Summary: This is a sermon the the Great Commandment with the thesis that one can not love God and yet hate people for whom Christ died. Love for humanity is proff of our love for God.
SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR AWAY
--by R. David Reynolds
In One Church from the Fence, Wes Seelinger writes: “I have spent long hours in the intensive care waiting room . . . watching with anguished people . . . listening to urgent questions: Will my husband make it? Will my child walk again? How do you live without your companion of thirty years?
“The intensive care waiting room is different from any other place in the world. And the people who wait are different. They can’t do enough for each other. No one is rude. The distinctions of race and class melt away. A person is a father first, a black man second. The garbage man loves his wife as much as the university professor loves his, and everyone understands this. Each person pulls for everyone else.
“In the intensive care waiting room, the world changes. Vanity and pretense vanish. The universe is focused on the doctor’s next report. If only it will show improvement. Everyone knows that loving someone else is what life is all about” [--Hugh Duncan Boise, Idaho. Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 1.]. In today’s text Jesus teaches us how to live this way before we find ourselves in the intensive care waiting room. Andrew Murray in his With Christ in the School of Prayer summarizes it this way: “My relationship with God is part of my relationship with men. Failure in one will cause failure with the other” [--Andrew Murray in With Christ in the School of Prayer.
Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 5.].
In the twelfth chapter of Mark first a group of Pharisees and Herodians engaged Jesus “in order to trap Him in a statement” (Mark 12:13), and they a group of Sadducees came to question Him concerning the Resurrection. Our text begins at this point. A scribe who had heard all of these conversations was pleased with Jesus’ answers; therefore, he asks the Lord the question, “What commandment is the foremost of all (Mark 12:28)?”
The scribes were experts in the written law. They copied, preserved, interpreted, and taught it to disciples; and they were judges in cases were people were accused of breaking the Law of Moses. Most of them belonged to the party of the Pharisees. In the time of Jesus the Scribes and Pharisees were pulled in two different directions concerning the law. Many of them were so overwhelmed at keeping every detail of the written and oral law that they were constantly expanding its scope while others believed that the law could be summarized in simply form. The scribe who asks Jesus the question, “What commandment is the foremost of all (Mark 12:28),” evidentially adheres to the school that believed in a more simplistic interpretation of the law.
Jesus responds to his question by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus appeals to the traditional Jewish confession of faith, the basic statement of the Jewish Law, in giving His answer. He quotes the Shema. Shema is the Hebrew word of “Hear,” and is the first word in the Deuteronomy quotation. Even today the Shema is the opening affirmation of faith in the synagogue service. The word Shema, or “hear,” literally means to “keep on hearing,” “Keep on listening,” “Keep on obeying.” It is a declaration that The Lord is not first among many Gods, but the one and only God, Creator, and King of the Universe.” There is no other God but the Lord God of Israel.
The Shema is a call to keep on loving, listening to, and obeying the One True God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. In other words, the greatest of all commandments calls for the Believer to continually and absolutely surrender his entire being in full commitment to the One True and Living God. Such commitment and love involves the total person, spiritual, intellectual, and physical. One who truly loves God holds nothing back from Him.
Senator John McCain tells the story of the final years of his imprisonment as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. “The North Vietnamese moved us from small cells with one or two prisoners to large rooms with as many as 30-40 men to a room. In our cell was one Navy officer, Lt. Commander Mike Christian. Over a period of time Mike had gathered bits and pieces of read and white cloth from various packages. Using a piece of bamboo he had fashioned into a needle, Mike sewed a United States flag on the inside of his shirt, one of the blue pajama tops we all wore.