Sunday, October 23 – Sermon on Matthew 22 (34-46)

Matthew 22 (34-46)

Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem have been at it for awhile.  They have been testing and fighting with each other outside the temple in Jerusalem.  On the timeline of Jesus’ life, it is Tuesday of Holy Week.  In just a matter of days, Jesus will break bread with his closest friends at the last supper, he will be betrayed by Judas, and he will be put to death.    So it is Tuesday of Holy week, and Jesus has been debating for hours with these religious leaders.

Notice how Jesus has a habit of giving the Pharisees more than what they ask for.  Last week, we heard the religious leaders asked Jesus a question about life – should we pay taxes to Caesar, the emperor?  A simple yes or no will suffice.  And yet Jesus’ answer contains both life and God. He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s.”  They were looking for one answer and Jesus gave them two.  They ask a question about life and Jesus brings God into the answer.

This week, we heard the religious leaders ask Jesus a question about God – which is the greatest commandment?  And yet Jesus gives them answer that contains both life and God.  He says, “Well the greatest commandment is ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’”  But then just as everyone is about to turn around and leave, having thought that was his answer, Jesus says, “Wait, there’s more…the second greatest commandment is like the first: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Again, they were looking for one answer and Jesus gave them two.  They ask a question about God and Jesus brings life into the answer.

I think what Jesus might be trying to say here is that your faith and your life cannot be lived out separately.  One cannot believe in God and not have an effect on the way they live their life.  And one cannot live their life without it saying what they believe about God.   Faith and life cannot occupy different parts of your life.  Instead, they influence one another.  They say something about each other.

Peter Rollins, one of my favorite theologians, tells a story about a minister.  It is Sunday evening and she is sitting in her house, reading a book.  One of her parishioners knocks on the door.  She opens the door.  He is a big guy.  He is sweating.  It is obvious that he ran all the way to the house.  He is in tears.  He says, “Listen there is a family that lives just down the road.  The guy lost his job in the recession, she is looking after three kids, their mother stays with them.  But they don’t have enough money for their rent.  They’ve got no money at the moment.  And their gonna get kicked out of the house.  Even if they are one day late on their rent, they are just going to get kicked out on the street.  It’s the middle of winter.  We’ve got to do something.  Please, let’s do something.”  So the minister says, “Yes, we will go and we will get some money.”  Just in passing she says, “Oh and how do you know them?”  And he says, “Oh, well, I’m their landlord.”

The religious leaders ask a question about how one lives their life and Jesus brings God into the answer.  The religious leaders ask a question about how to be in relationship with God and Jesus brings how one lives their life into the answer.  Faith and life – they have to be held together, not separate.  And yet, for this landlord, faith and life are divorced.  In this landlord’s faith life, he is concerned for this poor family that doesn’t have enough money to pay the rent and he is desperate to do something.  But in his professional and social life, it is just business as usual.  If you can’t pay the rent, out you go.  Those are the rules.  And so this man is living a divided life.  He worships God and does nice things on the weekends, but come Monday, he steps back into the rat race.  The very thing this man is doing on Monday is the same thing he is concerned about and fighting on Sunday evening.  His faith and his life are divided.  They don’t intersect.  He can’t see how the way he is living out his faith on Sunday is directly connected to the way he is living out his life on Monday morning.

God cannot simply be located in one part of a person’s life.  God is a part of the whole darn thing.  And so when we gather together on Sunday morning to worship God, we don’t do so as a way of separating and protecting ourselves from the world out there.  We gather together to rehearse.  To rehearse worshipping God, so that when these doors open and we step out onto the stage of life, we know our parts, we know our lines.  We know how to worship God out there.  And to love and worship God on Sunday is to love your neighbor on Monday morning.  To love your neighbor on Monday morning is to love God on Monday morning. Later in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples, “When you fed those who were hungry, you fed me.  When you clothed the naked, you clothed me.  When you welcomed the stranger, you welcomed me.”

Truth be told, this landlord is no different from you or I.  In fact he is braver than I.  Because at least he is willing to admit his place in the broken system.  His livelihood, the food he puts on his family’s table depends on people paying the rent on time.  And so he is stuck.  We all are.  Stuck in self-interest.  Self-preservation.  How do I live out my faith and care for my neighbor when my life is on the line too?

Perhaps the place to start is to acknowledge that life and faith cannot be lived out separately.  But they are held together, as Jesus tried to remind these religious leaders.  The place to start is to see that when you leave here this morning God goes with you, calling “shotgun!” for the ride home and jumping in the front seat.  And then when you come back next week, not only do you return with God, but with the successes and failures of each performance during this week in search of both celebration and forgiveness.

Perhaps the place to start is to acknowledge that life and faith cannot be lived out separately.

So tell me, what are you and God doing tomorrow around 9am?

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