Sermon By Pastor Kitty Lum
November 4, 2018
Scripture Passage: Mark 12:28-34
Loving God and Neighbor in the Spirit of Jesus
Good morning! I’m very happy to be here with you all as your Temporary Pastor! I look forward to getting to know each of you. Today, we are reflecting on the heart and soul, or one of the foundational scriptures of our Christian faith and actually, a foundational part of many religions. The two greatest commandments seem all that simple, but yet are all that hard! If we just stop and ponder a moment about how many people we know, who have truly practiced the love of God and neighbor the way Jesus commands, we will quickly realize that as, naturally self-centered human beings, there aren’t a whole lot of people we can honestly think of, who have a done a good job with this. However, there’s a good purpose for why Jesus gave us these commandments, and I believe that each of us should aspire to practice them. As one commentator pointed out, Jesus and his life and ministry on earth is the best model of how we are to love God and neighbor, and one of his purposes for walking among us was to model this for us. With that said, I have a story to share with you about one amazing person, who not only did a good job of practicing these two commandments, but his whole life embodied them! Albert Schweitzer was a physician and medical missionary, who did much work in different countries in Africa. Schweitzer not only applied his skills as a physician to help disadvantaged people in these impoverished countries, but he also shared his Christian faith and the compassion and love of Jesus with them. For all of his compassionate and amazing work, he received the Nobel Prize. Well, just as a flock of reporters and photographers surrounded him to snap his picture and interview him, Schweitzer spotted an elderly African-American woman, who was struggling to carry her luggage onto the bus. So, Schweitzer was faced with the question, “Should I go help this senior woman, who really needs some help at this moment, or should I stay with these reporters and photographers, who are anxious to take my picture, interview me and make me famous?”
Well, we see the scribe in today’s passage asking Jesus a similar question. The scribe notices that Jesus is surrounded by people, who are debating with him about theological questions and things, which are important to them, and he is responding wisely to everyone. So, the scribe has some burning questions of his own, about the priorities he ought to have as one, who was raised with the Ten Commandments. The scribe picks at Jesus’ mind and heart, and asks him which is the “first” or the most important commandment of all? The scribe asks this question, just as Schweitzer asked himself the question, “Which is more important, basking in all my fame and fortune as a new Nobel Prize laureate, or helping a senior woman, who really needs help at this moment?” It’s all about priorities.
I think that Jesus probably loved getting this question on priorities from the scribe! After all, this was one of his main purposes of walking with us on this earth-teaching us what the proper priorities are and how to live in peace and love with God and with each other. So, Jesus responds, by telling the scribe that the two greatest commandments are these: to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself.” As I said before, it may sound straight-forward, but it’s actually very hard! However, the scribe is wise, and he understands the gist of what Jesus said. In fact, the scribe is so wise that he shares his insight that loving God and neighbor as Jesus commands is way more important than giving burnt offerings! Because this scribe really ‘gets’ what Jesus teaches with this foundational tenet in our faith, Jesus tells him that he is not too far from experiencing the kingdom of God. In other words, this scribe will experience the full love of God and neighbor and will be embraced by this, since he will practice this love of God and neighbor as Jesus commanded. The scribe is able to do this though it is a tough double commandment, because he himself has first experienced the full love of God. As it says in 1 John 4, if we do not know God, we cannot know what love is, because love is from God. God is the original source of all love and goodness. So, this scribe will live his life, joyfully obeying God’s Word, because he is motivated by God’s love, and he will gladly pick up his cross and follow Jesus down the paths, where only love could lead.
So, Schweitzer also joyfully obeyed God’s Word, motivated by Jesus’ love, and he dropped all that he had been saying with the reporters and photographers and immediately went over to the senior woman and helped her carry her suitcases onto the bus! I don’t think that Schweitzer had to think for more than a second, as to what he believed was the more important thing to do in that moment: bask in the limelight of all his fame as a new Nobel Prize laureate, or go help someone in need. For Schweitzer, the decision was probably instantaneous, and he knew that the reporters and photographers would still be there later, and that the number one priority was to go help this senior woman. I believe that it was an easy decision for Schweitzer, because he was a Spirit-filled Christian, who was always guided by the love, Word and spirit of Jesus. He embodied loving God with his whole being and loving his neighbor as himself! That, was at the heart of what motivated Schweitzer to do all that he did in his life. Unlike many people in our world, Schweitzer was not drawn to the fame and fortune of being a Nobel prize winner, but rather he was drawn to the love and grace of Jesus, which he had obviously experienced fully in his own life. As a response to that depth of love, Schweitzer wanted to share the same love with the senior woman, who needed assistance in that moment. Later in Schweitzer’s life, he came to realize more and more, the importance of doing things, whether small, like helping a senior in need, or profound, like winning the Nobel Prize, according to God’s commands, and one of his famous sayings is, “I just want to do something in the spirit of Jesus.” “I just want to do something in the spirit of Jesus.” Wow, what a great mantra to have, in response to loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as our self! Schweitzer, like Jesus and the scribe, lived his life with steadfast commitment to the health and well-being of others. Schweitzer’s response to the scriptures was the correct interpretation of the scriptures, just as St. Augustine said that whoever is not inspired by their interpretation of scripture to build up the “double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all.”
I know that this congregation has been through a series of transitions, recently, and I hope to bring to you all, in the spirit of St. Augustine, Schweitzer, the wise scribe and Jesus, a spirit of building up the double love of God and our neighbor! Change is always unsettling and never easy. I hope that my two dogs, Wally and Shauny, and myself, will encourage you to prioritize all that you do during this time, according to these two commandments. I should add that Jesus never forced people follow his commands, but rather he evoked them to joyfully follow his commands, motivated by his love. So, I hope that my dog clan and I will evoke each of you, if you’re not already doing so, to honor one another more than yourself, and with God’s grace, aim to practice this double love of God and neighbor.
May each of us indeed rely on God’s grace to be unwavering in our commitment to the well-being of others. As Jesus promised, we will then experience the full love of God and neighbor and be embraced by their love and peace! Amen.