MATTHEW 22:34-40

The American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To be simple is to be great.”  Ancient Chinese wisdom extols the value of simple living.  In our hymnal, Hymn 554 reminds us: ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.

And do you remember the KISS rule?  K-I-S-S.  K-I-S-S stands for Keep It Simple Stupid.

Now, some things are not simple.  But others are.

Some things are, in fact, complex.  But other things are straightforward and clear.

This morning’s Collect of the Day is simple, straightforward and clear: O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor.

It’s that simple.  We can keep all the commandments, we can live the way God intends us to live, by doing these two things: loving God, and loving our neighbor.

Does this ring a bell?  Every Sunday nine o’clockers hear The Summary of the Law: “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it.  Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Like much of The Book of Common Prayer, The Summary of the Law is taken directly from the scriptures.  Matthew 22:34-40 reads: “When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Saducees, 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.’”

When you consider Jesus’ words in the context of first century Judaism, his precise summary of Mosaic law must have shocked Jesus’ listeners.  First century Jews lived in a world of complex and demanding religious requirements.  Their laws went far beyond the original law of Moses.  Yet adherence to every detail of their law was required.  Observing the law was what made you a good Jew.

Jesus’ Cliff Notes version of the commandments was a scandal.  It was simple, straightforward, and clear.  It was also in the form of a cross.  Jesus’ Summary of the Law is in the form of a cross.

A cross is a simple design.  It requires two lines only: one vertical, one horizontal.  These lines intersect at right angles.  A cross is simple, straightforward, and clear.  The vertical line goes up and down.  The horizontal line goes out in both directions.  Jesus taught us to love God with our heart, soul and mind.  That’s the vertical line.   Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as our selves.  That’s the horizontal line.

Walking the way of the cross requires two connections: a vertical connection with God, and a horizontal connection with others.  If you are in an unhealthy relationship with God, you cannot be in good relationships with others.  If you are in unhealthy relationships with others, you cannot be in good relationship with God. 

Where I grew up it was not uncommon to see small road side signs tacked to trees that read: “Get Right with God.”  I’m all for that.  However, if Jesus posted a sign, I think it would probably read “Get Right with God and Your Neighbor.”  Jesus taught us that it works both ways. 

If you believe that God is love, if you trust God with your life in this world and the next, then it may be easier to love God than your neighbor.  After all, neighbors can be difficult.  Neighbors include loved ones, family members, friends, and those who belong to a different political party.  Neighbors include all humankind, including those who think differently and those who are downright hostile.  The command to love our neighbors is simple, straightforward, and clear.  Obeying that command can be quite difficult. 

We are called to seek reconciliation with all people.  Sometimes others will not or cannot reconcile.  As Bishop Allan once told our vestry, sometimes reconciliation must wait until eternity.  So what do we do in the meantime? 

For the sake of our own souls, our own physical and mental health, and our own general well-being, we commend that person or group of people to God.  And we ask God to bless them.

We don’t ask God to change them or the way they think.  We generally do not know what is best for others.  We simply ask God to bless them, whatever that may mean.  God determines the blessing, not us. 

Our neighbors also include those whom we have never met, and especially those in need.  Frankly, you cannot be an enemy of poor people and be a friend of God. 

Christian faith is not something we do for an hour or two on Sunday mornings.  It is not a sanctuary from the world.  Authentic Christian faith is lived out in the world where we live and move and have our being.  Christians who are selfish, greedy or unkind to others are not living their faith. 

If you want to get right with God, get right with others.  If you want to get right with others, get right with God.  The cross has a vertical line and a horizontal line.  It works both ways. 

It’s like today’s collect says: we’ve been taught to keep all the commandments by loving God and our neighbors.

Simple.  Straightforward.  And crystal clear.


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