Click here to hear the sermon only.
Matthew 22: 34-46
Matthew 22: 34-46
The Passion of St. Matthew
Rolling down through the ages there cascades a gospel shout:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
St. Matthew’s fiercest passion, hidden from you in this sermon for a moment in order to build some interest and suspense, wells up out of the scripture for these weeks in autumn 2011September. Matthew holds a very high view of the church, far higher than we expect, far higher than yours and mine, I could add. For Matthew, the church is empowered: with the means of lasting forgiveness with a mind for sound ethics, and especially with the real presence of Christ.
Matthew trusts this risen Christ and this voice of the risen Christ to free him to follow his bliss, to succumb to his passion. And what is Matthew’s passion? What passion pulses through the parchment of this popular gospel? What force of energy is on the “kiviev” on the lookout, on the wing, hanging ten, parachuting in, ready to climax here today? It is the passion of an evangelist who finds every blessed possible way to connect Jewish Jesus with a Greek world. It’s the passion of an evangelist who enlists an old missionary teaching tract (“Q”) to spread inspiration, truth, and joy. It is the passion of an evangelist who portrays your Savior among pagans, amid harlots, appended to the cross, about the resurrection work of compassion. It is the passion of an evangelist who sums up his Gospel this way: “Go make of all disciples”. Here is this autumn’s Gospel: the point of St Matthew the blessed evangelist is that he is an evangelist. The whole point of the gospel of St Matthew the evangelist is that he is an evangelist. Matthew’s passion? Seeking the lost! Expanding the communion of saints, the circle of divine love!
Sunday is the day for that kind of question. Where does your deep gladness meet the world’s great need? (So, F Beuchner).
Matthew, the writer of our first gospel, exudes a passion. Others have caught it.
I turn the historians among you to the poetry of Dionysius the Aeropagite, the archaeological preservations of St Helena, the mystic fervor of St Theresa of Avila, the fecundity of Susanna Wesley, the marvelous zeal of Sojourner Truth, the compassion of Jane Addams, the tenacity of Frances Willard, the alacrity of your mothers and aunts.
Some men helped along the way too.
This same passion moved Wesley from the Anglican Tree, shipped Asbury out from Brittany, placed the Gospel in a far country, and saved the souls of you and me.
One oustanding fact: by far and very far, Matthew is the most frequently quoted gospel in the first three centuries of the church’s life.
You shall love the Lord your God
With all your heart, not just your head
With all your soul, not just your body
With all your mind, not just your brain
Others have summarized the commandments in various numbers and lists: Moses 631, David 11, Isaiah 6, Micah 3, Amos 2, Habbakuk 1, Rabbi Hillel also summarizes with Lev 18:19.
Our granddaughter was sheepish around me at age 3. She didn’t know how to address me. One day I left for work, and she did not see me go. After a while, she came to her grandmother, puzzled: Where is somebody? I am looking for somebody. Do you know where somebody is? You mean grandpa? (I finally became SOMEBODY!)
You are a person. Somebody. This is good news. You have a heart, a soul, a mind. You come to worship to remember that. These ancient words have serious contemporary meaning.
You have a heart.
Kardia—cardiac…Bauer: the seat of physical, spiritual, mental life, seat of the inner life…organ of enlightenment…center of will, of moral decisions, (THEN ONLY of emotions, wishes, desires, love)…something like conscience, dwelling place of the heavenly powers.
You have a soul.
Psyche—psyche…Bauer: soul, life…’impossible to draw hard and fast lines between the meanings of this many sided word’…earthly life, center of life that transcends the earthly…that which makes alive…what one loses or saves
You have a mind.
Dianoia—mind…Bauer: understanding, intelligence, mind, seat of reason, thinking disposition, purpose and plan, ‘gird up the loins of the mind’… and the verb: perceive, apprehend, understand, gain insight into, think, imagine…understand the commandments, the parables, heavenly things, what is invisible
(But not isxus—strength…Bauer: strength, power, might be in possession of one’s powers, be competent, able, have power, be mighty…Why did Matthew not keep strength, as Mark had it? Bultmann: The tradition has repressed the prophetic-apocalyptic character of the mission of Jesus in favor of his activity as a Rabbi. Matt.Jesus casts doubts on the veracity and value of the Davidic descent. Was Matthew a Gentile? He wrote in Greek. He bring the Kings to the nativity. He has much to say about kosher cleanliness, as novel and new. And here, he throws David under the bus.)
I know the taste—I have savored it before. I can recall the landscape—I have seen it before. I want you to come with me. It is a long way from here and many days journey, some at night, and some in the rain. There are mountains to ascend and rivers to ford. Some grasshoppers will look, for a time, like giants. It may take up to 40 years. You will feel like you are in a wilderness. I cannot do it for you and I will not do it to you. But I can do it with you.
