The text for this sermon is Matthew 22:34-46
In 2005, Channel 4 decided that it was going to conduct a nationwide poll among the British people to come up with a new set of Ten Commandments. The thinking was that the original ten commandments are somewhat out of date and that a new set might be more relevant for the 21st century. If Christianity (and Judaism) is no longer considered relevant by enlightened, modern people, what sort of moral code doe the British public feel speaks to our lives in post-Christian Britain?
Interestingly, the British public came up with 20 new commandments. And if you're ever tempted to accuse preachers of being long-winded, do try to remember the fact that it was the general public who felt that ten commandments weren't enough.)
Here are the 'new' commandments which speak to the British public over and above the outmoded moral requirements of Christianity:
1) Treat others as you would have them treat you.
2) Be honest
3) Don't kill
4) Look after the vulnerable
5) Respect your mother and father
6) Enjoy life
7) Nothing in excess
8) Be true to your own God
9) Be true to yourself
10) Protect your family
11) Look after your health
12) Try your best at all times
13) Don't commit adultery
14) Live within your means
15) Appreciate what you have
16) Never be violent
17) Protect the environment
18) Protect and nurture children
19) Take responsibility for your own actions
20) Don't steal
Love is the Commandment
In today's Gospel reading, Jesus answers the Pharisees' question 'What is the Greatest Commandment' with the formula from Deuteronomy: Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. These two commandments - often called The Great Commandment - are at the very core of the Christian faith and they are at the core of our value system.
I also find it interesting that these two commandments seem to appear in our new, secular commandments - the ones that the public claims actually have relevance to our daily life here and now.
And I find it extremely interesting that 'treat others as you would have them treat you' was thought to be the number one 'new commandment' by the British public.
In some form or another, most of the world's major religions mention this principle - The Golden Rule - as being central to their beliefs. Many forms of paganism, for example, believe that the good you do to others will return to you in like measure but that if you do evil to another human being, seven times the evil you have done to them will come back to you.
A Christian friend of mine once remarked that she liked this pagan principle because it underlines the seriousness of treating other people as you would have them treat you.
I understand what she meant, but I can't help but notice that the Great Commandment doesn't call us to treat our neighbour well because if we don't God will zap us with seven times our own bad behaviour (God forbid!)
Rather the Great Commandments calls us to treat our neighbour well because of Love.
And it suggests to us that there is some kind of important connection between our love for God and his love for us on the one hand and our love for other people on the other hand.
God is Love
Christians believe that love is a force that looks outwards, outside of oneself to the good of the other.
The first of the Great Commandments is to love God with everything that you are: with the centre of your willing and your choosing. This is an invitation to look outside our selves and to focus on the God who loves us and to align ourselves with that love.
But the invitation to love God also comes with the invitation to love other people, to look outside our own interests and even outside the interests of our immediate family and to also take an interest in the needs and well-being of other human beings: People in our community, in other parts of the country and even in other lands.
Created to Love
The Christian author and psychologist M Scott Peck tells a story about one of his clients who felt isolated and cut off from the rest of society.
One day he took her with him to a hospital and asked her to visit with a number of people. (He gave her the excuse that he had to confer with a colleague but, in fact, he had arranged for her to do the visits.) His client visited with these people, who had all been in hospital long-term with serious physical illnesses, and they were very glad of the company. When the visiting finished, he asked his client how she felt and she replied: 'You know, I feel better than I've felt in ages. I don't feel so isolated and I realise that there are other people with problems that are much worse than mine.'
Now, please don't take this as a simplistic 'cure' for depression on my part. My point is simply that I expect that many of us will recognise the truth in that story: that there is a great deal of human satisfaction in looking outside ourselves to the needs of others.
As a Christian, I would say - along with M Scott Peck - that the reason is because God created us this way. We were created to look outside ourselves, to love God and to love our neighbour.
But the wonderful thing about the Great Commandments is that God is at the centre of it all and God is love.
We don't have to worry that every time we miss the mark and fail to do what is right that God or the Universe will return evil to us seven times over. Because at the centre of life, the universe and everything is love. An intentional force that is trying to work all things together for good: God.
My prayer for us this morning is that we may each be strengthened by the love of God and that we may receive more and more of God's love in order to give more and more love to others.
Because at the end of the day and at the end of our lives, what matters most is that we are loved by God and that we love others in return. Amen