Monday, October 24, 2005

Sermon - Matthew 22:34-40 [41-46] - Pentecost 23

23rd Sunday after Pentecost – October 23rd 2005
Matthew 22:34-40[41-46]
“Passing the Test”

I. Introduction –

Train A leaves the station at 7 PM and arrives at 9 PM traveling at 90 MPH. Train B leaves at the same time from Albequerque, traveling 75 MPH and arrives in Boston 2 days later. If both conductors make 3 stops of 90 minutes each, and train A passes train B at midnight, what is the distance from Train A’s station to Albequerque? HUH?

Tests. Test questions. If you’re done with school, you’re probably glad to be done with questions like this. But even then, real life itself brings some pretty tough questions our way from time to time. When someone asks me, as a pastor, a really tough question like, “how much should I give to church?” or “will my dog go to heaven” my favorite answer is always, “Go ask Pastor Poppe”.

But what about the questions in your life? It may not be about 2 trains leaving a station, but about how I deal with a personal conflict, or a family problem. These are the real thorny questions in life. But there are more…

II. Tough Test Questions
Jesus himself was faced with tough questions from time to time. But he always passed the test, didn’t he? Last week, we read about the Herodians and Pharisees asking him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caeser?” A loaded, trick question. Immediately after that, in Matthew 22, the Saducees try to stump Jesus with a question about who you are married to in heaven. Each time Jesus dazzles the detractors with a timely, clever, truthful and thought-provoking response.

And today’s reading follows on the heels of all that. The expert in the law wants to “test him”. And so comes the curveball, “Which is the greatest commandment?”

Some might have expected him to say, “the one about murdering people. That’s important. As long as you keep that one, you’re ok!” or maybe some commandment about which sacrifices to make or rituals to observe. But no, Jesus thinks bigger than that. He shows a true understanding of what God expects of us. “Love God with ALL your heart, soul, mind…Love your neighbor as yourself”. And he summarizes the 10 commandments, and all of God’s law in this short sentence. Good answer Jesus. You passed the test.

III. Missing the Mark of Love
But in that very answer, Jesus hints at another test. How do the Pharisees score on God’s grading scale, if the greatest commandments are “love God and love neighbor”? And how do we score? Do we measure up? Do we pass or fail?

According to our sin, we can do nothing but fail. None of us loves God with ALL our heart, soul, or mind. I often wonder if I do ANYTHING with ALL my heart, soul, or mind. We are distracted, we are half-hearted, half-minded. God becomes, so often, an afterthought in life – rather than the Lord of our life. He is rarely treated as our #1 priority, first on our list. In fact, we find ourselves putting God on the back burner and loving him only when life starts to boil over.

Likewise, we aren’t so great at loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are easily annoyed by the idiosyncrasies of others, and quick to find excuses NOT to love them. They are too… rich, too poor, too much of a know-it-all, we just don’t have anything in common, they can help themselves, I don’t trust them, I was busy, I forgot, they don’t deserve my love…

But none of this takes away from the command to love our neighbor, our fellow man. And none of it hides the fact that we don’t do it like we should. We miss the perfect mark, that’s what the word sin means, “missing the mark”. We fail the test of God’s perfect will.

All of this should have been a rude awakening for the Pharisee. He had hoped to stump Jesus with his test question, but Jesus turned it around on him. I wonder if the expert in the law even realized it. That now HE was being put to the test.

Still there is more here than Jesus’ clever answer, and the self-examination that we do in response. The question remains, “can anyone love God and neighbor perfectly?” You know the answer of course… only the Christ, Jesus himself.

IV. The Son of David Makes the Grade
Jesus challenges the whole group of Pharisees with one final question, “What about the Christ, whose son is he?”

Their pat answer, “David’s” is not sufficient. For Jesus points out how David called the Messiah his Lord. This confounds Jesus’ opponents and silences them. But we know the answer. Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior – he is David’s son, according to his human lineage, and David’s Lord according to his Divine lineage. Both God and Man, the Christ is unique. He alone is like us in every way, yet without sin. He alone is qualified to be the savior. For he alone can pass the test.

He alone can love God so completely and fully that he fulfilled the greatest commandment. He loved God with all his heart, soul, and mind. Jesus put nothing ahead of his devotion to his father’s will. He even submitted his own life to death on a cross – because of his love for the father.

But the cross was also about his love for man. Jesus doesn’t only love us AS himself, he loves us MORE THAN himself. He gave himself up so we would be spared. He died so that we would live. He suffered all of God’s wrath so we would know God’s love and mercy.

And his love was so great that even death could not contain it – and his resurrection shows that love. Even his ascension to God’s right hand is done in love for us – for there he rules and reigns not for his own benefit – but for us, his people.

Yes in all these things, Jesus passes the test. But he does so, always, in order to give us the credit. He makes us righteous, holy, clean and just. It’s like having the smartest kid in class take your test for you, and you get the “A” grade. Only it’s not cheating – it’s God’s plan for our salvation from before the world was made.

So Jesus passes the tests of his enemies, wisely answering and turning the tables on them. But in his answers, there is always more…

We sinners aren’t so good at “passing the test”, as we fail to love God and our neighbor. But Jesus turns the tables on our failure, and by his life and death makes the grade – always for us. In His Name, Amen.

V. Conclusion
Though we fail God’s test in our sin, Jesus always passed the test. Because of his life and death and resurrection, we make the grade with God!

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