Connecting in Community

Connecting in Community

Purpose:  To emphasize that love is the ultimate commandment of God

Matthew 22:34-40 (New International Version)

Key Verse:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

The Greatest Commandment

34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Four Gospels at times write about the same events but from a different perspective.  Matthew, the tax collector, saw Jesus as the King, the Messiah who had come in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  Mark saw Jesus as the suffering servant, to John He was the lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world.  And to Luke, Jesus was the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

Because Matthew saw the primary aspect of Jesus’ character as  being the Messiah, and he was writing to fellow Jews, he began his gospel with Jesus’ genealogy.  Most people believe the gospel of Mark was written first, so Matthew would have had the knowledge of what Mark had written at the time he recorded his own gospel.

Matthew also added 5 discourses which included selections of Jesus’ teachings.

Discourse #1 was the Beatitudes, which of course consists of ethical understanding of the Law and explaining that Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to complete it.

Discourse #2 deals with missions.  We have Jesus’ example of the Lord’s Prayer, along with the gifting by Jesus to His disciples power and authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Discourse #3 is a collections of parables dealing with the nature of the Kingdom of God.  From these scriptures we learn of the parables of the sower, the weeds, the mustard seed, and the hidden treasure.

Discourse #4 describes the nature of discipleship and what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God.

Discourse #5 includes Jesus’ warning about the end times and the coming judgment.

Although Matthew recognized Jesus as the one who fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, he was also tasked with showing that Jesus was different than the Messiah that was expected.  Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey rather than astride a white stallion leading an army, and he taught love rather than war.

Because Jesus’ message was so different, some people perceived it as being new.  Others thought perhaps they could do away with the Old Testament altogether, arguing that Jesus had set us free from the law.  But Matthew knew that Jesus did nothing to change the ethical requirements of the law.  The freedom given to us by Jesus was not freedom to ignore the law, but rather the freedom to choose good over evil, life over death.

In our scripture today Jesus was questioned about an aspect of his teaching, not because the person questioning Him had a thirst for knowledge, but because he was testing Jesus.  You will remember there were 613 commandments, 365 negative and 248 positive.  So, for every day of the year there was a “do not.”  This question of which law was greater was actually a common argument of the day, and Jesus’ reply should not have been a surprise.  He quoted from Deut 6:4-5 “Hear. O Israel:  The Lord is our God the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  These words are known as the Shema and are repeated every day by devout Jews.  The word Shema actually means hear.

Jesus is telling us to love God with our entire being.  You have heard the phrase “it loses something in the translation” when referring to not gaining all of the meaning of a foreign phrase.  Jesus is saying “it loses something in the translation” if we allow our knowledge of the Word to be isolated to our head or our heart.  Instead, He is telling us that we should incorporate the knowledge and understanding of God’s love throughout our being.

How do you achieve head knowledge?  By reading the Word.  How do you achieve heart knowledge?  By absorbing the Word, by praying, by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

When Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, He is actually surpassing what the Old Testament Jews practiced.  Neighbor to them meant fellow Jews, but to Jesus one’s neighbor was anyone in need, as evidenced by the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke.

Why did Jesus compress all of the 613 laws to Love God and Love people?  He is revealing what is most important to God.  Remember the 613 laws were never designed to bring reconciliation with God, but to let us know just how short we fall when we try to achieve our own mercy.

When you see the words, “with all our heart, soul and mind” what attitude do you think of?  You think of commitment, or loyalty.  You don’t think of loving half-heartedly.  William Barclay says this love we give to God is a total love, a love which dominates our emotions, directs our thoughts and is the dynamic of our actions.

Have you noticed how easy it is to proclaim your love for God but how hard it is to show your love for people?  Barclay says it is only when we love God that people become loveable.

The title of our lesson is “Connecting in Community”.  We have many obstacles to connecting in community.  There are time constraints, monetary constraints.  We have different denominations that are sometimes in conflict.  But we can all recall instances when a man decided to set up a community of like-minded believers and it failed miserably–David Koresh, Jim Jones, Tony Alamo.

About 25 years ago “Newsweek” dedicated an entire issue to the community of the 21st Century.  These communities included:

1. Work, entertainment, doctors, markets would all be within walking or at least biking distance of the homes in the community

2. The communities would have an abundance of common areas–in fact, the back yards would all be common areas

3. The work day and the work week would be diminished–there would be more leisure time

4. People would retire younger

Epcot Center in Orlando, or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, began as Walt Disney’s idea of creating a better city. A utopian environment enriched in education, and in expanding technology. A perfect city with dependable public transportation, a soaring civic center covered by an all-weather dome, and model factories concealed in green belts that were readily accessible to workers housed in idyllic suburban subdivisions nearby.

While our communities never really lived up to the vision of Walt Disney or even the communities projected in Newsweek, we do live in communities.  What connects us as a community?  What disrupts our communities?

If we can apply the two greatest commandments to our hearts and our lives, then our communities will be stronger and the people within them will be more content.

If we begin in the community in which we live, or in a community such as a Sunday School class, then where do we end?  If we begin here, with likeminded Christians, where do we end?

May we take the concept of community out into the world today.

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