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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I love to tell the story. A few years ago, while I was standing in front of the bride and groom in the center of church performing a wedding, and a small, yellow “post-it” note fell out of my Bible. Apparently, the sticky side had worn off and it floated down in front of the wedding couple. The groom immediately picked up the “post-it” note, read it, and smiled. The message was short. It simply said in capital letters, KISS. He then handed it to me, and I whispered to him, “It’s from my wife.” During a vocal solo later in the service, he whispered back to me, “Your wife must love you very much, to leave a KISS for you in your Bible.” I looked at him and under my breathed I answered, “You don’t know my wife. That’s her way of reminding me, ‘Keep it short and simple.'” Of course there are variations on that acronym, KISS, including the word Stupid and Silly, but my wife would never use them.
Today, there is a longing for a “simple life,” a way to live by a few rules and principles. This is true of the Christian faith as well. We wonder and debate: What is the short and simple essence of a life in Christ? For this reason, there is no cause to question the motives of the lawyer who came to Jesus to discuss with him the most important commandment. Certainly, the lawyer was trying to simplify Jesus’ teaching to the bare essentials, to Keep It Short and Simple. But that is not how the story begins.
Our reading today is a continuation of the conspiracy led by the Temple leaders to trap Jesus. We read that when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced both the Herodians and Sadducees, they gathered together and one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him. The question, “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is greatest?”
We might be surprised by Jesus’ response. We might expect that he would answer with the one of the Ten Commandments, after all, together with the Golden Rule “Do unto others would have them do unto you,” they serve as the basis of our moral and ethical Christian tradition. But the religious leaders of ancient Israel had actually compiled 613 divine commandments from the first five books of the Bible. 248 of these commandments were prescriptive of things that God told them to do and 365 of these commandments were prohibitive of things that God forbade them to do. The greatest of the commandments was regularly disputed by the Jewish leaders. Some would have said the law of circumcision was the greatest; others said the law of the Sabbath, while still others preferred the law of sacrifices. The lawyer knew that if Jesus answered with a preference to any one position, he would anger great portions of the crowds.
Unfortunately for the lawyer, Jesus didn’t follow the script he had been handed. Instead, Jesus summarized all the words of the 613 commandments into two commandments. “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 the first commandment, and the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Before the lawyer could ask, “And what about the other commandments?” Jesus added, “On these two commandments hang all the law and all the prophets.”
Over the centuries, Jesus summary this has come to sound rather manageable and doable? After all, we use the word love in a variety of ways. We love chocolate because it delights our taste buds. We love a movie because it entertains or moves us. We love a boy or girlfriend because they make us happy. We love a spouse because they complete us. These are all meaningful responses of the heart. But in scripture, love isn’t an inner sentimental emotion of affection or attraction. Instead, love is an intentional action even before a response is offered.
In theory, you may say that you can love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. But in truth, you must admit that it is difficult to look into the eyes of God, or wrap your arms around the Spirit, or even see the face of Jesus. Instead, both scripture and Jesus say that we are to love God, not in a fearful sentimentality, or in a religious theory, but we are commanded to love in a practical and committed way by loving what God loves. Jesus’ answer to the conspiring lawyer, even today, teaches us that to love God, is to love God’s children and to seek the best for them. That is what we are commanded to do- short and simple.
We are reminded in scripture as well that we can never obey that law fully, and that we will fall short. Indeed, we will stumble again and again. For Martin Luther, it was his understanding that we are all simil justus et peccator. We live as sinners and saints. There was a man who went to the clinic and told his doctor that he wasn’t able to do all the things around the house that he used to do. When the examination was complete, he said, “Now, Doc, I can take it. Tell me in plain English what is wrong with me.” “Well, in plain English,” the doctor replied, “you’re just lazy.” “Okay,” said the man. “Now give me the medical term so I can tell my wife.” We all have our excuses why we may avoid fulfilling the law to love. It may be lack of will, of passion, of energy or interest. Or maybe, your failing is simply laziness.
For this reason, we need to turn to Jesus as the one who loves us, forgives us, and promises to hold onto us in spite of our failing. It is the message we hear throughout Jesus’ teaching. His words are to empower you get right back up and to try again, to love your neighbor again. It is this same loving face who having taken a loaf of bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” It is the word we hear spoken from the cross. . For on the cross you see the face of a God who loves you for you who are and what he longs for you to be. This is how much God loves you. Enough that you should care for his creation and one another; enough to forgive and renew you each time that you fail; enough to give you back to the world to try once, again. And he loves you enough, to give you the body, blood, and resurrected life of his only son Jesus Christ to provide you the strength for a second chance. God longs for you to love and care for what he loves in everything you do.
Three cobblers arrived in a new town to try their luck and opened shop in the same street. John, the first cobbler, put a notice outside his door, “The best cobbler in the city.” Not to be outdone, the second cobbler, Danny, hung a bigger notice that said, ”The best cobbler in the world.” The third cobbler, Michael, was wondering what to do and how to beat the best cobbler in the city and the best cobbler in the world. An idea struck him. The next morning, he found quite a few customers waiting when he opened his shop. The notice on his door simply said, “The best cobbler on the street.” That is God’s message. It is the gospel short and simple. Love and trust God, and serve and care for what God loves in your neighbors and begin in your own home and on your own street. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.