This homily was preached on Sunday morning, November 3, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:34-46
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One. Amen.
Today in the Church, we have confessions of faith. We have creeds – The Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed – and in Israel, prior to the coming of Christ, it was no different. They have what is called the Shema—“Shema Yisrael”–which are the first two words in Hebrew of this prayer, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul and with all of your mind.” And then it immediately goes from there, the Shema continues saying, “You shall teach these things to your children. When you rise, when you go out, when you go by the way.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
So this loving of the Lord, this generational thinking of training up your children in the love of the Lord, this was the central prayer, the central confession of faith of Israel.
If you were a convert to God’s people, then you too would have to confess the Shema, just like we confess the Nicene when it comes time for our Baptism. So, people that were converting to the Hebrew faith – the faith and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – they would have to confess this single-greatest commandment. And, in the same breath, confess the need to diligently, daily (from morning until night, from the time you wake up until you go to sleep) teaching the next generation to likewise love the Lord with all of their might, with all of their soul, with all of their mind.
And Jesus adds to it another passage from the Old Testament. The Shema we find in Deuteronomy Chapter 6. But if you look in Leviticus Chapter 19 you find the second greatest commandment which is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And these two are bound up together. In fact, we find that, at many times, to obey one is to obey the other. You cannot love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength and then ignore your children, ignore the next generation. Those two are side-by-side in the Shema itself. Whenever that command is given to love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength, the very next sentence is to teach these things to your children. You cannot love God without loving your neighbor, because your neighbor is created in the image of God. And some of your neighbors happen to be your spouse, or your kids, or your parents, or your next-door neighbors, or your coworkers: those who are in the same household, or in a nearby household to you.
This is one of those commands that is so central, so important, that we all know it. We have all heard it a thousand times, and yet it is so incredibly overwhelming that it’s hard to even know how to preach on it. And that’s because it’s so incredibly hard to receive, I think. We recognize the importance of it, but this may be the single-most back-breaking command, if you really think about the implications of it, because it is totally comprehensive.
Any other command that you can think of outside of these two, any other command . . .
“Okay, well that was one of the 10 or 12 I was wanting to do, but I’ll just have to do the other 11 things on my list. You know, at least, you know, 11-of-12 out of the things I wanted to do is not bad. So we’ll just push that off to the side.”
Or . . . Don’t steal.
“Well, maybe I can lie and get what I want instead; I won’t actually take it from somebody else.”
Or even if it’s not a matter of doing things that are wrong–“I’ll do these things wrong instead of these things wrong.”–It can just be a matter of:
“Look, I’ve got all of these things that I’m going to do that God wanted me to do. I’ve got all these things to avoid doing that God commanded me not to do. So this stuff, I’ll just avoid. This stuff, I’ll check off my list. But then with the rest of my time and money, I’ll do what I want.
Yes, I avoided doing all these bad things today. Yes, I did all these things that God told me to do today. But that still leaves me a solid hour of ‘Me Time’. That still leaves me $20 in my pocket and, you know what? I’m just going to do whatever I want with it, because, I already gave the percentage I’m supposed to give, I already gave the alms I’m supposed to give, I didn’t spend any of it on porn or drugs or anything that’s prohibited.
So, alright, there’s this third area. I’ve checked all this stuff off. I’ve avoided these things. And then area number three is, ‘Alright, me! My time, my money.’ ”
This command says there isn’t any of that. There isn’t any. God wants 100%.
Even if you’re spending money on eggs for breakfast, even if you’re drinking a glass of orange juice, even if you’re spending time walking out to the mailbox, that’s God’s time, that’s God’s money. You’re a steward of it, and you’re either a good steward of His time and His money, or you’re a bad steward of it, but there is none of yours. You don’t have any! If you take any, now you’re a thief. And in many cases, it doesn’t even mean that that specific thing that you do would have been different, but what is your motive in doing it, why are you doing it, how are you looking at it?
Are you doing it because you think that’s your time and God doesn’t have a claim on it? That’s a thief’s way of thinking. Or is your thinking, “Well, God wants me to love my spouse, my children, and my church family, my neighbors. To do that, I need to be alive. To be alive, I do need to eat. So I do need to eat some eggs for breakfast, so I’m going to buy some eggs so that I can obey God.” Okay, maybe you still buy that dozen eggs and you still have that scrambled eggs for breakfast, but your whole thought process, your whole direction of your heart was, “This is for Him. That’s why I’m doing this.”
