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Mission in Chinatown with Everything We Got

Matthew 22:34-40

October 26, 2014

Sermon preached by Rev. Donald Ng at the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco.

Today is one of the few times in the life of our church when we gather together for All-Church Worship. It’s a great opportunity to teach and practice our faith. For this morning we heard the beginning of the Shema—the words repeated by heart each day by every daughter and son of Israel:

            “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

In other words, love your God with everything you’ve got. Jesus, when asked by his critics to cite the central core, the heart of the faith of Israel, was thinking of the Shema when he said that the heart of it all is to love God fully, to love God with all that we’ve got. Jesus then added, “Like the first, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Our love for God is to be more than just an hour of a week when we come to worship. Our love of God is more than that piece of ourselves that we have labeled as “spiritual.” God wants all of it: our money, time, thoughts, deeds, and words.

Notice that we have no problems knowing how to love ourselves. Jesus knows that when he said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Since you already know how to love yourself, now try loving your neighbor is what Jesus is saying here. As human beings, we look out for ourselves, making sure that our needs are met if at all possible. Looking out for Number 1 is not a problem.

Loving God

Loving God was so important that pious Jews took the commandment to “bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” literally. Little scrolls containing the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 were and still are worn on the foreheads of pious Jews in leather boxes called phylacteries and attached to doorposts in little containers called mezuzahs. It was a command to be carried, worn and touched.

But even more than that, it was a command to be lived. They were to love God all the time. What about you? Jesus is calling us to love God with everything you’ve got. Telling this truth to your children and to everyone else in the world when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.

So we come today to love God as one church this morning. But loving God involves action and service. This is why Jesus adds a second commandment to complete the first commandment. Together the first and the second make up the greatest commandment. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Loving God is not sentimental. While there’s a place for us to seek God’s plan for our lives by going on a retreat for a closer walk with the Lord, we are never left up on the mountaintop. God sends us back down to the valley where people are. Loving God is compassionate action toward neighbors and strangers. “Those who say, I love God,” and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).

Mission in Chinatown

Our 2015 Canvass theme and next year’s church theme is “Mission in Chinatown.” By next year, our church building has been situated in Chinatown for 135 years. For many of us, we drive many miles to come to Chinatown to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and with all of our mind. But the challenge for us today is: Are we loving our neighbors in Chinatown as we love ourselves?

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I am giving all of us the benefit of the doubt that where we may be living—down the peninsula, the South Bay, the East Bay, the North Bay, in the Richmond and Sunset districts, in the Mission and Mission Bay, wherever else outside of the 10 blocks of Chinatown that we are loving our neighbors. But do we know our neighbors in Chinatown? Do we know our neighbors who live just across the street on Waverly or those who live on Sacramento? There are a few people here who do but for the most part, most of us drive miles on Sunday to practice our faith for one hour don’t know who our neighbors are.

We want our focus in the coming year to be on our “Mission in Chinatown” with everything we got. We pray to God that if we love God, we would also love our neighbors like we already know how to love ourselves.

For people of faith, loving God takes on tangible form in acts of justice, mercy, and love toward neighbors. The love of God cannot be separated from the love of neighbor. The wellbeing of self and neighbor are interrelated, and here, Jesus directly related both of these to the love of God.

All Your Heart

How might we make this a reality? I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. While we know that we should love our neighbor like ourselves, how can this happen?

A recent survey by the National Public Radio (NPR) showed that 45% of Americans claim to go to church every Sunday. This statistic is extraordinary because if true, the pews of most of our churches including ours would be packed every Sunday, which is obviously not the case. So what’s up?

NPR consulted a sociologist who looks at these things and he said that he strongly suspects that when people are asked the question of how often they attend church, the respondent is actually hearing the question as “Are you the sort of person who should attend church every Sunday even though I don’t, but I don’t want to admit otherwise.” There is, in other words, a lag, a drag between beliefs and behavior.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). We often get it backwards, assuming the point that our hearts influence where we invest our treasure: “Where your heart is, that’s where your treasure will end up.” But that’s not what Jesus says.

Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” His point is that what we do with our treasure influences the condition of our hearts, determining the sort of people we become.

Giving from the heart is unscriptural. Jesus does not want us to give from the heart. He wants us to give according to where we believe our hearts should be, to give according to where we hope our hearts will someday be. Give of your treasure, and let your heart catch up.

Our stewardship of our treasure, in other words, is a spiritual discipline that helps us direct our hearts towards love of God and neighbor and grow more fully into our stature as children of God.

In John 13:34, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” Many people question whether love can be commanded, but it must be stated that in John’s gospel love is not something one feels but rather something one does, it is an act of the will. To love in John is to act for the benefit of another. The assumption is that if one acts for the benefit of others, the feelings will catch up with the actions.

So how do we love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind? How do we love our neighbors like the way we already love ourselves? How can our hearts catch up where we put our treasures? It happens slowly. It happens when we are transformed in the practice of grace and mercy. It happens when we see our neighbors in Chinatown as people we love like the way we already love ourselves.

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C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote, “Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.” In other words, love your neighbor first and your heart will catch up.

Practicing the Shema

We don’t have to be Jewish to practice the Shema. Jesus taught us the Shema as well. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and with all of our soul, and with all of our mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: We shall love our neighbors as yourselves.

We love God by coming to church and worshiping God for one hour. But we are commanded to love God when we lie down and when we get up, when we are at home and when we are away.

We love God by loving our neighbors in the actions that we do. We volunteer to teach English and citizenship classes and cook a meal at Friday Night School. Our neighbors would see God in what we do.

We love God when we support and become involved in our summer Day Camp program that reaches out to children in our neighborhood. The counselors will be reciting the Shema to the campers.

We love God when we begin to meet our neighbors on Waverly and Sacramento streets as our friends with the hope that we would provide a new worship service and offer new programs for them to know the love of God.

We love God when we pay attention and see our neighbors and understand their reality as people who are loved by God just as we believe God loves us. Love springs up from our awareness and we see someone as he or she really is here and now.

We love God when we first give our treasures, our time, resources, talents and gifts. And when we do, our heart will catch up with the gifts that we gave.

The church is where we go to hear the truth about God. All that God asks of us is complete love of God, love born of gratitude for what God has given, and love of our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.

This is the core of who we are and who God is. God wants us to love with everything we got as we commit our church to doing life-changing mission in Chinatown today and in the years to come. Let’s love God and our neighbors with everything we’ve got!

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we have withdrawn from the world in order to worship you. May this time of worship be for us more than a brief respite from our lives in the world. Connect our lives in the world and with all our neighbors in Chinatown. Connect our worship with you to our relationship with one another. Help us to love you with everything that we’ve got, and to show the love for you that we experience here in church by our love for our sisters and brothers in the world. Amen.

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