Summary: How do you love God and you love your neighbour as yourself, neighbours you cannot stand. That is a hard question to answer, but that is what we are commanded to do.
This sermon was delivered to St Oswald’s, Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland on the 4th November 2012; St Oswald’s is a Scottish Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Glasgow and Dumfries.
Our text for today’s sermon comes from the Gospel of Mark, the 12th chapter, verses 28 to 34:
One of the scribes came near and heard the Sadducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’
The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself,’ — this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Prayer: In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit let these words speak for you, and bless each and every one of us Father, in the name of Jesus, Amen.
The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are very familiar to us. We say them as part of our service every Sunday as the summary of the Law, and we could say as a creed.
‘Hear, O Israel, … You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your strength. … Also ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ ...
Now this is where I normally dive straight in, and deliver a sermon on today’s readings.
But today, it is not that simple. I don’t know about you, but I have had a terrible week. So much do, so many things going wrong, being put on the spotlight at work, working late and not sleeping to name but a few. Christine will tell what kind of mood I have been in; tired and crabbit and unbearable; and on top of all that I have to write and deliver a sermon about loving our Lord, and loving our neighbours also. What a week.
Christine is still speaking to me, just; but it is difficult writing a sermon when I cannot get on with the people I love; let alone telling others to love their neighbours as themselves.
There is nothing worse than having to listen to someone full of themselves dishing out advice that they themselves cannot master.
So let us humbly look at this passage. Today, Jesus is present in Jerusalem just a few days after his dramatic arrival on a donkey that Palm Sunday.
The crowds have welcomed him; … he has recently cleared the temple of the moneychangers; and … he has been involved in disputes with the Scribes and Pharisees, who were all trying to trick and trap him.
But Jesus was doing well; he was holding his own, when one of the Scribes asked the question, “Which commandment is the greatest?”
We are used to this question, but back then, the Scribes had been debating within themselves this very question for years, and there were no obvious answers. It was one of those questions that went on forever, you the type, lets change the subject, or we there is nothing I want to talk about, I know, “Which commandment is the greatest”? That will keep them all going.
Now it has been calculated that there are 613 commands in the Old Testament, and not simply the TEN that we are familiar with; that is a lot of commandments to keep, so obviously there must be a priority; and this is the question the Scribes asked.
I like Jesus answer. Jesus did not give an order in which the laws were to be obeyed; rather he gave a summary of these laws; a totally different way of addressing this problem.
You see, Jesus was preparing them for a new religion based on grace, and not one of laws, rules and regulations.
And to bring in this new religion, Jesus cleverly answers the question by referring the Jews to the book of Deuteronomy 6 verses 4 and 5 which says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”