Sermon ~ Sunday, October 29, 2017
Pastor Neil Wilson
In our house as in many homes, we have a small area that you step into when you enter the door from our driveway. Some call it simply an entry way or foyer, in New England and perhaps here as well, we call it a mud room.
Mud rooms are necessary spaces when you live on farms or you have a driveway that is gravel. It is a place to take off your muddy boots, jacket, rain gear, running shoes, gloves, mittens, scarfs, etc. In most mudrooms there will be a bench of some sort, a boot jack, and and in every mud room, worth its name, there will be a line of Shaker pegs along one or more walls. We have the pegs in our “mudroom” on two walls at different heights. And we keep on these pegs depending of the season, different jackets, hats scarfs, so forth, which we will grab and take with us as we go out the door.
Okay, now with this image in mind, let’s turn to the Gospel passage from Matthew. This reading covers two short accounts from Jesus’ ministry. I would like to focus on the first selection.
Verses 34-40 comprise what for Jesus was his definition of true religion, his summary of the law and the prophets – the law spelling out what God requires in written form, the prophets speaking this law into particular situations.
First there is the command to love God with everything we have. Now if this is considered simply as a human requirement, it can lead to frustration, because if we are honest we have times when we may not feel at all loving, even toward God! But the heart of spirituality is mutuality, that is, love for God is like faith, a gift from God. We find that God gives us the love we have for God, so that the Holy Spirit is bearing witness in our hearts that we belong to God, through Jesus Christ.
For me this love for God is expressed not only in my devotion to God through the worship of God but also in the way I approach all of God’s creation. I express my love for God not only through the prayers and songs in a service of worship but also in my service to the created world around me.
How can you say you love another person and then abuse that person’s property? How can I say I love God and then exploit and abuse God’s creation?
And the second commandment is like the first Jesus says, “You shall love you neighbor as yourself.” While it might be possible for a person to force themselves, almost as it were through gritted teeth, into loving their neighbor, by-in-large we claim that no one can command us to feel something we just don’t feel. But Jesus here is talking about “biblical love,” a love that is not a matter of “warm feelings” but rather a stubborn, unwavering commitment to another regardless of how we may “feel” about them at the time. I know that there are times when I’m not very likable! But Donna amazingly still loves me! (Or at least so she tells me!)
In our Tuesday Bible Study material the author spoke of this commitment to do love, to show love, as being a “setting of the heart.” A decision to act that then affects how we feel, no matter our mood or inclination at the time. Think of it as a setting on your dryer or washing machine. This is how we will choose to treat others.
I’ve found that when I decide to set my heart in a certain direction and I do things that fulfill that commitment; my feelings will often follow the actions. Many of the “laws” of God, like giving and Sabbath and loving, rather than being punitive or negative, I believe are God’s way of getting us to do what we need to do, what is good for us.
Back to the mud room!
Sometimes Eugene Peterson’s translation of the bible called The Message can create an inmage that brings scripture alive. This is how a portion of this our Matthew passage reads in The Message:
Jesus said, “’Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commandments are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”
Love of God and Love of neighbor, two pegs on which hang spiritual attitudes that we are need to take with us when we go out into the world.
Scarfs to keep our hearts warm.
Hats to keep good thoughts in our minds.
Sturdy boots that will take you wherever God may call you.
Gloves, so that we can be the hands of God doing the work of love and an extra pair or two for it will require effort!
Perhaps even a strong vest or jacket that will protect your soul from all the stinging criticism, for even doing good, doing the right thing will bring criticism from some quarters. (Jesus warned us about this in his Sermon on the Mount.)
So rather than “what’s in your wallet? (another sermon?) What is hanging in your mud room? What do you take with you every time you step out into the world? What spiritual attributes, “gifts of the spirit” do you put on?
Now realizing that all metaphors are just this, metaphors, symbols and not the real thing, there is one especially important place where my peg metaphor breaks down, that is we should not take off these spiritual attitudes when we reenter our homes, for they are just as needed in our homes as they are in the world!
Listen to Pastor Neil’s audio recording of this sermon, spoken during 10:30 a.m. Worship services here at First Congregational… Enjoy!
Click on “Download File” below.