The Last Sunday after Trinity, a Said Eucharist

This Sunday we gather to worship this Last Sunday in Trinity, led by Rev. Dr. Mattijs Ploeger.

Opening Prayer:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 


Old Testament Lesson: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18
New Testament Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8
The Gospel Reading: Matthew 22: 34-end


“You shall love […] God” and “You shall love your neighbour”
Sermon for “Proper 25” on “The Last Sunday after Trinity”,
25 October 2020, at the Anglican Church Haarlem by Mattijs Ploeger

In the gospel reading we’ve just heard one of the best-known sayings by Jesus. “You shall love […] God” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22,37.39). It is such a well-known phrase, that you could call it one of Jesus’s best-known “one-liners” or “soundbites”. But it is often misunderstood. That’s why I want to use this sermon to discuss three frequent misunderstandings of this famous text.

1. Jesus’s phrase is not in (negative) opposition to the Old Testament, but it is meant as a (positive) summary of the Old Testament

First of all: Jesus’s saying is not in opposition to Old Testament sayings. Sometimes it is understood like that. As if the Old Testament is full of senseless commandments, as if the Old Testament lays unbearable burdens upon people. In this view, Jesus liberates us from all such commandments, by only giving us one rule: loving God and loving our neighbour.

But loving God and loving your neighbour is already an Old Testament commandment. As if to prove this fact, we have heard the first reading from Leviticus, where respect for God and the love for one’s neighbour is explicitly mentioned (Leviticus 19,2.18).

Jesus does not change the Old Testament commandments, he summarises them. Jesus says, loving God and loving your neighbour – “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22,40). As a Jew, Jesus uses the Jewish phrase “the law and the prophets” to indicate the Old Testament. In a Jewish Bible, the “table of contents” consist of “the law” (that is: the first five books of Moses), “the prophets” (that’s most of the rest of the Old Testament), and finally the category including the Psalms and some other writings. So when we hear Jesus say (in several places in the gospels) “the law and the prophets”, or “the law, the prophets and the psalms”, he simply means his Bible, our Old Testament.

So what Jesus does in today’s gospel, is summarising his own Bible in two major compartments: the group of commandments that have to do with loving God, and the group of commandments that have to do with loving your fellow humans. For example, the Ten Commandments start with a few rules concerning our attitude to God, and continue with rules concerning our attitude towards each other. Of course, Jesus does not suppress those commandmands. He only summarises them in two main categories.

2. Jesus’s phrase is not an invitation to construct an individualistic view on religion and ethics

The second way of misunderstanding the well-known phrase “you shall love God and your neighbour” is that it constitutes an individual kind of religion. If I regard all other commandments as unimportant, and if I have only to focus on my love for God and for my neighbour, than it is exclusively up to myself, how I understand this love.

Christianity has often been misunderstood in such an individualistic way. As if Jesus is only my personal Saviour and as if the Bible is only a book to be read in my inner chamber, for my own private spiritual well-being. Let us be clear: Jesus and the apostles, and the church in the first centuries, have never conceived Christianity like that. Christianity continued the Jewish concept of religion as having to do with a people: the People of God. Christianity has always been identical with being a corporate body of believers in relation to God and Christ. It is what St Paul often calls “the body of Christ”, which is the church. Therefore, when Jesus summarizes God’s commandments as loving God and neighbour, we have to interpret this in the way in which it was meant in the Old Testament and in the Early Church.

For example: loving God is not just thinking of God on your own, or praying individually. Loving God in the Jewish and Christian way is: joining the worship of God within the People of God, within the Body of Christ. And loving your neighbour does not mean behaving in such a way as you may personally think of as socially adequate. Loving your neighbour is: being part of the community (of the church and of society) in a way that is compatible with God’s will for humanity – for example: according to the Ten Commandments.

In other words, when Jesus summarises Christian life and ethics under the two central headings of love for God and love for humanity, Jesus refers us back to Scripture, he refers us back to what we know about God and a godly society. We may not find it easy to love God as he reveals himself to be. And we may not find it easy to love humanity as God envisages it. But that’s what Jesus’s commandments are about.

3. The two parts of Jesus’s phrase are inseparable and have to be seen in the correct order

Finally, a third way in which this famous phrase – you shall love God and your neighbour – is sometimes misunderstood. Namely, as if the two parts could be played off against each other.

