Love, not Religiosity

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from February 4, 2018, on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18. This is part of our second series this year on the Sermon on the Mount, this one focused on “Love as the Fulfillment of the Law.”

And here’s a written excerpt from the conclusion:

So what’s to be done? How do we escape this toxic brand of insincere, exploitative, even oppressive religion?

If you’ve been listening the last few weeks, you won’t be surprised by my answer: the solution to hypocritical, harmful religiosity is Jesus’ way of love.

You’ll remember the overarching principle that’s been guiding us as we’ve walked through this section of the Sermon on the Mount:

Jesus gives us a new Law, a Law which is really a Way, a way of life, the way of love.

This is what Jesus does in all his teaching, even in the example of his life. He’s not giving an updated list of rules for us to follow. He’s showing us a way of being human in the world, a way of life, the way of love.

And one of the lessons in this way of love that runs all through Jesus’ teaching is this:

The way of love is concerned not just with external actions, but with the internal roots of those actions. The way of love nurtures our God-given desires, rightly ordered around faithful devotion to God and compassionate care for others.

External actions—including positive actions, spiritual, even religious actions like giving, and praying, and fasting—these external actions are not all that God is concerned about. God wants to dig down to the roots of our actions and get at the very desires of our hearts. And God wants to re-orient those deepest desires, those God-given desires, around twin loves: love of God and love of others.

This is why Jesus speaks so strongly against hypocritical and harmful religion. Religious piety that is insincere is an affront to God—it’s not loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. And religion that deceives and manipulates, that exploits and oppresses, is a sin against others—it’s not loving our neighbour as we love ourselves.

But Jesus’ way of love doesn’t just explain why this “religiosity” is wrong. It also points to the solution.

You see, true love loves the other person, warts and all. We can be completely unmasked, fully exposed, in the presence of love. There is no fear in love.

God loves us this way. If you don’t believe this, I encourage you to start over from the beginning, to be born again once again. Because this is bottom-line basic Christianity.

We fail, we fall, we blow it—we sin. Our lives are an ever-growing collection of if-onlys and what-ifs, of failures and regrets. We never know it all. We never have it all together. Yet God looks at us and loves us. God sees it all—even all that stuff we so desperately try to hide from others—God sees it all, and loves us.

Since we are loved by God in this way, we don’t need to impress God. We don’t need to earn God’s favour—we already have it. We don’t need to fake anything—God knows us for who we really are. We can be completely vulnerable with God—because we already are completely vulnerable before God.

Here’s the thing: this love is the very love that God calls us to. We are to love others in the same way that God has loved us. And that means fully accepting others for who they are, warts and all, and where they are, failures and follies and all. It means loving others in a way that casts out all their fear, that allows them—and us—to be real with each other, to be vulnerable with each other.

Here, then, is our new lesson in the way of love for today:

The way of love nurtures simple sincerity with God and others. It encourages mutual vulnerability with others before God. There is no place for pride or need for deceit in the way of love, including spiritual pride and religious manipulation.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is probably the hardest lesson of all so far. It takes tremendous courage to love—and to be loved—like this. But if we can do it, all those things that motivate the kind of hypocritical, harmful religiosity that Jesus warns against—all that fear of measuring up, that fear of not being admired, that fear of losing control, of not being in control—all this and more fades away, in the presence of true, and total, love.

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