|Text: Mark 12:29-30
A teacher of the Law asked Jesus, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus replied, "The most important one is this: "Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.í The second most important commandment is this: "Love your neighbour as you love yourself."
From almost the time Jewish children are able to talk they are taught the Shema. We heard it in the first reading this morning. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deut 6:4,5). These words are central to the faith of the people of Israel. In contrast to the many gods of the nations around them, there is only one true God Ė the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Shema is a statement of what they believed.
The God of Israel is king and ruler over the universe.
He is their saviour who rescues them from their enemies.
He is their Lord who watches over them, protects them and guides them Ė he is their shepherd and he provides everything they need.
He is the one who leads his people, loves them, disciplines them, provides security and strength in times of danger, and enables them to endure even when their lives are threatened.
During the Holocaust and various periods of persecution in history it is this statement of faith that has enabled them to withstand so much evil and destruction of human life. Every and morning and every evening, on special occasions, in a personís dying moments and in the synagogue, they boldly stated,
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one".
Who God is and all that God does is not to be ignored or taken for granted. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength". Note the complete dedication and commitment that is indicated by the word Ďallí. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength".
In the second reading Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is and he repeats what he had learnt as a child and still believed as an adult. He states that loving God with everything that you have and all that you are, is the most important rule and then adds that a commandment that is equally important is, "Love your neighbour as you love yourself".
Why does Jesus add these words to the Shema of Deuteronomy and say that there is no other commandment more important than to love God and love your neighbour selflessly and sacrificially? You see, he wanted to make sure that it was quite clear what it meant to say that God is your Lord and to place him as your first priority in amongst all the other things that have a claim on your time and energy and physical resources.
Worship, prayer, singing his praises, studying the scriptures, avoiding situations that could lead us to sin, and giving God all the honour that is due to him is an important part of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind. At various times, people have taken this so seriously that they have locked themselves away in monasteries; lived in solitude in caves or in the desert so that they could focus on loving God through worship, prayer, self-denial and shutting themselves off from as many temptations as possible.
Jesus doesnít deny that the way to love and honour God is through worship, prayer and study of the Bible but he says there is more. To love, trust and honour God also means to love your neighbour as you love yourself. Honouring God is not simply a matter of religious devotion and pious thoughts and feels. It isnít just a matter of going to church services and knowing your Bible back to front. Loving God also involves us in the life of the people around us. It involves loving others with all our heart, soul and mind. In fact, it is impossible to love God and at the same time ignore the needs of the people whom God places in our lives. Being a Christian is not a private individual thing that has no effect on what we do Ė quite the opposite is the case in that it changes the way we regard others and their needs. Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
In Lukeís Gospel Jesus follows this discussion on what is the most important commandment with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The story is about the man lying dying on the roadside having been beaten up by robbers. The first two people to pass by are good religious people who worship, pray and avoid sin as much as possible but they fail to really show how much they love God and how God's love has affected them. They observe the manís plight, ignore his need and walk away. A Samaritan comes down the road and he is the person least likely to stop and help because of the animosity between Jews and Samaritans. He stops. It cost him time and money but he helped. He loved God with all his heart, soul and mind and loved this man as much as he loved himself.
We read in the Bible, "This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for others! If we Ö see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God?" (1 John 3:16-17). Notice how John connects loving God to loving others. He states that if we love God then it should be obvious in the way we love others.
The apostle Paul wrote to the early Christian congregations and in almost every case he had to remind the people about all this. He told them in no uncertain ways that being loved by God and showing love for God means to -
stop letting your anger cause you to hurt someone;
stop stinging one another with harmful words;
stop letting the devil take over your life Ė
instead let the Holy Spirit control everything you say and do.
Thatís not easy to do! And we could easily become depressed about how much we let sin take control and how often we fail to show love but the Holy Spirit points us back to the cross of Jesus. He reminds us that Christ came to deal with our sin and to free us from our loveless actions and words. He came to set us free and give us fresh opportunities to love God by loving one another.
There is no shortage of occasions where we can show love. We can start right here this morning at this Novemberfest Ė talking to someone we donít know very well, listening to their stories, enquiring about their health, their family or whatever. Spend a bit of time letting others get to know you and the kind of person you are, what your interests are.
Letís not be afraid to talk to a stranger;
we are all friends;
we are all loved by the same God and Saviour.
May we love as deeply and as passionately and as truly as Jesus loves us.
© Pastor Vince
1st November 2009