Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 10:25-37.
Early on in my homiletics course in seminary my professor admonished our class, “Not every sermon is about love. Do not make every sermon about love!”
Pardon me? What did you just say? Isn’t that the preacher’s bread and butter? Love!?
Dr. Tom Long was in the midst of lecturing on the importance of each sermon having a focus and a function. Both can be (and should be!) distilled one-sentence statements. The focus captures the subject of a sermon while the function directs the hearers – including the preacher! – in what they are to do because of their hearing.
To drive home his point further, Dr. Long proceeded to show the class a number of commercials – one from an automobile manufacturer, another from a grocer, and the last from an insurance company who’s mascot, if you will, is always up to shenanigans of the mayhem variety. Our assignment: write distilled one-sentence focus and function statements for each commercial. When we finished Dr. Long said, “Did any of your focus or function statements include or result in love? No? No. Then neither should the bulk of your sermons.”
As much as I felt agony in that moment – I will never preach on love! – I have grown in understanding to see the wisdom behind Dr. Long’s counsel. Firstly, harm can be done to our sacred text as well as to those who hear it if misrepresentations are made to and about that text – for example – making a text about love when it is not actually about love. Secondly, when preaching about love becomes a delight rather than a default, those occasions are all the more important, all the more special.
I think what Dr. Long was really saying was this, “Do not make every sermon about love. But if the sermon is about love, make it a good one.”
(Here’s hoping this Sunday’s is a good one, Dr. Long!)
Jesus uses the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate The Greatest Commandment. The Greatest Commandment is a marriage of two commandments in the Torah. The first is from The Shema found in Deuteronomy 6, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (v. 5). The second is from the Holiness Code in Leviticus 19, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (v. 18). Jesus affirmed for the questioning lawyer, for his disciples, for the people that followed him then, and for the people that follow him nowthat we show our love and knowledge of God through our acts of love and behaviors of kindness towards others.
I adore the series Downton Abbey. I watch it again and again and again…when I grow up I want to be the Dowager Countess Lady Grantham. She is both my patronus and spirit animal. Spoiler Alert: At Edith’s wedding at the close of Season Six, the priest says these words concerning the covenant of marriage, “which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God.” I believe it is with that same spirit that we show our love and knowledge of God through our acts of love and behaviors of kindness towards others – it is “an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God.”*
Love – this is our most important work, our most important responsibility.
Love – it is our delight as disciples!
Prayer: “Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart, in my heart; Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart. In my heart, in my heart, Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart.** Amen.
*Downton Abbey Season VI Episode IX.
**“Lord, I Want To Be A Christian,” The United Methodist Hymnal 402.