“A Paradox to Consider”
Matthew 22: 34-40 January 19th 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
C. S. Lewis, a British Novelist, once said: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable.” This statement by Lewis creates a paradox for those of us wishing to follow the teachings of Jesus. According to a handy on line encyclopedia (Wikipedia) “A paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true.”
You see: Jesus tells us that we are to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with our entire mind.” He tells us this as he is questioned by one of the Pharisee, whom was also trained as a lawyer. It is as if we are overhearing a conversation, actually it was more like an argument. You see the religious leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, did not like the teachings that Jesus was preaching to the people. His parables came all too close to home; they felt he was talking about them. Perhaps he was. They were nervous about what he was doing to their authority and credibility as leaders so they fought him with their best weapons, their use of words and their knowledge of the scriptures and the laws. But Jesus kept surprising them with his ability to answer their questions and take on the posture of a faithful Jew, which indeed he was. These religious leaders were caught in the paradox.
The paradox of course is that both C.S. Lewis and Jesus are entirely correct when they speak about love. Lewis tells us we become vulnerable and may even be hurt when we dare to love someone or even something; yet, we have Jesus telling us that to love is the First and Greatest of the Commandments. We are to love God with all that we are. We are to love God completely; not just superficially or partially. The Pharisees and the Sadducees know that this commandment clearly tells us to love God; however, they are not willing to open their hearts to this man Jesus, who is the essence of God, for this will make them vulnerable and will surely cost them dearly as their endorsement of him would open the floodgates to their demise as leaders; a paradox for sure.
Jesus goes on to tell of the second most important Commandment: “to love our neighbors as ourselves.” The words of Jesus were challenging to the people of Jerusalem back in the time he walked the earth and still challenging to all of Twenty-First Century humankind. The Dalai Lama, a great teacher in Tibetan Buddhism teaches that: “Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.” His words correlate in parallel with those of Jesus. We are to be responsible: even to the point of our willingness and our commitment to offer love for another – equally and as completely – as we love our selves. He has simply expanded the thought to help us grasp that this also means it is time for nations and countries to treat and respect one another with the same sense of understanding as if they we dealing personally, one on one.
The teachings we are discussing this morning seem simple enough and clear enough and yet they seem to go against the grain of much that we see and hear of in our society. There are so many ways to point this out. We see it in all aspects of our lives even sports, for example: Over the past months, many of us have been watching our favorite teams on television and following their progress as the playoffs got into full swing. While we have done this we have seen rivalry that often leads to heightened tension and tremendous strain and yes, even pain that leads/drives even… each team to the brink – to their breaking point – as they compete for first place and achieve that coveted title as the winning team, thus the champions. I am all for competition and the love of your favored team in sports and the ultimate excitement it brings to the fans, especially the big championship games; yet what a high price is paid in the process. What was it that C.S. Lewis said again: “to love at all is to be vulnerable?” Just how vulnerable do you want your favorite team to be as they competed for the coveted title? Just how many football players need to be carried off the field on a stretcher before the end of the Super Bowl next month? We all want our team to win, but at what cost? Clearly, there is a lot in our culture that runs contrary to following the commandment to love God completely and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves! Again a paradox: we would love to see our team win, yet do we really want to see either teams players seriously injured, just for the sake of our entertainment?
Although all of our football fans are currently anxious to see who makes it to the Super Bowl let me digress for a moment and talk about baseball. I do believe there are still a few baseball fans in Palm Bay? For you baseball fans, consider for a moment the Boston Red Sox’s – the winners of the 2013 World Series. Just consider (as one example) the championships the Red Sox have lost in their history as a team, and the price it cost their players and fans. Many, such as the Boston fans still remember the throw to first base as the ball went through the first baseman’s glove in game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Red Sox went on to lose that game and then lose the series that year. Have you ever wondered what happened to that first baseman? Rumors say he eventually had to move out of the Boston area because of the repercussions of that one error. We must assume that that first baseman loved baseball and put his heart into it for his team and his fans; where was the love of his team mates (that he had supported) and where was the love of the fans (that he had entertained) when he needed them?
Along the journey of life we are given opportunities to love. Love for our parents and siblings; love for our chosen mates and love of friends and acquaintances. We can carry this willingness to love into our chosen professions, be it washing dishes at a local diner or becoming a teacher or even a doctor. You and I, we can tell when someone loves what they are doing. We can see it in their eyes we can feel it in the words they use as they interact with us. I don’t know about you, but… if I find myself sick in the hospital I want to be cared for by someone that loves what he or she is doing. The opportunities to show your love of your neighbor and God are infinite! There are many ways to show your love for this church, they are listed on the front of our church bulletin and in the announcements presented here this morning. Are you willing to take these opportunities seriously? Or do you plan to leave these responsibilities to ‘someone else’ to handle it for you?
Loving God is like loving your husband or your wife or a child that you gave birth to. It is a responsibility and a relationship that holds together in thick and in thin. The Apostle Paul speaks about love in a way that helps us to clarify this. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends.” When we enter into a loving relationship whether it is with God, one’s church, or a fellow human companion, we must accept that there is a risk that we shall experience some level of pain or discomfort along the way. We must accept that we will need to give a hundred percent of ‘whom’ and ‘what’ we are at times while receiving seemingly nothing back. We shall need to grapple with the probability that we may come to feel an ach or a pain in our heart that shall never go away because we were and are willing to love. Yet, to never love is to have never lived.
I have heard it said that love is what makes the world go around. This is true, for God, at the very least, set the plan into motion that caused this world we live in to rotate on its axis and support humankind as we know it. It is the love of God, for us his children, it is God’s love that first arose and it is that love which has come to us and we must pass that love around. We cannot, we must not, become like the ‘Dead Sea’ and become stagnant and thus stop the flow of love that has been so freely offered to us all. We all need and certainly desire this love that never ends that the Apostle speaks of… for we were born in the likeness and the image of God himself. We cannot, as Lewis said: take love and “wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of our selfishness.” No we cannot lock our love away; if we do it shall be as if it died and we along with it!
Think about these two Great Commandments and what they mean to how you live your life and how you interact with people around you. Consider how we are to show respect for those whom love us as well. Be more like Jesus, more loving, more gentle and kind, dare to be more compassionate and sympathetic of another person’s ideas and ways of approaching life. Allow yourself to be less competitive, less demanding and less critical of those around you. Be willing to be vulnerable… live a little. If you live your life avoiding all the potholes and the difficult moments, you shall never feel the joy of overcoming adversity, or the Joy of entering into the commitment and responsibility of loving someone or something. These two commandments that Jesus lifts up for us are for our best interest. Doing them shall give you riches beyond your wildest dreams! Love God with all of your being and love others as much as you love yourself!
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.”