Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's All About Love

A Sermon Preached by Nezer A. Soriano in Fairview Park United Methodist Church on the Occasion of the Laity Month Celebration

Today is laity month and today we look into the calling of the youth – UMYF and the UMYAF to be united and responsive to God’s call. The UMYF and UMYAF are teaching grounds that molds us to be Christ like, as the young adults say... to follow in His steps. And one of the examples that we follow about Jesus is the love that he showed to God and to the world as the messiah we have been waiting for. The Gospel Reading in Matthew 22:35-46 is an appropriate text for us this morning because Matthew has been known as the Gospel of Discipleship. Matthew is full of stories that teach Jesus as the messianic king who will usher in the kingdom of heaven. This Jesus who is the Christ, another word for messiah, calls us to become disciples of the kingdom. To take part in the ushering of the kingdom here on earth. And our calling as disciples, as Jesus has emphasized, is to love God with everything we have. It’s all about love. We respond to that call by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

You are all good Christians, you know the law, and you even know the greatest commandment. I bet this has been your memory verse since you were a kid. “To love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” You know that it means we should love God above all else and we can only show our love to god through our neighbors. And you know that our neighbors include the people that we don’t like. Those are the people we should love if we need to show our love to God. it’s all about love.

But what may surprise you is the fact that when Jesus teaches this to the Pharisees, as the greatest commandment is that it silences them. When he asks them about the nature of the messiah, the Pharisees gets confused that they leave. Maybe the Pharisees don’t love the lord that much. Maybe it was too much for them to see the messiah as God. so they get embarrassed and leave. But we love that part of the story. Jesus outsmarts the Jewish leaders and embarrasses them for their lack of faith.

He was able to answer their tricky question with his own trick question too. I liked the story because Jesus outsmarted the enemy. The enemy who wanted to challenge Jesus if not outright embarrasses him in front of many people. “Da, naisahan sila ni Hesus. Akala nila wala silang katapat. Nasampolan sila ni Hesus kaya hindi na sila bumalik pa para magtanong ulit.” This is the kind of story that we want. Jesus smartly answering their question what is the greatest law, especially for the Jews who are law conscious and very legalistic. I can almost hear Jesus saying, "Don’t you get it? It's all about love." But Jesus outsmarting the Jews is not the point of the story. Again, it is about love. It is not about the law but the essence of the law – and that is to love God above all things and with all things. And to show your love to God you must love your neighbors as yourself. The Pharisees wanted to trick Jesus but Jesus instead makes it a teaching moment for them to remind them that the laws were there to guide them about their calling – to love God and to love their neighbors. Is this too difficult that the Pharisees were silenced? You are all good Christians and you may think this is an easy task. But not really.

We think loving God is easy. Literally, I work in a place that loving God becomes difficult to do. A place where it does not always love God as we often imagine. I work in the hospital where parents bring in a sick child dying of dengue and curse God for making a good and innocent child die. They get so overwhelmed by the death of their child that they can only hate God. I am a family doctor and part of my job is provide counseling for families who are in crisis. Sometimes when I talk to a wife who lost her husband to liver cancer, they tell me they no longer go to church because they hate God. And these people are good Christians, who forgot their calling to love God because of the pain that they experienced. Sometimes the things that make us forget to love God are not the laws and traditions but the other stuff that we put above God.

Part of my advocacy is to introduce the Kingdom of Heaven in the workplace. Our Christianity should not only be during Sundays but everyday of the week. And so to remind my co-workers of their faith, we always open our day with a collective prayer and we have a weekly bible study on Tuesdays. But most often than not, our Bible studies get postponed. We cannot seem to give thirty minutes of our time to devote to God. Something more important comes to up on Tuesday lunch that we have to postpone the Bible study. There is that emergency meeting about the project due next week. There is a visitor coming in who will introduce innovations for the improvement of our services. Of course we are in the hospital, and there is a patient who needs to consult you for his follow-up check up. More important things comes up we have to set aside our time for God. I always ask them, what is more important than God? Are we showing love for God with these kind of actions? Where is the love when it’s all about love?

