1st Sunday of the Kingdom
Readings: Deuteronomy 6. 1-9; Psalm 119. 1-8; Hebrews 9. 11-14; Mark 12. 28-34 (view all)
I have a real problem with writing long sentences. Particularly when I was studying for ordination, I used to ask my wife Amy to proofread my essays, and she’d often have to cut down the huge sentences I’d written which were sometimes three or four lines long. It was always a difficult process having to choose what to prioritise, what to keep and what to cut out.
In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus is asked to choose which commandment, which part of the Jewish law, comes first. Which is the most important? How can all of it, the law, the prophets, the way of God’s Kingdom, be summed up in one simple message?
As we enter Kingdom season this year — what can we learn from Jesus’ response about what it means to live as God’s people, and to be his Church today?
In many ways today’s sermon could be very short and sweet — we are probably all familiar with Jesus response, often called the greatest commandment or commandments:
Jesus says, ‘Love God and love your neighbour.’ — so just go and do it. Amen.
And yet, the reality is that these are incredibly simple words to say, but incredibly difficult, some would argue impossible, words to live. As Christians, we can so often make our faith incredibly complicated — we build up complex theological ideas, write elegant and complicated services and flowery prayers, and these things can be wonderful, but they aren’t essential, and can sometimes obscure the very essential, simple heart of our faith.
As the scribe responds to Jesus:
You are right, teacher… this is more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.
In other words, all our complex acts of worship, our prayers, our sermons, our robes and vestments, our buildings, are worthless unless we get the heart of our faith right.
It’s all too easy to find ourselves arguing over finance, or style of worship, or whatever complicated issue is bothering us as a church, and in the process lose sight of loving God and placing him first. It’s all too easy to busy ourselves getting on with everything that needs doing, and in the process we treat those around us like rubbish.
So while the Greatest Commandment is certainly simple, it is far from easy. In fact it requires from us the profound commitment to service and sacrifice that Mark has been pointing us towards all year as we’ve journeyed through his Gospel.
Jesus was able to embody God’s command to love perfectly, in the way in the way he surrendered himself entirely to his Father’s will, in the way he came to serve and not be served, in the way he gave himself for us on the cross. As our reading from Hebrews tells us, it is through Jesus, his perfect life and his perfect sacrifice, that our guilty consciences are purified, and we are set free to live this new way of life, loving God fully and loving our neighbours.
This is what the Kingdom of God is all about — about loving, honouring, glorifying God with all we are, and treating others as beloved neighbours, all deserving our compassion and service.
Will we allow Jesus this morning to strip away the added layers of our faith, in order to reveal the simple, essential heart — a loving relationship with our creator God? Will we re-commit ourselves to love our neighbour — to make compassion and care of one another our top priority?
How can we embody these Greatest Commandments, making them our guiding principle in all we do, ‘at home and when [we are] away, when [we] lie down and when [we] rise’?
There’s a really interesting book I read once by an American author, with a provocative title: When Bad Christians happen to Good People. It’s all about how sometimes we can get so caught up in being ‘good Christians’ that we forget to love others. In it, the author writes this:
‘I am praying that God will help me see every person as having value in God’s eyes. When someone cuts me off in traffic, I need to remember that Christ died for that person. When people irritate me or are rude, I try to think that they were created in the image of God and they just need a little image makeover at this moment. When I engage in people-watching, I try to breathe prayer for them instead of critiquing their clothing. I do not always pull this off, but meditating on grace has begun to change how I view people.’
Jesus says, ‘Love God and love your neighbour’ — May we go and live it.
Almighty and eternal God,
you have kindled the flame of love
in the hearts of the saints:
grant to us the same faith and power of love,
that, as we rejoice in their triumphs,
we may be sustained by their example and fellowship;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
grant this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,
be the kingdom, the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.