All Your Heart 10-29-17

I want to be Martin Luther for Halloween – I just have to find one of those funny little hats, and then I can reform the faith. You know that Oct. 31, 1517, 500 years ago this week is when Martin Luther posted his 95 these on the door of the church in Wittenberg. There’s a part of me that wishes I could do that. And there’s part of me ready to just teach & preach the very basics of Christianity, Jesus 101. I so often find ways to complicate the message. Today’s passage is very basic as Jesus answers the question, which commandment is greatest. Let’s see if it’s simple or complicated.

Matthew 22; 34-46 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they gathered together, and one of them, an expert on the Law, attempted to trick Jesus with this question: “Teacher , which commandment of the Law is the greatest?” Jesus answered:  ‘you must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind,.’ That is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law is based—and the prophets as well. While the Pharisees were gathered around him, Jesus asked them this question. ‘What do you think about the Messiah?  Whose descendant is the Messiah?” They said, “David’s. Then Jesus asked, “Then how is it that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls the Messiah “Sovereign’?  For he says” ‘The Most High said to my Sovereign, “Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your foot.” If David calls the Messiah ‘Sovereign,’ how can the Messiah be a descendant of David?” No one could reply, and from that day on no one dared ask him any more questions.

October 29, 2017

All Your Heart

It’s not that complicated, right? Just love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s very basic, not hard to remember. Everything extends from these two basic commandments, love God and love your neighbor. Jesus’ teachings can just about be summed up in those two short sentences. i guess it’s always a little harder than just saying it.

In this sermon, I want to focus on the first part – loving God with all our heart, soul and mind, because we tend to equate these two commands and feel as though loving our neighbor is how we love God. In these polarized times, some congregations are focused more on loving God and some are focused on loving neighbor – but Christians are called to devotion and to social justice, to simple piety and good ethics.

 

Let me say that some churches are more focused on devotion and piety. We may have something to learn from churches where people are really excited about their relationship with God, where people raise their arms during the praise and worship, or say ‘amen’ or ‘hallelujah’ with enthusiasm. I know that if they don’t have some kind of balance, some kind of combining of piety and action it would fall flat for most of us. Still let’s think about what loving God means for us as a church.

So let’s talk about Martin Luther and his work to reform the church toward loving God with all our hearts, minds, and souls.  Heather Hahn from the United Methodist News Service, lists 6 major ways Luther’s reforms have lasted and served the church. She notes that “Luther was not the first person to call for reform in the Catholic Church. But you might say he was the first to go viral. The printing press, the internet of his day, spread his ideas far beyond the university town of Wittenberg.” His posting on Wittenberg’s Castle Church door in 1517 might be the most eventful trick-or-treat in history.

The first major reform that Luther’s reformation made happen, was what he called “the priesthood of all believers.” He insisted that the church priests were not the only ones who had access to God. Everyone could love God and listen to God, and connect with God. All people, as we say in our bulletin, are ministers, priests, pastors, servants.

The second effect of Luther’s reforms was to give all people access to the Bible. Again the Gutenberg press helped make this reform possible – but the Protestant leaders carried forward the implications of reading the word of God personally and again having that direct and personal relationship with the Living God – listening to God through scripture and through prayer. Luther was the first to look to the original Hebrew and Greek in his work (rather than Jerome’s Latin Vulgate) and translate the Bible into vernacular German, so that people could understand it and relate to it. Like the “message” of their day.

3. Luther did not stop with Scripture. He also translated the Latin Mass into everyday language. That in turn influenced the creation of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which John Wesley would later adapt for his Methodist movement. United Methodists also can thank Luther for making congregational singing a regular part of worship, Our devotion to God is expressed in our singing and in our worship, our celebration of the love of the Living God. We at St. Luke involve everybody in worship. That would never have happened with out Luther.

4. Luther encouraged people to pray together every day, to know that their prayers could go directly to God. They didn’t have to go through the priest, or even through a saint or through Mary. Our LIFE group leaders will tell you that I encourage them almost every meeting to pray with you in your LIFE groups. The LIFE acronym stands for Living in Faith Everyday, so we are following in Luther and Wesley’s footsteps when we invite each other to pray with each other regularly. I know this is still not totally comfortable for all of us. Sometimes the best prayers for loving God with our whole heart are quiet prayers, listening prayers, rather than public, out loud prayers, but I still encourage all of you priests to try praying out loud with people, to get used to a public, whole-hearted relationship with God.

5. the Protestant reformation encouraged a movement for mass education that might have happened anyway because of the printing press. Having access to the Bible in your own language wouldn’t do any good unless you knew how to read it. So Protestant reformers encouraged people to learn to read. These days we assume everybody will learn to read. Think how important that ability is in relation to your own understanding of the divine – not just because you can read the Bible, but because you read novels, and poetry, articles and calls to worship.

6. Look, not everything Luther did led to great things, and healthy love of God. The break from the Catholic started division after division. Luther fought with other reformers and they fought with each other, and even today, we’re facing a serious chance that the United Methodist Church will split again. I’ve been really upset about that this week, and I’ll be glad to talk with you about it, but it would make the sermon too long today to go into it. The other problem with Luther was that he was so angry at the Catholic church and that vitriolic anger was even worse toward the Jews. His anti-Semitism fertilized the anti-semitism that festered and exploded later in Germany.

We can take this problem of Luther’s as an opportunity to acknowledge another important aspect of loving God with all our hearts, mind and soul. We can never out love God. God’s forgiveness is available to all people, including Luther. As I always remind you, a sermon is finally not about what we need to do, but about what God is doing. God’s love and grace are what make possible our love for our neighbors, our love for God, our love for ourselves

God’s pure love for all of God’s creation has opened doors for purer and more direct forms of human love for God and neighbor. Luther argued strongly that our work, anything we do, does not make God love us anymore. We call his understanding justification by faith, and all the Protestant reformers including John Wesley embraced this understanding. It is not our love for our neighbor, our ministry, our mission, our work that saves us. We come to our saving relationship with God solely through faith, solely through our relationship with God, not through any accomplishment of our own. Wesley experienced that saving relationship through his heart being strangely warmed at Aldersgate. And all the whole Protestant movement has been about helping people to experience that kind of relationship with God.

Our work in the world, our love of neighbor and our love for God are both inspired by God’s grace and God’s love. In our worship and in our devotional life we aim to experience that love of God. In our church life, we live out that love through our worship and our work in the world, and we thank God for it all.

Responsive hymn   2168 Love the Lord Your God