Love God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul. If there is one thing I learned from the UMYF, it is that we must put “Christ above all.” But do we do what our youth and young adults lay organization tries to teach? We cannot even spare some time to show how important God is in our lives. There is a choir practice on Saturdays, but I have to go overtime to finish my work. There is a fellowship on Wednesday, but I have to do my homework and project for school. Of course these are important stuffs. More important than giving time to God. Yet we claim, as good Christians do, that we love God with all our heart, with all your mind and with all our soul!?

We show our love to God again when we make important decisions in our lives. Do we include God when we decide to enter in a relationship with our dream boy or dream girl? Or maybe our love for God gets clouded again by the fact that he or she is the best man or woman according to my standards. Do we ask God about his plans when we apply for a job abroad? Or when we change our career paths? Do we consult God when we finally decide to settle down? Or the hope of a better future leaves God in the sidelines? Do we bother to ask God when we elect leaders amongst us or decide the course of where our community is going? I hope so. Because that is how we show that we love God with all that we have. Or maybe we get lost again with the good intentions that we have for the common good.

You see, my dear brothers and sisters, we are nothing different from the Pharisees. We try to obey the law with our good intentions but we forget that what is more important is to show our love for God. Or maybe, we do not love God that much at all! We forgot that that is what we are called to do in the first place!

It’s all about love – loving God with all our hearts, with all our soul and all our minds.

Jesus continued by telling us that the second commandment is similar to the first. To love our neighbors as ourselves. The Greek word used to describe the kind of love we have for God is agapao or agape. The same word was used to describe the kind of love we should have for our neighbors. The agape love we have for God is the same kind love that our messiah requires us to show to our neighbors.

Loving our neighbor is easy when our neighbor is lovable. But what if our neighbor is obnoxious? That is the neighbor who throws his trash in front of your gate. The same neighbor who annoys you because he parks his car in front of your house. But what about your officemate? The one who tells chismis about you, which is not chismis because it is in fact true. Or how about your seatmate in church. Yes, even that little child who keeps making unnecessary noise and crawls under the pew that disturbs your concentration in church. Can you love those kind of neighbors? How about the neighbor who used to be a church mate but has now caused division in the church?

The kind of love is not the mushy fuzzy love that we know. The lets all get along together kind of love. It is not an emotional love, erotic love or the filial kind of love. Agape love is the highest kind of love with the best intention for the well being of the other. The same verb was used to describe the love we are required to give God and the love we should give to our neighbors because it is an expression of the same love.

You see, it is next to impossible to love a hateful person. We can only do that if we love God first. It is difficult to love God in concrete ways that is why he gave us neighbors to show our love to god. and the call to love god and our neighbor is a call to action. Remember that love here is used as a verb. It is an action word. Love then requires us to act and not only to feel. We must show our love to God and neighbors in concrete acts. How do we love that annoying neighbor who throws trash? How do show our love to our officemate? How do we show our love to the pesky little child beside us? How do we show our love to our former church mates who have caused division in our church? Christ our king calls us to love them to show our love for God because God’s message is ~ all about love.

But I know how difficult it is to love our neighbor especially if that neighbor has hurt us physically, emotionally and spiritually. How can I concretely and truthfully love that neighbor without holding any grudge within me. Or maybe… just maybe… I don’t love God enough?! Maybe I don’t really love God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind. That is why it is difficult to love my neighbor.

Sometimes we forget it’s all about love. We forget that our calling is to love God and to love our neighbors despite the fact that God has repeatedly reminded us that this is the essence of all the laws and traditions that we observe.

The Bible is all about love – loving God and loving your neighbors. It is almost redundant. God has used the prophets to bring this message across. Israel cannot get it. They thought it was all about the law. God even have to send his only on Jesus to emphasize the obvious – that it’s all about loving God and your fellow. And we hear it in several stories of Jesus like our story this morning. Jesus has to tell this lawyers and scholars over and over again. The important thing is to love God and your neighbor. You know that! I know you know that! You are great Christian Methodists. You were even Christians by birth, if there is such a thing. As a kid you were taught that the first commandment is to love God and God alone. You shall have no other God. and to show that love is to love other people. You know that already. But why does Jesus has to tell us again and again that what we are called to love god through our act of love to our neighbors. Maybe because we got lost in all the complexities of our lives just like the Pharisees. And in our confusion we have failed to respond to what God is calling us. This laity month is a reminder for us of what we are called to do and the response that we have to make.

