9:30AM Sunday School
11AM & 7PM Worship

2203 San Antonio St.
Austin, TX 78705

and Love One Another

The Reverend Matt Gaventa

November 10, 2019
Matthew 22:34-40

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Many of you know that, when it comes to sports, baseball is my one true love, and of course the tragedy of this time of year is that the major league season is over, and baseball has been taken away from me. I mean, it’s been taken away from you, too, but I do take it personally. But I will also admit that there is a nice benefit to having the season over, which is when the season ends a whole part of my brain gets freed up for other activities. I mean, for a while there, there was a good three to eight percent of my brain that was thinking about Atlanta Braves baseball — my old hometown — there was some chunk of my brain thinking about Braves baseball all the time, just this constant low hum in the background. After all, baseball can be kind of a cerebral game. It can be a complicated game. It can be a game that welcomes long intellectual journeys if long intellectual journeys are your sort of thing. Which is why, there around mid-August, I was doing my daily routine while constantly wondering whether Braves starter Mike Foltynevitz would ever get the late break back on his slider or whether new closer Shane Greene would replicate the strikeout-to-walk ratio he brought from Detroit or whether superstar Freddie Freeman could carry his exit velocity into the playoffs. (Spoiler alert. He did not).

It’s a game that feels complicated. Literally hundreds of statistical vehicles exist to attest to its complexity, each one of them an acronym. Well-earned probabilities govern every possible scenario in every possible game, so that you know that if you are facing Mike Foltynevitz with runners in scoring position and less than two outs that he will be aggressive in the zone but if you get behind in the count watch out for that slider breaking away from right-handers, he throws it 62 percent of the time and 87 percent of the time it’s off the plate. I made all of that up, but it sounds entirely credible. Nonetheless despite all the statistics. It is not entirely clear that baseball actually is that complicated. Braves fans remember journeyman pitcher Freddy Garcia, going into game four of the 2013 opening round of the playoffs, and some journalist asked Freddy what his strategy was for going up against what was a clearly superior Dodgers lineup, and Freddy just said, “I don’t panic. I just make pitch.” Sometimes the sport is just exactly what it looks like. Or in the famous words from Bull Durham. “This is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.” Just make pitch.

I think there’s a little #justmakepitch here in Matthew’s Gospel this morning, as Jesus gets cornered by a bunch of reporters trying to figure out his game plan. Or something like that. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been arguing with both the Pharisees and Sadducees, both major clerical orders in Israel, both of which would have substantial experience researching and interpreting Biblical texts. They know this material inside and out. They have spent lifetimes in the statistical analysis of this material, with all the acronyms to show for it. I promise you that if the Sadducees and Pharisees had modern technology at least a couple of them would host a podcast called something like Deuteronomy by the Numbers. And these are the guys that sidle up to Jesus, and one of them is a lawyer, and the lawyer pops up and asks which commandment is the greatest, which is supposed to be a trick question, because obviously all of the commandments and all of the law and all of it is critical in its rich complexity and it would take some very rigorous data modeling to even begin to get close to figuring out how to answer it but instead Jesus just answers it. Turns out it’s actually not that complicated.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Right out of the first commandment. And then a second one, just like it. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, this second commandment is not among the ones given to Moses; it feels like new material, but I don’t think that’s entirely fair. Jewish law abounds with restrictions and instructions precisely designed to govern how neighbors treat one another and to ensure the welcome and hospitality and protection of foreigners and widows. Loving your neighbor is not some bold new strategy invented right here in the twenty-second chapter of Matthew. What’s radical is the simplicity of it. It’s what Jesus says next: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” All of it. Everything that Pharisees and Sadducees have spent their lifetimes studying and learning. Everything that Israel has spent generations unpacking and interpreting. Hundreds of years of tradition. Thousands of lines of sacred text. And Jesus stands on top of all of it and says, “This is a simple game. Love God. Love your neighbor. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.” Just make pitch.

This Sunday is the last Sunday in the worship series we have been doing this fall on the parts of worship themselves; we are talking today about the Charge and Benediction that happen at the very end of worship, the stuff we say right as we’re heading out the door. And while Jesus’s encounter here with the Pharisees and Sadducees isn’t the last thing he says; actually Matthew’s Gospel includes Jesus’s most famous charge and benediction, the Great Commission, Go into the world and make disciples of all nations; it’s right there at the very end of the book. But there’s a difference between a benediction and Famous Last Words. A benediction isn’t important just because it’s the last thing we say. It’s important because it’s meant to capture everything. To capture all of the rich language of the scripture. To capture all of the textured symbolism of the sacrament. To capture all of the woven harmonies of the music. To capture all of it, everything we’ve touched in this whole series, everything we touch every Sunday morning, and distill it, and wrap it up, and package it nicely, and put a bow on it, and then to put it in your hearts. Love God. Love your neighbor. On these two commandments hang all the law, and all the prophets, and all the scripture, and all the liturgy, and all the prayers of the people, and everything we said during the announcements, and all the brownie mix we hand out to guests, all of it, everything.

