Love: A Lens for Our Lives
The Rev. Sara Cosca Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 22:34-46
When I was in seminary, nothing was ever simple. We didn’t just read the Bible, we looked for the historical and literary contexts of a text. What was the culture like when this was written? What were those people going through, and how did those events inform what was written? What genre is this particular scripture?
All of those things would inform the meaning of a scripture. Revelation was written by a Christian living in a time when Romans were violently persecuting Christians, so he imagined a great reckoning to come when Jesus returned to take control of the world in a dramatic way. It’s a revenge fantasy, really. Every letter Paul wrote was to a different church made up of different kinds of people struggling with different issues—which is why we hear different tones from him and why we see him give different and sometimes conflicting advice from letter to letter.
The Bible is a complicated book. It’s a collection of myths, stories, rules and regulation, poems, and letters written over the course of thousands of years. There’s no one way to read it. There’s no one set of rules to follow.
If we’re being really honest with ourselves, and I think we have to be, we choose what messages from the Bible we want to incorporate into our faith. If you think women should be quiet and submit to their husbands, Paul's Letters can give you some handy verses to justify that. If you believe that women should be empowered, you can go to Judges and read about Deborah or flip to Luke and read the Magnificat, the song of Mary stepping into her power.
There are so many paths into the Bible, so many messages to glean, and many of them are at odds with each other. But I think we have a guide on this journey. We have a North Star. We have Jesus. The son of God. Our teacher and our savior. The cornerstone of our faith.
Jesus, who came as a human into this material world, brings us the wisdom of his people. We fold the stories and lessons from our Jewish siblings into our own faith because Jesus was born and died a Jew. Part of their story is part of our story.
Jesus who was crucified and resurrected points us into the future, even beyond our scriptures, into hope for the kingdom of God to come.
Jesus is the very center of our shared faith.
And today, Jesus cuts through every layer of our scriptures to get right to the heart of it.
“’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.”
If we believe Jesus is the very center of our faith, then these verses may well be the very center of our Christian scriptures. These, Jesus says, are the greatest commandments, the commandments on which every part of his people’s wisdom hangs, the commandments that our Savior gave us when he walked on this earth.
These are the verses I use as my lens to interpret the rest of the scriptures.
Is that scripture condemning homosexuality about love?
Is that psalm that celebrates violent harm against an enemy’s infant children about love?
Is Paul saying that being single and celibate is the spiritual ideal about love?
The truth is, they might have been based in love when they were written. We don’t know. The verse about homosexuality in Leviticus is part of a long list of ways that the Israelites were agreeing to be in community with one another, and they forbade some heterosexual sexuality as well. The psalm about hurting babies was written by a person who was forced into exile, someone who was actually powerless, who was feeling devastated and angry, who just wanted his home back. Paul’s message about marriage was written to a very specific community to check them on how their sexual practices might be harmful.
We lose the love when we lift these particular scriptures out of the Bible, stripping them of their context and making them a capital R Rule for today. It’s how some Christians have justified condemning queer folks. It’s how some Christians have made sex itself shameful. It’s even a way someone could use their faith to justify harm against the family of someone they don’t like.
Reading and applying the Bible without love can get pretty scary pretty fast. It’s love that rescues us. It’s love that pulls us back from the brink. It’s love that reveals the truth of Christ.
Love God and love your neighbor. Your neighbors right here. Right now. In this context. That is how Jesus taught us to practice our faith.
Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry puts it a slightly different way: “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
Love is what we need to anchor our lives to, especially right now. As we pull our mask up over our nose. As we fill out our ballot. As we make judgments about people who look or love or live differently than us. As we interact with someone whom we strongly disagree with—and remember, sometimes walking away or drawing boundaries is an act of love.
Love God and love your neighbor. The commandments Jesus gave us. The greatest commandments. A lens for our lives. Amen.