And it affects every corner of our lives. I have had this conversation with people when it comes to music choices. There’s some stuff that’s just so obviously wrong that, if you think its okay, there’s something wrong with you. You know, there are some bands that on the cover of their album, you know, it’s like some pagan blood sacrifice to a foreign god and the lyrics are not even repeatable here in the service. Okay, we’re not talking about that. That goes away, that’s gone. And on the far other end, we all feel like, “Okay, there’s some sacred music that’s good to listen to on Sunday morning.” But there seems to be a lot of fuzziness in between. You know, there are some secular bands that do some songs that even I think, “Hey, that particular song; that glorifies God. I can glorify God and listen to that song.” But what’s our whole approach? And this is one of a thousand things. We could talk about the clothes that we wear. We could talk about the movies that we watch. But I’m just picking on music just as an example.
There are some pieces of music by secular bands that you’ll hear a pastor and a teenager have an argument about. And the teenager will say,
“Well, where does the Bible ever say that I can’t listen to a song that is about this?”
See, what he’s looking for is check-boxes:
“I’m check-boxing off all the stuff that I’m not supposed to do. And as long as I avoid those things, I can do whatever I want. I have ‘Me time’, I have ‘Me money’, I have ‘Me entertainment’. Here’s all the check-boxes of stuff I have to do. Okay, I’ll check those off, I have to do them. But in between this and that, there’s all this ‘Me time’, there’s all this ‘Me money’, there’s all this ‘Me entertainment’. And so if there’s not a check-box over here that explicitly prohibits it, then I can do what I want.”
And this one pastor I listened to, he just turned the whole question around, and he said,
“I don’t want you looking for check-boxes and dos and don’ts. Every single piece of music that you listen to, I just want you to ask, ‘Does this glorify Christ? Does this help me serve God better?’”
And the teenager said,
“Well, I don’t want to do that.”
Now who has the high road?
The pastor says,
“You don’t need check-boxes for do’s and don’ts, for a lot of this stuff. You want to go spend that $5 on a CD player or a video or a waffle, or whatever, I’m not telling you to go look in the Bible and find out, you know, ‘Thou shalt not purchase waffles, or ice cream, or whatever you think you’re supposed to go buy.’ I’m just asking you: Every time you spend 50 cents, just ask yourself, ‘Does this purchase glorify Christ? Does this purchase help me serve God better?’ If so, then go for it. But if the answer is, ‘No’, or if the answer is even, ‘Man, I don’t see how it possibly could . . . ‘ “
Now people don’t want to go there. What people want to say is, “Well, I don’t see how it hurts.”
No, I’m not asking whether it hurts, I’m just asking, “Does it positively help you glorify God and serve Christ?”
If not, then don’t do it!
That makes it a whole lot less fuzzy. Because, I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of country songs and rock-n-roll songs on the radio that, maybe they don’t explicitly condone doing this sin or that sin, but they also don’t explicitly praise or glorify God. But some of them that are in the middle, in between, if you listen to the whole song, you honestly have to say,
“Well, it sure may be fun and it sure made me tap my foot, but listening to that song doesn’t draw me any closer to Christ. Maybe I don’t feel like it hurts my relationship with Him, but it sure doesn’t draw me any closer to Him. It doesn’t exalt Him. It doesn’t make me any better of a Christian.”
“Well, then what am I doing spending two and a half minutes of my life wasted on something that doesn’t draw me any closer to Christ, and doesn’t help my walk with God?”
You can apply that to any books that we read, any movies that we watch, any food that we eat, any money that we spend, any entertainment that we go to enjoy. Does that mean that everything is off the list? No! Because when you look at that music, when you look at that food, when you look at that movie, sometimes the answer is,
“Yes! This particular movie draws me closer to Christ. That helps me follow God as a better Orthodox Christian.”
If you can confidently say that, then do it!
We had some entertainment yesterday. There were some little, baby bunnies, not any bigger than this sound recorder here. Just little-bitty, baby bunnies, fuzzy like teddy-bears, ears sticking straight up, the tiniest little things, cutest little things you’ve ever seen. I brought them in the house and we had a good half hour, maybe an hour, of those little things just hopping around and crawling up my pant leg. They kept being attracted to Julie; she’s like a rabbit magnet. And the kids were just looking at them, and making over them, and petting them. That was entertainment. It was fun! And I believe it glorifies God. He made that rabbit. He made them look cute. He gave us the ability to glory in His creation and to thank Him for His creation. So we had fun! We did something enjoyable.
