The Greatest Love of All: A Sermon*

*I acknowledge special thanks to my friends at Mt. Tabor in Jackson, Tennessee who tolerated the dreary first version of this sermon. After feedback and rewrites, it was presented again elsewhere and described by the second set of hearers a week later as “one of the best.”  Though sermons are better when heard rather than read, I offer here some main points from it to followers of this blog.

A Sermon: The Greatest Love of All

Webster defines sermon as religious discourse delivered by clergy, and Dictionary.com includes in its listing a modern take on it: long, tedious speech.

Are sermons helpful? Is a sermon a show or a teaching? Is it useful teaching? Or is it typically a soon-forgot distraction for declining numbers of us, a familiar entertainment which might just cause us to nap like we do during our favorite weekly television show?

To avoid tedium, sometimes today’s sermons are dramatic productions that include video clips, the preacher singing, shouting, or even engaging in some athletics.

The ancient sermons of Jesus were far from tedious, though I don’t think he jumped around, sang, or whooped. Yet his teachings were rousers that unnerved listeners, made some angry, and never put anyone to sleep, as Apostle Paul’s did, as far we know.

What I admire most about the teachings of Jesus is their freshness, their newness. They never fail to give hearers fresh new ways to think about whatever they’re thinking about, new ways to understand and respond to traditions, fresh takes on avoiding divisive cultures.

My favorite is his sermon on the greatest commandments. I’m awakened by his insight that while we’re not God, we’re made like God and can (must!) love thusly. And I’m taken aback by the starkness of his clarification on how we can measure our love for God.

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great, first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

In our contemporary vernacular, like is not a compelling word. Indeed, it’s a rather weak word: I like frozen yogurt. Susan likes to go swimming. Your brother, Fred, looks like my cousin Henry. A sermon is like a weekly television show.

But, on the contrary, Jesus used the word like to illustrate critical concepts. He used like to break down something he really wants us to get: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31). The kingdom of heaven is like leaven (Matthew 13:33). The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44). Using their everyday language and familiar experiences, Jesus helped his first-century listeners perceive truth.

What is that truth?

The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed which, when planted by a farmer, can grow to be the biggest of plants, even a tree, that will be a place where birds can live!

What is that truth?

The kingdom of heaven is like the smallest bit of yeast which, when a baker mixes it with a large amount of flour, will cause it all to rise!

What is that truth?

The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure! Like a young sheepherder whose own family doesn’t see his king potential. Like a child, born in a barn, whose vast greatest is yet to be known.

What is that truth?

We are all made by God to be lovers of God; yes, we can! But the only true measure of our success at that is the measure of our God-like love for all others: our inclusive love of all our neighbors, a love as deep as the love we have for ourselves, our own families, our own countries. Yes, we can, and we must! All right theology, all purposes of God, every aspect of obedience and honor we show to God rest on that.

 

 

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