Devotional Message: The 26th Sunday after Pentecost (11/18/2018)

Lessons

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25
St. Mark 13:1-8
Stewardship Gospel: St. Mark 12:28-34

Continuous
1st Samuel 1:4-20
1st Samuel 2:1-10

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you have taught us in your Son that love fulfills the law. Inspire us to love you with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength, and teach us how to love our neighbor as ourselves, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Text for This Sunday

12:28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 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’; 33 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.” 34 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. 

St. Mark 12:28-34, New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Loving God. Loving Neighbor

So here’s the thing: when Jesus and this scribe agree on the nature of a faithful life, the metrics they embrace (old, old metrics, from hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth — see Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18) are a steep challenge for anyone who might dare to take them seriously.

Loving God is one thing. Loving God with one’s entire heart and soul and mind and strength is a completely different thing. Can I love God wholeheartedly, and still have enough heartedness to love my wife and children? Can I love God wholeheartedly, and still have enough heartedness to love a day of flyfishing on a Colorado trout stream? What, exactly, does it mean to love God with one’s entire heart and soul and mind and strength?

And loving my neighbor as myself; where does this take me? Am I to be as focused on my neighbor’s health as I am on my own? Am I to encourage my neighbor’s children as much as I encourage my own? To tolerate my neighbor’s dog as much as I tolerate my own? And by the way, just who is my neighbor? The guy next door? The foreign-born acquaintance who believes differently than I do? The convicted felon spending 30 years to life in a federal penitentiary? (Jesus, of course, has a rather challenging answer to these questions: see St. Luke 10:25-37)

These two “greatest commandments” don’t exactly build a boundary around what faithful behavior looks like, and invite us to stay within that boundary. Instead, they expand our notion of what it means to love God and neighbor, challenging us to see every secret thought, every decision, every conversation, every action as an opportunity to give ourselves over to neighbor-love. They are less limitation and more invitation — and the invitation, according to Jesus, is for us to experience the very kingdom of God in this world.

This Sunday we are asking supporters of Saint Peter Lutheran Church in Greenwood Village, Colorado to increase their financial support of our church’s ministry in 2019. We hope that an increased budget will provide an increased ability to love God well as a community of faith, and to stretch our intention to love neighbors here in the greater Denver area. We have high hopes for the coming year, and welcome your prayers for those who will be making their commitments this weekend.

We hope that the message of loving God and loving neighbor will stir us all to take some strong and faithful steps forward. But we hope it doesn’t end there. In fact, our plan is to carry this dual theme of loving God and loving neighbor throughout the coming year, exploring together for twelve months how God is calling us to live into these themes in our individual lives and as a congregation.

So, for us, 2019 will be the year of loving God and neighbor; a rich year of probing the outer reaches of faithfulness. I hope it will be for you, as well. And if I may be bold enough to say so: so does Jesus.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Why do some religious officials seem to challenge Jesus, while others seem more interested in learning from him?

  2. What does it mean that loving God and neighbor is more important than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices?

  3. Why does Jesus declare that this kind of love is “not far” from the kingdom of God?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. What shape does a wholehearted love of God take in my daily life?

  2. When have I been aware of the opportunity to love a neighbor?

  3. What do I find most challenging about these two “greatest commandments?”