But have you forgotten the love you had at first? Have you begun with the Spirit to end with the flesh? Hear the Gospel! St Matthew the evangelist, all this fall, will invite you to succumb to another passion, one you have not yet fully known.
Discover, careful now as you unwrap the gift, the pure joy of a passion for compassion, a desire, of the first water, to love the neighbor.
A Passionate Invitation
Where is your passion?
Aging it may be, brings the preacher to the point of having the temerity to offer any advice of any kind on anything. To know Christ is to know His benefits, said the reformers. Counting those benefits may be one of the joys of aging.
Parents today will tell you that aging can be bittersweet.
Like the day after engagement when you are told about registering for china and appliances for wedding gifts. You feel older. But I just wanted to get married! What is all this merchandizing?
Or when you turn thirty, from twenty nine. A day that will live in infamy, a day of darkness and not of light. Who may abide the day and its coming? It is like a refiner’s fire. Illness descends.
Like the decision to buy a van, and to sell a convertible. The shift from sports car to van or station wagon—need I say more? Is there a surer measure of aging?
Time flies—ah no. Time stays—we go.
Like when you watch a 3 hour movie and realize that the stars look to you like they are teenagers. I prepare you for the pain.
Or when you find yourself asking people to repeat what they have said because you did not quite hear them. “Could you repeat that?” “Would you care to repeat what you said?” “Excuse me, but, huh?”
Or, on more serious note, you begin to feel the onset of age as you see that the great reforms you had hoped might occur in your own lifetime lie still buried under heaps of sloth and falsehood and pride.
Blame some aging for the urge to advise.
And the sheer beauty of a brief moment, a weekend, when the generations meet, for a moment. Parent’s Weekend.
Over donuts, on a tour, listening to two choirs and an organ, and walking the campus, I saw parents and children: some arm in arm, some playing and racing each other, some enjoying the sunshine and boats, some quiet, gentle in respect for the moment.
It made we wonder when the last day was that I lifted up my daughter in my arms—she who now has a daughter of her own. It made me wish I could remember the last day, the last time I lifted my son from sidewalk to shoulders—he who now lifts his own child so. It made me wish I had noticed, and recorded the last time our youngest was small enough and I strong enough to lift him and hug him—he who now can lift and hold me.
That is sacramental moment. But we don’t know when it comes, and we don’t record when it goes by. We expect, I suspect, that there will be another.
So, with time’s winged chariot hastening on, a word or two of interpretation, of advice. In loco parentis.
You can discover your passion in college, if you will remember six words. (They may just apply to life, eternal life, real life in life, as well…)
An often underrated part of the student life is found in this verb. One reasonable way to undercover your passion in college is to study. Force yourself. Train yourself. Flog yourself. And when all else fails, talk with a mentor. Find a way to use your time wisely. As George Fox told the Quakers, quoting Hebrews, “Prize your time now you have it, for God is a consuming fire”. If possible, work some study time into your schedule every day. The benefits will accrue immediately. Your parents will be pleased. Your grades will be better. You will be happier with yourself. And, you may graduate!
Les nearly failed his way out of Oswego State 30 years ago. He had a wonderful time and mad probation mid-way through the fall semester. Then he met Diane, bowling. They had such fun. It made all his other revelries pale. Friendship and humour and love and joy—and she was a good bowler too. After a long and late Friday night, Les asked to see her again on Saturday. “Sure”, she replied, “we can study together. One night a week of parties is plenty.” Les walked home on cloud nine, waiting for tomorrow, certain she was kidding. But 8pm Saturday night came and Les walked along Lake Ontario toward the dorm. He was dressed for the evening, but Diane met him at the door in jeans with a stack of books. So Les went to the library for the first time that semester. He squeaked by the fall and spring, picked up speed and graduated with his class. Diane and he were married just before he went off to Princeton seminary. There half his teachers asked him if he was born again and the other half if he was in tune with the universe. Les will tell you, “I had not realized how big a part of college studying can be, if you let it.”
Let the main thing be the main thing.
Silence is rare in dorms. Students, like Jesus sitting in the temple, are beginning to think on their own, but they need time to do so. One dorm advisor who worked in a 600 student dorm made just one suggestion at orientation: take a walk every day. Thinking is the process of integrating information and insight, experience and judgment. To think you need time and freedom to step back from the 599 others and their stereos. Otherwise the mental muscle will not develop, and you will go too easily with the flow.
