Sermon
November 5, 2000
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Mark 12:28-34

          28 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?" 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. (NRSV)

 Deuteronomy 6:4-9

          4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (NRSV)

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 Sermon - Looking for the Extra Credit

Let me put this scripture reading into a setting.  Jesus has already offended many people – especially those with power and those who wish that they had power.  Repeatedly,  Jesus breaks all of the rules…  The disciples have argued over who amongst them is the greatest.  Jesus tells them – the last will be first.  Not what they wanted to hear.     He goes into the temple and he turns over all of the tables of the money changers - the Pharisees and the Sadducees.   would rather have arrested him,  but they feared the crowds who gathered around Jesus in support.  As we find Jesus in our reading this morning he is being pinned down and grilled theologically.  “Jesus,  what about paying taxes? Jesus, If there is such a thing as resurrection, What will happen to a woman who has more than one husband whose wife will she be in heaven? ”  Jesus just keeps saying to them – you just don’t get it, do you?

 

As the disciples argue in walks a scribe… Mark: 12:28-34  28 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?" 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. (NRSV)

 

 

The scribe asked the question that he thought Jesus would want to answer –“ I get it,”  says the scribe…  “I know the right answer…  You all have been arguing about what is right in God’s eyes – well,  here it is,  written for us in Deuteronomy 6,  the Shema – is it so simple that it escapes you?   You tell them Jesus – that will clear up al of their confusion.”    

 

If you remember back to school days -  there was always some kid that tried to impress the teacher by asking a question that would produce the right answer – and make that kid look smarter than everyone else in the room.  Most of us saw through that kind of behavior and for those of you who went on to become teachers,  you still get to witness that kind of behavior.    

 

Jesus confirms what the scribe was fishing for,  because everyone with the level of education the scribe had would know the Shema – and then the scribe reverses roles with Jesus and becomes the teacher as compliments him, “Good job.” 

 

That is about the time that most teachers impatience would rise and they would walk away.  But not Jesus – he stays and when he hears what the student is saying he pays him an interesting compliment.  Rather than his usual,  “you just don’t get it” response,  Jesus says  “You are not far from the Kingdom of heaven” 

 

What was the scribe asking for?  Affirmation and recognition? -  You know a little extra credit never hurts.  Subconsciously, he was looking for something more significant.  He was looking for a relationship with this Jesus person. 

 

What can we take away from this passage,  what is the good news for us this morning?

 

This passage offers us 2 different thing.  It both challenges us and reassures us. 

 

It is challenging because we are like the scribe,  we want this relationship with the teacher – we seek to be close to God.  Subconsciously we understand that our relationship with God is important,   it is what can open up life,  give it meaning and direction and bring us peace.  It is a challenge because we don’t know what it is we are seeking exactly. Until we get a taste of it, we don’t know what the possibilities are.   It is like a 3 year old who goes trick or treating for the first time.  They are totally amazed that someone will just give them candy – forbidden treats for  preschoolers.   Then they run eagerly,  house to house,  hot on the hunt for more of this wonderful gift.  We have to take a leap of faith in order to get closer to God.  But when we get a brief glimpse of the beauty of God’s kingdom it whets our appetite for more – then we hunt harder and more relentlessly.  But first, we are challenged to take that leap of faith.

 

This passage is reassuring when we realize that Jesus, unlike an exasperated teacher,  doesn’t walk away and he doesn’t judge harshly.  He recognizes that he has a student,  that desires a closer relationship with God - no matter how silly or arrogant or dense or bewildered or even scared we might be.   He stays right there,  patient and caring,  he listens and engages us in the conversation.  This passage reminds us that even though we are not all at the same place on the journey – Jesus is with us.  Even though we come with different approaches to our faith,  Jesus will stand beside us.  Even though we may not always get it,  we might make mistakes,  Jesus will be there, ready to lead us as we search for answers to our questions,  

 

We are challenged to take that leap of faith and engage Jesus in conversation and reassured that it is ok to do that…  Jesus will be there for us.

 

We believe as committed Christians and as member of a United Church of Christ Church,  that we have an inherent responsibility to be in relationship with God through prayer,  reading the Bible,   study, our fellowship,  and our awareness of God’s presence.    We believe that what we take away from that relationship dictates how we act, what we say,  how we use our resources,  our priorities and even how we will vote.  We believe that we are called to behave as people who love God and love their neighbors.    We believe that through that love the kingdom of God will come into view for each of us… 

 

We are all on the same journey –  even if we aren’t all at the same place on the road or we approach it from different directions –we are all aware that a relationship with God is important to us.  Otherwise,  we wouldn’t all be sitting here –

 

As we come to this table this morning,  may we remember that our efforts are understood,  no matter how clumsy we are and that Jesus does accompany us on our faith journey.  Our quest for understanding and peace,  love and wholeness has not gone unnoticed.  We are students and the teacher will always be with us,  the one we call savior will not judge our efforts harshly and will never dessert us.  All who desire a relationship with God are invited to this table. This is the Lord’s table – come into the presence of the Lord,  receive all that he has for you… and may this food strengthen us in love that we might serve God and one another. Amen

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