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The Law of Love
& the Wedding of the "Good" to the "Right"

 F. Earle Fox
St. Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA, 10/11/09-- The Wedding of the Law & Grace of God.   Audio version.

Trinity Sunday October 11, 2009    Amos 8:4-12; Ps. 48; I Cor. 1:4-8; Mt. 22:34-46

The law of love!  Well, isn't that a topic for a sermon.  And I want to do something special with that topic this morning... to show you two things about love which you probably will not find anywhere in books on either theology or philosophy -- but which are absolutely necessary to understanding the place of love in Biblical religion.

We commonly use the words 'good' and 'right' interchangeably in our speech.  To say that an action or policy is good is the same, in most cases, as to say that it is right.  But there is a distinction which I want to pull out of these words which will help us understand something dramatic which takes place in our Gospel lesson this morning, that is, when Jesus is asked the meaning of the law, and replies that the meaning of the law is given in those two quotations from His Bible, that is, the Old Testament.   

From Deuteronomy 6:5 Jesus quotes, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Every Jew knew that.  And then He says, "This is the great and first commandment." He continues, quoting from Leviticus 19:18, "And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." And then He ties it all together. "On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." That last is a key verse. It tells us something.

Jesus was a Jew talking to Jews.  Many rabbis had their favorite Scripture passages which they treated as capturing the essence of the law of God. Some might use, for example, Micah 6:8: "He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"  That verse would be the foundation for their teaching the Law of God.

A gentile listening in on this pronouncement of the 2 commandments by Jesus would not get the point, but an alert Jew would understand what Jesus was saying.  The Law is the first 5 books of the Jewish Bible, the Torah, the books of Moses. And the Prophets were most of the rest of the Bible.  The Torah begins with the whole cosmic sweep of the creation story, the beginning of the cosmos, then the Fall.  And the rest of the Bible is God's story of redeeming mankind from its self-imposed disaster.

So, Jesus was saying that these two passages give us the two highest laws in the whole cosmos for all of space in every direction, and from the beginning of time to the end of time.  The fundamental purpose of the whole of creation is to be a stage, so to speak, upon which a community of love can be formed and built, nothing less than the Kingdom of God.  God wants to build with His creation a kingdom based on love.

These two laws of love are thus the fundamental laws of the cosmos.  They are over every other kind of law, including natural law. So why does water freeze at 32 degrees rather than 102 degrees?  Why does E=MC2, rather than MC3?  Because those numbers turn out to be the best for forming a cosmos in which such a community can be built.  It must be a cosmos in which such life can be formed and carry on its activities.

You may be aware that scientists have discovered an amazing fact, that the universe has certain numbers called "cosmological constants", such as the strength of gravity, the total mass of the universe, the speed of light, etc., which are unbelievably finely tuned.  Just any old number will not do. It must be specific to an astonishing precision, or there could not be life on earth, or any other place.  (Maybe Russ has explained some of those already in his teachings on creation vs. evolution.)

The plan of God for a community of love is what points the cosmos to these specific numbers.  Love is not just some mushy romantic notion.  Love is the basic determinant for everything else in the plan God has for our world and cosmos.

Agape is the Greek word used to indicate the Biblical kind of love, and it means in the Bible a total commitment of oneself to the welfare of another -- at any cost to oneself.  That is the kind of love which Jesus demonstrated as being the love of God for all of us.  In order for there to be that kind of community, there has to be a very specifically designed, you might say, intelligently designed, cosmos. Just any old cosmos will not do.

That is just one consequence of Jesus' words here in the Gospel for this morning.  (This was a bit off topic, but I thought, in view of the situation of the world today, it was worth mentioning.)

But there is another even more important (if you can imagine that) consequence, a specifically theological and moral consequence of Jesus' words.

I mentioned a minute ago that we need a distinction between what might be called "the Good" and "the Right".  It might seem that they are pretty much the same thing, but I want to draw a very specific distinction, and will use these two words to do so, even though in common speech we often use them interchangeably.

By the "Good", I mean those things which promote and help fulfill life and healthy relationship, those things which help promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, those things which we generally consider desirable, a good idea to have.

These are empirical matters which can be discerned by careful observation and study of the human race.  We know that wars, famines, earthquakes, violence, robbery, anger, resentment, bad attitudes of all kinds, and many other things reduce our capacity for the fullness of life.

We know that other things, such as peace, good will, good food, a stabile nature (good weather, and no earth quakes), friendly relationships, truth-speaking, proper obedience to authority, and proper administration of authority all tend toward the fullness of life.

So the Good is anything which leads to deeper and fuller life experience.  The opposite of the Good would then be the Bad, those things which erode and destroy life.

If you look at the two worldviews which I draw in the air, we have the Biblical view with a circle for the universe, God above the circle, the Hand of God undergirding the cosmos, signifying the capacity of God to bring things into being. We rest the weight of our being on the Hand of God, we stand on the Hand of God. The Good corresponds to that which helps us be fully ourselves, the power of being from the Hand of God.

