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November 4, 2018

“Living in the Moment”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Revelation 21.1-6

Mark 12.28-34

November 4, 2018

At the women’s Bible study on Wednesday we began, as always, with food and conversation. In sharing about our weeks, one woman told of how she had rushed to make a dish because a friend had called her up earlier in the day for help – and this woman told us she believed people came first. Later on she told us the story of how she came to learn this lesson. As a college student she was learning how to play guitar from a friend. The friend let her practice on her own guitar while she left the room for a few minutes. In that short period of time the woman tried to place the guitar up against the bed and it slipped down and crashed on the floor, creating a giant hole in the guitar. She was in tears when her friend arrived. Yet, her friend stayed incredibly calm and told her, “It’s ok. People come first. The guitar can always be replaced.”

People are more important than things. This is part of the message we hear today in our scripture readings. Love God, love each other. Nowhere does it say love institutions, love money, or love power or love items that are transitory. Love God. Love people. When we do this, we are not far from the realm of God.

This passage in Mark is remarkable because the tone is significantly different than the others written in Mark.[1] Really, from most of the other Gospels, as well. The scribes often asked questions of Jesus and usually they were taunting in manner. Jesus would respond with another question and sometimes rebuke the scribe or Pharisee or questioner du jour. Jesus was known for being questioned, challenging the person back, and perhaps putting the scribe or Pharisee in his or her place.

This is a very different exchange – much more peaceful. Jesus is asked, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus could have come back with another question. He could have ignored this question. Instead he gives a direct answer: “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.” Jesus goes back to quoting from the Hebrew scriptures – what is called the shema, which is literally, “hear” or “listen.” We must listen first.

When the scribe hears Jesus’ answer, he responds: “You are right!” Now, as people reading this passage thousands of years later and knowing who Jesus is and claiming him as the Messiah, we might read this response and think, “What a silly thing to say – of course he is right!” Perhaps we can look at it differently. Jesus recognizes this “aha” moment and commends the scribe, telling him that he isn’t far from the realm of God, which is a fascinating idea.

When we are loving God, when we are loving our neighbors, we are that much closer to the realm of God. For some, the realm of God is meant for after death, so the idea of being close to the realm might be frightening. Yet, for many, the realm of God is now, and transcends death and goes on to embrace those who have gone before us, as well. When we love God and one another, we are that much closer to the realm of God. We are that much closer to the saints who have gone before us. We are exhibiting the message of faith that has been taught over thousands of years, which goes back to God.

Our love is a response to God.[2] We are so overwhelmed by God’s love that we want to reciprocate and give thanks. We recognize that people are more important than things. We want to spend time with people and enjoy God’s creation. We see an inherent value in others, because God loves them, too.[3] We find ourselves loving those we know, and even those we do not know, offering small acts of kindness in the world.

Yet, we will still notice that Jesus says, “You are not far from the realm of God.” He doesn’t say, “By gosh, you hit the nail on the head and won the solid gold Kewpie doll and have it down completely!” To agree with Jesus was good – but the scribe must take it further.[4] How wonderful it is when we all sit around and agree. I think this happens often in our society, in all political groups, in all topics, but especially those that are highly controversial. Too often we sit around with like-minded people and discuss a subject and verbalize or internalize, “Yes! You’re right! You’re clearly on my side!” Except that we cannot do that. We must take action. It is not enough to befriend those who think like you – we must also befriend those with whom we struggle, because if we don’t, we missed the whole point of “Love God, love your neighbor.”

We are in a politically divisive time. You don’t need me to tell you that. The author of the book of Revelation was also in a divisive time. John of Patmos was in exile and knew about persecution. The Roman empire was in control and the purpose of the writings was to help other Christians understand that there was hope – they would not always be persecuted and one day there would be peace.[5] One day, God would eradicate death and wipe away all the tears that have been shed. One day, if we keep loving God and each other, we will find peace.

John of Patmos writes about the raging sea – a symbol of chaos, especially referencing the chaos calmed by God in the Genesis story.[6] This is a metaphor for the time of those living under Roman rule – their lives felt like chaos. Do you ever feel like that? Does it ever feel like the waves of chaos are crashing over us? In those moments, we don’t feel so close to the realm of God.

Yet, John of Patmos gives hope. One day, God will create peace. One commentator wrote: “We long for a day when God ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes.’ We lament now – not only for what has happened, but because things are not yet what they are meant to be.”[7] This sentence simultaneously breaks my heart and gives me hope. We have seen great tragedy in our lives. We have seen great tragedy in the past few years, nay, the last few weeks. How much more can our world take? Why isn’t God acting now? We long for that day, and yet, we are not just weeping for what has happened, but because we know that tragedy is still in our midst. We know that we still need to be closer to that realm. Yet, we have hope that God wipes away our tears. Death does not have the final say.

So, today, on All Saint’s Sunday, I invite you to take a moment to share of a loved one who has died – someone who died of tragedy, or of natural causes. Someone who was close to you, or someone you barely knew. Now is a time to share a name and maybe a sentence or two about that person as you light a candle.

 

 

 

We are not far from the realm of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Lincoln E. Galloway, “Mark 12.28-34” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 263.

[2] Victor McCracken, “Mark 12.38-43” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 264.

[3] Ibid., 264.

[4] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 459.

[5] David S. Cunningham, “Revelation 21.1-6a” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 231.

[6] Richard Bauckham, “Revelation” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 1303.

[7] Tito Madrazo, “Reflections on the Lectionary” in Christian Century October 10, 2018, Vol. 135, No. 21, p.19.