We are nearing the end of the chapter in Matthew where people just keep on asking Jesus questions to get him into trouble. In this portion of scripture the Pharisees are asking Jesus to say which one of the commandments is the most important. Now, it’s not like Jesus has a 1 in 10 chance to get this right. He is being asked to choose one of the 613 mitzvot, or laws, in the Hebrew Scriptures that govern all of Jewish life and worship. Jesus successfully outwits them, as he also does on the question regarding who is the messiah after which the authorities dare not ask him any more questions.
But this morning I want to stick with the first half of this gospel reading because it is the heart of the Christian Faith. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
And when I was thinking about this passage, I was trying to think about all its implications and applications. And it occurred to me that this commandment is like a Thera-band. How many of you have had to use a Thera-band after seeing a physical therapist (show Thera-band).
Now I know that more than a few of you have had a date with a Thera-band. I had my first date with a Thera-band for a rotator cuff injury quite a long time ago. Adrian, my husband, had a long term relationship with his Thera-band for a sprained ankle.
And here is the main thing you need to know about Thera-bands if you do not know how they work. Just like strength training in general, when we exercise we are not actually getting stronger. We are taxing our bodies so that our muscle fibers are used and exhausted, and, in fact, injured. When we rest, our bodies grow back stronger. The balance of stress and rest on our muscles is what makes them stronger. If exercise alone made us stronger there would be a lot of really strong and energetic people at the end of a marathon. It is only from the rest that we regain and build strength.
So the commandment to love our neighbor is like using a Thera-band. Each time we are called to love our neighbor we stretch the band. How do we love our neighbor? (One person holds one end of the Thera-band and another holds the other. With each answer from the congregation each person take a step apart). We love our neighbor when we forgive, feed, listen, share, empathize, help move a sofa, babysit, give rides, share expertise, etc., etc. (Step back until the Thera-band is completely stretched).
And all of these actions come with their own rewards of course. But the problem is that if we keep giving and giving, without resting and restoring, we are either going to be overstretched, or snap or break.
And that is why the part about loving God is part of this commandment. When we love God, we put God into the center of our lives. And when we put God into the center of our lives, we do things like it says in Isaiah, “In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) Loving God means returning over and over to God for comfort, for rest, for restoration, forgiveness, etc., etc., It is where we ultimately build our capacity to love our neighbor. But if we love, without loving ourselves back, taking care of ourselves, there will eventually be nothing left.
Just like strength training, we are made stronger by loving our neighbor, but only when it is balanced with rest and restoration in prayer and Sabbath time with God.
We are on the threshold of the holiday season. We are 24 days from Thanksgiving and 56 days away from Christmas when there is a lot of expectation of giving from us – and so I would just like to remind you of some words Jesus said to his disciples – after they had been out teaching and healing, so much so that, it literally says in the bible that they did not even have time to eat. Jesus said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” And so it says, they went by themselves to a solitary place. (Mark 6:30-33)
That was not only sound and necessary advice to the disciples, but it is also for us as well.