Sermon "A Great Command" audio at http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/110406Mark12.mp3
Our Lord, of your good pleasure, you have provided all of our needs according to your riches in glory through Christ Jesus. Show us how we also fit into your plan as you continue to give daily bread to people all around us. Amen.
We have two great commandments. We are to love the Lord our God – entirely and always. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. So as we look at this Gospel reading during this penitential season, we open ourselves to see ourselves as our Lord sees us.
First, love the Lord. Do we truly "fear, love and trust in God above all things"? What do we consider as a god, something to be served, something to motivate us, to guide our lives, that we should revere and worship? Do we trust in the true God? Do we trust in our own ability? Who is providing our daily bread? Who earned that diploma? Who made the money to buy that house or that car? Who is providing for our future? Whose name is on the retirement account? And whoever has a name on it, is that the person we're trusting? Or do we trust our employer? Maybe our government? Where do we find our security? Maybe we trust that the Lord will keep us as long as we have our job, our health, our family. What do we do when all that is taken away? What do we do when our community is ravaged by a natural disaster, when an epidemic strikes and half of our neighbors die, when our country is overrun by revolutionaries who burn all the homes of Christians? What will we do then? That's when we find out who we are serving. That's when we find out whether we fear, love and trust in God above all things. That's when we find out if we are loving the Lord, entirely and always.
May the Lord grant us repentance for trusting in ourselves. May he turn our hearts that we will look to him. May he grant us forgiveness and restoration, that we will look to him in hope, rather than to ourselves in selfish ambition.
But what's that second command, which is also so great? Love your neighbor as yourself. How do we love our neighbor? We see some examples, both positive and negative examples, in our Gospel reading today.
The scribes trust in doctrinal precision. Now doctrinal precision is a good thing. We don't want to scoff at it. We are called to reason together with the Lord. We are called to study and show ourselves approved. People who labor in the Word of God are affirmed in Scripture. We are to be fair minded like the Bereans who study the Scripture to see if the preaching is true or not. We should be doctrinally precise, as much as we can be, as often as we can be. There's nothing wrong with studying a good theology book or spending time making notes and outlining the Scripture passages you read. We want to look at God's Word very carefully and very frequently.
But does it end there? The scribes do all their study to be seen by the people around them. They want greetings in the marketplaces. They want to be honored. They want to be seen as holy. Yet they want to be honored because of their precision. They pursue all this study, all their scholarly exercises as just that, an exercise. That's a terrible misuse of time and effort. It's an abuse of God's Word. Do these seem like harsh words? After all, they are coming from someone who reads New Testament Greek fairly easily, from someone with a pretty good sized reference library (though it's mostly in boxes in the garage), and who has been working intensively with the Scriptures for some thirty years. You'd think I'd appreciate people studying the Scripture just to study it.
That isn't so. The study of the Bible which results only in doctrinal precision does no good whatsoever. In fact, it does harm to Christ's kingdom. It hinders people from hearing and receiving the life-giving words of God's grace, because it is tied up in correcting every little dot of their theology. It can bind burdens on people who will think they can't possibly understand the Bible so they throw up their hands and give up. It can result in a cold, unfeeling theological accuracy which has never given a cup of water to a thirsty person, which has never fed a hungry person, has never clothed the poor, and will never cross the street and stoop down to help a crying, lost child.
Proper study of Scripture drives us to care for our neighbors. Proper love for God drives us to minister to the needs of our neighbors. After all, that's just what God in Christ has done. He saw us, considered us his neighbors, and came to serve us. He saw our deepest need and came to meet it, since he was the one who could meet our need. He came to save, heal, and forgive. He loves us, his neighbors, and comes to us in our time of need. Our God delights in giving us our daily bread. And he does it through neighbors working in their vocations. He does it through us to other people as well. And he uses us to plant the seed of the Word of God in the hearts of our friends and neighbors. He uses us to nurture that faith that he is creating. He uses us to care for one another. He uses us, in short, to do almost all the good he's doing on this planet.
How does he do that? You don't have money enough to feed, clothe, and shelter all the poor. You don't have time to help all your neighbors with everything they could use help with. Not one of us has the resources. Neither did the widow in our Gospel passage this evening. She didn't have much. Most of us would look at her and say that she didn't have anything. She was living off her savings or what people gave her. And she didn't have much. But of what she had, she gave selflessly.
In her giving, did the widow provide anything that God didn't have? Not at all. It's a little bit like your child deciding to buy you a present so asking you for money. We don't give God anything he needs. He derives no benefit from our good works. But our neighbor does. Has the Lord blessed you to be able to provide something that your neighbor can use? Has the Lord blessed you with an opportunity to love your neighbor? You taking that opportunity is God's opportunity to love your neighbor through you.
Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor.
Our Lord, as you have preserved us, let us preserve others, providing them with what you have given us. Give us a heart to follow you. Forgive us where we have failed our neighbors. Use us in your kingdom to bring you delight. Amen.
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