Psalm 146:1-10 and Mark 12:28-34
In a cartoon, Frank and Ernest are standing in front of row after row of shelves of books. On top of one of the shelves is a sign, which reads, “Law Library.” Frank turns and says to Ernest: “It’s frightening when you think that we started out with just Ten Commandments.”
It is sort of frightening isn’t it? We started out with 10 and now we have an estimated 35 million laws on the books in the United States alone. Some of them are very good and needed. But there are some that probably need to be repealed.
For example: Did you know there is a law in Florida that makes it illegal for a woman who’s single, divorced or widowed to parachute out of a plane on Sunday afternoon?
In Amarillo, Texas, it is against the law to take a bath on the main street during banking hours. A good idea; a naked person taking a bath in the street is distracting!
In Portland, Oregon, it is illegal to wear roller skates in public restrooms. In Halethorpe, Maryland, a kiss lasting more than a second is an illegal act.
And in St. Louis, there used to be a law that if your automobile spooked a horse, you had to hide the car. And if hiding didn’t work, you had to start dismantling it until the horse calmed down.
Today we meet a scribe who wants to know which of the 10 Commandments is the most important. He wasn’t trying to trap Jesus. He wasn’t trying to be impertinent. This Scribe was a seeker. He wanted to know which one of the commandments would get him closer to God.
“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?” (v. 28)
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (v.29-31)
What does it mean to love God with all our heart? It means to love God above all other people. To place God first in your life; above your spouse, your children, your parents. God must be your first love. When we love God first, His love will flow through us to others.
G. K. Chesterton once said that the really great lesson of the story of “Beauty and the Beast” is that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. A person must be loved before that person can love others. Some of the most unloving people I have known got that way because they thought that nobody loved them. The fact of the matter is that unless and until we feel loved ourselves, we cannot love. That’s not only a principle of theology but of psychology and sociology as well. Just as abused children grow up to abuse their children, loved children grow up to love their children. Loved persons are able to love. Unloved persons are not. Christianity says something startling. It says that God loves and accepts us “just as we are.” Therefore, we can love and accept ourselves and in so doing, love and accept others. In loving God first, we come to understand how much God loves us.
To love God with all our soul is to love God with every breath. In Hebrew, the soul is the breath of life. In Genesis 2:7 we read, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” To love God with our soul, is to love God with every breath.
In the fourth century, there were some Christian monks who talked about prayer as a breathing exercise. “As you inhale thank God for the gifts which he has given you. As you exhale, tell God how you are going to use those gifts. Let every breath be a prayer.”
To love God with all your mind, is to use our minds to think, to study the Bible and to live our lives as the Bible teaches; to think theologically. Theology is simply the study of God and how God relates to His creation and to each of us.
There was a woman in the hospital who was very sick. She wasn’t dying, but had many questions about death. She had been a member of a church, but she had drifted away. The chaplain stopped to see her, and as they talked, the chaplain noticed the reading material by her bed. There was a tabloid featuring a cover story on reincarnation, and a cheap magazine that told about the past lives of soap opera stars. One paper cited a recent Elvis appearance. Another made wild claims about strange visitors from another planet. There wasn’t a Bible in sight. The sick woman was a prisoner to the modern culture in which she lived. *
If the only thing we read and study are newspapers, magazines, the internet, and news programs on TV, we’re not using our minds to love God. To read and study the Bible is to find out the truth about God’s love and His plan for our life.
To love God with all our strength may be the most difficult thing of all. Love is something we do. In Greek the word for love is AGAPE. It’s not the Greek word eros which is a kind of romantic or erotic love that depends on attraction. It’s not philia, the kind of friendship love that depends on a common background or a common interest, on the same taste in music or the same sense of humor. Agape is the kind of love described in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” This is a love that is chosen, a love that is acted out — it doesn’t depend on good behavior, it perseveres even through disappointment, it loves no matter what. God loves us with that kind of love, and in the same way, we are to love God and to love our neighbor.
How are we to love our neighbor? A good example is the story of a woman who was earning her master’s degree. The woman found it necessary to commute several times a week from Victory, Vermont to the state university in Burlington, a good hundred miles away.
Coming home late at night, she would see an old man sitting by the side of her road. He was always there, in subzero temperatures, in stormy weather, no matter how late she returned. He made no acknowledgment of her passing. The snow settled on his cap and shoulders as if he were merely another gnarled old tree. She often wondered what brought him to that same spot every evening. Perhaps it was a stubborn habit, private grief or a mental disorder.
Finally, she asked a neighbor of hers, “Have you ever seen an old man who sits by the road late at night?” “Oh, yes,” said her neighbor, “many times.” “Is he a little touched upstairs? Does he ever go home?” The neighbor laughed and said, “He’s no more touched than you or me. And he goes home right after you do. You see, he doesn’t like the idea of you driving by yourself out late all alone on these back roads, so every night he walks out to wait for you. When he sees your tail lights disappear around the bend, and he knows you’re okay, he goes home to bed.” **
It seems that man loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and loved his neighbor as himself.
To love God and to love our neighbor takes effort on our part. It is easier not to love than to love. Especially agape love, to love others unconditionally and intentionally is sometimes difficult. We do not want to love those who hurt us, but God did. We want revenge, not mercy and grace, but God loves us with mercy and grace. God sent himself in the form of a human being to die on the cross for our sins. The curtain in the temple was torn in two that we may now enter into God’s presence. That’s unconditional and intentional love.
Jesus said, the most important commandments are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, strength and to love our neighbor as our self. This is hard.
Rev. Rick Reynolds, who has a street ministry in Seattle, Washington, puts it this way, “If you love only the people who are like you—who have the same values, the same economic and educational background—you’re not really doing much except loving yourself.” ***
We learn how to love others by first loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It is not possible to love others the way we are called to, without God.
Please pray with me. Lord God, we want to love you with all our heart, mind, soul, strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves; but we know we cannot without your Holy Spirit’s power. Please empower us to love. Amen
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
References: *Keith Wagner, Almost Heaven, adapted from Garret Keizer, Watchers in the Night
**James W. Moore, Some Things Are Too Good Not To Be True, p. 32.
***Guideposts, November 2018, p.10.