Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who brings us back to love. Amen
Today the Pharisees set out to test Jesus,
and one asks him
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Now this story comes at the end
of several stories of various groups trying to trick Jesus
into blasphemy or treason,
and this time they specifically use the law as their trap.
Remember, the law was a gift from God to the Israelites,
God freed them from slavery in Egypt
and brought them out into the wilderness
and to teach them how to live in harmony with one another as free people
God gave them the gift of the law.
It was a gift given in love,
intended to help build and maintain relationships,
and now the Pharisees propose to do the opposite
they set out to use the law to test,
to trick, to divide, even to harm.
they ask, which law is the greatest?
and Jesus responds:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment and a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus brings them back to love.
This is what Jesus does
every time humans take a gift from God,
given in love, intended for love
and use it to test, trick, divide or harm,
Jesus brings us back to love.
Love of God, love of neighbor, love of self.
We see this in the gospels
Jesus continually points those he meets back to love,
love that mends relationships and brings people together,
and often this takes a very physical form,
when Jesus meets people whose relationships are broken because of sickness,
he heals them,
when the disciples want to send the crowds away to get something to eat,
Jesus says you feed them,
and helps them feed the masses with a little bit of bread and fish,
when Jesus knows that the people despair
he sends the disciples out to spread the good news
that the kingdom of God has come near.
Again and again Jesus points those he meets back to love,
until he makes the biggest point of all,
his death on the cross,
an act of love so great
that it defeats death, when Jesus, love incarnate, rises on the third day.
Jesus, a gift given to us in love by God
always brings us back to love,
because of Jesus we know that God loves us,
and nothing can separate us from the love of God,
not even ourselves and our failure to perfectly love God, neighbor and self.
God makes this promise to us at our baptisms
and makes us part of the community called to always return to love.
This is what our young people are affirming today,
their commitment to living in the love of God,
sharing it and returning to it when they go astray
remembering the gift they have been given.
Baptism is a gift from God
given to us in love,
at the font God claims us once and for all
so that we may never doubt
who we are and whose we are,
and this is all God’s doing,
we are saved by grace through faith,
not by our own works
and this gift of God is so great
we want to share it with everyone,
we want to partner with Jesus
to live in a world where the sick are healed,
the hungry are fed
and all have a home and a place
not because of what they have done or earned
but because they are beloved children of God.
This is the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed,
the kingdom that breaks in
every time love reaches across divisions.
As we look around
we are well aware that the fullness of the kingdom of God
has not yet arrived,
we face the imperfections of the world each day,
and so we still need the gift of the law
to guide us in communal living
and to show us when we fall short,
when we need to be brought back to love
and this is a continual process,
one that works in our individual lives and in the communal life.
Today we observe Reformation Sunday,
a moment in history
when a monk named Martin Luther
realized that the gift of God was being used to test, trick, divide and harm,
and so he asked some questions
and started a movement of people
looking anew at the gifts of God
and how they were being used
and calling the community back to acting out of love and care for all,
a way of sharing and living the gospel.
This way of looking at the world is part of our heritage,
But the work is not complete
We are called to continue reforming,
to continually look into the mirror of the law
and when the gifts of God are being misused
we are called to point it out,
to bring it back to love,
and of course we do not do this on our own,
Jesus is with us,
recalling us to the promises made at the font
and bringing us to the table
where with his body and blood
he forgives us and brings us back to love,
love that looks like a community gathered
where there is enough for all,
food enough for all,
love enough for all,
love that then gets sent out into the world.
today you are publicly saying yes to the way of love,
a way that the world desperately needs right now.
As you continue to live your faith in the world
there will be those who will question you,
not because they seek knowledge
but to test you,
and you will encounter times
when the way forward is less than clear
in those moments,
remember your baptism,
remember that you are a beloved child of God,
nothing can change that,
and in remembering
you will realize that the answer is clear,
Because Jesus always brings us back to love. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.