Sermon ~ Sunday, February 25th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
Seven Essential Questions: What Matters Most?
Continuing with our “Seven Essential Questions” based on Pastor Martin Thielen’s “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian”, today’s question is simply, “What Matters Most?” Of all the things we discuss and do as people of faith what is it that is of first importance?
In our Gospel reading this morning, a teacher of the law or “scribe” comes up to Jesus with a pretty straightforward question, “Which commandment is the first of all?” In a way similar to the question we are asking today, “What matters most?”
First, a bit of back ground and context: just prior to this particular scribe approaching Jesus, Jesus had been confronted by three rounds of questioners that were not, let’s just say, as genuine in their motives!
First came the “chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders” we find this back in chapter 11 verse 27. They want to challenge Jesus’ authority. So they ask, “By what authority do you do these things? (Healings, forgiving of sins, overturning of the money-changer’s tables in the temple) And who gave you such authority?” Jesus in turn asks them a question about John’s baptism and this has them arguing with each other.
Then came the Pharisees and the Herodians (Herodians were a sect of Greek speaking Jews who were supporters of the Herod family/dynasty.) They came with the question of whether Jews should pay taxes to Caesar or not. All this in an attempt to put Jesus in a difficult position and either have the people turn on him or find a good reason to have him arrested.
And thirdly, we have the Sadducees, a more conservative group within Judaism. So conservative, because there is no mention of it in the Torah, they didn’t believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees come to Jesus with this fictitious scenario about a woman who marries, and her husband dies. She remarries her husband’s brother according to the Levirate law who also dies. In turn each of the brothers marry her and they all die, seven of them. And so, Sadducees ask, “Who will she be married to in the resurrection?” Can you hear the absurdity of this farce? First, they don’t even believe in the resurrection, so what is the big deal? Secondly, what are the chances of seven husbands dying? Again, it was all done as a means to try to trick Jesus into saying something that would have the crowd turn on him.
So, after these confrontations comes a teacher of the law who seems to be genuinely interested in what Jesus thinks. He had heard Jesus answering all these others and thought he had handled himself quite well.
I also can imagine Jesus being rather grateful for this person. At last here is someone who seems to be sincere, really seeking truth.
“So, Jesus,” he enquires, “Of all the commandments, what do you think is the most important?”
Without hesitation, Jesus responds with the Shema, Deuteronomy 6: 4-5. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength.”
But he doesn’t end there, he goes on to say, “And there is another, love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Some think that here we have another example of Jesus taking his teaching beyond the law, beyond the ways of Judaism. Such as when Jesus taught, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you . . .” But this isn’t the case. Right there in the middle of the Mosaic Law, Leviticus 19:18, God instructs Moses to tell the people “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Jesus seeks to remind this earnest fellow that the love of God and love of neighbor together capture the essence and express the greatest concern of God’s commandments. Taken together, these teachings from Deuteronomy and Leviticus underscore the interconnected relationships between one’s self, God and neighbor that permeate the Biblical tradition and that will serve in turn as the foundation of Jesus’ vision for the kingdom of God.
In short: what matters most is relationships!
Our relationship with God and with neighbor.
Some may not be comfortable with the language of relationship, as in, perhaps our uncomfortableness with the person who talks about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the difference it has made in her/his life. And while this may not be language we use, to be in relationship is what God seeks from us. It is what we really need the most in life, whether we are fully aware of it or not. All other relationships outside of love of God and neighbor will never completely satisfy. Or perhaps better said, all other things we seek to have a relationship with cannot fill the void that only God can. We talked some about this at our Lenten study on the Red-Letter words of Jesus, especially on materialism. No other relationship will in the end truly satisfy.
As the famous passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions claims, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
“Okay Pastor.” you’re probably thinking, “How do I love God with heart, soul, mind and strength? I can see loving neighbor, having a relationship with another physical human being or even a pet, but God is a bit more abstract!”
Good question and I think some of the answer lies in what Jesus said after he had washed his disciples’ feet. He said this to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35)
And also what the author of 1 John echoes in his letter: (1 John 4: 20-21)
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
To be in a relationship with God means being in relationship with neighbor.
This is the what of our question, as in “What matters most?” Relationships.
It the “where” question that may be just as important, that really brings it home.
Where do we see this love of God in love of neighbor being lived out in our midst?
We see it every time, I see it every time, I hear of you going to Boulder Park, Georgia House, Grand View, American House. Sure, sometimes you are going there to visit a loved one, but you don’t limit yourself to kin alone. That simple “Hello” to the woman in the wheel chair, taking the moment to sit with the man left by himself after all the other diners have returned to their apartments or rooms.
Greeting someone with a “How is your day going?” and pausing enough to really listen.
The touch of an arm, touching is so important. Like the rest of us these folks want to be acknowledged and a person of worth.
The time you spend assisting people shop at the Food Pantry, but more than this, it is the conversations you have with them. Again, the listening. We all want to be heard, acknowledged.
The extra effort it takes to get up early to prepare for the Community breakfast. And the visiting around the tables. I’ve personally seen how people are greeted when they walk into the breakfast. I’ve seen their faces light up when their name is called out and “It’s good to see you.” Or “We missed you last week.” And by the way, the breakfast may be held at the Community Reformed Church, but it is a community effort with many different churches involved.
The hours you spend at the Rainbow Shoppe, the lives you touch, not just through the funds raised and the countless ways this makes a difference in our community but also through the relationships you build with shoppers and other volunteers.
In all of these and countless more Jesus could just as well be saying to you as he did to this scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Because the kingdom is about relationships: with God, with neighbor, with the God we see and love in neighbor.
Audio Version is below, please note that the Audio and Video vary from the written sermon as it was an interactive service on this day. Enjoy and God Bless!
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