“Following Jesus Today: Worshiping God by Walking Backwards”
April 26, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.
Two years ago last Monday, Velma and Linda and Jeanette and I, along with 16 others from across the country stepped off a boat and entered into the ancient city of Ephesus. We met our local tour guide who introduced herself and then led the 20 of us along a 2-mile 2,000+-year old marble road and told us about the ruins of huge old stone buildings including the third largest library of the ancient world, the theater from which Paul spoke to the crowds, and the jail where Paul was imprisoned. But here’s the thing, this tour guide did this while walking backwards.
She knew the pot holes and divots, she understood the turns and the angles, she recognized when to stop and where to point – without really having to look where she was going.
How was that possible? She knew the landscape so well because she had walked this road and studied its route so many times, it was all second nature.
During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost we are learning how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us and how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace).Today we will listen as Jesus answers a question we all ask in one way or another, Matthew 22:34-40 …. —-
“34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
37 Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. The questions we usually ask go something like: So … this particular sin isn’t as bad as that one, so …, it’s OK, right? The way I convince myself that my sin really isn’t so bad is by asking if enjoying someone’s good cooking is better than wasting the food, right? So I overeat like the glutton I am…. One of the Pharisees, one who was an expert in the Old Testament Law (all the Pharisees were experts in the Old Testament – so this one must have been some kind of super-Pharisee in order to get this kind of acclaim), tried to trick Jesus into coming up with some lame, inappropriate answer to the 10 Commandments question.But Jesus answers the question about which commandment is the most important by quoting from the same Old Testament Law of which this Pharisee was such an expert. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, “4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”This comes right after the 10 Commandments were listed in Deuteronomy 5, and then Moses summarizes them in this short verse, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind/strength.” “Love the Lord your God….” In English, the word “love” has so many connotations it’s hard to know what Jesus may have meant. Fortunately, we can go to the original Greek language and get a better picture of Jesus’ words. In English I can say that I love the Spokane Indians (baseball team), and I love cherry cheese cake, and I love Jennifer – but each of those loves better have at least slightly different meanings.I love the Spokane Indians in a way that makes me wish I could attend more games in their short season; I love cherry cheese cake in a way that, if given the choice, I would choose a slice of that over a cupcake any day of the week; but I love Jennifer in a way that means I will always choose her as my life partner no matter how may Spokane Indians, cherry cheese cakes, or other people cross into my line of vision. In Greek there are a number of words one could use that translate into English as “love”. Jesus uses a word with unique meaning and purpose. He uses a form of the word “agape”. This kind of love is completely selfless, utterly altruistic, entirely and totally self-giving!Agape-love is a kind of love humans can’t really do. Even the most caring, gentle, generous person among us has self-centered moments where we want what is best for good old number one. Nonetheless, that is, apparently, the greatest commandment: Agape-love the Lord your God with … everything you have. This is the kind of love that we might put on a par with worship – love God equals worship God – recognize God’s worth, and give Him what that worth deserves. What is God’s worth? [Absolute ultimate value] How do we pay for that value? [by giving Him absolutely everything we have to give – heart, soul, strength/mind]!And for New Testament followers of Jesus, worshiping God, loving God, always happens through His Son Jesus Christ. And because we are, actually, unable to offer agape-love under our own power, we love and worship God in spirit and in truth only under the power of the Holy Spirit.So, ,,, do you pass this “greatest commandment” test? Yeah, neither do I. Thank God for His perfect grace!
But Jesus does not stop with the simple quote from Deuteronomy – He also quotes from Leviticus 19:18; in the middle of a whole list of “laws” (one “thou shalt not” after the next “thou shalt not”) the writer of Leviticus writes, “but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God …. And the second greatest commandment is just like it: love your neighbor as yourself!”
Agape-love your neighbor as yourself?! Wow! Really? God, do you know my neighbor? Agape-love him? I can barely stand him!
Yes, Jesus says, Agape-love your neighbor!
How does one do that?
Remember the story of the tour guide I told you at the beginning of this message? Here’s where that story fits in – and how we apply the same thing to our Christian lives of following Jesus today.
A thorough perusal of our Holy Scriptures shows us over and over again how God’s greatest desire is for a transformative relationship with us, His greatest piece of creation. When we begin to understand that the Creator of everything loves us without/beyond any conditions, our only reasonable response is an overwhelming desire to love and serve God! And as that becomes our reality, we begin to care more and more about the things that matter most to God – loving and serving our neighbors!
So the “greatest commandment” flows straight into the “second (which) is just like it”. When we love God, we will love our neighbors. I John 3:11-16 reminds us that “the message we have heard from the beginning (is that) we should love one another … this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. We ought, therefore, to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (we ought to love each other.)”
God-honoring love and worship will compel us, and our experience of God’s love will enable us, to actually invest in loving our neighbors.
Our tour guide walked backwards because she knew Ephesus, and she wanted to share Ephesus with her tourists!
Here’s the take-away lesson for us – Genuine, God-honoring love and worship happens when you and I, followers of Jesus, have experienced God’s love and the transformation it brings (even in small doses), and we begin to walk backwards, sharing what we have with our tourists, pointing out God’s creation, directing attention to God’s mighty acts, and simply showing people something of God’s grace in our own lives. THAT is loving our neighbors.
Know the power and love of God, and
Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, compelling us to
Go in the footsteps of the Holy Spirit, loving and servng others who do not yet
Know the power and love of God….*
The people around us desperately need to see these kinds of followers of Jesus.
Worshiping God by walking backwards involves loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, by living our faith out-loud so that others might see God as we walk backwards showing Him to our neighbors.
Name one person with whom you are currently “walking backwards” – and name someone with whom you will start this week.
Teach us to love as Your angels love,
one holy passion filling every frame;
the baptism of the heaven-descended Dove,
our hearts an altar, and Your love the flame. (Amen) – George Croly, 1854
Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 19-24.
*Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church Vision Statement, 2006.