The Simplicity of Our Faith   (Matthew 22: 34-40)

by | Nov 21, 2021 | Sermon Text | 0 comments

A new verb has entered our vocabulary. This verb may not yet be included in a modern dictionary, but it has certainly entered the modern lexicon of usage. It is the verb, “to google,” as in “I heard my wife tell my daughter, ‘I was looking for a recipe so I googled it.’ ” As you know, “Google” is the name of an internet search engine that controls a vast majority of the market. Researchers say that 75%-80% of Web searches are done through the Google search engine. I wondered why that was the case and found research that asserted that Google dominates its market because it is the simplest internet search engine to use. When search engines were just beginning, you could visit the web pages of Google’s competitors and find hundreds of words. But if you went to Google’s web page, you found twenty to forty words. Why so few? Because Google wanted its web page to appear as simple as possible. They knew simplicity was the key to success.

Our Lord also knew a thing or two about bringing simplicity to complexity. A crafty attorney among the Pharisees tried to set a trap for Jesus by asking the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” The attorney expected the question to flummox Jesus, for the question surely flummoxed the lawyer. After all, Jews living in Palestine during that era lived in a culture circumscribed and defined by no less than 613 laws, all of which sought to apply the principles of the Ten Commandments to every mundane detail of life. Who, but a fool, would try to identify the greatest commandment out of the 613 laws? The lawyer knew he couldn’t do it. He figured Jesus couldn’t do it either.

But Jesus said simply: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. That’s the first and greatest commandment. The second is like unto it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and all the Prophets depend upon those two commandments.” Ponder the utter simplicity of that statement! Our Lord took 613 rules and reduced them to two simple themes. If you want to grasp the essence of a vibrant faith, said Jesus, develop a love relationship with God, a relationship so intense that it orients the whole of your being, focuses your emotions, arranges your priorities, and directs all of your intellect around the Divine. Love God with all your heart, soul and mind! Simplicity! And if you establish that love relationship with the Divine, then your love will evince itself in an ability to establish relationships with people around you. Jesus asserted that all 613 commandments, all of the prophets, an entire complex faith, could be reduced to two simple statements: love the divine and love those around you. What could be simpler than that?

Our Lord was always bringing simplicity to complexity. Many of those 613 laws were designed to ensure that humanity kept the Sabbath holy. But these Sabbath laws had proliferated to the point that keeping the Sabbath had become a great burden. Jesus found the situation intolerable. He noted that religious authorities considered even the healing of a sick man on the Sabbath to be spiritually improper. He argued, “This is crazy! Have we reached a point where it is considered wrong to do good on the Sabbath? Have we reached a point where our rules matter more to us than the suffering of a human being? That’s letting religiousity precede simple compassion.” Our Lord argued, God intended the Sabbath as a benefit and a blessing for humanity, not a burden. So, with admirable concision our Lord said, let us be guided by this spiritual principle: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Simplicity!

Jesus lived in a society fixated on purity, fanatically concerned with how to stay ritually clean before God. Countless laws dealt with what food was clean and unclean, what food was kosher and profane. Countless laws dealt with whom you could touch and when you could touch them and still be considered fit for worship. Our Lord sliced through all of that. Quit worrying about all those laws, he counseled. “It is not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, it is what comes out of your mouth that puts you in trouble – it is the words you say that give expression to thoughts and sentiments that are unworthy of the Kingdom of God.” Simplicity!

Ponder for a moment this momentous fact: our Lord left us no book of sermons written in his own hand, no spiritual manifesto, no autobiography. His legacy to us was the reality of the church. And how did our Lord create this church? He started by recruiting a single small group of people and helping them connect to God and connect to him and connect to each other. This movement called Christianity started with our Lord’s recruiting a single small cell of committed believers, whom he recruited through personal contact. Then our Lord sent these people out to connect with another small group of people, who connected with another small group of people, and by that ever-growing expansion of small networks, our Lord spawned a movement that changed the world. These early Christians did not focus on what they didn’t have. Rather, they focused on what they did have – each other. Over time Jesus taught this small group to connect to God, to Him, and to each other, and thereby the movement called Christianity changed the course of history.

While he was discipling his small group, Jesus asked them a simple exam question: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered for the group: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now Jesus was not dealing with a small group of elite geniuses. They were coarse fishermen, common tax collectors and the like. They were ordinary folks like you and me, maybe a cut below us in intellectual achievements. But they could answer Jesus’ one exam question: “Who do you say that I am.” Peter answered on behalf of the group, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” So, too, we may think we don’t know enough about the intricacies of the Christian faith to claim a redemptive belief. But Jesus explained that all we need to do to qualify for inclusion in the Kingdom is to be able to say and mean what Peter vowed: “Lord, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Simplicity!

