This January, I will have the blessing of being able to spend ten days in beautiful South Dakota.
South Dakota in January, where the average temperature for that month is 9 degrees and can plummet to 50 degrees below zero a the drop of a hat.
Why am I going to South Dakota in January?
Well, I’m going to visit the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and do some missionary work and learn about poverty and social justice issues in this Native-American population.
But, while I’m there — and if the roads are passable and the temperatures aren’t too cold — my group will spend a day doing some sightseeing.
One of those places will be somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit: Mount Rushmore. Have you been?
And I was reading a little bit about the artist who is responsible for this enormous mountainside relief with the images of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt.
That artist’s name is Gutzon Borglum.
And from what I could find about Mr. Borglum, he didn’t appear to be much of a religious man.
But it was something that Borglum once said that I found very relative to the the way we should understand how God is revealed to us.
In describing his process of sculpting, Borglum said this:
“When I carve a statue, it is very simple. I merely cut away the pieces that don’t belong there and the statue itself presently comes into view. It was there all the time.”
Heart & Soul
In our reading today in Matthew, 22.34-46, we see a few ways of how God is revealed:
Through heart, soul and mind and through Christ.
So today, I’d like us to focus a bit on God’s revealing of God’s self to each of us.
Through these ways — heart, soul, mind and Christ.
We get a great glimpse of this in this two-part reading today.
And we’re right back with Jesus, who finds himself the object of yet another trap set by the Pharisees and Sadducees.
These supposed Jewish religious leaders see Jesus as a threat to their authority and a man who seems to undermine and embarrass them every time they challenge him.
In the first part, they ask him what is the greatest commandment of the law — Verse 36.
Remember, the law is what we call the 10 Commandments. The Decalogue.
This is what the Jews lived by ever since Moses came down the mountain with the tablets that we read about in Exodus 20.
Now, it seems like an easy enough question, doesn’t it?
But all along, the Pharisees and Sadducees have been grilling Jesus on a whole bunch of questions:
About paying taxes, like we talked about last week. And about the Resurrection and who are you married to in heaven if you had more than one husband or wife in this world.
And Jesus just keeps blowing their minds with his wisdom in each case.
Here, they are simply trying to get him to trip up and say one commandment is more important than another or that he’ll just say something wrong.
And he doesn’t.
Instead, he gives the commandment that all other commandments are predicated upon:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.”
That’s in both Exodus and repeated in Deuteronomy.
And never missing an opportunity to talk more about love, Jesus then says the second most-important commandment is to love one another as yourself.
Both of those commandments have the word Love in them.
That should tell us something very major here, and it signaled something to those challenging him.
Love reveals God.
The Pharisees sure weren’t acting in love, were they?
And their hearts continue to be hardened to Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
The Pharisees are forgetting the very basis as to why God commands what God commands.
Does God make these 10 commandments as a punishment for the Jews?
Does God mandate these commandments to control the Jews?
God is not some earthy emperor or king.
God is perfect.
And, as the Apostle John tells us, “God is Love.” (1 John 4.8).
God loves us, and God wants us to love God.
The Pharisees aren’t acting out of love because they don’t see the revelation of God as love at all.
They see it as rules, order, self-righteousness, control and judgment.
They see God as religion — a set only of rules and beliefs to live by.
Imagine living like this? Wouldn’t it be tiring?
Thou shalt not what?
Yet isn’t this sometimes the way we live our lives?
We focus more on our religion than our loving relationship with God and one another.
We focus more on those words “Thou shalt not” than what follows them:
Because the opposite of what those commandments are were not being done.
How do you love God if you’re committing adultery, murder, dishonor, thievery, and selfishness?
So many times, we’re so much more concerned with what others are not doing right and calling them out on it.
We’ve woven this all into some dominant moral culture, and we spend so much time and energy on judging and fighting and screaming at one another rather than simply acting in love, as God commands of us.
And if we’re always judging and trapping others, what is our relationship with God?
What has our religion done to us — or better, what have we done to our religion?
How does that reveal God to us?
And if it does at all, then God turns out to be this horrible tyrant of earthly judgment and violence that we find in ourselves and in one another.
What happened to God’s love?
Instead, Jesus repeats Deuteronomy 6.5: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind.
That first one seems so easy — we love with our hearts.
So let’s go through them in that order.
Heart, Soul Mind…
1. Do you know that feeling to love or have loved someone so much you can feel it right here in your heart — when you’re hands press into your chest where our hearts are.
That’s where we feel it — it resonates throughout our entire being.
2. And with our entire souls — that very essence of who we are.
That which is eternal and belongs forever to God.
In the way we pray and live and love.