Sometimes it is said: the first commandment – about loving God – is the first one and therefore the most important. But Jesus says that the second commandment – about loving your neighbour – is equally important.

Perhaps more often, the misunderstanding goes the other way round. I have to love God – but I do not know God. So by loving my neighbour I am indirectly loving God.

That is a nice thought. And in itself it’s a good intention, to love God by loving your neighbour. But it’s not what Scripture says and it’s not what Jesus tell us in today’s gospel.

The order of the commandments is relevant – not because the first commandment is more important than the second one, but because our Christian life and ethics start with loving God. Or perhaps we should say, it starts because God loves us. The love between God and us is the “energy” for doing the next (and equally important) thing: loving our neighbour.

The same is expressed in the first line of today’s reading from Leviticus: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19,2). That is the order of things. God is holy. But God is so loving, that he wants to enter into a relationship with us, who are not holy at all. The full meaning of loving our neighbour is not something we can grasp. The full meaning of loving our neighbour has to be shown to us – in the person of Jesus Christ. The capacity of loving our neighbour has to be given to us – by the love of God.

Therefore, the two commandments cannot be played off against each other. I can only claim to love God, if I also show it in love for my neighbour. And I can only truly love my neighbour, if this love flows from the love which God shows to me and which I try to reflect to God.  Amen.


Prayers and Intercessions

Heavenly Father, as we approach you with our prayers of thanksgiving and intercession, help us to close out the distractions that so often seduce and divert our thoughts. Help us to listen to the teachings and admonitions in your Word and commit to a more determined walk on the paths of life our Lord Jesus has exemplified for us. Grant us the strength and stamina to follow the directives of the first two commandments as described in our readings for today, love for you, and for our neighbour as ourselves.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

We give thanks for the many trials and perils through which you have brought us, and we pray for your guidance and support through the valley of this present pandemic. Have mercy on us and support all those who labour daily to enhance prevention of infection, and care for the infected. Grant strength and motivation to the frontline healthcare staff as they continue to maintain their professional standards and skill in the face of fatigue and burnout. Guide our rulers and policy makers as they strive to balance competing pressures between health safety and economic needs.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

Look upon our Heads of State, Willem Alexander and Elizabeth, and their governments. Grant that they may work to lead us by their example in these uncertain and unpredictable times.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

We pray to you, Lord, for peace and respect for the rights of all people throughout our world. Today we repeat before you the words of Bishop David Hamid’s recent prayer for Nigeria.
Loving Father, hear the cries of your people in Nigeria who turn to you in faith. Grant them strength in adversity, comfort in their sorrow, and to those who have died, grant rest eternal. Save the people from further violence and oppression, and bring your justice, love and peace to the nation.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

Lord, we pray to you for the work of our Diocesan Safeguarding Team: Grace Fagan, Lisa Welch, Bridgett Fenton, Laura O’Brien, Majean Griffeth, and Katherine Harris. Support them in their guidance to us for the safe care of children and vulnerable adults.
And in our diocesan prayer cycle, we commend to you the welfare of the Spanish Episcopal Reformed Church and its bishop, Carlos López-Lozano, as well as the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Finland.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

Once more we give you thanks that we may meet to worship during the pandemic. We lift up before you Lord, our visiting clergy, and our host priest, Robert, for your blessing. Grant us wisdom and guidance as we continue to move towards the appointment of a new chaplain.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

We offer grateful thanks to you, Lord, for our community members who have been blessed with remission of their illnesses or who have been healed. For the sick and infirm we pray for restoration of health in body, mind, and spirit. Where pain and uncertainty bring anxiety and stress, we ask for your comfort and sense of assurance.

In the coming week we move towards a season of remembrance. As we approach the Feast of All Souls, help us to reflect a moment on those who have gone before us. We give you thanks for them and for their relationships with us, were they spouse or partner, family member or friend. We pray you, Eternal Father, to continue to keep in your everlasting care, the souls of the many others who have departed this life in the faith of your beloved Son.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

Heavenly Father, most of us are troubled and burdened with persistent anxieties and concerns that lie deep within. Now, in this still moment help us silently to lay before you our most urgent personal needs, and our concerns for others.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers which we offer in the name of your Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen


Anthem and Hymn

Anthem:  Vox Christi, Philip Wilby
Hymn: NEH 443 – Rejoice the Lord is King


The Blessing

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.