First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
November 11, 2018
Scripture: Mark 12:28-34
Sermon: “Jesus’ Top Three”
It’s not an easy question to answer. I mean, let’s face it… there are so many choices. If I try and put myself in Jesus’ sandals for just a moment and listen to the question, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Come on guys… there are 613 commandments… and you think there is a top ten… well maybe there is… but even a top three … or which one is THE top? That’s a tough one.
I was pondering the question Friday and Saturday… it is kind of like our new Children and Youth Director Bogart asked me the other day…. “Who is your favorite band?” Well… for me that is an easy question to answer, however, had he asked me what my favorite song is… much more difficult… too many to choose from.
Jesus, as Jesus always does in our stories, seems to hand the question pretty well. One can imagine the smile on his face, or even an inquisitive look on his face as he thinks this scribe should already know the answer to this question. I like Mark’s version of this story. Mark’s telling leaves a little more room for grace for the one who may or may not disagree with Jesus. Mark tells the story of a scribe who hears Jesus disputing, sparring with some of the religious leaders and notices Jesus is answering well and so asks him the question. In the gospel of Matthew’s telling the question is designed as a test… perhaps even a trick question to see if Jesus will trip up and stumble. Mark leaves it a little more ambiguous.
Which commandment is first of all? And Jesus replies, “Love.” Simple enough. It even appears to satisfy the questioner… “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that, ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’ and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself’— this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.”
So, Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. Seems pretty simple… or does it? Now I want to slip Jesus sandals off for a moment and stand in the sandals of the scribe who asked the question… “Yeah, but…” are the first two words that come to mind. Jesus, I hear my self say… “Unpack that a little… love is all well and good and the foundation of our faith journey… but it is not as easy as your statement makes it sound.”
Love is not so simple. It was like the inquiry from a friend who heard me preach on this one other time… he said, “I understand the loving my neighbor part… I work on that every day. I can understand loving myself… taking care of myself. But I have trouble wrapping my head around loving God, Spirit, someone… something not tangible and embraceable.” I suggested to him that perhaps loving others, loving self, IS how we love God. And that includes loving all the others. This is not an easy task.
I want Jesus to unpack his Top Three a little… because anyone who takes these three seriously, anyone who understands this Love is not the sentimental, rose colored glasses, everything is always sunny, bright, and okay… knows it is not as easy and simple as it sounds. The first is, “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 mind, and with all your strength.”
The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So how do we love? How do we love those who would be leaders lie, spreading falsehoods and misinformation? How do we love leaders who wield power like a sword rather than a healing balm? How do we love those who pass laws that diminish and blame the poor? How do we love those who would tear our churches apart and continue to discriminate against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters? How do we love those who would promote violence against refugees seeking asylum at our borders?
How do we love religious leaders who claim to represent love and grace while committing abuse and taking advantage of our children?
How do we love those who claim the name of Christian and twist it into an unrecognizable journey of legalism and exclusion? How do we love those who perpetrate racism and bigotry and claim it is for the good of our country? How do we love those who would speak and fight against the very things that are our passion and love? How do we love those who would cling more dearly to their guns than they do the notion of changing our laws that might save even one of our children?
How do we love?
We know from other stories in our texts there are other teachings regarding love attributed to Jesus or to the early church, which might help us unpack these three simple directives. Things like, “Do not just love those who love you… but love your enemies.” The story of the good Samaritan, who loved one who was not in agreement with the way the other practiced the religion, but he loved and cared for him. He did not walk away.
I would posit Jesus practiced what he preached with some of the religious leaders of his time, granted turning over a few tables was certainly an option, but I would venture to say he did it out of love. I would even go so far as to say Jesus conflict and continued engagement with the religious powers that be of his time was out of love not hate. His refusal to let them off the hook was out of love not indifference. He stayed engaged with them to the very end. Love even those who persecute you… Jesus forgave, we are told in our story, even those who would have him killed. It is this kind of example and life we are called to when we walk the Way of Jesus.
How do we love our enemies…?
I would say, in the Way of Jesus, we love through resistance. We do not resist those we disagree with through hatred. We do not resist those we disagree with through violence. We do not resist those we disagree with through belittling. We do not resist those we disagree with by walking out and walking away. We do not resist those we disagree with by responding in kind. We resist those we disagree with by loving them…
We love those we disagree with by refusing to give up. We love those we disagree with by refusing to let them have the last word. We love those we disagree with by staying engaged.
We love those we disagree with by continuing to be the counter-voice. We Love God. We Love our Neighbors. We Love Ourselves. By refusing to let hate and exclusion and indifference have the final word…
Of all that guides us, all that limits us, divides us, connects us, holds us apart, and links us together. So many things to turn us on one another. So many issues to separate us: hostile words, accusation, verbal and physical attack. There is that part of me who knows we are weary, tired of the conflict. Disagreement is inevitable… hate, bigotry, and vitriol is not. It is possible to live in the same world, the same house, the same country, the same church and not agree. If we are committed to truly be open to one another, we know the starting point. We know the foundation. We know the ground of our being. Perhaps we have forgotten.
Love is the Way.
Love, true love, the Divine Love that lives and grows in each and every one of us is a love that is willing to be vulnerable and live in the tension of disagreement and challenge. This Divine Love in which we are immersed, this Divine Love in which and to which we strive and journey, is a transforming presence for all of us to Love God. To Love our Neighbor. To Love Ourselves.
To never give up on any of these three is to Love One Another. Every. Single. Other. Until there are no others, only one beloved community of all. And at the end of the journey may we all hear those words… You are not far from the Kindom of God.
May it be so. May it be soon.