3. And, finally, with our entire minds.
In Jesus’s day, the Greek influence — that the mind ruled the body and if it wasn’t logical, it wasn’t real — was how so many people went about their lives and beliefs.
Let alone faith? That couldn’t be possible.
It didn’t make sense.
The commandment is saying for us to get out of our own heads and begin to listen with our hearts and our souls too!
Not just one element, but all three.
We don’t see faith, but we believe.
It’s not empirical evidence; it’s experiential LOVE.
Heart, Soul and Mind are experiential and relational.
Love and Hate
The second commandment is so easy then, isn’t it?
If we can see and love God with heart, soul and mind, then God has revealed God’s self to us in this way.
And we begin to see God in one another.
And rather than attack or judge or hate one another, we better understand what God is telling us, what God is revealing to us.
And so we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
And when we do, there is no room for hate.
This is how God reveals God’s self to us.
Do you see that?
Through the experience and relationship of love.
And through Christ
And God reveals God’s self in one other important way, too:
This is the very lynchpin, the cornerstone, the crux of the Pharisees’ problem.
They don’t know Jesus.
They don’t know who their savior is.
And Jesus reveals himself to them when he asks them a question:
“Whose son is the Messiah?” Jesus asks in Verse 42.
And they answer that the Messiah is the son of David.
David. The great king…
The prophecies say the Messiah will come through the bloodline of David.
But if that’s the case, then how can David call his own son “Lord”?
If that’s confusing to you, then consider Psalm 110 that Jesus is quoting in Verse 44:
“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’”
The first “Lord” listed is Yahweh — Creator God, Father…
The second “Lord” is Adonai — the Master — Jesus…
Who is writing this psalm?
David. Or David’s people.
In other words, if the Messiah is supposed to be David’s son, but David calls him Lord, how can the Messiah be David’s son?
“The Lord said to my Lord…” David says.
How can the Lord be the son yet come before David?
The Lord — Jesus — was already there. Before David.
Since the beginning…
Verse 46: The Pharisees can’t answer this question, and so, once again, they walk away, completely disarmed.
And God reveals God’s self, yet again, not just through heart, soul and mind, but through Jesus.
There the whole time
If the Pharisees could just look through all of this legalism, through these attacks and through their own hubris and self-righteousness, they would see the Love that was created in them within themselves and they would see the Love that was standing there right in front of them in Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
It’s a bit like looking at a huge slab of granite, isn’t it?
A big, hulking piece of stone that looks like any other big slab of stone.
On its surface, that’s what it is.
But it’s what is within in it that makes it so precious and meaningful.
The side of Mount Rushmore probably was just as ordinary-looking as anything else near it.
Until the hammer and chisel came along.
But it’s what the artist removed from it that makes it extraordinary.
The tools: chisel and hammer, begin to carve away at all the extra stuff that gets in the way of seeing the true image.
The image that Borglum said “was there all the time” meant that he didn’t have to add anything to the sculpture, but that after taking away all the parts that don’t belong there, what has been hidden within all of that stone reveals itself .
That’s how God reveals God’s self to us…
We have a Revealing God.
But God has been there with us all the while.
We just have to carve away all the clutter and distraction and unnecessary things in our lives — like judgment and legalistic crutches and weapons — to see where God is.
* We must experience God through our hearts — in Love and loving one another;
* Through our souls — our faith, our belief;
* Through our minds — reading the word;
And through Christ — giving ourselves completely to him.
“When I carve a statue, it is very simple,” Borglum said. “I merely cut away the pieces that don’t belong there and the statue itself presently comes into view.
“It was there all the time.”
You see, God is already within our hearts, souls and minds.
And God gave us the Son to experience God in the Spirit.
We just don’t see God when we get caught up looking at all that other exterior junk in our lives.
All these stringent rules we created for ourselves.
All these distractions that we’ve junked up and added to that image with.
All the extras that distort the original masterpiece.
And we even look past Jesus, and say, “No, it can’t be him.”
Disregarding the Messiah as unnecessary, unimportant, secondary, irrelevant — or worse.
Someday, we’ll be stripped of all that clutter, all those extras, and we’ll stand right there in front of Jesus, and we’ll see — maybe for the first time — what love really looks like.
What God really looks like.
Or we can try to let go of all the things that hide the image of God.
The image that God wants to reveal to us today, right now.
All those other commandments hinge on that first one that Jesus tells us:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul an your mind.
And then love your neighbor as yourself.
If we are doing the first — truly seeing the revelation of God in heart, soul and mind — then we cannot but help to see Christ in ourselves and in others.
That’s God’s revelation to us.
Wen just have to merely carve away the pieces that don’t belong there.
And we will see “It was there all the time.”