Delight in God’s Word!

“Delight in God’s Word!”

Psalm 119:9-16 (119:11) – March 24, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 5)

            I have been fascinated by Psalm 119 for decades. Since I was a teenager, in fact. These many verses describe what so many seek – a close relationship with God through God’s Word. Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in our Bible book of Psalms, and an acrostic psalm. That means that each group of eight verses begins with the same Hebrew letter. In verses 9-16, each verse begins with the second letter “B” or “bet” in Hebrew.  

What’s more, this psalm is all about God’s Word – the Bible. This psalm uses many instructive and innovative descriptions of speaking, meditating, pondering and just plain reading the Bible. One of the first verses I ever memorized as a teen is found here, in Psalm 119:11 – “Thy Word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” (King James version)

A helpful way for me to consider these verses is to focus on the verbs: how does the psalmist ask us to think about the Word of God? Bible commentator Joan Stott broke the verbs down into three sections, the past tense, present tense and future tense. (Such wise assistance.) First, the present tense: verse 12. “I praise You, Lord.” That is a continuous song of praise! Hebrew has a continuous action for the present tense, and this is it! I’ve been trained as a musician, and Nancy is a professional musician, too. Praising God with music can be amazing!

The church musician Johann Sebastian Bach inscribed almost every piece of music he ever wrote with the initials “SDG,” or Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory. That is what Bach intended for all of his glorious music – that it glorify God alone. And then, the second half of verse 12 is “teach me Your laws.” Again, “teach” is in the present tense. Continuous action! We need to be taught (or, reminded) about God’s Word, regularly.

            Then, the past tense. As Stott says, “The past tense section of these verses can also teach us more about reflecting on and confessing our sin; and praying for God’s help to overcome these temptations. “…I have tried hard to find you – don’t let me wander from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”  [1]

            We need to keep trying, keep striving to find God. One of my all-time favorite hymns has the lines “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, / Prone to leave the God I love.” “Come, Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing” is a gentle reminder that we do need to keep following, and to ask God for help when you and I are prone to wander.

             “The future tense section of verses is about the various commitments we make to God—but do we keep them? “…I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways. I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word…” [2] Ahh. I find myself reflected in this section, more than I would like. I do not study God’s Word much now. (I confess.) Yes, I do reflect on it, but I don’t dig in and truly study hard. I used to! But now, not as often.

            However, there is the verb “delight.” This is a word we all can choose to do. And, God will be so pleased when we delight in God’s Word! We have such wonderful verses to reflect upon. Not only in Psalms, but in Isaiah, and sprinkled in the historical books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Large parts of the New Testament are a delight and comfort for us to read, too. This is what God wants us to do, you understand! Psalm 119 is a wonderful place to start, too.

            Delight is joy, satisfaction, enchantment, or even glee. We are invited to love God, and sing praises to God’s name! Have you delighted in the Lord lately? And if not, why not start now? Plus, perhaps we can memorize a verse or two, and hide God’s Word in our hearts, too. That will please God so much, too. Amen!


[1] http://www.thetimelesspsalms.net/w_resources/lent5b_2018.htm

The Timeless Psalms: Psalm 119:9-16, Joan Stott, prayers and meditations based on lectionary Psalms, 2018.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Do What to Enemies?

“Do What to Enemies?”

Luke 6-35 love enemies, bible

Luke 6:27-38 (6:27-28) – February 24, 2019

Throughout history, we can trace many battles between enemies. I don’t mean outright war, like between armies with guns and tanks and bombs, but enemies, nevertheless. Serious sports rivalries can turn ugly, like soccer hooligans causing fistfights and even rioting. Factions and strife in a town can cause a cohesive neighborhood to break up. And in recent times, political differences can cause serious rifts between former friends. Deep tension even makes family members stop speaking to each other, sometimes for years.

What is this corrosive feeling between enemies? Some say envy, others say fear, others say hatred, plain and simple. Which brings us to the Gospel. What does Jesus say about enemies?

