Matthew 22.34-40  what love has to do with giving

October 23, 2011 – The 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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You would laugh at me if I said the Beatles had it right when they sang, all you need is love. So I won’t go there, except to say that when Jesus is asked what is the most important commandment his response is straightforward – love. Love God. Love Your Neighbor. And perhaps the most difficult of all, Love Yourself. That about sums up a whole life, doesn’t it? Okay, just for the record, I do think Jesus’ way of love grounded in the ancient Jewish commandments is much more demanding than the love the Beatles sang about. But, that’s big problem with this word love – it has multiple meanings from loving your favorite baseball time to loving your partner for life who is facing her last days on earth, and everything in-tween.

So we first have to clear up what we are talking about when we talk about love. Jesus says it’s about the whole person – you mind, your will, your intelligence, your spirit – not just your feelings. And then he noted that this love for God is intimately tied with love for neighbor. That is what keeps it grounded in real life with real people. And if that is not enough, in order to be able to love your neighbor, he reminds us that the commandment includes loving your self. In fact, it’s probably not possible to love your neighbor without learning to love yourself with the same mercy, compassion and kindness that you might extend to others.

As I mentioned last week, I believe following Jesus is all about stewardship that involves everything, including our public and private lives. Perhaps it not a stretch at all to say that at the center of all stewardship is the practice in love in myriad forms.

Jesus teaches us that if we are to live well we must have a focal concern – a phrase I first heard coined by a Montana philosopher Albert Borgman – something that focuses our reason for being and gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. I learned this too from my grandfather.

He came to visit me when he was 96 years old and I was much younger. He was frail and his mind had faded away from him.  Gone were the days when he and my grandmother would travel across the country to see their family.  When she died, my grandpa would travel all the way from Oklahoma to Florida on a greyhound bus. He carried with him a cigar box full of jokes, anecdotes and funny stories he had clipped and saved. He shared these little funny treasures with anyone who sat by him on the bus. It was his way of making friends along the way of a long, tiring bus ride.

Soon after my grandmother died, he came to visit our family.  One afternoon, he and I were sitting alone at the table in our small kitchen.  Grandpa was reminiscing; telling stories to help his grief along.  I was listening.  We were both laughing.  Then he said in his high-pitched Oklahoma accent, “Here my advice to you.  Love God.  Not just a little bit, go the whole way.  Your heart, your mind, your soul.  The whole way.  And love your neighbor as yourself.  That’s what the good book says.  If you do that you’ll be all right.  At least, that’s what grandma and I tried to do.”  When he said grandma he paused, as if he were returning her a favor. He didn’t try to tell me how to do any of this, that would have been much too pushy for a man who enjoyed giving strangers funny stories from his cigar box.  He just told me to do it, because he believed it and so did grandma.  He got it from the good book, right here in this text.

Of all the things we are called to do in this life – the things that bring life, justice, mercy, goodness and all the rest, the list is endless – what is the most important?  Great question. Even if we think we know the answer, we should ask it more often, of ourselves and of the Church, if only to hear ourselves answer it again and again, as a reminder of our central purpose, the practice from which all other practices flow.  Love God. Love Neighbor.

Love is a practice, not a belief and certainly not just a feeling. Love is a set of habits learned over a lifetime. I’m reminded of the story of the two rabbis in conversation over drinks. The one says “do you love me?” The other answers, “Yes, of course.” “Do you know what hurts me?” “No, how could I know that?” And his friend responds, “You can’t love me if you don’t know what hurts me.” When I heard that story it occurred to me that this is exactly how it is with this love of God and love neighbor. As we seek to love God with our whole being, God says to us, “how can you love me if you don’t know what hurts me?” What hurts God? A polluted creation and hungry children, broken families and lost people, fearful and without hope. When we connect our lives with the things that hurt God, we grow in our love for God. That is what we want to be about in our common life in this congregation.

This is stewardship with love at the center. To borrow a phrase, all you need is love. (Whoops, I did it again. The Beatles.) Love God, love neighbor. Love Yourself.

This is what we are seeking to do as a congregation, too. With our extensive Christian formation ministries, our local and global mission partnerships here and around the world, our vibrant worship and our ministry of hospitality with our facilities. These are all ways in which we are seeking to live out this calling to love God and love our neighbors.

All of this requires significant funding to sustain excellence and remain a vital witness to God’s love in the world. We have welcomed many new families and are baptizing many new-born children. We have to maintain our buildings and grounds, including keeping up with necessary repairs. All of this is required to be an active and vital congregation. We simply cannot afford to neglect the challenges that face us as we seek to grow spiritually in Jesus Christ and remain connected to our neighbors in the coming years.

The stewardship ministry has invited us to grow more deeply in our relationship with God by practicing this stewardship of love. In 2011, $635,000 maintained our ministries and facilities., If each of us increased our pledge by least $5 per week ($260 per year), we will be able to cover the anticipated costs to sustain our work for God in 2012.

You might respond, Wow, that’s all?  What if every member increased his or her pledge by only $10 per week? That’s not even a latte a day. Think what we could do for God!”  Think what we could do for God! I like that way of thinking. Don’t you?

This giving has everything to do with love. We want our congregation to be center of love and instrument of love in the world. By faith in God, we believe this is actually possible.

 So I invite you today to take your pledge card and consider before God what you are able to contribute to making our congregation a center of love. If you have pledged before, consider the invitation of the stewardship ministry to increase it. If you have never pledged, consider this your invitation to step forward in a new act of faithfulness.

 All of joining together will truly be a blessing to God and our neighbors.

If you believe this, will you say Amen?