NextSunday Worship


October 25, 2020

“Nothing Will Ever Be the Same Again!”

Dr. Bruce Schoonmaker Matthew 22:34-46 Year A – Proper 25

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘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.”
(Matthew 22:34-46)

“Nothing Will Ever Be the Same Again!”

There are moments when something so momentous happens that you realize nothing will ever be the same again. You might not comprehend it at that very moment, but you know something important is happening, and later it strikes your mind that it was a transformative moment in your life.

During the summer before the third grade, I participated in a creative arts day camp for two weeks, sponsored by our school system. I remember, on the first day, arriving to find our chairs forming a large circle, facing one another. We sat and our teacher turned on a recording; then she proceeded to sing and dance, performing the Rodgers and Hammerstein song, “Getting to Know You,” from The King and I. I was shocked. I was not only observing music drama; I was inside the music drama!

What I could not verbalize at that time was the meaning this performance had for me: nothing would ever be the same again. After that few minutes, I would always carry within me the possibility of performing music and theater. And indeed, I did; I became a singing actor and have spent significant amounts of time performing on stage.

Sometimes these transformative moments happen in the face of trial and tribulation.  Near the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, an older Italian priest insisted that the doctors take his ventilator and use it to save someone younger. This older priest insisted on giving his life for someone he had never met. For everyone around him, and especially for the recipient of his generosity, nothing would ever be the same again.

Years ago, friends prayed with a stranger outside the emergency room where doctors fought to save the life of a man they loved, then found out that he would recover completely. When they turned to thank the stranger for praying with them, they found he had left.

Nurses confirmed that no one else had been in the waiting area. They knew that a God moment happened.  Nothing would ever be the same again. The transformative moments that turn the threat of death into a moment of grace, of redemption, and of love, stay with us and remain a part of us.

In his final days, Jesus faced many tests by the chief priests and the elders of the temple, by the Sadducees, and by the Pharisees. They were meant to discredit him; they were meant to make him condemn himself by answering trick questions inappropriately. These hypocritical leaders of the faith knew how to set a trap for a young prophet and how to execute it. They knew how to find fault and how to show the faithful Jews how insignificant the accused was.

They knew and studied and memorized and set into stone the laws of the Jewish faith. But they did not know the spirit of the Jewish faith. They could quote multiple reasons for not walking more than a few steps on the Sabbath, but they could not tell you why the law was made, which was to spend a full day honoring the Lord with their hearts, their souls, and their minds. And mostly they did not recognize when the spirit superseded the law.

They were clever but not wise. They had facts at hand to justify their importance and to justify the many rules they held others to. But they could not tell you why you might break one of those rules in order to save the life of a drowning person, in order to clothe the naked, or in order to feed the hungry.

But they had heard about this prophet, Jesus, who taught Good News, who taught that this spirit of the law was more important than the letter of the law, and they knew of the miracles he performed and the power he wielded. They heard from him or from those who had witnessed Jesus’s teaching, the words of truth he uttered and somewhere deep inside themselves, they had an inkling that they were wrong and they dreaded this day and hated the person who proved them wrong.

At this time in the narrative of Matthew, Jesus stood before the temple, having been tested many times, having further infuriated the scribes, the leaders, and these Pharisees. I believe he was ready to come down hard on those who did not see how they were wasting the time of God on earth, when they should be learning from him, cherishing what he had to say, and following him as he healed the sick, fed the hungry, and gave sight to the blind.

But no, not one of them could open their minds and their eyes and see. They were too busy enjoying earthly rewards and seeking earthly success. They could not see their hypocrisy and selfishness in the face of grace and mercy and truth. They could not see the savior of the world standing in the midst of them.

They could not feel God’s loving presence or rejoice with the crowds and the children who shouted Hosanna to the Lord just a day or two before. Not one of them. Their self-absorption made them cruel, vicious, and judgmental.

Jesus knew that the threat of death was closing in around him.

But he was ready for their next question.

A lawyer among them asked, “Rabbi, which is the greatest commandment.” It was yet another ruse to get the respondent to answer incorrectly and prefer one commandment over another when all were equal before the law.

But Jesus, of course, knew the mind of his seemingly innocent inquisitor. He also knew the Torah intimately and he quoted Deuteronomy 5,

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

Deafening silence followed.  All were astounded. The people stood stone still, but the leaders trembled beneath their finery. None could accuse him. None could answer back. None could disagree.

Those words, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” resided at the heart of the Jewish faith. These words immediately followed, in the sacred texts, the ultimate exclamation of Jewish faith:

Shema, Yisroel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echod!