But, first we need to back up, and remind ourselves of what came just before. Or rather, what we heard last week. Just a reminder that Luke chapter 6 contains much of the same information that Jesus preached in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—leading off with the Beatitudes—is summarized in about one third of the space, right here. In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

Jesus said a lot of controversial things, a lot of which got Him into serious hot water. But, “love your enemies” was a particularly troublesome statement.

The country of Israel was under occupation. Just imagine occupied France or the Netherlands during World War II. The hated Romans were Israel’s overlords, and the whole country had to pay Roman taxes. Essentially, paying tribute to Caesar and his armies. The Roman soldiers threw their weight around, and it was backed up by the threat of force of arms. In other words, Roman garrisons were stationed in towns throughout Israel, keeping the populace in line and making certain there was order in Rome’s occupied territory.

Somehow, I doubt whether the Rabbi Jesus scored many points with either the Jewish leaders or the Jewish people by preaching about loving their enemies.

Sharp divisions have come up from time to time in the modern day, too. Think back several decades, to the 1960’s. A sharp debate over civil rights tore our country apart, much like certain political stands do today.

Let’s think about that debate concerning civil rights. This is February, Black History Month. Black leaders protested, held sit-ins, and even marched on Washington in August 1963, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the famous “I have a dream” speech. But many Americans at that time did not agree with civil rights, or with blacks and other people of color receiving equal treatment under the law, or equal treatment in general society.

Remember the race riots around the country, and here in Chicago. The National Guard needed to be sent in a number of situations to keep the peace. A great divide was evident in our country throughout the 1960’s, and my retired professor Ken Vaux and Pastor Gordon Smith were among those allies who stood with the black protestors.

Many people on both sides of that political divide would say that they were sincere, devout Christians. Christians who probably would hear sermons on Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain from time to time in their churches.

Wait a minute. People on both sides of the civil rights issue? Sincere, devout Christians? Well, yes. Yes, they were.

Let’s get back to Jesus, preaching the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. He challenges the crowd. “He says the shocking phrase, ‘Love your enemies.’ What?! He doesn’t just tell us to listen to them. We are to love them!….Some must have decided that they were not ‘willing to hear’ and walked away with their heads full of questions. Others began to work on the bargain. Which enemy might they “love” without risking their own position? Others tried to imagine how they could love their enemies.” [1]

How can anyone do this seemingly impossible stuff Jesus told us to do?

First, Jesus does not ask our opinion. He doesn’t check in with us and see whether we agree with Him. His words are not an option. “Love your enemies.” “He is talking about the Kingdom of God, where love is the rule, not an eye for an eye.” [2] What did Gandhi say of that bloodthirsty comment? “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Let’s hear the next few verses: “32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” Wouldn’t you expect yourself to be loving, caring and generous? Don’t we all think of ourselves in a positive light, as Jesus suggests here?

Not so fast. Jesus does not let anyone off easily. He holds us all to a high standard. These verses have “examples of ways we should be generous and loving, expecting nothing in return. In fact, Jesus tells us (if we are willing to hear), ‘If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended?’ We are to ‘Be compassionate just as [God] is compassionate.’ Everything about this way of being in the world goes against the ways of the world. It is so counter-cultural that we may not be willing to hear.” [3]

So, what ought we to do when we encounter an enemy?

It could be meeting a real White Sox fanatic, when your family has been Chicago Cubs fans for generations. Or, at this local election time of the year, it could be sitting at the lunch table or the senior center with someone who vocally supports someone from the opposite political party.

