Sermon, Oct 31 2021, “I’ll Do Whatever I Can (For Love”

New Testament Reading
Hebrews 9: 11-14

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

*Gospel Reading:
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. 33 To love God 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 “I’ll Do Whatever I Can”
The great philosophers, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, known together as the Beatles, sum up Jesus’ teaching quite well when they sang, “All you need is love.” All you need is love. Amen. Our closing hymn this morning is…..
While I might have a little more to add to our message this morning, I really do think the Beatles nailed the Gospel message for today. All you need is love! Love of God and love of neighbor. Don’t you agree?
We actually find agreement in the Gospel reading today as well. The scribe questions Jesus on what is most important. This scribe would have been an expert in the written texts of Israel’s faith and is attempting to find the most important commandment from the 517 commandments of the law. Now we might paint this scribe in a negative way, “How dare he ask Jesus a question and put him on the spot like that!” Yet, what this expert was asking Jesus was as common as going to synagogue on the Sabbath. It would have been a norm in the ancient world to have discussions like this. Jesus, “Which is the most important commandment or the first of all?”
Now Jesus could have easily quoted familiar passages from the law or the prophets like Micah 6: 8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” That would have been a true response, but it doesn’t dive deep enough. The greatest commandments are found right in the heart of the detailed laws describing the common life of Israel’s people.
Jesus begins with the standard daily prayer of the people, called the Shema. It begins with a description of who God is, “the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Then there is the command that is lived out only from this reality of God: To love God with all of one’s being. We love because God is. God first loved us and is always drawing near to us in love, which enables us to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors. Jesus doesn’t stop there. “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I can picture Jesus in the temple taking a coin, flipping it, and asking, “Which side will it be? Heads or tails?” I’m not sure if they played that in the ancient world, but if they did, Jesus might have used this as an illustration. Jesus’ response to the scribe is like this little game. It’s like the two sides of the same coin. Love God on one side and love neighbor on the other. You can’t have one without the other, but the entire coin is love. And it’s about taking small steps toward love.
I don’t know about you, but I can hear those words of Jesus quoting the Shema and think, “Where in the world can I begin?” It’s such a huge concept to love God with everything, my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Now I can say quite piously, yep that’s me, but I would be lying to myself, to you, and to God. I want to love God with everything I have, but it’s difficult. I often choose myself, my own way, or the way I think the world wants me to be. That’s when I’m not loving God with everything, so what can we do?
It can sound like a daunting task to love God, so we are invited to take small steps toward great love. We take a small step in prayer to draw closer to God. It’s not about the words we say, but the time we spend with God cultivating a deeper relationship, an intimacy with God. When we take time to read and meditate on Scripture, we take a small step toward great love. I am reminded of a quote by Saint Mother Teresa who said, “Do small things, with great love.” This speaks to how we cultivate our love for God and how we interact with and love our neighbor.
As we know, Jesus doesn’t stop with just the Shema. He adds a verse from Leviticus (19:18), “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He recognizes that to put the Shema into practice, to love God, is to also love our neighbor, our fellow human being. It’s two sides of the same love.
When I read this, I always feel like there was probably a dramatic pause from the crowd wondering how the scribe would respond to Jesus’ answer. What was probably most shocking, even more than Jesus’ words, was that the scribe agreed! He actually agreed with Jesus. “You are right,” “well said, Teacher.” The scribe even calls him teacher. Unbelievable! They agree. It’s like Catholics and Pentecostals agreeing on what’s most important. Or Methodists and other Methodists agreeing. Even more startling than all of those examples is that the scribe and Jesus agree. And they agree on…! Love is the most important command. Love of God and love of neighbor. It’s the same love and it’s most important.
Again, Saint Mother Teresa’s quote fits here. “Do small things with great love.” How do we love our neighbor? Seems daunting yet again. We are invited to do small things with great love.
In August of 1955, there was a two-week workshop in the hills of Tennessee at the Highlander Folk School. Highlander was founded by activist Myles Horton along with Methodist minister, James Dombrowski. The school would become a teaching center for the Civil Rights movement. During that summer of 1955, there was one particular woman who came from Montgomery, Alabama. She came in low spirits, “tense and nervous” about the situation back home. On the last day, when asked what she would do when she would return home to Montgomery, the woman simply responded, “I’ll do whatever I can.”

A few months later on December 1st, 1955, that same woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a public bus sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott that would change the Civil Rights movement. Small things with great love. Rosa Parks did a small thing, which was really a great act for love of her community and the movement. Sometimes you have to break the law for love.
It can be hard to know what to do, how to love God and love neighbor, until you make one small step forward or stay seated for a little longer, and live, breath, and act in love. I understand that it can be difficult. Love is relational and relationships can be messy and challenging, but if there’s agreement, then we’ll find harmony.
Let’s not miss a major part of this Gospel reading. This is a story about agreement. In the Gospels, we often see the religious leaders and the scholars of the law debate and argue with Jesus who often speaks harshly against them, but here it’s different. This is a rare moment of harmony and one that we can bring to life in our own day and in our own lives. If we agree on anything, may it be to love. Whenever we wrestle with how to act or how to understand or live our faith, we can ask ourselves a question.
In all we do, may we seek to have the desire to love God with everything we are, our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we do, we are not far from the kingdom of God. Perhaps our best response to this Gospel reading is to echo the words of Rosa Parks: “I’ll do whatever I can” to love God and love neighbor. Friends, all you need is love! Amen.
Our prayer practice this morning is going to be praying the Shema together. The way this would be prayed in Judaism is to cover one’s eyes as you recite the Shema as a way to help them concentrate on the words in the prayer. It’s something I often do in prayer as well.
The reading will be on the screens, but I invite you to try to memorize this prayer as we say it out loud with our eyes covered. We’ll recite it together three times.
I invite you to cover your eyes with your right hand. Take a deep breath. Let’s pray out loud together:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

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