There are some secular songs that are written about people who are married to each other, and have what I would call a very godly love for one another. Some of those are positively good. Some of them are a good thing.
Sometimes when you go to a restaurant to be with a friend, to have fellowship, if you’re doing it for the purpose of Christian fellowship so that you can grow closer to them in Christ, or to draw them closer to Christ, maybe that’s money well-spent.
So I’m not talking about an austere life where you spend 24 hours a day in Church and you never spend a penny other than just the bare necessities needed for life. I’m talking about a world that is full of music and food and fun and fellowship. But I am asking that 100% of your money, 100% of your time, 100% of your entertainment, that you just keep asking yourself that question,
“This thing that I’m about to do, this thing that I’m about to spend, this thing I’m about to say, how will this draw me closer to Christ? How will this glorify God?”
And if you can’t answer that intelligently and say, “Well here’s why it’s a good thing; here is why this actually draws me closer to Christ,” don’t settle for second-best and say, “Well, I can’t think of any way that it’s going to hurt my relationship with Christ. I’ve just always really enjoyed that rock song, ‘Walk This Way’ . . .”
You know, that’s a good example because that’s a song–Do you guys know what song I’m talking about? ”Walk this way, talk this way . . .”–Anybody that has at least two digits in their age has likely heard this song. For years I thought that was just one of the coolest songs. It just sounded really neat, the guitar, the singing. And then one day I made the mistake of actually looking up the lyrics to see what they were saying, and I have not listened to that song since – in years! And I’d be lying to you if I said that, if somebody started playing it, that the guitar wouldn’t kind of get to me and, you know . . . But I refuse!
I’m not going to put that song in my head ever again. I’m not going to do it, because even if you’re not consciously thinking about what they’re saying, they have done enough scientific studies to show that your subconscious and your brain are picking that up. It settles into your mind, and into your heart.
And that is not a song that glorifies Christ. There is nothing about the words of that song that draw me any closer to God or to the Orthodox faith. And so, no matter how cool it sounds, I want nothing to do with that song.
I could give a thousand other examples. Not every song is going to fit in that category, not every movie is going to fit in that category, but some will. And we should never try to justify our actions and say, “Well, I don’t actually want to do what they’re saying in that song. I just listen to it for the beat. It’s just fun to shake my shoulders to.” No, we need to ask ourselves every minute, “How does this glorify Christ?”
Now, the second commandment – Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That actually is just an extension of the first commandment, of loving God with all that you are, all that you have.
Have you ever known of a girl and a boy to date for quite a while and to be really close to each other and then have this horrible break-up and then she says, “You know what? I don’t even want these pictures anymore. I’m going to rip all of these up.” He doesn’t do it because he doesn’t have any. He didn’t get into that. But she gets all her pictures of him and just rips them up and throws them away. Have you heard of that kind of thing? Bad break-up?
Now what about where there was no break-up, where they still love each other? What does she do with every picture of him? Cherishes it, loves it, holds onto it, and kisses it!
What if you met a person who had a bunch of pictures of a guy and some of those pictures of him she put in a photo album, she put in a frame and hung it up on the wall, she looked at it adoringly and lovingly, and while she’s looking lovingly at these pictures, you see she’s got pictures in her hands and she’s clipping and you say,
“What are you doing?”
And she’s got another picture of the same guy and she’s cutting his head off and chopping him out of the picture and getting pictures of him and tearing them up and throwing them away . . . Have you ever seen that? Would you think,
“That’s a whack job. Somebody that’s just a little, a little loopy. Elevator doesn’t quite go all the way to the top. One fry short of a Happy Meal.”
It would be a contradiction, right? You’d say,
“Well, with your eyes and your face you’re adoring some of these pictures of this guy, and then with your two hands you’re chopping up pictures of this guy. What are you doing?”
And yet, isn’t that what all of us are guilty of until we repent? For, who was created in the image of God? Which people were created in the image of God?
So, every one of us is an icon of Christ? Why is it that some icons of Christ we hang up on our walls, and look at adoringly, and we venerate, we kiss . . . and other icons of Christ we get out the hammer and we smash them, and we stomp on them, and wipe our backsides on them, and throw them out our door, and burn them, and bury them?
That’s split-personality, isn’t it? It’s contradictory. Some images of God we really like and we treat them wonderfully. Some images of God we treat like trash. That’s not loving God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength.