Dr. Margaret Ann Crain, a retired professor from my seminary, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, tells the following story. “Many years ago, when I was first employed by a congregation as an educator, I was appalled by the resistance that came from some members of the church. They made a show of walking out on the pastor when he began to preach each Sunday. They tried to stir up support for their point of view whenever the church council had a decision to make. I confess: I did not love them! But I also did not ever ask them to explain their point of view. They were enemies, and I didn’t listen to them. As I look back now, 40 years later, I really regret that response. If I had listened to them, I could have become more compassionate and understanding. They were faithful church members all their lives. I suspect that they had some faith-filled reasons for their resistance. Clearly, their methods were poorly chosen. Yet, they may have had important lessons that all of us needed to hear. I will never know because I did not love my enemies. I was not willing to hear what Jesus has to say to us today. Are you?” [4]

What do we do when we meet someone who disagrees with us vehemently? Jesus says in verse 31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We are asked to do what to our enemies? Love them. We are told to treat others—all others—how? As we wish to be treated. Period. Jesus said it, and it is not an option.

Is this difficult? Well nigh impossible! Except—with God’s help. So help us God, help us love our enemies. Help us love them as we love You, and treat our enemies as we wish to be treated.

Amen, alleluia.

 

(Many thanks to Dr. Margaret Ann Crain and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-24-seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Compassion? Go and Do Likewise

“Compassion? Go and Do Likewise”

Luke 10-37 good-samaritan, line drawing

Luke 10:25-37 (10:37) – September 3, 2017

A good number of years ago, my husband and I attended a large church. This church had a great number of activities, classes and ministries. One of the classes that I enjoyed attending was one particular adult Sunday school class. In this class, there were a number of middle-aged and older adults, some of whom really enjoyed discussing and arguing together about the finer points of the Bible. Some of these people were really knowledgeable about Scripture, about archeology and about ancient culture, and they could argue their points to beat the band. Did I mention that a number of them were lawyers?  People who were well trained to argue and press their points firmly. Even pouncing upon and verbally trapping their adversaries.

While I enjoyed this verbal sparring on occasion, this got a bit tiresome. Instead of huddling together, talking among ourselves inside a church classroom, I wanted to go out into the community and talk with others about the love of God. I wanted to show people how much God loves them.

That’s the situation in the Gospel of Luke. The Rabbi Jesus was having another one of His religious conversations, about the finer points of the Mosaic Law Code. Yes, Jesus knew the Law of Moses backwards and forwards. He knew the Hebrew Scriptures intimately. Yet, so did many of the religious leaders who asked Jesus question after question. Especially this religious lawyer who asked Jesus several questions. I believe this lawyer was well trained to argue and press his points firmly. Even pouncing upon and verbally trapping his adversaries.

I love this compassion series that I have been using for our summer sermon series. The Illustrated Children’s Ministry has done a tremendous job of translating the weekly Bible passages into an understandable story that anyone can understand. I bet we all know passages from the Bible that are so difficult. Not these Scripture passages! These Bible translations are straightforward so that anyone from 5 to 95 can easily understand them.

Let’s listen to the beginning of Luke 10, starting at verse 25: “A man who knew a whole lot about religious laws came to Jesus with a question. He said, “Teacher, how do I really, truly, live with God?”

“Jesus asked him, “Well, what does God’s law say? How do you understand it?” The man answered him, “It says to love God, completely—with heart and soul and strength and mind—and to love your neighbor like your own self.” And Jesus said to him, “That’s it! Do that, and you’ll have the life you’re asking about.”

That’s the initial question the lawyer asks. How does he—how do we—really, truly, live with God? Jesus responds with the question, “What does God’s law say?”

I recently preached a sermon about this all-important two-part law: we love God completely, the vertical part of love, and we love our neighbor like our own selves, the horizontal part of love. That is distilling all of God’s many commands in the Bible down to the foundation, the very core of what God expects from us. That two-part command is enough for another sermon. Indeed, many sermons have been preached on this bible verse!

But, wait, there’s more. The religious lawyer wasn’t done with the Rabbi Jesus yet. He goes a step further, and asks another question. I am not certain whether he wanted to trick Jesus, and make Him trip up verbally, or whether the lawyer felt really convicted, and wanted to justify himself.

What does our Scripture passage say? “Still wondering, the man asked, “But who exactly is my neighbor?” And in response, Jesus told this story.”

