The Hinge, The Two Great Commandments
Pentecost 23 Matthew 22:34-46
THE HINGE Confirmation Matthew 22:34-36
(As a prop for the sermon, it is beneficial to have a door hanging on two hinges on a door frame, propped up against the altar. A door hanging on a door frame can be “borrowed” from a building supply store or lumber yard. Also two sets of hinges were available for props.)
Today is Confirmation Sunday in the life of our church, and confirmation is one of the four most important days of one’s entire lifetime in a congregation. That is, our journey in church begins with baptism. Baptism is a strategically important day, whether you are baptized as an infant, child or adult. During the last worship service, three young couples brought their children to be baptized. It was a sacred, holy and special day for all of those families; you could see it in their eyes. The second important day is confirmation, today, when students in tenth grade, stand before the entire, jammed-packed congregation and loudly proclaim the words, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord.” The feelings run deep on this day, deep feelings of pride by parents and godparents and grandparents. And, if you are so fortunate, you may also stand before the congregation on your wedding day and publicly state your lifelong vows to your mate, hand in hand, eye to eye. What a day! What emotions! What ecstasy! And then there is your wedding day if you are fortunate to be married. That wedding day is a grand day, when you promise to love your husband/wife with the love of Jesus Christ. And then there is that final day, when you have died and we come here for a funeral or memorial service and you hear God’s mighty promises of eternal life as a free gift to all who believe. Yes, there aren’t many unusual sacred days during the journey of life, but confirmation is one of them.
Often, at confirmation, we try to have some visual aid for a sermon, and today’s sermon is no different. Today, you will notice a door, a doorframe, and doorknob, leaning against the church altar, and immediately some of you think that you know what this sermon is all about. Some of you have already guessed that this sermon is based on the Bible verse in Revelation: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens that door, I will come in and live in him and he in me.” You are anticipating a sermon about opening the door of your heart to Christ. The doorknob is on the inside and you need to open the door of your heart. Christ will come in and live in you and you in Christ. Well...you have guessed wrong. The focus for today is not on the door, not on the doorframe, not on the doorknob but on the hinges on the door. Yes, the two hinges. Focus your eyes on the two hinges.
You will notice that his door is essentially useless without the two hinges, one on the top and the other on the bottom of the door. Without the two hinges, this door just doesn’t work; it isn’t very useful; it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do. For this door to operate correctly, it needs two hinges. One hinge won’t suffice.
If you go home to your house, I ask you to examine every cupboard door throughout your whole house or apartment. Every cupboard door has two hinges; one on the top and one on the bottom. If you examine every doorway door in your house, you will also notice that all the big doors in your house have two hinges. If your house is not new, all the doors leading outside of your house will also have two hinges. The codes have changes for newer homes, and three hinges are now found on the outside doors. The point is; every door in your house or apartment has two hinges. That’s just the way it is. You need two hinges for doors to work.
Here in my hands I have two sets of hinges. One pair is a smaller set of hinges that is used for any normal sized door. The second pair is absolutely enormous; they are large decorative black hinges. But large or small, the function is the same: these are needed to make the door work. The doors don’t work without these two hinges.
It is with this image of two hinges to make a door work that we approach the confirmation lesson for today. Jesus is once again in conversation and confrontation with the Pharisees. If there was ever a group of people who approached life and religion differently than Jesus, it was the Pharisees. They were a rule-oriented bunch of people. For them, the very essence of religion was to obey the rules and regulations of the Bible.
Their goal was to obey all the commandments of the Old Testament. Do any of you people here today know how many commandments there are in the Old Testament, in all thirty nine books of the Old Testament? How many rules there are? Are there any guesses, like this is how many jelly beans are located in a jar? Well, there are 613 commandments in the Old Testament. And what do you think: are there more positive or more negative commandments? You are right; there are more negative commandments. There are 365 negative commandments in the Old Testament, “Thou shalt not!) and there are 248 positive commandments (You shall!!). Te very essence of the Old Testament religion for the Pharisees was to know and obey these 613 rules. And that was the very essence of their confirmation program. How would have you liked that, confirmands? To memorize, recite and obey 613 religious rules and regulations?
So one day, one of these Pharisees came to Jesus and asked him a question in order to trap him, “Jesus, of all the 613 rules and regulations of the Old Testament, which one is the most important?” Jesus answered, Deuteronomy 6:4, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second (he had only asked for one but Jesus gave him two.) one is like it.” And Jesus reached back into the book of Leviticus, chapter 18, about the lepers, and there in Leviticus 18, he chose an obscure line, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments HINGE all the Law and the Prophets.” On these two commandments, HINGE the whole Bible.
What use is the Bible without these two hinges? The whole Bible is not really useful without these two hinges. The key focus is on the word, “hinge.”
During the past three years of confirmation, you confirmands have studied the whole Bible very thoroughly. In the first year of confirmation, I taught you the Old Testament. Imagine that the bottom third of this door represents what you learned about the Old Testament. You studied the most important stories in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Then we studied the history books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. We then studied the four major prophets and the two minor prophets. There is a lot of Biblical stuff on this bottom third of the door. In the second year of confirmation, you studied on the middle section of this door: all the birth stories of Jesus, all his parables, all his teachings, all his miracles, all his passion stories and all of the resurrection stories. On the top third of the door, you studied the life and doctrines of the Apostle Paul: his conversion stories, his missionary trips, his major doctrines of grace, faith, justification. You also learned about Martin Luther who thinks like the Apostle Paul. But what good is all this Biblical material you have learned during the past three years without the two hinges? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself. What good is all this religious knowledge without the two hinges of Love? What good is a door without two hinges?
