Summary: Jesus gives his disciples and his church one mission--to love God with all our heard, and to love our neighbor. This is a mission lived daily--that takes a lifetime to fulfill.
Mark 12:28-34 “People with a Mission”
I used to think that I was the only Kevin Ruffcorn in the United States and perhaps the world. Several years ago, to my surprise, I learned that there was another Kevin Ruffcorn in Texas. About that same time I received a copy of the Ruffcorn genealogy and discovered that my family was much bigger than I had thought. We are by no means as big a family as the Smiths, Johnsons, Gomez’, or Lees. Still, there are several hundred of us, and it has been fun and interesting to become acquainted with some of my relatives. We have unknowingly developed some similarities along with the expected differences.
Today is All Saints Sunday. Around the world the Christian Church is celebrating our extended family. We are more than Desert Streams Lutheran Church, the Grand Canyon Synod, or even the ELCA. We are the people of God, and we rejoice that our brothers and sisters in Christ encompass the world. We are the body of Christ and we celebrate all the fingers and toes, hands and feet, arms and legs, who have blazed the trail before us, who now journey with us, and who will someday follow in our footsteps.
We are the family of God who are extraordinarily diverse, while at the same time similar in many ways. We are not only united by “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” we are also similar in our purpose and mission in life. We see these similarities in the gospel reading for today—the story of the man who asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment.
THE GREAT COMMAND
Part of life is encountering people who have beliefs, ideas, lifestyles and a host of other items that are diametrically opposed to us. We may not like these people—they are simply too different—but we can still respect them and admire their skills or gifts. Barak Obama and John McCain at times voiced respect and even admiration for their opponent during the campaign—something that their followers were hard pressed to do. Though you may be disgusted with Brett Farve for his retired/not retired shenanigans, you’ve got to admit that the man can lead a team and through a football.
As we enter into the story, a scribe—Jesus’ opposition—approaches Jesus. He has been impressed with how Jesus has answered his adversaries, even though he holds vastly different beliefs from Jesus. He asks a question of Jesus out of curiosity instead of trying to trick him. “What is the greatest commandment?” he asks. Jesus’ answer might have surprised him.
Jesus answers from the Old Testament, with a saying that is quoted by Jews every morning. The Jews understood that these words defined who they were. They were God’s people who were called to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves. This was both their mission and goal in life.
These words have become the goal and mission of the Christian Church and the people who boldly say they are children of God and the body of Christ. If you boil down all the “shoulds” of our lives—we should go to church more often, give more, serve more, pray more—they would boil down to these words. We as Christians are called to love God with all of our hearts, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
There is a fundamental difference, though, between the scribe’s keeping the greatest commandments and Christians keeping the same commandments.
WORK OR RESPONSE
The scribe agrees with Jesus’ answer. Jesus responds that he is not far from the kingdom of God. Jesus may be affirming that the scribe is closer than his colleagues because he understands that God desires love rather than mere religiosity. He might also be fooling with the scribe—knowing that he, Jesus, is the kingdom of God and the scribe is physically standing close to him.
Near misses are counted in horseshoes, but that’s about the only game that deals with the concept of “almost.” If a person is hanging on to a life preserver for dear life, there is a vast difference from being saved and almost being saved. Theologically speaking, we don’t have a concept for “almost.” Salvation is like being pregnant, you either are saved or you’re not saved.
The scribe is acting from the understanding that God has made a conditional covenant with the Jews. If the Jews (and the scribe) love God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength, then God will be their God. If the keep God’s commandments and are good, religious people, then they will be saved.
Christians approach the greatest commandment from a different point of view. Because of what Jesus did on the cross—dying for our sins, giving us victory over sin, death and the devil, and opening a new life and a new relationship with God, our salvation is assured and God’s love is unconditional. Certainly we seek to keep these commandments, but they are not the basis of our relationship with God.