of the church. We’ve seen the fruits of your faith, of you embodying this central and basic belief of Love God, Love Neighbor. We’ve done this by including young leaders in our neighborhood in the life of our church through Music and More. We’ve done this by creating programs for Seniors to be in community and share a meal together. We’ve done this by offering brave spaces for members of the LBGTQIA+ community, when other churches wouldn’t include or affirm them. We’ve done this through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. And I want to say thank you to each of you for committing to this work. 

As we continue doing this work, Loving God and Loving Neighbor, we need to ask ourselves how reformation needs to happen in order to keep doing the good work we’ve been doing.

  • How might the church need to change in order to further embody Love God, Love Neighbor?
  • What might we need to let go of in order to get there?

Go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments. Give us one idea of something we as a church might need to let go of or change in order to better be a Loving Neighbor.

When we return to our basics, when we commit to reformation, we are re-committing to the basic belief of Love God, Love Neighbor, the belief that we love like God loves, like God has loved from the very beginning, through commitment and action. 

Friends, as we leave this place today, may we remember that the work of reformation is about returning back to basics, so that change for good can be revealed through what has been done throughout our history. May we honor God’s promise and radical commitment to love us. And may we too, commit and act in love, so we can follow Christ’s example and commandment to Love God and Love Neighbor. 

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