Pentecost 24 – Sunday, November 4, 2018

November 4, 2018  

Mark 12:28-34

(AB-Yes! Apostles’ Creed Overview)

There’s an incredible thing happening in today’s reading. Dividing lines are being crossed.
After questioning and suspicion and doubt and outright hostility—one of the leaders of the religious community in Jerusalem and Jesus find commonality. They recognize they share a common belief in God and—at least for a moment—debate is silenced.

Jesus was asked by a scribe “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mark 12:28).
Jesus answered The first is “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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” (James 12:29-30).

Jesus’ words echoed the words of the Shema, from Deuteronomy, the words our Jewish brothers and sisters place in their Mezuzahs: Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

And then Jesus adds the 2nd: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). His words echo words from Old Testament law, specifically from the book of Leviticus: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

These words aren’t simply statements of moral belief (although they are that), they are statements of faith. They are words that declare “This is what I believe!”
We believe we have one God, one God who created the world, one God whom we promise to love with all our hearts, whom we promise to love with all our souls, whom we promise to love with all our mind, whom we promise to love with all our strength.

This is something we have in common with our Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We worship one God—we worship the same God. How we live out our faith in this one God has similarities and differences. But all three religions emphasize love for our neighbors as ourselves.

Divisions between religions have been the bane of our life on this earth. Our differences have created conflicts, have started wars and sustain them. People have been killed, murdered, tortured, persecuted, oppressed, and offended on all sides because of the differences that exist between faiths.

Today’s gospel reading suggests our relationships with those of other faiths ought to be otherwise. Today’s gospel reading suggests we ought to re-discover what we have in common, and to honor what we believe that is the same.

As one scholar writes “Jesus and the scribe are able to transcend the party strife and cross the dividing line of hostility to confess a common faith. Because they join together in the conviction that there is no commandment greater than love of God and neighbor, they are able to treat each other as neighbors… [as so there is] an island of reconciliation in a sea of hostility” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, p. 679).

This world desperately needs islands of reconciliation– we are drowning in seas of hostility. Hostility between political parties. Hostilities between religious groups. Hostilities between different cultures and races. Hostilities between nations. Hostilities between family members. Hostilities between people of different sexual identities. Hostilities between generations. Hostilities between friends.

How do we find common ground?

We can find common ground if we turn to the God we say we believe in and we lift up and celebrate what our God has taught us. God teaches us that we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. And that we shall love our neighbor as ourselves.

When an ELCA teenager, a young white man, enters an African Methodist Episcopal Church, joins the people in bible study and prayer and then shoots nine of them dead, he allowed our differences to blind him.

When a white man enters a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and shoots six people dead, wounding four others he allowed our differences to blind him.

When a Christian man enters a Jewish synagogue allegedly shouting “All Jews must die!” then killing 11 people, including police officers trying to save those worshipping in the temple—that Christian man allowed the differences between faiths to blind him.

We must begin to honor what we have in common. We must create places, create spaces that become islands of reconciliation. W must love our neighbors as ourselves, because we love God with every ounce of our being.

These two loves are statements of faith and love—faith in God and love for self and other.

May it be so.
Let it be so.
Amen.