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Free Sample for October 26, 2014
By David Howell

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Preaching Matthew 22:34-46


If you decided to preach through the gospel texts, you will have noticed a pattern in Matthew 22. People asked Jesus a lot of questions. A preacher could frame several sermons as a series dealing with questions people asked Jesus. The good news is that Jesus’ answers were always amazing. The challenge is that his answers were rarely what anyone expected.
The dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees in today’s gospel reading lends itself to rich sermonic discourse. “Teacher, which of the commandments in the law is the greatest?”  The question is not asked out of genuine curiosity. The Pharisees want to test Jesus. The first time Jesus is tested in Matthew is by Satan in the wilderness (Mt 4:1-11).
Do you ever wonder how your congregation would respond if you took a poll asking them to name the most important rule to live by as a Christian?  The headlines in the news and the sometimes heated conflict in our churches indicates that we have all set life priorities. Some people have chosen “the right to bear arms” or some other political tenet as their greatest religious conviction.
Jesus steps back from partisan agendas and draws upon the deeply rooted teachings of his Jewish heritage. The first and greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The full weight of Jesus’ response is diminished when we say boil his response down to a generic love. Jesus is not saying that love in general is not the greatest commandment. Jesus says that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord (Yahweh).
This sounds like a replay of his earlier conversation on paying taxes to Caesar. The greatest commandment is to choose the Lord as God and to honor the Lord above everyone and everything else.
In the age of social media, the greatest compliment you can pay to someone is to “like” their profile or their status update. Liking God is not enough. Jesus’ message to the Pharisees is clear. God is not interested in superficial relationships. God wants total devotion, a complete surrender of one’s mind, will, and desires. Many people in our pews will hear the word “love” and immediately think of a warm, sentimental feeling. This is what we mean when we say we love a car or our favorite food. But this is not what Jesus had in mind.
Loving God involves action and ethics, which is why Jesus adds a second commandment to complete the first commandment. Together the first and second make up the greatest commandment. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving God is not sentimental. Loving God is compassionate action toward neighbors and strangers. “Those who say, I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 Jn 4:20)  
When we invite hearers to love God as Jesus commands, we must point to the world around us at the concrete, tangible ways where this vision of love can be expressed. Show them what the love of God looks like. Jesus says that all the law and the prophets “hangs” on these two commands: love of God and love of neighbor as we love ourselves. Since we take care of our own needs, loving God means taking care of others’ needs. Since we are concerned about caring for the members of our church, loving God means offering care to those beyond the parochial borders of our sanctuary. This is the most important commandment.

Prince Raney Rivers


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See Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street. Follow FestHomiletics on Twitter 

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