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Homily for 9/9/07 - P15 - Love God and Neighbor

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  • Fr David Moser
    Matthew 22:35-46 When God created mankind and placed him in the garden of paradise, He gave us two commandments by which to live, to love God and to love our
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 9, 2007
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      Matthew 22:35-46

      When God created mankind and placed him in the garden of paradise, He
      gave us two commandments by which to live, to love God and to love our
      neighbor. When Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good
      and evil, she sinned according to the first commandment given by God –
      she no longer loved Him above all but chose instead to love herself and
      her own being more fully. She then violated the second commandment when,
      rather than repent of her sin, she tempted Adam to follow her pride and
      self love. She loved her self more than her neighbor and rather than
      seeking to prevent him from falling into the same trap as she – she
      dragged him down with her. Adam likewise violated his love of God by
      trusting in his own pride and reason and rather than loving his neighbor
      by encouraging Eve to repentance, he too placed his own self love above
      all else and joined her in her sin.

      After the fall and the expulsion from paradise, these two commandments
      remain with us as the foundation for our whole relationship with God.
      Love of God and love of neighbor are the root from which all the law and
      the prophets flow throughout the sacred history of the Church. When God
      gave the law to Moses, this law was predicated on the twin pillars of
      love of God and love of neighbor. To simply look at the ten commandments
      we can see this very easily. We first receive commandments concerning
      our relationship with God – to have no other god, to refrain from
      idolatry, to honor Him by the keeping of the Sabbath. Then from the 5th
      commandment on we receive instruction on the love of neighbor – to honor
      our parents, to refrain from envy, murder, falsehood, theft, adultery.
      The ten commandments are no more than a restatement of twin commandments
      of love of God and love of neighbor.

      In the gospel today, the Pharisees come to our Lord and question him
      concerning the law. They did not wish to learn but rather they hoped to
      catch Him in some statement that would be grounds to do away with Him.
      And so they asked about this law and our Lord answered them that first
      we must love God with our whole being; heart, soul and mind. In making
      this statement in this way, He points out how we must involve our whole
      being in the love of God. Man was created as the crown of creation, in
      him all of creation was summed up. In the story of creation we can read
      that three times God created a new order of life – first that of the
      plants, then that of the animals and finally that of man. And so each
      order of life is contained in us. The basic functions of life, eating,
      growing reproducing, etc come from the basic plant like life. This is
      the life shared by all of creation. And even at this basic level we are
      called to love God (to love God with all your soul). The second order of
      life is that of the animals who unlike plants can move and express
      desire and emotion. So also we share that life in our own emotions and
      desires and in our pursuit of those things. With this animal like life
      we are called to love God (with all your heart). The third order of life
      is that of man. While the animals pursue their desire, men are given the
      capacity to understand their world and to further their desires by this
      understanding or even to overrule their desires and act in a manner that
      has a higher purpose. This is the capacity of reason – the unique
      characteristic of mankind. We are called to love God in this manner also
      (with all your mind). These three aspects of our life are all involved
      with our love of God. We are to love Him with our complete being.

      Then our Lord goes on to elaborate even more – to attempt to teach the
      Pharisees despite themselves. He continues that there is a second law
      which is joined to the first – to love your neighbor as yourself. The
      second law is, as we have seen, expressed the commandments given to
      Moses. It is the means by which the love of God finds expression in our
      lives. These two laws, love of God and love of neighbor are solidly
      linked together, welded, if you will, to one another. If you truly love
      God then that love will find its expression in the love of others – for
      God is the lover of all mankind. We must have both of these qualities in
      order to follow God.

      There are two things which lead to perdition – evil doctrines and a
      corrupt life. The first relates to the love of God. If we would truly
      love God, then we must come to know Him – for how can we love that which
      we do not know. We must have a right and true belief about God. But God
      is greater than we are and He is unreachable by our own fallen being. We
      cannot know God for He is beyond our grasp. How is it then that we can
      love Him. We can love God because He first loved us and in loving us, He
      reveals Himself to us. He revealed Himself in the creation of the world
      and especially in the creation of man in His own image and likeness. He
      revealed Himself in the giving of the law, He revealed Himself in the
      words of the prophets. He revealed Himself in his provision for His
      chosen people and the sacred history of the Hebrew nation. Finally,
      wishing that we might know Him as fully as possible, God took flesh and
      became man and dwelt among us and revealed Himself to us in His
      incarnation. This self revelation of God makes it possible for us to
      know God and knowing God we can love Him. However, it remains important
      to love God as He is and not our own imagination of how god should be.
      Thus the purity of belief and doctrine becomes important. God has
      revealed Himself to us and that revelation is preserved for us unharmed,
      unpolluted, unchanged within His Church. Only in the Orthodox Church can
      we find the true belief of God and so only within the Church is true
      love of God possible.

      But it is not enough just to know God and to say that we love Him. That
      love must find expression. The Holy Apostle John writes that “he who
      says that he loves God but does not love his neighbor is a liar”. And
      hence from the lack of love of God – from evil belief also flows a
      corrupt life or a life without love of neighbor. This again points out
      for us the importance of the Church for within the Church is preserved
      not only the self revelation of God, but also the way of life which
      expresses perfect love for our neighbor. If we follow the instructions
      of the Church, submitting our own wills to that of God and denying
      ourselves so that we might live not as we will but as the Church
      instructs us, then we will live a life filled with love of neighbor.
      Just as it is vital to love God as He is and not some false image of
      God, so it is also vital to truly love our neighbor rather than to
      deceive ourselves by pretending to love others while in truth acting
      only in our own self interest. The Church teaches us not only what to do
      to love others, but also teaches us how to quell our own self love and
      how to overcome our own pride and egoism. The ascetic discipline
      provided for us by the Church destroys our self love, our pride, our
      self centeredness while at the same time the acts of righteousness and
      mercy prescribed by the Church encourage in us the love of neighbor.

      Our haven in this life, the place where we learn to love God and where
      we learn to love our neighbor is the Church. In the Church God has
      revealed Himself to us so that we might love Him and not some false
      imagining of our own. In the Church God has provided for us the means to
      overcome our own self love and to produce within our soul the love of
      neighbor. In these two things, love of God and love of neighbor, all of
      the law and prophets are contained. In these two things, love of God and
      love of neighbor, we find the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. In these
      two things, love of God and love of neighbor we become like God. In
      these two things, love of God and love of neighbor, we find our salvation.

      “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy
      soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.
      And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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