All you adults who are present today, who have studied the Bible throughout your lifetime, what good is all that knowledge you have, of what use it, if you don’t have the two hinges of love? This door is full of religious knowledge and Bible knowledge, and you can’t use it unless you have two hinges that make the door work.
Now, some people want to do away with the door altogether and all you need is the two hinges: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself.” Throw away the Bible. The essence of all religion is love of God and love of neighbor. Some people, all they want are the two hinges. They boil all the religions of the world down to two hinges: love for God and neighbor. That is all that is needed. Wrong.
But still others, all they really want is a doorful of Biblical knowledge and churchy programs. They know a lot about the Bible and church and church etiquette and church manners but they really don’t love God with everything they have nor do they truly love their hurting neighbors. Such people are more interested in going to church and being active in the church and Bible than loving God and neighbor. Such Christians really like the door and spend a lot of time with the door but truly don’t grasp the importance of the two hinges. It’s the wrong way to go.
Of what good is any door without the two hinges?
Jesus said: “Do these and you shall live. Do these two commandments and you shall finally find life.” He didn’t say: memorize these two commandments. He didn’t say: recite these two commands for confirmation. He didn’t say: think about these two commandments every day. He said: “Dothese and you shall finally find life and what it means to truly live.”
So what does this first upper hinge, which is so essential, represent? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul. What does it mean to love God that way, with everything you have and are? I think I understand. Let me explain. When I was your age, I was wildly infatuated with a girl by the name of Adelma Garber; but then a year later, it really happened!!! True love!!! Do you remember her name from past stories? Of course, Lorna. Lorna Finkelbaum. How I loved Lorna. I thought of her every morning, noon and night. I wanted to be with her every morning, noon and night. I talked with her every morning, noon and night. My life revolved around my awareness of her. I spent a good deal of time at her locker at school every day. I was conscious and subconscious of her all the time. I gave her my all.
And so it is with God. To love God with all your heart, mind and soul is to think of God...morning, noon and night, to want to be with God, morning, noon and night, to talk with God, morning, noon and night. I spend time every day with God at my prayer locker. My whole life revolves around my awareness of God who is the center of my existence. I know what it means to love God with everything I have and am; and that’s not primarily a matter of being churchly and being Bibley. It’s to love God deeply. Yes, we know what it means to love another deeply.
And how can you not love God, after all that God has done and given to you. You wouldn’t be alive and here today if it weren’t’ for God. You wouldn’t see the beauty of this day, nor would you know the beauty of Jesus Christ living inside of you, if it weren’t for God. How would you ever get to heaven to live with God in eternal beauty without his gracious love given in Jesus Christ? Why would you not love God with everything you have? How is life and eternal life possible for you without God’s gracious giving love?
What good is this door of religious knowledge or churchly habits without this top hinge of loving God with everything you are and have? The door of Biblical and churchy knowledge just doesn’t work without the top hinge.
The bottom hinge represents the love of neighbor. The top hinge is to love God with all our heart mind and soul and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.
Intuitively, I think we substitute the word, “family” for neighbor. We are to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and our family as ourselves. Our Mom and Dad, brother and sister, Grandma and Grandpa, we are to be filled with love for our family. Intuitively, I think many of us interpret “neighbor” as family. But even the Pharisee loved their children and parents.
Or we think that to love our neighbor is to love our friends, our friends at church, our friends at school, our friends at camp.
Or we think that to love our neighbor is to love the people next door, the people in the house or condominium or apartment next to us who drive the same kind of cars and wear the same kind of clothes as we do ourselves. We are to love them as we love ourselves. So intuitively, we think we think we know what the word, “neighbor,” means.
But in Luke’s version of this story for today, the Pharisee then asked the question: “Well, Jesus, who is my neighbor?” He wanted a definition of neighbor and so do you and I. Who do you mean by “neighbor,” Jesus? Jesus said, “There once was a man walking down the Jericho Road and he was beaten up (sharply smash one’s fist into the palm of one’s hand several times) by life and left there to die. Who is our neighbor? They are the people who are beaten up (repeat image of fist into palm) by life, who get smashed up by life: in the gospel of Luke, the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame, the lepers. And who gets beaten up and smashed up in your world and mine today? The poor. Drug infested families. Starving people. Hungry people. Those in jail, prisons, sick, homeless. Who is my neighbor is not my family, friends or the people next store but those who are being beaten up by life.
You young people wrote unusually beautiful papers for confirmation this year, all entitled “my relationship to Jesus Christ.” We, on the church council, were deeply moved to hear your stories. I enjoyed all the papers, but yours, Megan, touched me in a special way when you told how you get up at 4:30 AM on a regular basis, come here to church early in the morning before school with your mom to prepare breakfast for the men at our homeless shelter. You know what the meaning of the bottom hinge is: what good is all the confirmation learning without the two hinges, to love God and your neighbor...such as the homeless men you make breakfast for.
What good is this door without the two hinges? Please tell me, what good is this door without two hinges? It needs both hinges to work properly.
Jesus said: “Do these and you shall find life; you shall begin to really live.” He didn’t say: memorize them, recite them, or think about them. He said: Do these and you shall finally begin to live a life worth living.
One time a Pharisee approached Jesus and asked: “Jesus, of all the 613 commandments in the Old Testament, which one is the most important?” Jesus answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hinge all the Law and the Prophets. Do these and you shall live.”
The hinge. The focus today is on these two hinges. Not the door. Not the doorknob. Not the frame. I asked you again: What good is this door without these two hinges? Amen.
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