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. A certain man—an anonymous, undefined man, so we are not sure where he fit in the social order—this man was beaten up and left for dead while he was traveling. He is identified only by what happened to him.

Two fellow travelers came upon him, on the side of the road. One was a priest, an important religious man. He looked at the hurt guy from a distance, and then turned and went on his way. The second was a Levite, another important lay leader at a synagogue. He also looked at the hurt guy from a distance. He, too, crossed to the other side of the road and passed by the guy who was lying in a ditch.

Both of these men were upstanding leaders in their communities. Both of them had significant stature. Both of them neglected this poor guy who was obviously in need of help. We are not told why, just that both of these very important people stopped, noticed the guy who was beaten up, and passed by on the other side of the road.

Now, the third man to pass by was a Samaritan. I don’t know whether you are aware of the fear and even hatred the Jewish people had for Samaritans. Think back a number of decades. Can anyone remember the fear and animosity parts of this country had for black people? How Jim Crow laws were firmly in place in large parts of the South? Let’s go back to World War II, and the perceptions of Germans, Italians, and Japanese in the United States. There was a great fear and animosity for these groups of people.

Now you might better understand the fear and hatred the Jewish people had for these half-breed Samaritans, supposed traitors to the people of Israel.

The third person to come upon the hurt man in Jesus’s story? He was indeed a Samaritan, and he did something none of Jesus’s listeners would expect. The Samaritan was kind to the hurt man.  As commentator David Lose tells us, “the Samaritan instead goes to him, and becomes vulnerable in that closeness. How often are we frightened to come close to others simply because we do not want to bear their pain, to be open to their need?” [1]

Most of the people listening to this story would have been enemies to the Samaritans, since Jews and Samaritans did not get along. How do you imagine the people Jesus was talking to felt when they heard this story of a Samaritan reaching out to help a Jew? Can we take this shocking story and move it to the present day? Are we shocked when we see a newspaper article or television news story about an observant Muslim man helping an elderly Orthodox Jew who has fallen and hurt himself on a busy sidewalk?

Again, are we frightened to come close to others simply because we are afraid of being open to their need? To their pain?

The Samaritan showed compassion by binding up the hurt man’s wounds, taking him to an inn and paying for the hurt man to stay there and recuperate. Compassion, indeed, is sympathy put into action. As I have been preaching each week this summer, God wants each of us to show compassion to others. Be kind, show mercy, be sympathetic. Just like the Samaritan.

We need to look at the end of the story from Luke 10. Then Jesus asked, “Who became a neighbor to the man who was attacked?” And the man with the questions said, “The one who had compassion for him.” Jesus said, “Go. Do that.”

I can just see the religious lawyer, shocked that the hated Samaritan is the good guy in this story of the Rabbi Jesus. His answer in response to “who became the neighbor?” The lawyer couldn’t even say “the Samaritan,” so he said “the one who had compassion.” Jesus speaks to us, just as strongly as He spoke to that lawyer so long ago. We are to have compassion, in exactly the same way.

“No one is beyond the reach of God’s love. No one. And so Jesus brings this home by choosing the most unlikely of characters to serve as the instrument of God’s mercy and grace and exemplify Christ-like behavior. That’s what God does: God chooses people no one expects and does amazing things through them. Even a Samaritan. Even our people. Even me. Even you.” [2]

What does Jesus say to the lawyer? What does Jesus say to us, today? “Go. Do that.” “Go, and do likewise.”

 

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-8-c-the-god-we-didnt-expect/  “The God We Didn’t Expect,” David Lose, in the Meantime, 2016.

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-8-c-the-god-we-didnt-expect/  “The God We Didn’t Expect,” David Lose, in the Meantime, 2016.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Love and Testing, in the Wilderness

“Love and Testing, in the Wilderness”

heart - conversation, be mine

Luke 4:1-13 – February 14, 2016

Today is Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, cards, chocolates, romantic meals, all the things! Almost anywhere you go this weekend, many stores, restaurants, and other public places are full of reminders that love is in the air. My husband and I went out for lunch yesterday at a small diner, and had a wonderful time. Good food, and excellent company. I also received a dozen pink roses from my sweetheart. Sound familiar? The giving and receiving of gifts, of hearts, and of love.