Now I noted that our Lord sent his disciples out into the world to connect to others and meet the multiplicity of human need. He knew he was sending them out on a hard task. In fact, he knew that sending them out to address the many needs of the world would exhaust them physically, emotionally, even financially. He knew that ministering to the needs of the world would consume much of their time and resources Jesus even knew that sometimes the demands of meeting the needs of others would so empty and overwhelm his ambassadors and emissaries that they would begin to wonder, ‘Are all of these acts of service truly worth the trouble? Are all of these people I am trying to serve worth the trouble?’ Jesus said, let me give you a simple, guiding principle: when you feed the hungry and clothe the naked and include the outcasts and champion the oppressed, and reach out to the dispossessed, look upon their faces and see my face. Understand that when you pour yourself out in behalf of the least of my brethren, realize that you are doing it unto me. When you minister to human need, see my face in their faces, and that thought will sustain you. Simplicity!

Four simple tasks define the Christian life. Four simple themes define the activities of Christ’s church. We are to connect to God. We are to connect to others as they seek to connect to God with us. We are to go out into the world to find those who need to connect to God and bring them to God’s banquet table of grace. And we are to meet human need and minister to the powerless as if we were ministering the needs of Christ. That’s the whole scope of the Christian faith! If we want to measure our effectiveness as a Christian, we can pose to ourselves four questions: Are we progressing in our connecting to God? Are we progressing in our connecting to each other as we seek together to connect to God? Are we going out into the world and finding those who need to connect to God? And are we meeting human need wherever we might encounter it as if we were meeting the very neediness of Christ? Upon these four simple enterprises the Christian movement was founded.

Have you ever thought about all of the things that Jesus did not tell us? The things about which we are most curious are the very things about which our Lord was completely silent. Our Lord spent little time telling us about life after death. He spent little time describing what heaven is like – or what hell is like. He said nothing about Biblical inspiration or predestination or the doctrine of the Trinity or a hundred other things about which Christians have argued for millennia. But our Lord did say, “Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” He offered us a very uncomplicated formula for practicing our faith: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind and love those around you as you would love yourself.” You can’t go wrong doing that! Upon those two simple principles the entire Christian movement was founded. When Jesus talked about God, he didn’t go around spouting such adjectives as “Omnipotence,” “Omniscience,” “Omnipresent” and “Ubiquitous.” No! Jesus said, God is like a shepherd who if he loses one of a hundred sheep will leave the 99 and go search passionately for the lost sheep until he finds it – and then he will throw a party – that is what God is like. God is like a woman who keeps a somewhat messy house in which she loses a valuable coin. And she cleans that house and scours it until she finds that one precious lost coin — and then she throws a party. God, said Jesus, is like that loving parent who allows a rebellious child to go off in the far country and renounce every value the parent has taught him. But when that child comes back to understand his true self and returns to the patient father full of shame and remorse, the father throws dignity to the wind, runs down the road and clasps his son to his bosom, exclaiming, “My son who was lost is now found!” This is what God is like, says Jesus: God is like the shepherd who searches for a lost sheep, a woman who seeks a lost coin, and a parent who waits in patient love for his beloved child to return to the fold so he can effect reconciliation. If you understand these pictures of God’s nature, you have all the knowledge of God that you really need to know. Simplicity!

Some years ago, Karl Barth, the greatest theologian of the twentieth century, probably the greatest theologian of the last 500 years, was invited to leave his native Switzerland for a grand tour of the United States. Naturally, upon his arrival he was ushered into a huge press conference and some reporter asked him, “Dr. Barth, what is the most profound theological statement that you have learned?” Now understand – this man’s books occupy an entire bookshelf in my library. Here was a theologian who had written more than a million words about God. Everyone leaned forward, anxious to hear some extraordinary statement. And Karl Barth answered: “Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. That’s the most profound lesson that I’ve learned.” Simplicity.

Are we progressing in our connecting with God? Are we progressing in our connecting with others who seek to connect to God? Are we being effective in our going out into the world to connect with those who need to connect to God? Are we pouring ourselves out for those in need, treating them as if we would treat the very face of Christ? John said it simply, “God is love. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Simplicity. But just because these truths are simple does not make them easy to appropriate. Yet if we set before our souls the challenge of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, and if our faith expresses itself in an ability to love others as we love ourselves, then we have surely set ourselves on a pathway to understanding the Kingdom of God in all its richness and profundity.