Readings for the day:
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Today we remember, celebrate and honor the work that Martin Luther and the other reformers did nearly 500 years ago. As you remember, the reformation movement all started with Martin Luther on October 31st (Halloween) when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church that we was serving as their priest in Germany. As a way of celebrating the reformation, Stephanie and I will be continuing our tradition of watching the Luther movie on Friday as we hand out candy to trick or treaters.
Luther’s motivation for posting his 95 theses was not to start a new church or denomination, but rather to make changes to the Roman Catholic Church. Among other things, he believed that the Word of God was intended for all of God’s children to hear, read, and interpret. He believed this because the God that we worship is not a god of the dead, but a God of the living. And since our God is a living God, that means that God’s Word continually speaks to ALL of his children (when it was written, during Luther’s time, and even today). God’s Word still speaks to us.
So when we have a Bible reading like the Gospel reading today, we may question and wonder what else could be said about the Greatest and second Greatest Commandments. We hear this teaching from Jesus each and every year and many of us know this teaching by heart: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love God, and love your neighbor. What more could be said about these two commandments?
Well, how are you doing on following these commandments? Are you loving God with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind? No, none of us can because this is an impossible commandment to fulfill. None of us are able to completely love God because let’s face it, there are other things in life that we like to put ahead of God. We also probably don’t love our neighbors as much as we should, but we’re trying. The food shelf challenge is part of that. By bringing food in, you are giving out of your abundance to others in need; that is loving your neighbor.
But now how well do you practice the last part? Did you know that there was a last part? The second greatest commandment is not just about loving your neighbor; it is about loving your neighbor AS YOURSELF. And actually, let’s take the neighbor out of it for a minute. As a church we spend quite a bit of time talking about the neighbor and helping our neighbors. What about you? Are you loving yourself? Are you loving yourself as much as you are loving your neighbor? Or are you spending so much time caring for others that you forget about yourself?
In our world today, we have gone to one extreme or the other of loving ourselves. On the one extreme, we have people who love themselves so much that they think that they can do anything and everything. Take American Idol or America’s Got Talent for example. Some of the people that audition to get on the show actually believe that they have a beautiful voice or that the talent they are showing is actually a talent. And the only way that these people could have gotten to this point of believing that they are great is because people lied to them and told them so. No one was honest with them and told them that they actually weren’t that good. So instead they end up on national television where they get completely humiliated and laughed at in front of millions of viewers. I wouldn’t call this loving your neighbor.
On the other extreme, we have people who think that they have to be so humble, thinking and caring for others, that they forget to care for and love themselves. Instead of thinking that they can do anything and everything, these types of people continually say that they aren’t good at anything; that there is certainly someone better out there to plan the party, to play on the basketball team, to serve on church council. So we never get to find out how good the party really could have been had John been the one who planned the party. We also never get to find out how good the basketball team would have been had Sally been on the team this year. And we never get to find out how the church could have benefitted from Chris’ leadership on church council.
You see, neither extreme is helpful for you or for others. So if you think that you are great at everything, I have a message for you, “There are some things that you are not good at and you should stop doing them.” If you think that you aren’t good at anything, I have a message for you, “There are some things that you really are good at, so start doing them.”
Instead of thinking that you are great at every little thing that you do (because no one is perfect at everything), only do the things that you are good at. But this is going to be hard to do because everyone has trained you to think that you are great at everything. So guess what? We (as a congregation) need to gently tell people what they aren’t good at while also telling them what they are good at.
Instead of thinking that you aren’t good at anything (because God blessed everyone with certain gifts), pray for guidance and wisdom to find the gifts that God has given you. Again this is going to be hard because you have trained yourself to think that you aren’t good at anything. So guess what? We (as a congregation) need to highlight what they are good at and tell them and encourage them in continuing to strengthen that gift.
Yes, Jesus said that we need to love God and love our neighbor, but we can only truly love our neighbor as much as we are loving ourselves. If you are so focused on yourself, then you won’t be able to care for your neighbor at all. If you are so focused on your neighbor, then you won’t be able to care for yourself at all. Jesus went to and died on the cross for all, not just for you and not just for your neighbor; he died for all. And because he died for all, follow these commandments to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. You do this not to earn your salvation or reserve your spot in heaven by doing good works. No, you strive to follow these two commandments because by doing so you prove your faith in God to others. Through your actions you are showing others that through Christ’s death and resurrection you have been saved, not by works, but by faith. Amen.
© 2014 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.
 Matthew 22:37-39, NRSV