At first glance, we might consider today’s Gospel reading to be considerably off-topic. No mention of hearts and love at all. Luke 4 opens with our Lord Jesus, fresh from His baptism at the very beginning of His public ministry. We are told that the Holy Spirit leads Him into the wilderness, where Jesus fasts and prays for forty days.

We will come back to the topic of love, and how it ties into Jesus and the temptation. But first, Luke says Jesus went into the wilderness. Willingly! He was led there, and chose to go there. Not dragged unwillingly or half-heartedly.

The Gospels don’t tell us so, but other religious leaders went away to prepare themselves, to get ready for leadership. I suggest that that is exactly why Jesus withdrew to a private, far-away place. Just like several other situations, and other people in the Bible. I am thinking especially of Moses, on the mountain, when he received the tablets of the Ten Commandments. He, too, fasted. And, prepared himself for leadership of the people of Israel. I suggest that Jesus is doing the same.

This period of preparation involved fasting. Luke does not mention prayer here, but I cannot imagine Jesus going for days, much less weeks, without praying to His Heavenly Father. I’ve fasted a number of times, and fasting often sharpens the spiritual ears and sensitivities.

At the end of the fasting time, Jesus was hungry. The Gospel account says so! And, who shows up at that precise time? The Devil.

A pertinent illustration from a pastor? “In confirmation classes … at Grace Lutheran Church, [the pastor] teaches the students to take the letter, d, off the word, “devil,” and you get the word, “evil.” Evil is part of our lives and we face evil every day.” [1]

You might ask whether this really is a physical Devil, or whether it was a spiritual manifestation of evil. My answer? I do not know for sure.

However, I tend to stick with the actual physical Devil. The word used here, diabolos, implies the chief of the fallen angels. According to a well-respected commentary, “Luke consistently uses diabolos while Matthew mingles “Satan” and “devil” in his version of the story. Evil was conceived as a personal will actively hostile to God. (see Luke 13:16). The devil was in conflict with God’s purpose of salvation; he is the concern of Jesus’ saving activity.” [2]

I am going to go with the actual, physical Devil, the ruler of this fallen world. At the time that Jesus is physically very weak, the Devil shows up. And, he tempts Jesus, big time!

What on earth does this Gospel reading have to do with Valentine’s Day? What does it have to do with hearts, and with love? Stay tuned.

Here in my hands is a heart. A Valentine’s Day heart. I mentioned that my husband gave me a dozen lovely pink roses yesterday. I gave him a Valentine card that mentioned my heart. It said my heart belonged to my husband, my sweetheart.

Let’s go back to Jesus, and the Devil. The Devil was tempting Jesus in several important ways! First, he mentions Jesus’s hunger. How much more obvious could you get? “Come on, Son of God. You’re so hungry. You can do it. No one will ever see—You can turn these stones to bread. With just a snap of Your fingers or a wave of Your hand. You know You want to…”

What did the Devil want Jesus to do? To put His stomach first! Not God first, but Jesus’s own needs, wants and desires. The Devil was tempting Jesus with hunger.

What was Jesus’s response? He did not even waver: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Jesus was in the wilderness to prepare for leadership, and to do the will of God—not to be selfish and self-centered.

I suspect the Devil did not leave Jesus alone for a minute. Immediately after tempting Him with bread (or the possibility of bread), the Devil turns to another seductive temptation. Reading, starting at verse 5: “The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Jesus, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.”

Wow! Such a temptation! Jesus could take a big, huge short-cut. He could be king of the world immediately! He didn’t have to go through any unpleasant, uncomfortable pain and anguish. No unpleasantness, for years. No tramping through Israel, followed by a rag-tag bunch of disciples. Plus, Jesus knew He would make an absolutely wonderful King. How tempting!

