Proper 25 Year A
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
I love this line from Paul today: “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.”
We have been entrusted with the message of the gospel: What is that message? And what is it to be entrusted with?
Surely at one point or another in our lives we’ve been entrusted with the care of someone else’s things? What is something of great value that you have been entrusted with in your life?
For me one of the greatest things I have been entrusted with is the lives of my three children. They have been given to my wife and me as a gift from God to nurture and to equip with the tools and sensibilities to flourish in life. The ground for that of course is the love we give them. But that love is difficult work and it is terrifying at times. When I think about my role as a parent as preparing my kids for the day they leave my care that’s a scary thing; heck it’s hard enough just saying goodbye to them on their first day of school. As a parent I have to trust that I have helped them develop the tools to make decisions, to have confidence in themselves, and ultimately know that they are children of God. But of course this means that my love for them can’t be rooted in saying “yes” to everything they ask for, or demand. In fact, I’d argue, that that’s not love at all. As a parent I know that love is not giving permission for all things; it’s about setting boundaries that guide and direct, that direction often coming from past lessons my wife and I had learned the hard way.
But there is a catch here too. When that day comes to send our kids off to school where they will be in the care of other adults and meet new friends, when that day comes where they will leave our care entirely the other half of the foundation of our trust is that others have been raised with the knowledge that they are God’s children, that they have been taught to love neighbor as they love themselves. For all of us who were children and all of us who have or have had children this is the responsibility we are privileged to bear.
We have been entrusted with everything in our lives.
And as Christians, we have been entrusted with the gospel. It is our privilege to form our lives in its message and to share that with the world. At the very center of that gospel message is this ethic of love that Jesus talks about.
Like parenthood, this ethic of love is not a love that permits all things. Love as revealed to us through the person of Jesus, the son of God, makes demands of us. It’s a Love that seeks to steer us away from all that might harm us, even if that means being told no, or we are wrong. It’s a love that while abounding in mercy, is nonetheless aimed at God’s justice.
So let’s enter our gospel story. This section of Matthew is a continuation of a story we’ve been in for some time now, since September 27th. We find Jesus in this passage in the middle of a scene that began back in chapter 21 after Jesus had entered Jerusalem. Upon entering Jerusalem Jesus enters the temple, overturns tables throwing out the money changers and all who were selling goods. He then gets into arguments with other members of his faith, of his community, telling them directly that they are wrong and then he proceeds to one up each and every argument that comes his way. This is not a warm, happy, cheerleading Jesus. But, as it turns out, it is a picture of a loving Jesus,
When asked in the midst of all this: “Which is the greatest Commandment?”; he responds: You shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself”
Jesus, you just kicked people out, made a huge scene, and have been caught up in arguments since you got here and now you want to talk about love? Yes, as it turns out, he does.
By placing this response after these events Matthew is telling us that nothing Jesus has done in the lead up to today’s Gospel passage, none of it goes against the ethic of love. In fact quite the opposite, all of it comes from love.
Remember when you were a teenager and it felt like your parents were always confronting you and you were always arguing with them? No? just me then? Well I’ll tell you that didn’t feel like love from my parents in those moments, but they understood it as such because they could see all that I was squandering, all that I was throwing away by some of the dumb things I was doing. Jesus was seeing and hearing a lot of dumb and dangerous things from his people.
Moses of course is no stranger to this behavior as well. In our passage from Leviticus today (there’s a line I don’t get to say very often in sermons) we see an ethic of holiness within the community given to Moses, which is, if we’re honest, just another way of saying an ethic for love within the community: with justice you shall judge your neighbor, you shall not slander, you shall not hate any of your kin, no vengeance or grudges against anyone in the community, and perhaps the most difficult, you shall reprove your neighbor or you will incur guilt yourself. Is this not what we see Jesus doing throughout this section of the gospel of Matthew? Throughout his ministry?
We are called as those who are entrusted with this message to speak out when something is wrong. We are called to go to our neighbors in love when they have caused us harm and speak with them openly; and we are called to hear our neighbors as they come to us. Love above all us, is what we as Christians have been entrusted with. Keeping quiet in the face of injustice because we don’t want to upset anyone is not love, it is injustice itself. Love means loving another, loving our community, loving our nation, loving our world enough to say “enough”. If something is against the ethic of love and mercy we are called to speak to that. We have been entrusted with the message of the gospel, and like Paul we are not asked to please mortals, but to please God. I will add that we are not asked to please mortals, but to love them, and by loving them, we are loving God. We, like children who will one day leave home, will leave this place as well entrusting others to share the same message we were faithful in proclaiming:
You shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself” Amen