The good news by dear brothers and sisters, is that despite our shortcomings, despite forgetting to love God with all our hearts, with all our soul and with all our mind, despite the fact that we struggle to love our neighbor, Christ the king does not tire to call us to respond to his call for discipleship. Jesus is still calling us… love the Lord your God with everything you have, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Separation of Church and State

The Gospel Text on Matthew this Sunday in Chapter 25 talks about how Jesus was challenged about the giving of taxes to Caesar or to the temple. This text has often been cited to be the Scriptural basis for the separation of church and state. Such usage is a classic example of a bad exegesis. Since the topic on separation of Church and State has been opened with this text, I choose to discuss this issue to bring home the point of the misunderstanding of the concept of separation of church and state. Again, my foundation for such argument is the same reason why I struggle to integrate theology and medicine.

The dichotomy of things into church and state is based on the premise that church matters should be left to spiritual concerns and that matters of politics or social concern be the realm of the government. With such perspective there should be separation of church and state.

I have always argued that the Church does not exist in a vacuum that it can be indifferent to the reality of the time, place and events that happens around it. The Church cannot pretend that what is happening around it does not and do not affect it. Because the different processes affect and concern the Church, it is just proper for the church to be involved in social concerns.

The misunderstanding to the separation of church and state should be placed in proper perspective. Here in the Philippines, the narrow understanding of Filipinos, especially the ignorant lawmakers, is that the separation of Church and State is the ticket to disregard the voice of the Church. This is especially helpful with the ethical issues of the RH bill among others.

A better and clearer understanding of separation of church and state will help lawmakers, the church and the church people appreciate the significance and importance of one to the other. If the society and the church can only see that they are partners in weaving a good society, then the separation will have a better meaning.

Friday, October 14, 2011


When I looked at the schedule for the day. I realized that it will be next to impossible to squeeze in even a 30 minutes Bible Study to the hectic schedule of the day. Sometimes a disease is no longer curable. A battle is going to be lost. One has to be brave to call it and name it.

It's Friday. Next week will have to be a new topic. Bible Study for the week is CANCELLED!

The life of the church is often times like that. Worship service attendance dwindles. Summertime comes and you wonder where people went. One or two shows up the next Sunday. The next thing you know, it's just the pastor and his wife present. I remember one brave pastor who announced and posted in the local daily that his church is dead and everybody is invited to pay their last respect the next Sunday. He then placed a large mirror inside the coffin in front of the altar. As curious members, ex-members, and uzis came to view who was inside the coffin, they saw themselves.

Only after the pastor bravely named the death of the church did the people realize their shortcomings. Sometimes, the difficult has to be named so we can start anew and see a future with Hope.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Short of frustrating is the fact that human spirituality always takes a backseat in the priority of activities. In the workplace, it is understandable that work comes first over any personal activity. Work ethics tells us that we should do what we are supposed to do during office hours. Sometimes, when our office hours are not enough to finish our work, we eat our personal hours for office work. This is an example of how we put other matters, work - in this case, over our spirituality. (Yes, spirituality in this case is Christian living.) And so we postpone.

Christians know that we need a regular dose of God's Word to keep us afloat in this chaotic world. More than that, Christians understand that putting God above anything else, yes, even above work, is expected from us. And because we try to thrive in THIS world, we fine ways to adjust. A regular Bible study done once a week, thirty minutes of the 24 hours and just a third of the total lunch break time has been the compromise we have settled to feed our Spiritual needs to keep us going for the rest of the week. But even such small a time gets sacrificed for other "important" things. And so we postpone.

Someone told me that things that are 'somewhat' important but can wait should be postponed in favor of more important matters. I hate to think that a Bible Study getting postponed belongs to such "'somewhat' important matter but can wait" group. But it seems that most Christians see Bible Study that way. I am dismayed, yes. But what is more disheartening is when other eager people to know more about Christ are deprived the opportunity to study the Bible. Of course, we can still proceed with the activity even with just two persons but it deprives the opportunity for the rest who are available only tomorrow to receive God's word. And so we postpone.