Love, over Rules: Mark 12.28–44

greatest commandmentDelivered at Ames UCC
on March 6, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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We started Lent, four weeks ago, with a look at the cross. I suggested that the cross does not stand for God’s will to suffer but our own experience and perpetuation of suffering through wrong relationship.

On the second Sunday I named the cross as a revelation of God in the world, one as startling and clear as the burning bush. And it is a revelation that invites repentance. Repentance as in coming to terms with the brokenness we know in ourselves so that we may be better shaped by love.

Last week CTS student Greg Rose shared his open-ended journey and a message about stewardship not only of our Earthly resources, but the call to ministry God extends to each of us.

If anyone was ever a steward of his call from God, it was Jesus. That call, at least in its initial form, is coming to an end.

This week, the miracles that marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry are over. The healings are done. Now, Jesus talks, and not even in a parable. Now Jesus sits in the town square, the temple courtyard, directly addressing the heart of a life of faith.

Because Jesus is being questioned by religious leaders. You know, those “who like to walk around in long robes.” It isn’t the first time, of course. Throughout Mark, Jesus has been questioned by such men.

Early on they asked how Jesus could heal the paralytic through forgiveness of sins. They also questioned him for feeding the hungry and healing a man on the Sabbath. Pharisees questioned Jesus on how his disciples could not follow traditional hand hygiene.

After infiltrating the crowd and going into Judea and beyond the Jordan, the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus with questions about divorce. Back in Jerusalem, the priests, scribes, and elders questioned by what authority Jesus had to act and teach as he did. “Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said,” Mark 12.13 reads. Those traps included taxes, resurrection, and then today’s issue about the commandments.

The religious leaders of his day questioned Jesus over and over again. Maybe this was to maintain their own political and social control, maybe this was to protect their sacred traditions. Those traditions were hard-earned, maintained through millennia of siege and conquer (both by the ancient Hebrews and of the ancient Hebrews).

Jesus was not one of them. And he was not a descendent of the hallowed line of David (at least not in Mark—the gospel of Matthew says he was).

The priests and scribes have good reason to want to show Jesus as a fraud and an impudent upstart. Their lifestyles and religion depend on it.

On the cover of your bulletin you’ll see a recent graphic from the national United Church of Christ.

It reads: “Where in the seven days of creation are dinosaurs? Did Adam and Eve’s kids marry each other? If communion is the body of Christ, can we clone him? Which is it: An eye for an eye…or turn the other cheek? Then it reads, ‘You’re invited. So are your questions.’”

I remember standing with my mom at the dining room table as a kid, probably grade school, and laying the dinosaur one on her. GOTCHA, I thought. There are no dinosaurs in the Bible and evolution is real. Thus, the Bible is a lie. A-HA! I was so proud of my logic and thought for sure I would now get out of Sunday morning services.

Then mom sketched out the seven days of creation for me on a sheet of paper. She explained that days were a metaphor, not literal, and did, in fact, represent the eons of evolution. So the dinosaurs were included in both day five and day six of the first creation story:

So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind…Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind. (Genesis 1.21, 24)

Pterodactyls and stegosauruses certainly fit into that scheme.

I wasn’t particularly happy with that answer. It felt like Mom, through no fault of her own, was dodging my doubts, and the huge leap faith requires. I was unsatisfied.

Over the years I moved on to the Adam and Eve question and then moved out of the church altogether.

Now I love Mom’s explanation. I love to read scripture as the combination of metaphor, analogy, poetry, history, myth, fable, letters, and sermons that it is. And if you have participated in Bible study or God Talk, you know I love a good question.

But perhaps questions keep me, has kept me for a long time, and maybe you too from really dealing with the cross and the doubts it raises.

After swapping scriptures with the scribe at the beginning of today’s portion, Jesus turns our attention to real, live people.

This is not new. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus heavily favored real, live people. His ministry was so very tactile and embodied. Jesus was never a voice from afar, but a man in the river, a man on the road.

Jesus went into homes and marketplaces. He walked and sailed alongside so many. Jesus’ message is grounded in, and comes out from among living, sweaty humanity. Jesus’ good news came of his breath, the breath of God.

We may now call ourselves people of the book, but Jesus was not. Those scribes just copied scrolls and few people could read them. Sure, we hear him quoting chapter and verse, but always in the midst of, or at least returning to, human action and interaction.

What is the greatest commandment? Love God will every fiber of your being. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. You don’t need some descendant of David to tell you that.

Just look at those around you practicing faith. Is it for show and false honor, presence without sacrifice? No. It is in the corners without glory. It is in the realization that you may have, despite your own poverties, something that might help another.

Faithfulness to the God of creation and Moses and Sarah and Naomi and David is not merely knowledge of ritual and rules. Faith is not theology.

Allegiance to God is in the willingness to love yourself free of your own greed and insecurities and to demonstrate that freedom through actual, practical, real time love of others, even strangers.

For the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, their livelihoods required that they silence Jesus. For us, in this time, our lives demand that we listen to him. And not just listen, but respond, in action.

Today we blessed a van that will be a profound blessing to those who are sick and with very limited resources. We do not question their worthiness or set up tests for who may use it or when. In the weeks to come you will hear about similar gifts to the Emergency Residence Project and Habitat for Humanity.

When Christians like me, as a child and even now, spend all our energy on esoteric questions, we lose the opportunity to take the life-saving actions that erase all Good Friday doubts.

Parading around in robes is easier than releasing those copper coins. But the dinosaurs don’t need theological recognition. The hungry and the violated do.

So thank you, Ames UCC. Thank you for letting your many questions lead us back to action, lead us back to the living heart of our faith. The heart that rule-makers found too dangerous to be allowed to live. The heart that yet lives beyond any rules.


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