But, no. No! Jesus knew that He would be forcing people to do things against their will. Jesus knew that many, many people would either be slaves or robots to Him. “I – love – you – because – I – am – programmed – to say – I – love – you.” No! Jesus didn’t want us to be slaves. He wanted our love – freely!

And, more, besides. How did Jesus answer the Devil? “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

The last temptation? “The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” (With the understanding that God’s angels would save Jesus at the last second.)

Whoa! What a spectacle! What a publicity stunt that would be! Can you imagine? Except with Jesus, it would be for real. His answer to the Devil? Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

This Valentine I’m holding represents Jesus’s heart. What did the Devil want Him to do, in all three of these temptations? The Devil wanted Jesus to put His heart somewhere else. Wanted Jesus to give His heart not to God the Father, but instead to stuff. To the cheers of the crowd. To food and satisfying His stomach. But, Jesus knew where His heart belonged. Jesus knew that His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, just like His love. .

As for us today, the Devil and the power of evil still keeps trying to pull us away from God. Evil wants to destroy us! Destroy our faith in God, our love for each other, and the goodness of God living in our hearts. But, if evil can cause us to be miserable and unhappy, if evil can make us forget God, that is the next best thing.

The Devil wants us to take our hearts away from God, and instead just give them to him. Or his minions. Or, to power, or money, or things. Just as long as our hearts and love are not directed to God! That is the Devil’s worst nightmare.

While He was here on earth, Jesus made sure His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, And, He advised us on where our hearts ought to be, too. Loving God.

This giant Valentine heart I’m holding is a conversation heart. Can we think of it as a Valentine from Jesus? On one side, it says “Be mine.” On the other, it says “I’m yours.”

Who—or what—do we give our hearts to?

 

[1] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_the_tempation_GA.htm Rev. Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church Des Moines, Washington 98198

[2] Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Study Hardback edition. London: Geoffrey Chapman 1995

I’d like to give a big thank you to Carolyn C. Brown for her wonderful worship ideas from Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

A Wise Answer

“A Wise Answer”

love God, love others

Mark 12:34 – November 1, 2015

Rule books are handy things to have around.

What about the rules of the road? Doesn’t it help everyone to know and understand the rules of driving? Plus, the rules of the road give us a handy guide for safe, reliable, consistent driving. Also, we can think of rules in sports; in football, baseball, hockey, and basketball, just to name a few. All of these rules help teams, individual players, and referees to understand what to do—and what not to do in a game.

Do you know one particular person who knows the rules of one particular sport backwards and forwards? I mean, this person can call balls and strikes faster than an umpire behind the plate. Or, can figure out exactly who went offside before a football snap, or when a player got fouled in a fast-moving hockey game? It doesn’t have to be one of these sports, but any sport. And, that person is really proud of their exceptional sports knowledge, too?

That’s a lot like the situation Jesus is dealing with. As one of the commentators said, “Throughout Mark’s Gospel, the scribes [and teachers] were always evaluating Jesus’ activities. They judged Jesus theologically.” The Rabbi Jesus and some high ranking teachers of the Law are having another in their series of continuing discussions. These teachers really enjoyed discussing the Law, and both the major as well as the minor points of Judaism. Some teachers would get all excited and rub their hands at the prospect of a good argument! I mean, discussion.

That’s where we pick up our thread of the narrative. Different rabbis or teachers had different opinions on what was the greatest of all commands. I am certain some of these teachers wanted to know what Jesus considered the “most important” of the 613 laws in the Mosaic law code, which was (and is) the official, orthodox Jewish rule book.

Jesus does not name one of the “big 10,” the Ten Commandments. Instead, He responds with the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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,” from Deuteronomy 6:5-6.

