Flip a coin. What side do you see when it lands? We used to play this game to try to solve an issue or take sides or choose who gets to go first or . . . We kind of live in a binary world. Where it seems as if there are 2 options for anything . . . Should I do THIS or THIS?
Last week I reminded you that whenever we read scripture, it is not all about them—it is all about US—and how we must allow God to speak to us through the words that we hear and read. And one way to allow that is to ask ourselves questions when we read.
Originally preached Sunday, November 4, 2018
Well, one question that I have when I read this passage in Mark is: why would a teacher of the law ask if any one of the commandments was more important than any other? They taught that God’s people must keep ALL the commandments. In fact, they added a few more to what we know as “The Ten Commandments.” 603, to be exact. To bring them to a total of 613.
Hillel was once asked by a seeker to instruct him on the whole law while he stood on one leg—Hillel’s answer was, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.” 1
We can read those 613 “laws” listed in the OT (expanding the 10 Commandments)— King David reduced those 613 to 11 in Psalm 15
Then the prophet Isaiah trimmed this list to 6 in 33:15
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good,
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God.
And in Habakkuk 2:4,
For his answer, Jesus took 2 great commandments and put them together. He quoted the Shema, which is still recited 2X daily by observant Jews.
This commandment is “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord.” That single sentence is the real creed of Judaism (Deut. 6:4). There are 3 uses for it:
When Jesus quoted this verse, every devout Jew would have agreed with him.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That is a quotation from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus took that verse that every devout Jew ALSO would have known and tweaked it a little bit:
In its original context it is concerned with other people just like me. In other words, fellow Jews. It would not have included the Gentiles, who it was okay to hate. But Jesus quoted it without qualifications. He took an old law, a law they knew, and filled it with new meaning.
The new thing that Jesus did was to put these 2 commandments together. To Jesus, the only way to show that we love God is to love God’s other children.
The Pharisee agreed with Jesus, going even further in stating that this love is more important than sacrifice. I say that loving so wholeheartedly IS a sacrifice. We sacrifice anything that can possibly come between us and God. The teacher of the law recognized that rituals or religious practices can take the place of real love in our lives. We can do the right things, but not have the right heart.
Jesus told this man, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” That is encouraging. It is also a condemnation. He recognized the importance of loving God and loving others with all he has, but did he come any closer? We don’t know.
2 sides of a coin: which will you choose. In or out.
We are made to love. In God’s own image. Very good. So . . . Where do we SEND our love? Because we WILL love something.
This past week I have attended 3 funerals. Too many. And yet, there were some inspirational words shared about the lives of some inspirational people. By that, I mean that I knew the folks who were being eulogized, and I knew that all those nice words, those grand words, those loving words, were TRUE. The people being talked about really WERE that good. Their lives honestly exemplified the kind, potent words tearfully spoken about them. What a powerful legacy they left. What a powerful example they lived.
At one of the services, a friend clarified: The decisions we make every day are important. The words we say every day are important. The things we do every day are important. They are the evidence of what lives in our hearts. These people left a legacy of discipleship and love. What will others say about us when we can no longer make a difference?
This has been a violent year. Lots of hate spoken from A to B and from B to A and onto C. How does politics relate to this message this morning? To what Jesus and the Pharisee were discussing? How does getting cut off in traffic relate to this? How does struggling to pay overdue bills relate? We have so many opportunities each day to demonstrate that we belong to a different world order. What is the purpose of that? I know sometimes it seems just too hard or just too meaningless to keep talking about love or about God in this crazy, hurt-filled place we live. But that is just when it means the most.
“Isn’t it ironic that somebody who is yelling in the ambulance and in the hospital, ‘I want to kill all the Jews,’ is taken care of by a Jewish nurse and there’s a Jewish hospital president that comes in to check on him afterwards?” Cohen told CNN.
Cohen lives across the street from the Tree of Life, where he is a longtime member, and has deep personal connections with the synagogue. According to Tribune-Review, his mother-in-law attends services “nearly every day.” He knew nine of the people who were killed.
Nonetheless, Cohen and his team treated Bowers as they would any other patient.
I was thinking about this message on All Saints Day. Sometimes we forget that Hallowe’en is really the “downside” to our faith—the real deal was November 1. A day when we remember those who have gone before and left us the legacy of teaching and service. Of love and sacrifice. Those who have illustrated and demonstrated the love of God. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if every day looked like All Saints Day? Because God’s people are taking the light of the gospel—our good news—into the darkness around us. Loving our neighbors as God wishes.