WELCOME back to our soul-transforming study of Matthew.
Today, I’d like to preach the message, God is waiting for you there.
I have a question for you: What makes you say that someone is close to God? What should you see in a person to describe her as maka-Diyos?
Most persons will answer, “Someone close to God is someone who prays with devotion, reads the Bible daily, and goes to church regularly.”
I remember hearing persons talk about religious folks as “Laman ng simbahan”.
But if you ask Jesus, I think He’ll give a different answer.
Let me share a story…
Is God a Thief?
During the lunch break in one of my financial seminars, a young guy approached me and said, “I like your stock market talk. So simple. I now understand it…”
I smiled and said, “Thanks! Happy it helped you.”
When he was about to leave, I asked, “By the way, do you attend The Feast?”
At once, his face hardened. “I like your financial talks,” he said, “but I don’t like religious messages in general…”
I nodded. “Thanks for your honesty.”
He added, “And I don’t plan on joining any religious group.” “May I ask why?”
He sighed a deep sigh. “My parents are like you, Brother Bo. They’re very religious. They’re very active in church. For years, they led a prayer group in the parish…”
“I know a big ‘But’ is coming,” I said. “Growing up as a kid, I saw that almost every night, they were out of the house. Because they were at church,” he said. “My siblings and I would ask them not to go, but Mommy and Daddy would lecture us about putting God first.
Even if our birthdays coincided with their prayer meeting, they’d chose the prayer meeting over us.”
He paused, trying to hold the buried pain rising up within him.
He said, “Brother Bo, I felt God stole my parents from me.”
Are You Running Away from God?
I told him, “I’m so sorry to hear this. I don’t believe God stole your parents. Your parents misunderstood God. They thought they can meet Him only in church. They didn’t know He was waiting for them at home. In your heart…”
His story is so sad.
But happy ending: This guy started going to The Feast.
Let me shock you: Some people use religion to run away from God. God wants to meet them in their spouse, in their children, in their parents, in their siblings, in the poor and suffering, but they escape to prayer, Bible, and church.
My story? I’ve been serving God ever since I was a teenager.
But when I got married at 32, I made a radical shift. I changed my identity— the invisible label hung around my neck.
Before I got married, next to being God’s child, I was primarily a preacher and leader. After I got married, I was a husband and father first, and second only as a preacher and leader.
Today, my eldest son Bene is 21, Francis, the youngest,16, and not once did I hear them complain that I wasn’t there for them. And today, both of them love serving God.
Bene Sanchez serving with the Worship team during the Feast-at-Home, last Sunday, October 24; and earlier, speaking at The Feast.
Francis Sanchez with Kuya Bene singing during Father’s Day 2011; later, with mom Marowe, Bene, and dad Bo at the Grand Feast 2012.
Many years ago, I wrote a song while building Anawim, our ministry for the abandoned elderly, titled, The Last Place.
I hear Your voice, Lord; I see Your face
I hear Your voice, Lord, in the least expected place
Amazing Love, Astounding Lord That You choose to dwell in the abandoned and afraid
In the last place, In the child’s face In the eyes of pain, of hunger, and of rage
I shall meet You there in the last place I shall meet You there in the eyes of pain
I shall meet You there… and see Your face…
Look at the people around you. Look at their face. Listen to their heartbeat. God is waiting for you there.
Just to recap: Religious leaders asked Jesus three questions to trap Him. First question was from the Pharisees, second was from the Sadducees, and the third question from the Pharisees — back for a rematch. They thought they had a perfect boobytrap question for Jesus.
Scattered in this question were a hundred landmines.
The Pharisees wanted Jesus to pick one of the 613 Laws of Moses— 248 Do’s and 365 Don’ts—and elevate one command as more important than the others. OR they wanted Him to pick one of the popular summaries of His day, such as the 11 principles in Psalm 15, or the 6 principles in Isaiah 33, or the 3 principles in Micah 6, and many more.
