Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend, and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
This is the 5th and final entry in our Advent and Christmas sermon series on Waiting for God in Worship. We looked at Why do We Worship on the first Sunday of Advent. Then we explored Waiting for God in the Word and in the Sacraments and in Prayer and Praise. And then we had Christmas Eve and we celebrated the birth of the newborn king. Today we look at our response to the savior who had come for us; Worship and our Work in the World.
Have you ever heard of the five love languages? Dr Gary Chapman first wrote about them as a thing in 1995, but they are nothing new. They are how we communicate love and affection. They are Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Giving of Gifts, Spending Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Dr Chapman’s work was based on his practice as a marriage and family therapist and has since been expanded to suggesting it as a model for all kinds of relationships. But basically, he teaches that we all recognize all five of the ways of giving and receiving love, but each of us has one of the five that is most vivid to us; our primary way of expressing love. It is also the way we most want to receive love. We connect best when we can recognize what way our spouse or our children need to have love given to them. Let me give you an example. If a person whose primary way of expressing love is Words of Affirmation is married to someone whose primary way is Acts of Service they might have some difficulty if the Acts of Service member of the couple never says “I love you.” But is always busy cutting the grass or doing the laundry or making sure their spouse’s car is washed. The person who values Words of Affirmation likes that these household tasks are done, but doesn’t feel loved by them. They might be constantly telling their spouse “I love you.” “You are important to me.” But the Acts of Service person might worry that words can lie and be concerned that there is no action to follow up the words. They do best if the Acts of Service person learns to say the words their spouse needs to hear and gives the affirmations that are so meaningful to them and if the Words of Affirmation person will identify something thoughtful they can do for their spouse to make them feel the connection. It really is pretty amazing what a difference it makes in relationships.
It is my contention that the Five Love Languages apply even to how we live out our faith. You see, Jesus practiced all the Five Love Languages. He was all about Acts of Service, feeding and healing people wherever he went. Hearing “Your sins are forgiven” sounds pretty good. Those are Words of Affirmation if I have ever heard any. Jesus gave the Gifts of the sacraments: Baptism and Communion, the very gift of his life. Jesus spent Quality Time with his disciples and with others, having deep conversations, teaching what they needed to know, sharing meals, living life in common. And finally, Physical Touch. Jesus was always touching the unclean, those in need of healing, laying hands on those in need of his love.
Jesus calls us to follow him; to do what he did, love whom he loves, teach what he taught.
You heard it in our gospel message today, and Matthew tells this truth in his story of Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40: “and one of them, a lawyer, asked him [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He [Jesus] 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.” (NRSV)
In fact, we do the first one by how we do the second. We demonstrate our love for God by how we treat God’s people. We love God well when we treat God’s people with generosity, compassion. We love God well when we tell them the truth. When we do justice and love kindness, we put God’s will into action. Doing God’s work in the world isn’t about trying to earn our salvation—that’s already taken care of. God’s love is unconditional. Paul reminds us there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. When we do justice and treat people with kindness and REWARD kindness, gentleness, peacefulness, self control and the other spiritual gifts, we become partners in the Lord’s Prayer being answered: God’s kingdom is more real for people and more tangibly present when we do so. Our society all too quickly rewards ruthlessness, sneaky manipulation, and mean spiritedness. As Christians, we have no business participating in such behavior and are called to resist those actions. They are not of God. That is not how God showed us how to live in Jesus. Paul reminds us in our passage from Romans today that we are to look out for our neighbor’s best interests. “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. … to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, (Romans 15:2, 5. NRSV) is one of our highest goals and allows us to praise and glorify God and be powerful witnesses of God’s love, of what it means to be followers of Christ. God is already here, working in this world, but our neighbors can see it more clearly when we live with compassion and grace. We have worshipped well when we go out after the service and spread God’s love, feed God’s people, care for our neighbors.
In Luke’s telling of it, the law expert asked Jesus, wanting to justify himself, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus went on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, a beloved and well known story. Our neighbor is the person who is in need. Our neighbor is the one to whom we can cross the road to help, but also the one who crosses the road to help us when it is our turn to receive. All of us have help to give, but each of us will be in need sometime. It is not any more neighborly to resist or reject help when we need it than it is to refuse to give it when we have something to offer. So in this moment of silence, think of the neighbors you have in your life. Pray for God to give you the willingness to be like Jesus to them, to be bringers of life and hope and peace. And be willing to receive it from the neighbors God has brought into your life.
30 Seconds… Silence for reflection follows the sermon.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.