The First CommandmentMark 12:28-34 (NRSV)
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall 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, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Have you noticed how much people complain recently? How their focus seems to be on the problems and things that aren’t going right? The things we don’t like? The people that we don’t see eye to eye with? The people that question our choices? Well, Jesus faced the same thing. People were always complaining to him, commenting on his choices, and asking him questions. Now sometimes, they asked him questions because they were honestly looking for guidance or answers. But other times, it was because they were testing him, challenging him, or trying to catch him saying or doing the wrong thing. But no matter what, Jesus always practiced what he preached. He did what he said, and he always lived his life by the tenets that he taught.
One day, Jesus was asked what the most important thing or the greatest commandment was. And Jesus responded, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” So, the most important thing, and the greatest commandment, is to love! Friends, take a minute to let that sink in. The most important thing, the greatest commandment of all, is to love!
Now in our church, we strive to do a lot of things, and we have many ministries: ministries for missions and faith formation, for fundraising and building maintenance, for music and worship, for stewardship and history, for fellowship and hospitality. Each ministry has something different to focus on. But, if we’re going to remember what is most important, and live out the greatest commandment, each one of those ministries that we focus on needs to be carried out, taught, and done, with love. Not with complaints, not with anger, not with frustration, not with self-centeredness, but with love.
But how do we share love in all of those situations? And how do we share love with neighbors who we don’t know? Well, folks, that’s the key to Jesus’ ministry, and that’s the key to what we’re called to do as Christians, and more importantly as decent human beings. To think of the other person first, listening, even when we know we have the right answers and the best ideas, and allowing others to do their best, even when we know that we could do it better. Friends, sometimes it takes putting ourselves in another person’s shoes, to see the world through their eyes, before we can ever begin to love them.
So often we get busy, and we try to get so many things done. That is all well and good, but sometimes in trying to accomplish everything, we end up losing that sense of love. We’re so busy, we start complaining and ordering people around and telling people what to think, and how to feel, and what to do. Is that what Jesus taught us? Was that the answer to the question that he was asked?
What is the most important thing? What is the greatest commandment? Is productivity more important than meeting people where they are? Is the bottom line more important than the way we treat the people around us? Is having things done our way more important than welcoming someone new to help out and give it a try? Is the amount of money that we make or raise more important than the way that we treat one another?
Friends, remember, in the church, we are not called to be perfect or right, but we are called to be an example of God’s love. Our number one job is to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. All those other things? They come later.
Sometimes I wonder if we need to put our work aside and get back to the basics of remembering why we’re here, remembering what our ultimate job is. I think that is just one more reminder that every once in a while, we need to step outside of the box that we put the church and our faith in–focusing a little less on the work of the church, with meetings and opinions, budgets and arguments, and a little more on actually being the church.
Now I could end the message right here, but instead, I want to challenge all of you to go a little deeper. Whether you are a part of a church, or you simply watch our Oldtown Shorts online, I want to challenge you this week to think of three things.
First, think of how you can love God this week. Maybe spend some time enjoying God’s beautiful Creation. Or thank God for gifts in your life. Or pay attention to those moments in the midst of everyday life when you feel the presence of God or a sudden assurance that you are not alone.
Second, think of how you can love yourself. Maybe take a few minutes to focus on your own needs. Or eat something healthy to take care of your body. Or get some extra rest if you feel tired.
And finally, third, think of how you can love your neighbor, whoever your neighbor might be. Maybe you can share a random act of kindness. Or send a note to someone just to say, “Hi.” Or volunteer time or donate canned goods at a local food pantry.
Now you might be wondering, how much can those three simple actions really do? But if each and every one of us did something each week to love God, to love ourselves, and to love our neighbors, the ripple effect of our small actions would reach farther than we could ever imagine. Because friends, when you open yourselves to love and learn and listen, and you start to look for glimpses of grace in your life, then your positive actions and your good energy don’t only change your life or the life of your neighbor, but they begin to change the world! Because my friends, Love is the most important thing!