Full disclosure – according to the timestamp on my phone, I texted Bruce at 9:22PM last night (Saturday night) and said:
Word count: 75
I haven’t done this in a long time. I have really tried to move away from the whole Saturday night sermon writing thing – it just doesn’t work for me in this particular season of my life. But for so many reasons this week, I just couldn’t get it together – and yet, I was totally calm about the whole thing. We had our annual Spaghetti Supper and Dessert Auction last night and after we cleaned up and everyone left, I sat down in my office and started to write. And at 10:51PM I sent this text:
Once I sat down, the words just flowed. I love this scripture and I love preaching on it. I love charging my church to be a Greatest Commandment church!
Here’s the sermon. Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 24, 2019
Love God. Love People.
Every year on Easter morning, I wait until almost everyone has left the Anawan Club after the sunrise service, I take a picture of the cross standing on the shore of the Rehoboth reservoir, adorned in freshly-picked flowers, with the sun risen behind it and I post that picture to my social media with the simple caption, “Love wins!”
This, for me, is the most pivotal moment of our faith; that moment when we realize, once again, that God’s love has triumphed over hatred, over evil and over death, itself.
This love – this all-encompassing, unexplainable, grace-filled love – is what gives meaning to my life. It is what drives me to be a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, friends and pastor. It is what gives me hope when it feels like the world is dark and full of despair.
If you read my note in the Epistle this week, you will know that our scripture reading for this morning is, by far, my favorite passage of scripture.
One of the scribes says to Jesus, “Jesus, what is the greatest commandment of all?” and Jesus says, “Love God. And then love people.”
Jesus, out of all of laws – all of these rules that have been written down in scripture, all of the rules that we hold fast to every single day, all of the rules that define our religious tradition and our lives – what is the most important one?
And then love people.
I actually talked about this scripture in my annual report last year. I talked about how, in 2018, I really saw us, as a church, embody and live out Christ’s call to love God and then to love people. Here is what I said:
And yet, through the grief and sadness of the losses we have experienced this year, I saw a church community that heeded the call to love God and to love the people around them. From a choir that showed up at the Goff household so that Earl could have one last rehearsal to a Missions Committee who raised money for a scholarship fund for Cassandra Lumbra after the death of both of her parents this summer – love won at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, over and over and over again.
Love won every time someone brought a meal to someone in our church who was going through a hard time, when people sent letters to our two young men in military boot camp and when our Church School made valentines for people in our community who needed to be reminded that they are loved. Love won when we cried together, when we prayed for one another and when, week after week at the end of worship, we joined hands together for the benediction.
We are a Greatest Commandment church. We love God and we love people. We are the Body of Christ, the Church in the Village. And here, love always wins.
We are not even three months into the new year and these words still ring true. Whether we were filling the sanctuary with paper stars and Mardi Gras beads for a festive celebration or gathering in the sanctuary in a space of grief for a funeral or memorial service, love won. Whether we were outbidding one another for delicious desserts for a great cause or, again, bringing meals to someone who is going through a hard time, love won. Whether we were singing joyfully or weeping quietly, we were doing it together and, again, love won.
I love this scripture because it is such a simple reminder of what is most important in life and in our life – that we love God and then we love the heck out of the people around us. That is what matters, above all else; love wins.
I sheepishly admitted to Bruce yesterday afternoon as I was attempting to bake a cake for the dessert auction that I had approximately zero words written for my sermon this morning (actually I had a little over 300 that I had decided I was going to delete). And he was surprised, because he knew what I was preaching about; he knows how much I love this passage and really of any opportunity to be reminded of Jesus’ commandment to love.
But the problem with preaching on this particular passage is that 1) I am kind of afraid that I am not going to be able to do it justice and 2) it kind of speaks for itself.
And then love people.
So all that said – I do not really have one big point that I am trying to make today; rather I have three takeaways that have resonated with me this week as I have reflected on this passage.
The first has to do with just how often this passage of scripture is found in the bible.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Once, right? Right here.
Au contraire, my friends. It actually shows up four times in the bible.
We are currently working our way through the Gospel of Mark; there are four gospels in the bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – they are the first four books in the New Testament. These books are the recorded narrative of Jesus’ life and teaching.
Mark is the oldest – as well as the shortest; Matthew and Luke draw heavily from Mark’s narrative and John is very different from the other three. So given the fact that 1) they are all telling the story about Jesus and 2) two of the Gospels draw heavily from Mark, it is not uncommon for there to be overlap between the four Gospels; in fact, it is a good, thing, right? Because it sort of validates the stories – and our faith – when there is overlap between them.
But they are four different Gospels.
And yet, this scripture – this commandment to love one another – is found in all four Gospels.
This is how important it is. No one missed it.
So technically, I have four favorite passages of scripture: Matthew 22:35-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28 and John 13:31-35.
This one matters; this is one we need to prioritize in our lives and in our church.
The second takeaway that had me thinking this week has to do with where this scripture is found in the Gospel.
And I will say this about the Year of Mark – it has caused me think about context in a new way; because as I prepare to preach every week, I know what happened the week before and the week before that and the week before that and so on and so forth. So as I thought about Jesus’ words that the greatest commandment was to love God and then love people, I also thought about what happened last week.
Jesus was being questioned by three groups of people who opposed him – the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees. They were questioning him on religious and political points of contention; asking questions in a way that he really could not give a good answer to. And so after hearing him answer questions about paying taxes and resurrection, a scribe who overheard these conversations runs up to Jesus and says, “Okay, but what is the most important law?”
And then love people.
Jesus is in Jerusalem – the cross is on the horizon, the stakes are high and how he answers this question matters. I think I would feel differently about this scripture if Jesus was still paddling around the Sea of Galilee with his disciples and they asked him; but it means more here. It means more knowing just how many groups of people are opposing Jesus, just how desperately they are trying to hold on to their rules and their traditions.
And Jesus very calmly says, you have to let that stuff go.
And you have to love God.
And then love people.
The third and final takeaway I want to share with you all this morning has to do with the order in which Jesus tells us to love. Jesus says to first love God. And then to love people.
One of the biggest reactions I hear to this commandment to love one another is, “Well that’s easier said than done.” And it is; because we are human and we have these human relationships with one another and we do not always see eye to eye and sometimes we get frustrated with one another and sometimes that frustration escalates to anger and then that anger escalates to hatred and then we are left with this commandment to love one another and we have no idea how the heck we are supposed to do it.
Well I will tell you how. We are supposed to first love God. And thenlove people.
Now I am not sure how all of this works, but my understanding of faith and this relational notion of God is that if we first love God, then we will have the strength, the wisdom, the stamina, the patience and the grace to love one another.
So if you are having a hard time loving someone – whether it be a spouse or a friend or a family member or a coworker – love God first. There is a reason that Jesus put this commandment in this order.
Because remember that when you love God, you are uncovering a kind of love that is powerful, unexplainable and grace-filled. When you love God, you are connecting to a love that triumphed over evil, over hatred and over death, itself. When you love God, you can believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that love always wins.
And then you can love people.
I love this scripture and I hope you do, too. I hope you heed the commandment to love God and then love one another. I pray that our church continues to be a Greatest Commandment church; that we all might grow in our love for God and for one another, that our love might extend outside of our walls and that we might teach others about God’s love, as well.
And then love people.
Thanks be to God!