The Message, October 31, 2021, "Not Far from the Kingdom"

The Message, October 31, 2021, "Not Far from the Kingdom"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
November 02, 2021

“Not Far From the Kingdom”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Mark 12:28-34

            I am certain that you are all familiar with the scene. You have either seen it on television, or in the movies, or most likely, you have experienced it in your own lives. The family car ride.

            Whether it is a trip to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, or the family vacation, the scenario is basically the same. The parents get the car loaded up with everything that they need for the trip … luggage, or presents, or their contribution to the dinner, snacks, activities for the children … and then the children are loaded in and buckled up. The car begins to back out of the driveway …. “I have to go potty!”

            The car pulls back into the driveway. “Does anyone else have to go?” “Me!” “Me too!”

            The car is reloaded, seatbelts are rebuckled, and off the family goes!

            “Mooooom! Bobby is touching me!”
            “Daaaaad! Suzie is looking at me!”
            “Mooooooom! I am hungry!”
            “Mooooom! Scott spilled his milkshake all over everything!!”
            “Daaaaaaad! How much farther?! I am bored!!”

            “Oh, for heaven’s sake! Just read your book or do your puzzles.”

            “Moooooom! I am carsick!”

            Upon arrival, the children jump eagerly out of the car. The bedraggled parents look at each other.
            “I need a drink.”
            “Honey, it is only ten o’clock in the morning.”
            “It is five o’clock where I am sitting!”

            It is not quite the same scenario, but Jesus and the disciples had quite a trip to Jerusalem.

            “Jesus … there are people following us!”
            “Jesus … they are looking at us! Tell them to stop!”
            “Jesus … they are hungry! Send them away!”

            “Jesus … they are touching us!”

            “Jesus … John says that he is the greatest!”

            “Nu-ahh! James says that HE is the greatest!”

            “Jesus … can I sit next to you?!”

            “No … can I sit next to you?!”

            “Oh …. For heaven’s sake. Just read a book or do a puzzle.”

            Obviously, we are poking some fun at the disciples. But we do know that it was quite a journey. The disciples trying to learn what Jesus was saying to them, trying to understand who Jesus was, arguing amongst themselves about their place and their status, and being in denial about what was about to happen when they arrived.

            Of course, Jesus was not heading to grandma’s house for dinner, or getting away for a little vacation. He was fulfilling what had been foretold by the prophets. He was fulfilling his destiny.

            Upon arrival, Jesus was confronted by angry and hostile Temple officials. They questioned him and attacked him. They tried to trip him up and trap him with their questions. But Jesus was up to the challenge. He answered all of their questions without giving them the misstep or the heresy that they so badly desired.

            Which brings us to our passage for this morning. One of the scribes, an expert in the Law, saw that Jesus had answered all of the questions well and approached Jesus with a question of his own. He asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

            The profession of the scribe was to interpret the Law in all of its numerous rules and regulations. He was not asking Jesus a trick question, or a “gotcha” question. He was impressed by Jesus, and he engaged him in a common practice that took place among rabbis. As they discussed and debated, there was a tendency to try to expand the Law limitlessly into hundreds and thousands of rules and regulations. There was also the tendency to try to condense all of the Law into one general statement. The scribe invited Jesus to participate in that intellectual exercise that was common among rabbis.

            After all of the hostile attacks and questions, Jesus must have welcomed this exchange with the scribe. And he answered him with the most perfect possible answer. Jesus answered with the Shema, a passage from Deuteronomy that was the foundation of the Jewish faith. They were the first words uttered in synagogue worship and continue to be the first words spoken in worship. They are the words that every Jew recites every day.

             “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

            In a world where many cultures worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses, Jews proclaimed that there is One and only One true God. That is the beginning, the foundation of their faith. There is One true God that we love and that we worship with our WHOLE selves … our hearts, our souls, our minds and our bodies. We love God with a singular focus. We contemplate God, day and night. Our spirits are directed toward God, and our actions serve God.

            We are made in the image of God, and our every thought, desire, passion and action reflect the One in whose image we are made.

            Clearly, Jesus answered well. But then he went for extra credit. He supplied a second answer; an answer to a question that the scribe did not ask.

            “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

            Jesus answered with another passage of scripture that was common and familiar to his Jewish listeners. He cited Leviticus 19:18. And he did more than get extra credit, he did something that no rabbi had ever done before. He linked the two passages together. Jesus took the old law and filled it with new meaning.

            The scribe had a positive interaction with Jesus. Unlike the previous attacks, the scribe and Jesus engaged one another … and agreed with one another! And then, as part of the intellectual exercise, the scribe added his own interpretation to Jesus’ response.

             “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

            The scribe’s interpretation was somewhat shocking. The Pharisees and the knit-pickers tried to force compliance with the rules and regulations of the Temple. They desired orthodoxy. But the scribe saw that the commandments to love superceded all of the rituals and sacrifices dictated by the Temple authorities. He did not go so far as to say that the rituals and sacrifices were not necessary but did acknowledge that they were not of primary importance.

            And just as the scribe had been impressed by Jesus and complimented him for his response, Jesus was impressed by the scribe and complimented him for his added interpretation. He said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

            The scribe did not ask, “Are we there yet? Are we almost there?” He was likely not seeking to become one of Jesus’ disciples. But Jesus recognized that the man was not far off.

            The words were familiar to those listening that day, but Jesus filled them with new meaning. The words are familiar to us as well. We have heard the Greatest Commandment time and time again. How far are we from the Kingdom of God?

            We are created in the image of God. We find our fullest expression the more that we learn to love and worship the One we were created to reflect. Not so-so, not half-hearted, but FULL love and devotion with every aspect of our being. That is the heart and foundation of our Christian life and faith. That is the heart of Jesus’ Kingdom mission. Love God and then reflect and embody that love in the ways that we love our neighbors.

            Love and worship God. God is the center.

            As awesome as I am … we are not here to worship me. (Maybe just faun over me a little) We are here to worship God.
            As wonderful as our building is … we are not here to worship our building.
            As wonderful as our worship service are … we are not here to worship our worship.
            We are here to worship God. We love God, first and foremost.

            And we love our neighbors as ourselves. Not love ourselves first, and then love our neighbors if there is any love left over. We are to love and care for our neighbors … ALL of our neighbors … in the same way that we love and care for ourselves.

            Increasingly, we are seeing people that think and behave as though THEY are the center of the universe. They seem to believe that THEY are the most important beings in their own lives … and should be the most important being in everyone else’s lives too.

            We have seen it on the news and in viral videos. We see customers behaving badly … angry that their sandwiches were not made correctly … angry that they did not get their way … selfishly demanding that they get what they want. We have seen them assault others with their angry words and with violent actions.

            How many of them went to church on Sunday and then punched the flight attendant on Monday?

            How many of them read their Bible then threw their cup of coffee at the poor teenager working behind the counter?

            Imagine what the world would be like if we truly loved God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.
            Imagine if we loved and cared for our neighbor in the same manner that we love and care for ourselves.
            Imagine how different the world could be. Imagine and get a glimpse of what Kingdom life looks like.

            And now let us not imagine … let us do … let us live in such a manner. Let us live so that Jesus can say to us, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Amen.

Congregational Church