I will admit that there is something about this simplicity that gets under my skin, because I love complexity very much. One of the things I value about our worship life here at UPC is that I think you are in this complexity with me. We like to bring our brains to church and I’m here for it. We like to wrestle with nuance and I’m here for it. And I am convinced that if somebody here in some Sunday School class asked a question not unlike this lawyer’s question like “What is the most important Gospel?” or “Which one is the best disciple?” or “what is the greatest commandment?” I am sure that we would give the doctrinal answer for the first church of nuance which is of course that all of them matter and all of them are in conversation with one another and we hold them all in tension. And yet. At the end of the day. At the end of our worship. I stand down there by the baptismal font. And I offer a charge and benediction. And I say. This is a simple game. Love God. And love one another. On this hangs all the law, and all the prophets, and everything. Just make pitch.

Of course, as simple as it is to say, loving God and loving one another can feel lot more complicated as soon as we walk out these doors. God doesn’t always do what we want God to do. Our neighbors surely don’t always do what we want them to do. Most days it’s not that simple to figure out how to love these folks back, why to love these folks back, or what that love should look like. But some days it is that simple, and the good news is that today, as we wrap up this series, and as we gather up our commitments of stewardship for the next year, today we do have a very simple opportunity to show our love for God and our love for one another. Of course stewardship isn’t the whole story. It’s just one little slice of our discipleship. But so much of the rest of it can be so complicated. It is so often so difficult to know what the right thing is or how we can best live into our calling. The gift of today, on the other hand, is that today is not complicated. It’s very simple. One simple way you can love one another is by making your financial contribution to the life and ministry of this church.

There are, of course, lots of good reasons to make a pledge to UPC for the next year. There are lots of good things that your leadership is ready to do that don’t need anything more complicated than money. Some of those ideas are big and structural, like substantially increasing our ability to support UPLift, Micah 6 and other organizations that help us be a good neighbor in this community, or like working to ensure that we can pay our dedicated staff enough to navigate an increasingly expensive city.  Some of those ideas are just the reality of doing ministry right here in this building — every year that goes by, our HVAC system needs more and more care and feeding, and one of the ways you can love your neighbor is by making sure that the air conditioning is working here in the middle of August. And some of those ideas are just the result of good honest faithful leaders trying to make this place just a little better, just a little more hospitable, just a little more joyful, just a little more impactful. We can make the church retreat and our youth mission trips more affordable, with your help. We can put beautiful professional photographs on the coming soon new UPC website, with your help. We can make sure our youth and UKirk ministries have all the resources they need to thrive, with your help.

There’s no shortage of good things to be done here and good things we can do, with your help. That’s why the Stewardship Committee has invited you over the past month to consider an increase to your annual pledge, an increase of 1% of your annual income. I hope you can take that request seriously, for all the reasons you’ve already heard. But the best reason is the next one. Because not all of you can afford that increase. Some of you have had tough years. Some of you would love nothing more than to write a check to the church for whatever we asked but it’s just not possible. Some of you are struggling just to get by, and as a good friend told me recently, the church needs to be a place where you can go even and especially when you can’t pay your bills. Somebody sitting near you this morning needs to be here but can’t make the pledge they’d like to make. And what you can do. If you can. If you are one of the lucky ones. What you can do is very simple. You can love your neighbor. You can love your neighbor by making the pledge that your neighbor can’t make. You can love your neighbor by doing whatever you can to ensure that the ministry of this place opens its arms to whoever needs it, no matter what.

There are a lot of ways to make your pledge. Some of you have already done so, by sending a pledge card into the church office or pledging online on the church website. There are more pledge cards in your bulletins and in just a minute Stewardship Chair Lorraine Haricombe is going to come talk about how you can use those today whether you’ve pledged already or not, and of course the entire Stewardship Committee and office staff stand ready to help out if you need an assist. You’ve got a whole bunch of options. And you may find yourself wondering, “But Matt, which is the best way to make my pledge?” And on some other day I might give you the doctrinal answer from the first church of nuance, which is of course that all of them form part of a large whole and we need all of them in concert. But today the answer isn’t that complicated. Today the answer is pretty simple. Today the answer is, it’s a simple game: you throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Today the best way to make your pledge is by loving God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And by loving your neighbor as yourself. On these commandments hang all the law, and all the prophets, and everything. Thanks be to God. Amen.