Sermon for July 10, 2016

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

July 10, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Texts:  Leviticus 19:9-18 and Luke 10:25-37

Sermon Theme:  “’You Shall Love Your Neighbor as Yourself’:  the Whole of the Law”

(Sources:  Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 26, Part 3, Series C; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Online “How to Love Your Enemies”; Online “Bible Verses Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself”; Online Christian Jokes; “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself” by Rick Warren; Online “Enter the Bible”; Online Study of Leviticus 19; “The Pursuit of Holiness” by Doug Van Meter; “Is Loving Yourself a Sin,” wordpress)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

In our sermons, we pastors try to teach the congregation about both Law and  Gospel, hoping that this will strengthen their faith as well as help them invigorate their moral code.  With the Lutheran emphasis on salvation by grace through faith alone, this isn’t always an easy task.  “Sin big, be forgiven much!  After all, we’re  under the New Covenant, and besides, God’s Law is for Baptists, and God’s Grace is for Lutherans.”  But it’s not just Moses under the Old Covenant who preached the Law; even Jesus, who brought the New Covenant, preached the Law.

A pastor, who was giving a sermon based on Jesus’ command to love your enemies, said, “Now, I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies in our lives.  So, raise your hands if you have lots of enemies.”  Quite a few people raised their hands.

“Now raise your hands if you have only a few enemies.”  About half as many people raised their hands.

“Now raise your hands if you have only one or two enemies.”  And even fewer people raised their hands.  “See,” said the pastor, “most of us feel like we have a lot of enemies.”

“Now raise your hands if you have NO ENEMIES AT ALL.”  The pastor looked on the left side of the church, and no one had raised their hand.  Then he looked to the right side, and no hands were up.  Then, finally he noticed, way in the back, a very, very old man holding his hand up.

“I have no enemies whatsoever,” the elderly man proclaimed.

“’What a blessing!,” the pastor said.  “Come up here and tell us more about  yourself.  How old are you?”

“I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies!’

“What a wonderful Christian life you must lead!  And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies.”

“All those good-for-nothing slime balls have died!”

I have chosen two sermon texts for today, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.  The Old Testament is from Leviticus, and it’s Law; the New Testament from Luke is Gospel, and they come together.

When we say “God’s Law,” many folks think, “The Ten Commandments.”  But that’s an incomplete answer, because the Law is much more than that.  “More than that?!  Good grief!”  With the self-centered philosophy of today’s world being, “If it feels good, do it,” and “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” that’s not something they want to hear.

The Hebrew word for God’s Law is “Torah,” and Bible scholars identify 7 Codes of Law:

One, “the Covenant Code,” found in Exodus 19, 20, and 23.

Two, “The Ritual Decalogue,: Exodus 34 and also 22 and 23.

Three, “The Twelve Curses,” Deuteronomy 27.

Four, “The Ten Commandments,” Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  See, it’s one of seven, not the totality of the Torah.

Five, “The Deuteronomic Code,” Deuteronomy 12-26.

Six, “The Holiness Code,’ Leviticus 17-26.  Part of this Code is enumerated in today’s sermon text from  Leviticus.

Seven, “The Priestly Code.”  Pieces of this one are scattered throughout Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers..

Lots of Law in those seven Codes!  How can we even keep up with all of them?  The good news is expressed by Paul in Galatians 5:14, “The whole Law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Paul repeats that in Romans 13:9, when he says, “For the commandments say, ‘You must not commit adultery.  You must not murder.  You must not steal.  You must not covet.’  These – and other such commandments – are summed up in the one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

And of course Jesus Himself says in Mark 12:29-31, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”

This thought is echoed in both of our sermon texts for today.  Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and Luke 10:27 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all  your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

These statements from the Torah boil the Law down to this:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  If that’s the greatest of all and the sum of all commands, then we must fully understand what the statement means.  First, what does Scripture mean by “neighbor”?  Jesus answers that question in our text from Luke with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Many Jews had a faulty concept of what “neighbor” meant.  Rabbis and Scribes, before and after Jesus, often debated the meaning of the word “neighbor.”  The Scribes employed by the Pharisees and Sadducees were often not Bible scholars and their interpretations of Scripture were not Biblically sound.  Yet, it’s obvious that Leviticus defined neighbor the same way Jesus did.  According to the Old Testament book of Leviticus, Israel was supposed to be different.  Yet, as Jesus said, the Pharisees were white-washed sepulchers (                      ), righteous on the outside and spiritually empty on the inside.

The care for the neighbor is spelled out concretely and graphically in Leviticus.  The poor, the sojourner (that is, the foreigner), and the blind are your brothers.  Treat them as such, and love your neighbor as yourself.  The way the Israelite treats his neighbor is tightly bound to the covenant with the one True God.  But that’s not what most Jews believed.

For the most part, to them, only fellow Jews, members of the house of Israel, were considered to qualify as “neighbor.”  Of course, some were more “neighbor” than others.  Shepherds, tax-collectors, and other assorted “sinners” didn’t qualify as well as righteous fellow law-keepers.  And Gentiles were outside the realm of “neighbor” completely.  You didn’t have to be unkind to them, but you certainly didn’t need to love them either.

If a Gentile was standing next to the Sea of Galilee, for example, you shouldn’t push him in.  But if he fell in, well, that was his problem, since he did not deserve your neighborly love!

Whom do we Christians today disqualify as “neighbor”?  Is there a skin tone that makes someone less of a neighbor?  Do we measure our need to give love based on how much money someone makes or the neighborhood a family lives in?  Do we feel justified in treating some people in a less-than-neighborly way?

Jesus doesn’t have any qualifications for the title “neighbor.”  Jesus doesn’t limit his neighborly love, except for one condition, — you need to be a sinner in need of His mercy.

The second part of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” we have to clearly understand is “as yourself.”  “Love your neighbor AS YOURSELF.’

Many folks react to that statement by asking the question, “Isn’t loving yourself a sin?”  Well, consider this.  God created you in His own image.  He called what He created good.  If you hate yourself, aren’t you hating something God created and said was good?  Loving yourself is not a sin, but it can become a sin when you love yourself more than other people.

As one who taught teenagers in high school and in college for many years, I found hating self to be a much bigger problem among them than loving self too much.  Here is what one teenager was quoted as saying in Word Press:  “I grew up hating myself.  I hated how I looked.  I hated my ethnic mix.  I hated where I lived.  I hated being poor.  I hated everything about myself.  At one point I actually wanted to commit suicide.  My relationship with Jesus stopped the self-hatred when I learned how much He loved me.”

If you hate yourself, it is impossible to love others.  God loves you so much He sacrificed his Son on the cross for your sins.  Because He loves you unconditionally, you are able to love yourself and to love others.

And last and most important, the key word in the passage we must understand is the word “love.”  The original Greek word used by Luke was “agape,” which means loving so totally and unconditionally you would be willing to sacrifice your life for someone.”  Think about it:  If every person in this world would love his neighbor as himself, think what that would mean!  The command to love your neighbor as yourself is the only command we would need!  That’s something worth praying for, isn’t it?!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.