And there is also the Voice of God, speaking to us, giving revelation, telling us about who He is, and giving us the purpose for why we are here, the direction God is moving the cosmos and all of us in it.  This is the Right, which corresponds to that which is commanded, the obligatory, our reason for existence.

That obligation, Jesus tells us, is summarized by those two Great Commandments.  God is creating the Kingdom of Love, Holy Communion, with His creation. By His Hand, He is giving us ontological stability, the ability to be ourselves.  By His Voice He is giving us direction, purpose, moral order and moral value. We mean something to Him.

So, we have the Good, that which is helpful to us, and the Right, that which is commanded of us, the obligatory.

In the other worldview, the secular/pagan world, there is the same circle of the cosmos, but there is no Hand of God, no Voice of God. So missing are both stabilities.  There is no ontological stability -- our being is always at risk, we are just accidents.  And we have no moral direction, again, we are just accidents. There is no purpose for existence.  The world is not about love, it is not about anything at all, other than what we on our own can temporarily make of it.  This is the world of the Fall. We walk off the Hand of God, we reject obeying His Voice, and end up in this Fallen world.

Now, people in both of those worlds can discern what is the Good or the Bad. Most people can observe that war and famine reduce life, and that peace and food enhance life.  That is something anyone can see.  That is no big mystery.  And it is possible in both worlds that at least some people might love each other, that is, some people might want to produce the Good and get rid of the Bad for each other.

But, there is an essential and powerful difference between the two worlds.

In the Fallen world, in the secular/pagan world, getting loved is, like almost everything else, just accidental.  There is no obligation to love anyone, there is no obligation for anything at all. The Voice of God is missing. There is nothing in that world telling anyone that you are obligated to love your neighbor.  There is no objective moral principle. That means that there is a "Good", but no "Right".  There is a potential Good, but there is no obligation for anyone to pursue the Good for anyone else.  Love is a "good idea", but nobody owes you anything.

So getting the Good is a matter of chance, being loved is a matter of luck.  No one is commanded to help you.  You just happen to be lucky if your neighbor, or even your family, loves you.  Your family is more likely to love you because in such a world, families have to stick together simply to survive the chaos all around.  But their love is not likely to be very stabile, and when things get rough, you might become -- dispensable. As babies in the womb have become today.  And as older folks, more and more, are becoming. 

Our present Godless government, by way of (at least some versions of) the "health care" plan (of all things), wants us older folks to periodically have an interview with a government official about terminating our own lives. Government assisted suicide -- Scrooge looking for a way to get rid of the "surplus population".  In God's book, that is accessory to murder.

There is nobody in the Fallen world, in the secular/pagan world, who can say with authority that, "Love is the reason for existence, love is an obligation, you are commanded to love one another, to seek the Good for one another."

So, the secular/pagan world is incapable of uniting the world under a moral order -- because there is no moral order. That is why the secular/pagan world must use coercion, bribery, or mind-control to unify people. The Fallen world is incapable of genuinely unifying the population. The only genuine unity is of the heart, through an agreed upon moral order. We all agree to our basic obligations about the Good and the Right.

Here, then, is the second momentous thing that Jesus accomplished by making love the highest command:

In the world of God, love is commanded, which means that the Good (love) is wedded to the Right (obligation). That which is loving and helpful becomes an absolute duty. The Good corresponds to the power of being, which is the mothering side of God, and the Right corresponds to duty, obligation, which is the fathering side of God.  So, the union of the two means -- a wedding.

And thus, the supposed hostility between law and grace is totally eradicated.  In God there is no such division or hostility.  Law (obligation) and grace (love) are 100% wedded, working together in total unity.  Love is commanded by Law.

Only in the Biblical world can this wedding take place, and there be a possibility of moral unity among us.

You perhaps see now why Jesus prayed His High Priestly prayer in John 17 that His disciples would become one in Him -- so that the world would know that He comes from the Father.  The Fallen world cannot produce a unity of agape love (and the perceptive worldly know that), so if any community had that love, it must have come from God.  Many of the worldly would see that, and indeed do see it -- at least when we Christians exhibit that kind of love and moral unity. We are a sad sight today.

Obligation is aimed at the heart.  To what are you committed with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? What do you see as your very reason for existence? Jesus says, Be committed to loving God and your neighbor -- at any cost to yourself.  That is why you exist. 

That alone can unify us. 

Lord, make us witnesses of that love and unity, witnesses of that obedience and faithfulness, witnesses of Your faithfulness to us.  Make the world see again among us that unity -- which only You can produce.  Make the world say once again:  See those Christians, how they love one another.

Audio version   See also, Defining 'Oughtness' & 'Love'    and     The Law & the Grace of God

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Date Posted -  10/12/2009   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012