See, if a woman loves a man with her whole heart, she cherishes every picture of him that she has. She hangs them on the wall, she puts them in photo albums, and she pins them up on the refrigerator. She doesn’t chop them up, wad them up, and throw them away.
Now the good news about contradictions like that is that half of it is good, half of it is true. If she adores this guy, the pictures of him that she has that she takes care of, that part of her life is already well-ordered. That part of her life is already good. She needs to keep doing that. That’s encouraging. The only part she needs to fix is, well, what about all the pictures she’s chopping up and wadding up and using for Kleenex? So it is with us.
Whenever we hear the command to love our neighbor, we want to pat ourselves on the back so quickly, because we’re quickly able to put together a list of people that we treat really well. Are there images of God that I treat with great respect? Absolutely! If I’m married to them, if they’re my kids, if they’re “my kind of people.”
But those other images of God out there . . . well, we don’t really want to talk about those. We don’t want to be around with them – they smell!
So that’s encouraging: there are some people that we already cherish. There are some images of God that we already take great care of and venerate and love. But if we’re going to love God with all of our hearts, with all of our souls, with all of our minds, with all of our strength, that means we need to love ALL of our neighbors as ourselves. We need to cherish every icon of Christ, not just the ones that are “our kind of people,” or that happen to have our DNA.
So, what do we do? How do we repent?
Did you know that “feeling bad” about something is not repentance? Repentance is “metanoia”. You know, in the Eastern Rite, how people will cross themselves and then bend like this and then touch the floor? That’s called a “metania”. Literally, you’re doing a “repentance”. It’s a sign of repentance. But if you go back to the word itself, what does it mean? It means, literally, to “change” (meta) – and (noia) – your “mind”. Change your mind!
You have to start thinking differently about those people. You have to start doing differently. You have to literally turn around 180 degrees and start walking the other way. The pictures that you were tearing up, you’ve got to start putting in frames. The photos that you were wadding up, you need to straighten back out and put them in photo albums. The icons of Christ that you were swiping your foot on, you need to pick up, and clean off, and dry off, and kiss, and cherish.
So if we’re going to change our minds, if we’re going to turn around 180, if we’re going to walk the other way, if we’re going to stop being split-personality, if we’re going to stop being contradictory, if we’re truly going to love Christ with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength, then that means that we only need to change that we behave towards some people. Those that we are already treating like Christ, just keep doing that. But look into your life right now and ask yourself if there are any people that you’d just as soon not see anymore. Are there any people you don’t particularly like? Any people that you don’t like the way they smell, the way they talk, the way they think? Any people who, when they’re around, you’re just more likely to be a little more grumpy, you’re a little more likely to be checking your watch just to see when you can get out of here, because you’d really rather go be with somebody else?
What I want to encourage myself to do, and everyone here to do, is – this week – think of somebody that you have not been treating like an icon of Christ. Think of a human being in your life that you have not been cherishing. Think of somebody that you have not been actively doing loving things for. And when I say, “Love”, I don’t just mean a pitter-patter in the heart, or a warm fuzzy feeling toward them, or just a general wish that things will go well with them. But do something for them that shows love.
Jesus said if you only love those who love you, then you’re no better than the pagans, no better than the unbelievers. For, even the tax collectors, even the sinners, they do that. Thieves are kind to their own. Drug addicts are kind to their own. Atheists are nice to each other.
If you want to be a Christian, that means loving the unlovable, doing good things for people who hurt you, being generous to those who despise you, being Christ to those who don’t appreciate it.
So, if I would repent, if you would repent, then think of somebody in your life that, today, this week, you can be Christ to them. You can show them love. You can treat them as an icon of Christ. You can treat them as the image of God. You can love your neighbor as yourself. And then think of another person that fits that category and start loving them. And pick another person and keep loving the first two. And now that you’re loving the first three, go pick another one until the day comes that you can honestly, and with a clear conscience, look in the mirror and say,
“Every human being in my life, every person that I talk to, every person that I come in contact with, I cherish as the image of God. I cherish as the icon of Christ. I do things for them to show them love.”
For if we will love our neighbors as ourselves, if we will treat every person, every person, as the icon of Christ, then we will find that we are loving God with all of our hearts, with all of our minds, with all of our souls, and with all of our strength. We won’t have any time left–or even want any time left–for “Me time”, because we will be too busy, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, giving all that we are, to love every image of God that we come in contact with. Every person. Every neighbor.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our God is One. Amen.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, November 3, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.