Mark 12: 28-34
The Greatest Commandment
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Sermon “$3 Dollars Worth of God”, Feb 26th, 2017
Have you ever watched a toddler learn to walk? This is my life right now. Our little boy is almost 15 months old now. It’s hard to believe! Maybe you have noticed him running around the church already. He’s even had a few college visits to Butler and the University of Indianapolis, unofficial visits, but still visits nonetheless. In fact, when we were at Butler a few weeks ago,
Zechariah was running around campus and he started waving to man dressed in a fine suit. It just so happened to be the president of Butler, so Zechariah is working on a scholarship already! It’s a lot of fun watching him run around campus. He will run, stumble and fall. The sidewalk is a mostly flat surface to gain some speed until he reaches the grass or another level of ground, then falls hard.
Candace and I try to help him. We try to guide him on the smooth, best path, but sometimes he goes the other way. His one desire is to move forward, constantly, no matter what’s in front of him or below him, he just wants to move. We try to put him to bed, he wants to get down and play. We try to get him ready for mealtime and he wants to run. There are times he falls, and falls hard, but as he continues to walk and run and grow, he’ll learn to walk better and better and he’ll keep walking for the rest of his life.
Our journey with God is the same. Our path of discipleship never ends throughout our lives. Pastor James Harnish, who is the author of our study book for Lent, The Disciple’s Path, defines discipleship like this: “Discipleship is learning to walk with Christ. We stumble. We fall. We pick ourselves up and go again. We are surrounded by a community of disciples who pick us up, hold our hands, and keep walking with us along the way. But we keep on walking. We keep on growing. We keep moving into a life that is more and more deeply centered in loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. We keep on loving others the way we have been loved by God. Spiritual growth is the process by which we grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ, but only if we keep on walking with him.”
To be a disciple is to love God and love neighbor is a lifelong journey of placing our desires, our longings before God. Deep in all of us, there seems to be a sense of longing and desire for something. Too often our desires are at odds with a restless, dissatisfied and often frustrated rhythm with life. We are driven people, forever obsessed or dis-eased with our desires. Our longings change overtime and during a lifetime. When we’re young, we have aspirations to walk and run, or when we enter school we want to make it to the end of the school day, then school year and eventually graduation. Our desires eventually turn to families, careers and retirement, but if you really took a moment to reflect on your deepest desire today, what would that be?
Spiritual writer, Ronald Rolheiser, describes this desire in his book The Holy Longing. He wrote, “Desire intrigues us, stirs the soul. Many of the great secular thinkers of our time have made this fire, this force that so haunts us, the centerpiece of their thinking.” Rolheiser wrote, “Whatever the expression, everyone is ultimately talking about the same thing – an unquenchable fire, a restlessness, a longing, a disquiet, a hunger, that lies at the center of human existence and is the force that drives everything else. Spirituality is, ultimately, what we do with that desire.”
That’s the context, the place of mind that the disciples and others came to Rabbis or teachers to learn. What do we do with our longings, our desires? What should we desire in life? They would journey near and far to ask that simple question. Jesus was one of those teachers with many people asking him questions. John the Baptist once asked Jesus “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” The disciples asked lots of questions of Jesus: “Who will be the greatest?” We know where their desires were in that moment. Yet, Jesus often answered questions with a question. “Who do you say that I am? Why are you afraid? Do you believe that I am able to do this? Do you love me?” These are all questions that get us to examine our deepest longings.
This coming Wednesday begins the season known as Lent. We begin the season each year with Ash Wednesday, where we join together in the penitential rite of receiving ashes on our foreheads and are reminded that “We are dust and to dust we shall return.” The word Lent actually means ‘spring’. This season is a spring time of our year and our lives where we engage in self-examination and fasting from something, with the whole desire to draw closer to God and prepare ourselves to welcome the celebration of the resurrection at Easter with full joy and commitment to the way of Jesus.
This is why we’re in a new study and sermon series The Disciple’s Path. Over the next several weeks of Lent, we will explore together what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus. Last week, we looked at the Great Commission, where Jesus told his followers to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” It’s the great co-mission; it’s our mission and God’s mission. Today, we turn to the Great Commandment, but to get to the great commandment, it first began with a question. We might come with questions for Jesus, just like his disciples, seekers and teachers of the law asked him long ago.
What’s most important Jesus, they asked, maybe we ask? Jesus replies as the faithful Jewish man he was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” He quoted the prayer known as the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6, the prayer at the heart of Judaism. “The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” These two things are connected, full and complete love of God and full and complete love of neighbor. This should not be just a task, but our deepest desire as disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s not something we learn overnight, in a day or a year, but it’s something we learn over lifetime. Eugene Peterson’s The Message version of the Bible reads, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.” Did you hear the words Peterson used? Love God with your passion, prayer, intelligence and energy. Love God with your desire.
This is a lifelong task. Are we longing for more of God or comfort? Do we desire love of God and neighbor or love of self? I heard a poem recently that really struck me. It was written by author and poet Wilbur Rees:
“I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please—not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love an enemy or pick beets with a migrant; I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.”
Do we settle for $3.00 worth of God? God wants to give us everything, because really all we need is God. God provides the guidance to know how to move forward, the community to be encouraged and challenged by, the grace and forgiveness when we slip and fall, and unconditional love when we feel unlovable. Too often we desire being secure and being comfortable, when following God is a risky and challenging step. I’m not saying there isn’t peace in following God’s way for your life, but we’re not called to settle for comfort or $3.00 worth of God.
We think that’s enough. Anything more will cost us too much, too much of our own comforts, security, lifestyles and desires. And yet, Christ calls us to follow. We might give 10% of hearts, souls, minds and strength thinking that’s enough. Maybe we even give 50% of our passion, prayer, intelligence and energy, even though Jesus asks for everything.
Too often we’re like the ruler in Luke who comes to Jesus and asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “You know the commandments,” Jesus replies, “Don’t commit adultery, murder, steal.” The ruler replies, “I have done all of that.” Yet, there’s a deeper desire for more, more eternal life now, more of God. And we know how Jesus responds, “Sell everything, give it to the poor, then come, follow me.” This is a conversation of desire. What do you desire most? How much of God do we want?
The path of a disciple is a lifelong journey of growth, filled with challenges, questions, doubts, peace, hope and joy, but always defined in movement. How much of God do you desire? As I mentioned before, this Wednesday begins the season of Lent. I hope you’ll take sometime between now and Wednesday to really reflect on that question: How much of God do I desire? Your answer to that question will inform how you approach the season. This season will be all about taking the next step.
Maybe for you, this is an opportunity to take the first step toward walking with Christ. Maybe this season will be a time to take another step forward in your prayers; your presence in worship or small group or Bible study; your gifts in how you give to the church your time, energy and financial gifts; your service; and your witness outside of this place. These will be the topics we will wrestle with and learn more about during the season of Lent which follow our membership vows: prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.
This season is an opportunity to take a step forward with Christ. I hope you recognize that it all begins with our desire. As we enter this season of reflection, where we reflect on our faith journeys, may we begin with the question: What do we most desire? What is our heart’s desire for life, love and our walk with Christ?
A spiritual writer that I go back to time and again was a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemane in northern Kentucky, Thomas Merton, wrote a prayer that really resonates with me. It’s found in his book Thoughts in Solitude. Toward the end of this prayer he wrote: I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.” May that be our prayer as we enter into the Season of Lent.
As we close, let me offer the full prayer by Thomas Merton, as our closing prayer this morning. Let us pray:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Amen.