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11.04.12 Loving God in Loving Neighbor Mark 12:28-34 Sermon Outline

by on November 5, 2012

If the message of Jesus could be tweeted, it might look like this.

Summary Points

  • Jesus’ Creed: the Rule of Love
  • Why Love of Neighbor Needs Love of God
  • How Love of Neighbor Proves Love of God
  • How Love of Neighbor Leads to Love of God

In this passage Jesus is asked an expert in the law about the greatest commandment. The context for the conversation in Mark is that religious leaders and others are questioning Jesus, especially in regards to his relationship with the Temple. Jesus’ response—to love God and neighbor—according to one commentator, “provides the framework for ethical thinking and conduct, theological reflection, and biblical hermeneutics.” (Lincoln Galloway) In other words, this is important.

Augustine called Jesus’ response the “Rule of Love,” and he said, “If it seems to you that you have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not yet understood them.” (Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, Book 1.40). We might even be able to agree that this is Jesus’ own “creed.”

It’s amazing that Jesus puts these two quotations from the Bible together. As an observant Jew, one would expect him to recite the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, that is, to love God with everything we are. But he couples this with love of neighbor from Leviticus 19:18, and so relates them inseparably.

Love of neighbor is fundamental to Christian discipleship. People learn about and experience God’s love through events like our Community Hands in which we serve our neighborhood around the church, or Interfaith Hospitality Network through which we host homeless families, or our coat and food drives. These are ways we love our neighbors.

But we cannot allow our engaging in good works, social justice, and generosity to substitute for our devotion to God. In other words, the proper order is the one Jesus identified: love of God, love of neighbor. We love our neighbor because we love God. Otherwise, our love of neighbor becomes idolatrous to us. But if we separate our love of neighbor from love of God, it becomes idolatrous for our neighbors also; they come to be dependent upon the church’s good will instead of what makes the church good, namely God.

This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, where he says without love, eloquence, understanding, faith, and charity are ultimately useless. All these things must be coupled with and motivated by love. The scribe in Mark got it, which is why he agreed that this teaching is more important than performance of religious ritual.

But love of God cannot be divorced from love of neighbor either. The Psalm for today says, “Happy are those whose hope is in the LORD their God, who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry; who watches over the strangers; who upholds the orphan and the widow.” Since is the God we love, we will act like this God—we will love our neighbors.

This is the point Hebrews is trying to make. Religious ritual performed by the priests of the Older Testament was effective so far as it went. “How much more, then,” Hebrews asks, is the sacrifice of the high priest of the Newer Testament, Jesus Christ, able to save us from mere religiosity? The NIV says we are free from “acts that lead to death.” The NRSV says we’re free from “dead works.” In other words, because of Jesus’ mediation, we are free to love God and love neighbor, not just one or the other.

Both are important. When Luke retells this encounter, he uses it to set up the parable of the Good Samaritan. “How are we to love our neighbors” the man asks Jesus. His response, by giving generously of what is yours to those in need at hand. The scribe in Mark apparently understood this, but as yet was not practicing it, since Jesus says to him, “you are not far from the kingdom.” To know what is right is to be close to the kingdom; to do what is right is to be in the kingdom.

Sometimes love of God results from love of neighbor. Take Ruth as an example. A Moabite woman, widowed by her Israelite husband, she pledges her loyalty and faith to her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi. In some of the most beautiful words in all of scripture, she says, “Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

Why does she do this, when her fellow Moabite sister-in-law kisses Naomi and returns to Moab? Could it be that the love of neighbor she encountered from her husband and from Naomi drew her to the God of Israel? If so, this gives all of us who have loved ones not in or no longer in the church reason to hope.

This is why Paul and Peter are so hopeful about these situations. They counsel spiritually mixed couples to stay together because love of spouse could very well result in love of God. (Note well, their application in their cultural context is unacceptable today, but the principle remains.)

What Psalm 146 says about the faithful Jew applies readily to Ruth, and calls to us as well: Ruth “did not put her trust in men, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth.” Ruth followed love of neighbor to love of God. Paul and Peter trusted God. You and I can trust God.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • My wife says the “greatest commandment” is all any Christian need be concerned about. If we focused on this passage alone, it would transform our lives and end all judgment and church disputes. I am reminded of the great rabbi Hillel, who when asked to summarize the law said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it.” How will you “go and study it,” which means, of course, knowing and living it, which is to be closer than “not far from the kingdom”—it is to be in it?
  • Have you been living the “twin love of God and neighbor” (Augustine)? If not, maybe this is the week you extend your love of God from Sunday morning worship of God to Monday morning service to neighbor.
  • Or maybe this is the week you connect your service to neighbor to love of God. Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” If you’ve never encountered God while serving others, maybe it’s because you haven’t had love of God as your reason for loving your neighbor.


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