October 25, 2020, The Strongest Hinges, Matthew 22:34-46 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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In our Tuesday morning Bible study, we’ve been studying the life of King David, who is surely one of the best-known and best-loved Bible heroes. Everybody loves the story of David and Goliath, where the young David faces the giant Goliath with no more than a slingshot and a handful of stones – and wins. We know David as a skillful musician, playing his harp, writing the words of one of our most beloved psalms, “The Lord is my Shepherd…” We know David as Israel’s greatest king. But in our study we are meeting the real David, a human being who is much more complicated and much less of a superstar than our Sunday School teachers led us to believe. I always think that one of the things I most love about the Bible – one of the things about the Bible that makes it something we can really apply to our own lives – is that the people of the Bible are real people. The people that we find in the Bible have dysfunctional families, they make really bad choices, and sometimes they do truly nasty things, just like any old body you might run into on the street – or see in a mirror. But there is something that set David apart from all other human beings, something truly remarkable, and that is this: that God calls David a man after his own heart.
If someone asked you to describe a man, or a woman, after God’s own heart, I imagine you would picture someone kind and gentle, someone who helps others and gives generously, someone who is both wise and humble – somebody like Mother Teresa, maybe. The funny thing is that when God decided to reveal to us the man after his own heart, he wasn’t what we would have expected. David, the one God called ‘a man after his own heart’, was a man of violence and passion, a murderer and an adulterer, whose life was more often a total mess than otherwise, what with his many wives and his treacherous children and his lack of self-control. And yet, God saw beyond all those things. “Man looks on the outside,” God told Samuel, when he sent him to anoint David. “But God looks on the heart.” And when God looked into David’s heart he saw what he was looking for, and that is why he chose David to lead his chosen nation and to be the great-great-great-fourteen-times Grandfather of Jesus, whom he was sending into the world to rescue it and heal it.
Clearly, when he looked into the heart of the young David, God, in his infinite wisdom, was not looking for moral purity or saintliness or a perfect report card. God looked into David’s heart and he liked what he saw – in fact, he identified David’s heart with his own. And I think what he found in David’s heart was the ability to love, to love passionately, to love with humility, to love God and others enough to put them above himself even if he was the ruler of the whole nation – which he was. No matter how David sinned – and he sinned in just about every way possible – his humanity, bearing the stamp of the Creator’s image, remained intact, because he did not stop loving. Love for God, love for his king and his friends, love for his wife, love for his children: love gave him patience to wait on God’s promises; love brought him back to God when he failed spectacularly; love brought David to his knees in repentance and made him dance in worship; love gave him the ability to act with mercy even to the undeserving.
Jesus told the lawyer, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind; and love your neighbor as you love yourself. The whole law, and all the teachings of the Prophets, everything you have learned in studying the Scriptures, it all hangs on those two commandments”. The Greek word for ‘hangs’ there is the word that means ‘hinges’: love for God and love for our neighbor, those two principles are the hinges by which everything God has told us, everything we do and say and believe, are held in place, are given meaning. Our big front doors probably weigh 150 to 200 pounds apiece; they are well-built – built back in the day when craftsmanship was maybe better than it is today – and they’re strong. But without the hinges that support them, all the combined strength of oak timbers and wrought iron hardware and expert craftsmanship is utterly useless, and the doors would fall flat on the ground. Jesus taught, you can follow every commandment and memorize the teachings of the Prophets and fast and give to the poor and recite the Psalms every single day but without love every bit of that, all your efforts at being good, will fall as flat and useless as heavy wooden doors without hinges to support them.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t make any sense at all for us to install good strong hinges on our door frames and then hang some shoddy hollow-core piece of modern fabricated stuff, or to leave the door frames empty. Hinges are there to support something, and strong hinges are there to support something substantial. And in that same way, love isn’t here just for hanging around having gooshy and friendly and heartwarming feelings. God designed us to function on love, because love is in everything he does, and because love is what drives anything we do that is worth doing. We could never even begin to list everything that we should do, because there is no part of our lives, there are no actions we perform, there are no words we speak, there are no thoughts we entertain, that don’t need to be informed and supported by love.
We know this in the way we raise our children. Everything we did and said, every rule we made for them, what we cooked for their dinner, manners and grades and chores and bedtimes – every aspect of our parenting hung on those hinges of love that we had for our children. A child’s life could look the same without love – she could be raised with good manners and good health, she could get good grades and help with the chores – but if she is not loved it all falls flat. Without love, no amount of correct parenting will bring her real life. Being human beings, of course, no parent loves perfectly, just as no parent is 100% perfect in providing good rules and good nutrition and good education. But love gives life even in the midst of our imperfections.
None of us are perfect at loving our children or our friends, but most of the time it isn’t hard to love them; it comes naturally to us. But love doesn’t always come naturally, and by that I mean that sometimes it is very hard or even impossible to feel that feeling we associate with love, that same affection and tenderness that we have toward the people who love us. But those strong hinges of love are there to support everything we do, and it is part of being whole human beings made in God’s image that we love by doing, and not just by feeling. Paul wrote: “the one who loves has fulfilled the whole law. All the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
The commandments were never meant to be a complete checklist for do-gooders or a list of warnings to keep our feet out of the fire. The commandments are neither more nor less than outward manifestations of a whole, lively, healthy human life, the kind of life that flows from our hearts when we are most ourselves – and the kind of life that exists in our hearts even when our lives seem to be something of a mess. We are so prone to thinking that obeying the commandments is about not doing certain things we think of as “bad” – about proving that we are good people, or about avoiding punishment. But obedience is all about love, and love isn’t rules: love is our very life. Love is health to us: we were created, designed, to run on love. Love is what powers us. Love creates us because Love himself created us. It is only love that gives meaning and strength to our words and our deeds. And when we make a mess of things – because just like David, we all do that on a more or less regular basis – but when we do, love restores us.. With the love that God has planted in our hearts, our lives are as strong and as solid as those oak doors in front of the church.
The apostle John wrote some of my favorite words about love: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.We love because he first loved us.
I’ve told it before, but I want to close with the story that has been handed down about John, when he was very old. Jerome recorded it in his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He wrote: ‘The blessed John the Evangelist lived in Ephesus until extreme old age. His disciples could barely carry him to church and he could not muster the voice to speak many words. During individual gatherings he usually said nothing but, “Little children, love one another.” The disciples and brothers in attendance, annoyed because they always heard the same words, finally said, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” He replied with a line worthy of John: “Because it is the Lord’s commandment and if it alone is kept, it is sufficient.”’