28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
- A week or so ago, we began to work with the theme “What is the Least I can believe and still be a Christian.” What we are doing is looking at the many basic Christian beliefs and I am using a book by the same name “What is the Least I can believe and still be a Christian” by Martin Thielen. Actually, this is a very challenging topic as we do have to seek to answer some questions that always seem to surface as we think about and act on our Christian faith.
- Our first effort at this was to
examine the basic issues with “old time religion” that has caused many 21st
century people to move away from church and basic Christian beliefs.
- I think that we all can remember the many times that we saw, in the name of Christian religion, people relegated to lower status.
- It happened in the times of slavery and it happens today in racial and gender biases.
- No wonder people are fleeing from the churches.
- In many ways the UMC is struggling to adjust to the 21st century.
- In order to get us started into the theme of the book, I would like of us to do two things today: ponder who Jesus is and second what is the priority of Jesus that we must take up.
- Pause: Let’s look at who Jesus is!
- Many people have a superficial view and understanding of who Jesus is. Many of us can only say some very basic descriptive adjectives: “a nice guy, a prophet, some ancient man who died” and so on.
- One of the basic parts of understanding who Jesus is fundamental to the Christian belief.
- We have a short video clip of a 2006
trailer to the movie Talladega (tal-a
dega) Nights. Here is some background before I show the clip: Ricky Bobby
(played by Will Ferrell) is a very successful NASCAR racer – won $20M from the
last season races. The dinner includes his best friend Cal, his wife Carley,
two young sons and Carley’s father. The dinner consists of Domino’s pizza, KFC
chicken and Taco Bell. Before they eat, Rickey offers grace:
- A word to the wise – don’t laugh to much – you may get indigestion!
- Tim, please play the clip.
- Now you have to admit that this
prayer is quite stupid and inane.
- We heard adjectives describing Jesus as: “golden-fleeced diapers, Jesus in a tuxedo T shirt, Jesus as a ninja fighting off evil”
- The most important question that Christian believers need to answer is, not What career should I choose? Or Who should I marry? Or Am I financially secure? Instead the most important question is : Who is Jesus Christ to me?
- Peter answers the question when Jesus
asks him “Who do you say I am? – Jesus says: You are the Christ, the Son of the
living God! Peter claims that Jesus is far more than a good man, a wise teacher
or even a prophet of God – Jesus is:
- The messiah
- The Savior of Humanity
- Jesus liberates us from our sins, death and hopelessness.
- Your answer to the question of “who is Jesus to you?—is a statement of faith.
- Even though I have had some doubts
about who Jesus is along my faith walk,
- Following Jesus has transformed my life and continues to give transformation to it.
- Jesus gives my life meaning and direction and purpose.
- Jesus gives me courage and strength for living.
- Jesus gives he hope for life and hope for even death.
- So, with this statement of faith in Jesus, let’s look at what priority Jesus assigns to us — “what matters most?”
- In our passage from Mark this morning, a scribe comes near and poses the question to Jesus. “Which commandment is first of all?”
- Whatever motivated the question, Jesus answers very forthrightly: “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” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- These answers were not particularly
radical or new within Jesus’ Jewish tradition.
- The bit about loving God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, that was in one of the prayers that observant Jews recited every day in Jesus time, and still do today in our time.
- And the love of one’s neighbor as one’s self, that too is drawn from the Jewish law, from a passage found in Leviticus and highlighted by the rabbis and scholars down through the ages.
- Jesus put the two together — to set his priority for us.
- This set of commands—love God and
love neighbor and do so fully— probably sounds like old-hat to many of us who
have been around church for any length of time.
- They probably even have an air of familiarity to most people who haven’t been involved in church or to people not in active faith practice.
- But don’t let that fool us into
taking these things for granted.
- The American society around us may think that these commands sound familiar, but that doesn’t mean that it promotes them.
- We have the insatiable drive for consumer consumption,
- Right now the hostile climate in our nation’s political discourse.
- Many of American people are tolerant or even outright supportive of agendas built on prejudice and racism and all sorts of other fear-mongering against our neighbor…
- But to us sitting in the pews, no matter how familiar these things sound, let us not presume that we have already arrived.
- Even we here in the church we fall into a bit of amnesia, failing to remember that Jesus lifted up both love of God and love of neighbor as the foremost gifts of God’s commandments to us.
- We on the typically are often fond of looking down on those we presume to be so focused on the loving God part that they lose sight of the loving neighbor part or get trapped in a too-narrow view of who their neighbor is.
- But we ourselves, sometimes, we can get so focused on loving our neighbor that we lose sight of the loving God part—forsaking any sense of spirituality or obligation beyond that of our neighbor.
- At their core, these commandments are all about relationship, relationship with God and relationship with others. They are Jesus’s way of addressing that question of what matters most, of what the point of it all is.
- Now, if we are honest, when we hear this core commandment named by Jesus, we should know ourselves both simultaneously judged and gifted. In that way, we are like the Israelites returned from Exile in the reading from Nehemiah, the ones who stood in holy assembly as the Torah, the law, the command of God that called them into being as God’s people, was reintroduced to them.
- We, like them, might weep for a moment in recognition of how we have fallen short of the commandment—how we have not loved God with our whole heart and not loved our neighbor as ourselves… how we have thereby sinned against God “in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done and what we have left undone.”
- I know that this is not new to you. It’s actually quite elementary — it’s Theology 101, the ABC’s of Christianity.
- But do not be fooled by its
simplicity. Jesus’ greatest priority for our lives is radically different from
what our culture teaches us.
- All the things we worry about such as houses. Stock portfolios, physical health, beauty, social status and career success are minor issues according to Jesus.
- For Jesus, the bottom line is love of God and neighbor.
- And it takes years and many false starts to really be able to live the greatest commandment.