Living in Love 31 October 2021
Reading: Mark 12:28-34
The story is told about John the Evangelist (author of John’s Gospel and the book of Revelation) sometimes called the apostle of love, who was preaching at Ephesus into his nineties. At that age, John was so feeble that he had to be carried into church on a stretcher. At that time, he would no longer preach a normal sermon. Instead, he would lean up on one elbow and the only thing he would say was, “Little children, love one another.” Once he had given his one-line sermon people would carry him back out of the church. This continued for weeks, and every week he repeated his one sentence sermon, “Little children, love one another.”
Weary of the repetition, the congregation finally asked him “Master, why do you always say this?” “Because” John replied, “it is the Lord’s command and if this only is done, it is enough.”
I’ve been thinking hard about this story. The idea of preaching from my bed really appeals to me. I could be carried in, maybe by the wardens, give a pithy one-liner and then be carried off again. I’ll raise the idea with the bishop.
In the meantime, the message remains, “Little children, love one another.”
Today in our gospel reading, Jesus yet again faces a very tricky question. If he gets it wrong, he could be accused of not taking the Old Testament seriously. But also, the pressure is on: how to find a commandment in the Old Testament that really does sum up the rest calls for great wisdom. I’m reminded of the student who studied hard for an exam. “All you have to do,” said the teacher, “to pass NZCEA is to summarise.” So, he set about summarising the book, he summarised into a page of key points. He got the page down to a paragraph, the paragraph he got down to a sentence, the sentence he summarised down to a single word. Confident he went into the exam; and then he forgot the word!
Jesus doesn’t do this. He summarises the whole of the Old Testament with Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” This would have been familiar ground for the Scribe asking the question. But what follows is pure genius: Jesus links this Deuteronomy command with Leviticus 19:18 “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
The genius of Jesus’ approach is that the whole of the Ten Commandments is summed up in these two commandments. The first four of the Ten Commandments are duty to God. The remaining six are duty to others. There is nothing in the Old Testament or the New Testament that isn’t covered by these two headings. And the key word if you are summarising for NCEA is of course – love.
The challenge for modern Christians is our understanding of love. It has become a kind of fluffy warm feeling, like puppies in a basket. But love is meant to be more about actions than feelings.
This COVID season which we are living through is challenging our loving. I believe getting a couple of vaccines is a very concrete way of showing love to our neighbours, so is masking up and scanning in. But we need to be on the alert for those we find difficult to love. We are in this together – politicians and health authorities are doing their best and deserve our respect. Anti-vaxers, however much we agree or disagree with them, deserve our kindness. Covid is the enemy, not other people. There are now lots of people that we are finding challenging to love.
Sally took a seminary class taught by Professor Smith. One day Sally walked into class and found a large target on the wall and darts on a nearby table. Professor Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone they disliked or who made them angry, then they could throw darts at their face. Sally’s friend drew a picture of the woman who had stolen her boyfriend. Another of their brother. She drew one of Professor Smith. She was pleased with the likeness. We all have people we could throw darts at now.
Then the class lined up and began throwing darts. Some students threw with such force that targets started to rip. When they had all had a go the professor removed the targets. Underneath was a picture of Jesus, a hush fell over the room as the students saw the mangled image of their Saviour with holes and jagged marks across his face, his eyes virtually pierced out. The professor said only these words from Matthew 24 “In as much as you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.”
The Scribe immediately gets Jesus’ point that day. He recognises the new perspective which it offers. In practice, what concerned the Scribes was how to live out the law on a day-to-day basis. It was easy for them and so easy for us to reduce love to a theory that it gets pushed out in practice.
The point of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices in the temple was to love better.
We gather week after week simply to learn the way of love. As we learn at a deeper and deeper level how much we are loved by God then our sense of security in God becomes greater. This gives us the confidence to love others.
To love is to remain committed to each other and the gospel even when times are hard, especially when times are hard.
The real killer of modern churches is the consumer mentality: “I’m in it for what I can get out of it.” Rather than this, we need to ask, “How can I use my church as a vehicle to bring love to the community?”
“Little children, love one another.”
With the world watching on, we Christians need to be modelling a better way. The readings present us with a challenge. Are we going to become more and more like the one we worship and live in love, or are we going to turn our backs on the way of love?
“Little children, love one another.”