Are you familiar with the Jewish custom of the mezuzah, put on the doorpost of observant Jewish homes? I quote from www.chabad.org: “Regarding these words, G‑d has commanded us, “And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your home, and on your gates” (ibid., verse 9). Hence the mezuzah: a parchment scroll inscribed with the verses of the Shema prayer is affixed to the right doorpost of every room in a Jewish home.”

“Why a Mezuzah? In addition to its role as a declaration and reminder of our faith, the mezuzah is also a symbol of G‑d’s watchful care. The name of G‑d, Sha-dai, which appears on the reverse side of the parchment, is an acronym for the Hebrew words which mean ‘Guardian of the doorways of Israel.’ Placing a mezuzah on the doors of a home or office protects the inhabitants—whether they are inside or out.”

Just from this short excerpt from Chabad, an orthodox Jewish website, you can see how serious this was to the scribes and teachers of the Law, in Jesus’s day as well as today. So, yes. Keeping rules properly was really high on the observant Jew’s priority list.

Going back to Jesus, and His response, what IS the greatest commandment, anyway?

Jesus did say that the greatest command was the Shema, a basic, fundamental, foundational statement of faith. Love God. Period. This was also a standard daily prayer in Jewish tradition. I suspect everyone in the room with Jesus knew Deuteronomy 6:5-6 so well they could say it backwards, or in their sleep.

But, Jesus doesn’t stop there! No, He makes another definitive statement. “31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Did you follow that? Jesus made “the greatest command” into a two-part command.

Love God, love others. Two sides of the same coin.

Jesus quoted from another verse in the Hebrew Scriptures, Leviticus 19:18b. Yes, it was included in the Mosaic Law Code. In the Jewish rule book. Except this particular law wasn’t considered so all-important in Jesus’s day. That is, until Jesus reached back and pointed to it.

Love God, love others.

You’d better believe this two-part law applies to a modern world torn apart by arguments, resentments, mourning, sadness, bitterness, and downright hatred. Not to mention war, violence, drought, hunger, and natural disasters, just as much as it applied to similar situations in ancient times and places. Even though this modern world finds it difficult to come near to God, even to believe in the concept of a Higher Power; this two-part law still applies.

Yes, this two-part law also applies to us, today. I encourage us all to avoid the trap of thinking that those old stories from the Bible, and from the Gospels, just apply to those people, two thousand years ago. False! Wrong-er than wrong! Jesus’s words apply just as much to us, today. To modern people, running on the treadmill of our daily routines. Yes, us up-to-date folks, who don’t have time for God, or for church. “Don’t you know? My life is so full I won’t have time to make it to church this week.”

Love God, love others. Remember, these are the words of Jesus.

In this vignette from the Gospel of Mark, one particular scribe engages with Jesus. “Well done, Teacher!” the scribe responded. “You’re right when you said: ‘He is the only God and there is no other god besides him,’ ‘Love the God with everything you have,’ 33 and, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ Obeying these commandments is worth far more than all the worship in the Temple at Jerusalem!” These words are not combative, or argumentative. This scribe agrees with Jesus! The Gospel describes this teacher as sincere, affirming of Jesus and His statements. Plus, this teacher acknowledges that the institutional aspects of Jewish ritual and observance are less important, secondary to loving God and loving others. Isn’t it true that religious ritual so often gets in the way of truly loving?

This scribe, this important teacher of the Law gets where Jesus is coming from. Listen to what Jesus responds: “34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to [the teacher], ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”

Summary statement? “When we hear these words, we know that we are close to the center of Christianity, that we are close to the heart of God. The cross of Christ, the most important symbol of the Christian faith, has two dimensions: a vertical love to God and a horizontal love towards our neighbors.” (from a Gospel analysis by Edward Markquart)

The simplicity, truth and wisdom of love is at the heart of the Good News. Are there things we are engaged in right now that are secondary, less important that Jesus and His call to love God and love others? Think about it. If we truly love, what else is necessary?

Love God, love others. Jesus’s greatest command.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to Rev. Edward Markquart and http://www.chabad.org for their assistance in the formulation of this sermon!

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!