Late one night a sophomore knocked at her resident advisor’s door. She was the most socially active girl on her hall—soccer, sorority, floor meetings, ski club, marching band and, even, classes. The advisor was at first surprised to hear her whisper: “I’m so lonely here.” Fleeing her own becoming person, she had grown weary. At last she stopped and faced her fear. Said her advisor, “You are lonely because, now, you are alone. Stop running from yourself. Every afternoon walk up the hill to the Ag Quad and back. Twenty minutes of pure solitude and you won’t feel so lonely.” She quoted Pascal about sitting alone, too.
In walking—we have not spoken of prayer yet—you can hear your soul grow and change, remember and foresee. You can overhear what others are too busy or noisy to hear, even the deeper truth of their own lives. And behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy: Boston is pedestrian heaven; with some good walking shoes you can acquaint yourself with America’s most historic city, Boston, the cradle of liberty.
Here is another underrated word.
But like a river needs banks, a life needs limits. Otherwise the current of Being spills out all over the plain and there is no direction, no force, no power to the river. You just drift and glide. A good life needs boundaries, river banks. When parents sandbag, the responsibility lies elsewhere. Amos says we are to hate evil as well as love good. You will define yourself as much by what you oppose as by what you affirm.
Not every body of water is fit for swimming, for you.
Every “no” is an upside down “yes”.
If you say no to steady drunkenness it is for the joy of bodily health.
If you say no to religious discord you point out the path of future peace.
If you say no to $250 sneakers it is an affirmation of things invisible.
If you say no to nuclear arsenals it is too affirm the sacredness of life.
If you say no to flagrant abuse of the gifts of sexuality, you are trying to affirm covenant and integrity and future happiness.
If you say no to a life focused only on obtaining, you make room for enjoyment and love.
Every no hides a yes, and you can be negatively positive.
We all find some of our passion by finding our “no’s” and sticking to them.
Have some fun along the way.
One depressed junior spoke to his teacher who simply asked him what he liked to do for fun. The list was made. Do you do any of these things regularly. No, I am too busy. The teacher sentenced the junior to a daily game of bridge, two basketball games a week, several monthly movies, and poptarts every morning for breakfast. He sentenced the student to use his own list. All work and no play makes Bob a dull boy.
Try not to explore in ways you will regret, for regret is the forecourt of hell. But explore nonetheless!
Three sorts of exploration make good sense in college.
One is travel, far and wide, national and international.
Another is into the past, mainly by reading.
A third is across cultures.
Geography, history and culture are more open to you now than they may ever be again. As is theology.
RAH: No one has ever seen God. God is not our own best self writ large across the sky. God is not a clockmaker, a designer, a timekeeper, a being among other beings, a cause of causes, a definition of definitions. No one has ever seen God. God is other, people. Let’s make sure we put in the comma. Rationality is good, especially by comparison to irrationality; efficiency is good, especially by comparison with inefficiency. And then? And so? And yes? So what? In its lifetime the goose looks down upon the lowly mushroom, and lords it over the lowly mushroom, but in the end, come mealtime, they are both served up on the same platter.
Explore, with the single aim of finding what is good, of integrating this good into your vision of the truth. “Liberal education flourishes when it prepares the way for a discussion of a unified view of nature and man’s place in it.” (A. Bloom).
Last, not least, open yourself to real friendship.
The friendships formed in these years will last a lifetime if they are well Planted and watered. The freedoms and struggles of that first real experience of independence can also provide the nutrients for the growth of real friendships. In friendship, as in love, there is terror and mystery.
Several stages are visible in the growth of a friendship.
Deciding when and how and who leads and follows.
Learning to give up something for another.
Making a really big life mistake.
Talking about making a really big life mistake.
Chapters in a book.
Friendships developed now can last a lifetime. One graduate of Smith College in the year 1914 corresponded through the 1980’s monthly with her college roomate. Illness and age prevented visits, but the letters still came and went.
Friendships developed now can transform.
I remember fondly the story of Jack Bruen, Colgate University basketball coach. Bruen died at 48. We have knew his kindness to our children over many summers of basketball camp. Said one former student, “Besides my father, his is the only shoulder I’ve ever cried on”. Read some books in college, but read the human documents too. They will change your life.
For the best of them, through friendship, will recall the spirit of Jesus, whom we affirm, this day, as
our transforming friend. The Lord who calls us up to love and calls us out to our own truest passion.
our transforming friend. The Lord who calls us up to love and calls us out to our own truest passion.
Study. Walk. Say No. Have Fun. Explore. Befriend.
You will find your passion, your calling, your voice, your vocation, your ownmost self. You will Be Somebody.
Some ways to find passion in college. And in life. And “in God”. Lao Tse: The reality of the vessel is the shape of the void within.
Where is your passion?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
~The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel