Rev. Danielle K Bartz October 29, 2023
Matthew 22:34-46 “Love Is All We Need”
In June 1967 the world saw its first global television event linked via satellite. The two-hour televised event was called ‘Our World.’ 24 countries participated and it is estimated that 400-700 million people watched it. It was both a celebration of the technology that made the event possible and an effort to connect people across the world through a common language – art. Music, song, words, and even visual art were a part of this event. And, arguably, the most memorable portion of ‘Our World’ was the debut of a new Beatles song. Anyone here remember what it was? Written specifically for the event – “All You Need Is Love” became an overnight, global sensation. John Lennon gave several interviews about that event and the song he and Paul McCarthy wrote. He said he wanted it to be intentionally simple, which the lyrics are, so that most people could understand it. It was written in appreciation of the Summer of Love that was sweeping the United States – captured best by that iconic image of a woman placing a flower in the muzzle of a gun. It was a campaign of peace as the world raged in war and strife. Lennon said he wanted to capture the feeling of the Summer of Love in a way that people would remember – in a way that was catchy. He said “All You Need Is Love” was meant to be like a slogan. It was said that Lennon had something of an obsession with slogans and how they affected those who were reading or hearing them. He once said, “I like slogans. I like advertising.” Obviously, a quote from a time when television ads were still something to be appreciated and not muted like most of us do today.
“All You Need Is Love” was written to be a slogan for the movement of peace that Lennon and the rest of the Beatles were, for a time anyway, so well associated with. And, while I wasn’t alive at that time, the song is so iconic that I know all the words and immediately start to sing along if I hear it. I think Lennon succeeded in creating a catchy song/slogan for the Summer of Love. It is singable, easy to remember, and provokes feelings of hope and a reminder of the possibility of peace. Much like Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question in today’s scripture – it sums up nicely a growing, and much needed movement. A movement that hoped to spark a revolution that would lead to love being the center of all things.
I don’t mean to diminish Jesus’ teaching of the greatest commandments to something as frivolous as a slogan – though I feel like often it is used like that. But Jesus’ answer is so memorable in its simplicity that it is, in many ways, a catchy way to capture what he was trying to do with the movement he was leading. And today, for Christians, that answer springs to mind when we are asked to sum up what it means to be followers of Jesus today. I celebrate this. If the only thing people remember from all of Jesus’ teachings is that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and to love our neighbors as ourselves – then I am content. But what I worry about is that the catchy simplicity of the Jesus’ teaching here can sometimes be diminished to something frivolous. Something meant to comfort, as opposed to afflict. Because what Jesus is teaching here by highlighting these two commandments as the most important is not simple or effusive. It has nothing to do with feelings or limited to charity. It is so much more than that.
I think it is really important to point out that Jesus is not teaching anything new here. These two commandments were not something he came up with. Jesus is quoting the commandments that he followed as a devout Jew. The commandment to love God with heart, soul, and mind is first recorded in Deut. 6:5 – that commandment was central to the life and liturgy of Judaism in Jesus’ day and continues to be today. And the commandment to love neighbor as self is from Lev. 19:18. Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question about what is the greatest commandment is not new. What is new is that it is possible that this was the first time the two commandments were place side by side. That was a new way of teaching very ancient laws – but the commandments themselves were not new.
So, by remembering that Jesus is quoting Jewish law here reinforces that they are not simplistic or easy to follow. The greatest commandments are nothing less than a religious obligation – a way of showing fealty to God. Devotion to God could only be expressed by following the commandments. And the most important way to show devotion to God was through love – love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. But love here, as I said, is not a feeling. Love is not reduced to charity. Love is a commitment that is so profound, so consuming, so difficult to truly enact – that a life of devotion to God was one of striving. Because the commandments are to be followed but never achieved. One can never love God, neighbor, or self completely or fully. This type of love can never be checked off a to-do list.
So, what does this love look like then if it is not a feeling or limited to acts of charity? I could spend hours telling the stories of people throughout history who got as close as one can of reaching this type of love. But, instead I want to refer you to one of the earliest sermons on Jesus’ teaching – the first letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. “If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.3 If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boastbut do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end…Faith, hope, and love abide…and the greatest of these is love.”
There is nothing simple about following the greatest commandments as Jesus teaches them, no matter how catchy and easy to remember they are. Paul understood this, countless prophets across history have understood this. As followers of Jesus today it is our religious obligation to understand this as well. What would it cost us to take Jesus’ version of love seriously? To practice and cultivate a depth of compassion that’s gut-punching? To train ourselves into a hunger for justice so fierce and so urgent that we rearrange our lives in order to pursue it? To pray for the kind of empathy that causes our hearts to break? Are we willing to pay that cost?
To love God, neighbor, and self in the way that Jesus teaches is our greatest challenge, our test. And it is our blessing. It is a way to honoring a God whose entire being is one that asks for love, who is love, and one who bestows love through a grace that can never be depleted. The greatest commandments are not our slogan as Christians by rather our prayer, a promise, and an act of praise. The greatest commandments are not meant to simply capture the spirit of a movement – they are the movement. The greatest commandments are the center upon which everything else is connected.
Jesus’ teaching is meant to stir our souls. To make us restless and uncomfortable. And to compel us, inspire us, and sustain us. Because, all we need is love. Amen.
Loving God, your creation of us was an act of ultimate love and because of that we are infused with your love and the power to share that love with all we encounter. For this we are so grateful and it is in that spirit of gratitude that we come before you now in prayer.
As we look out at the world God, both distant and near, we can see how much your love is needed. Give us the courage, the strength, and the resilience to follow your command to show our devotion to you through acts of love that are so fierce that the world is stirred into something new. And when we falter in following your command upon our lives, remind us of your grace and help us to lean on you until we are ready to try again.
One of the ways, God, that we enact our love is through intentional prayers for ourselves and for our neighbors. In these moments of silence, we open our hearts and spirits to you, trusting that you hear and respond…
Good and great God, your love is all we need. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us by word and example what loving actually looks like. And we pray in the way he taught…Our Father…
The world now is too dangerous and too beautiful for anything but love. May your eyes be so blessed you see God in everyone. You ears, so you hear the cry of the poor. May your hands be so blessed that everything you touch is a sacrament. Your lips, so you speak nothing but the truth in love. May your feet be so blessed you run to those who need you. Any may your heart be so opened, so set on fire, that your love, your love, changes everything. And may the blessing of the God who created you, loves you, and sustains you, be with you now and always.
- Blessing from Black Rock Prayer Book.