Any answer He gave would lure Him into a complicated debate, and if He made one mistake, boom, they could bring Him to court.
But Jesus didn’t pick any of their 613 Laws. Instead, He picked a prayer that everyone knew:
This was the famous Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4. This was the first prayer every Jewish child commits to memory. This was also the first sentence of every Jewish service. And this was the prayer every pious Jew recited twice a day and every family wrote the prayer on their doorposts and phylacteries—two little leather boxes that guys strapped on their left arm and forehead—prescribed in Deuteronomy 6:8-9.
That answer was really cool.
But Jesus wasn’t finished yet.
The Other Side of the Coin
Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18— because in His mind, the first command was not complete.
Because the two commandments—Loving God and Loving Others—were two sides of one coin. Two expressions of one truth. There is no right if there is no left. There is no up if there is no down.
Meaning? You cannot love God without loving others. It’s impossible.
Without loving your family, your friends, and especially the poor and those who are suffering, all your prayers and churchgoing is a noisy gong and clanging bell. And if it’s the other way around— loving people only without loving God—it doesn’t work, either.
Vertical love and horizontal love must go together to form the Cross.
Who Is Your Neighbor?
I repeat the second greatest commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Which begs the question, “Who is your neighbor?”
Luke fleshes this out even more than Matthew. Because after Jesus shared the two greatest commandments, He shared the story of the Good Samaritan—a guy who helps a wounded guy on the road.
Meaning? Neighbors are not just persons close to me. Neighbors are not just my favorite persons. Neighbors could be total strangers who are suffering.
Jews saw all Samaritans as a race who failed horribly in loving God. How could they love God if they were bastards from the start? They were half-Jews and half-Gentiles. They were not even allowed to enter the Temple—so how could they fulfill the first command of loving God?
But Jesus shares a powerful story where one Samaritan fulfilled the second command— loving his neighbor.
While traveling, he spotted a wounded man on the road and helped him. But before he walked by, a Jewish priest and a Levite saw the wounded man and their response was shocking: They didn’t do a thing.
Reason? If they were unclean, they could not do their pious duties in the Temple. If they touched blood or touched a man who may be dead (the story gave those two details), they would be called ritually unclean.
These two religious guys wanted to love God but didn’t love others. They were experts in “vertical love” but failures in “horizontal love”.
We Need To Change Our Metrics
For millennia, churches have usually measured only three proofs that the church is effective — ABC which stands for Attendance, Baptism, and Collection.
Attendance means how many go to church each week. Baptism means how many new members join. And Collection means how much donations or tithes are received. If a church scores high in these three metrics, it’s supposed to be spiritually healthy.
But is it really? After reading the words of Jesus today, I believe we must rethink our metrics. Churches should not only count how many come on a Sunday but how many go out and serve the wounded and broken from Monday to Saturday. Churches should not only count their collection but count how much of their collection go to the suffering people in society.
I repeat: For many Christians, we define close to God as a prayerful person. Today, I propose we change our definition. Because it’s possible to be prayerful and selfish. Close to God must be makadiyos and makatao.
Let us spray:
Thank You, Jesus. We praise and we lift You up.
Thank You and praise You, Jesus. Right now, Lord, we receive Your Love. Thank You for meeting us in this
place of comfort, Lord– even if it’s a noisy place.
Father, we thank You that You are here. You said where ever two or three are gathered in Your name, there You are in their midst.
So, I believe that You are here. Thank You for sending your Spirit, Your Presence, to come and minister to us. Thank You, Jesus. We worship You today.
Brothers and Sisters, put aside whatever you are doing that is not focused on Jesus. I want to lead you into His Presence… Open Your hands and say this with me…
God we thank You for Your persistent pursuit of every person present here. Lord, we confess not what we want but what You want.
We’re coming back, Lord, God. If there are those here who do not have a personal relationship with You, I pray that they take the first step toward You.