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!

This exclamation echoed in the hearts of every faithful Jew. It was invoked at almost every service. It resounded in the hearts of the faithful. Jewish history resounded with their initial covenant with God, that there was only one God, not the many gods of the heathens.

And now the unspoken Shema condemned the hypocrites standing before Jesus! By elevating their injunctions about what NOT to do in the faithful life, the elders and priests of the temple, the lawyers, Sadducees and Pharisees, all those who stood against Jesus that day, elevated the laws and made them idols, gods in their hearts.

They served these gods, the many, not the One God of Israel, not the Adonai echod, not the Lord Jehovah, not the Abba of the Son who stood before them.

By confronting Jesus, they sinned grievously. And Jesus answered the lawyer’s question,

“Rabbi, which of the commandments is the greatest,” with the ultimate truth,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

If only they had loved the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, and minds, they would not find themselves in this quandary. They would not be harassing the greatest human who ever walked the earth. They would not be plotting against God himself.

Jesus’ words not only served as a comeuppance to the lawyer and the leaders of the temple; they not only served to condemn Jesus even more thoroughly in the minds and hearts of these hypocrites who claimed to lead the Jewish faithful; they established that the history of the Jews, the basis of the Jewish faith, the traditions and beliefs from the time of Moses and the prophets, served to remind everyone of what was expected of them by their heavenly Father.

Jesus took a moment that threatened his life and ministry and turned it into something beautiful, something eternal, and something full of grace and truth. Nothing would ever be the same again. His admonition,

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,’

was first and foremost a reminder how to experience the grace and mercy of God.

It stated a universal truth, revealing the heart of God.

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

AND HE WASN’T FINISHED!

The people were stunned. They innately knew this would be a turning point in their lives, that God was about to break through the mundane life of people trying their best to find their ways in the world. The crowd drew a collective breath.

Jesus held their attention. Then he spoke quietly, with love and grace,

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Nothing would ever be the same again. A hush settled over the crowd. People wept. They embraced. They wiped their eyes.

They who had lived by codes, by rules, under stern authority, they heard the words of love.

They who were subjected to the harsh, military authority of the Roman Empire,

they heard the words of love.

They who were severely taxed without pity, without respect, without grace, they heard these words of love.

It was as if the clouds broke apart and the sun shone down upon them.

All that heard it found their hearts brightened and their steps lightened.

Their spirits soared. They could not help it.

The spirit of the Lord, which was always upon Jesus Christ,

now surrounded them with undeniable love, with undeniable grace, with undeniable truth.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus challenged and confounded the leaders

but for the people who surrounded him,

he chose to inspire, to edify, to nurture, and to love.

He turned a moment of righteous anger into an eternal moment of grace and truth.

Love the Lord your God with everything you have, your heart, your soul, your mind.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Extend love vertically and horizontally.

Love everyone, even these hypocrites who seek to condemn and belittle.

Love your enemies.

Love good folks and bad folks. Jesus is God indeed. Hosanna to God in the highest! Hosanna to the King of kings!

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

Nothing will ever be the same again.

Amen

About the writer:

Dr. Bruce Schoonmaker; baritone concert and opera artist, voice teacher, conductor, stage director, acting coach, and poet lives in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, with his wife, Gail.  They retired in 2018 from forty-one years of teaching voice and opera at Furman University and enjoy making music together, socializing with family and friends, and getting to know each other even better after forty-seven years of marriage. They continue performing and teaching voice, currently via FaceTime and Zoom.

Their older son, Noel, is senior pastor at Second Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia. Their younger son, Rick, teaches English, English as a second language, and technology literacy at Tokyo International University. Bruce and Gail enjoy performing concerts to raise money for feeding the hungry.

 

Scripture and Music:

Deuteronomy 34

Psalms 90:1-6.13-17

Psalms 1

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Matthew 22:34-46

 

Hymns:

O God, Our Help in Ages Past

Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

More Love to The, O Christ

The Gift of Love

Lord, I Want to Be a Christian

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

Lord Speak to Me

On Jordan s Stormy Banks

A Mighty Fortress

 

Anthems:

A Mighty Fortress (Young; Rutter)

The Gift of Love (Hopson)

Devotion (Beck)

Promised Land (Sleeth)

More Love the Thee (Burroughs)

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

O God, Our Help in Ages Past (Rutter)

Love (Jones)

 

Solos: 

The Gift of Love (Hopson)

Jesus, Name Above All Names

Pass It On