APRIL 14th, 2019 PASTOR DON PIEPER
Right on the Mark Mark 11:1-11;15-19, 27-28;
Palm Sunday 12:13-17, 28-34
"WHAT'S MOST IMPORTANT?"
Ever find yourself asking yourself why certain things happen the way they do; how you wound up where you are; or more simply, what's the point of it all? If so, you're not alone....
Calvin: What's the point? What's the point of wearing your favorite rocketship underpants f nobody ever asks to see 'em? How old do you have to be before you know what's going on? Questions I know the answers to, I don't need to ask, right? (SFX:WAP! WAP! WAP!)
Mom; Calvin! What are you doing to the coffee table?
Calvin: (Hmm) Is this some sort of trick question, or what?!
Mark records that people were constantly asking Jesus probing, or often trick, questions: "Why don't your disciples follow our traditions?" (Mark 7:5) 'How are we supposed to feed all these people?'(8:4) 'Why do our teachers insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?' (9:11) "Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?" (10:2) 'Who in the world can be saved?'
Our readings this morning bring us to the final week of Jesus' earthly mission. It begins with his triumphant return to Jerusalem and will conclude with his passion. Those that sing his praises on Palm Sunday will be shouting for him to be crucified on Friday. There is so much going on that week, and because those events are the very reason Mark writes, he dedicates a third of his gospel to convey them.
The tension and urgency of Mark's gospel increases with the contrasting reaction to Jesus' teachings and actions that week. Again and again, the religious leaders ask him trick questions: "By what authority are you doing these things?" (Mark 11:28) "Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" (12: 15) "Whose wife (of all her husbands) will such a woman be in the resurrection?" (12:23)
In Mark 12 we encounter a religious teacher who came to Jesus with one of the great questions in the Gospel of Mark. The teacher in question is impressed with Jesus' answers and so he poses one of his own...: "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" (Mark 12:28)
He listens as others squabble over lesser issues. But this guy, he hungers for the prime cut. He goes after that vital, most crucial issue: What's it all really about, rabbi? What's most important?
His question brings to mind another classic Calvin & Hobbes moment...
Calvin: It's hard to know whats (most) important in life. We don't notice the small stuff and we're never prepared for the big stuff
Hobbes: What about the stuff in between?
Calvin: That stuffs boring.
Hobbes: Let's hope bumbling along without a clue is important.
Calvin: According to the ads, fresh breath and dry armpits are crucial. (There's Treasure, p172)
Do I detect a bit of biting sarcasm there? Calvin makes a good point, though. It's hard to know what's most important with all the mixed messages that inundate us. The teacher in Mark 12 isn't the last to wrestle with the big stuff, to ask about what's most important, nor was he the first.
Back in chapter ten, a rich fellow asks a similar question: "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17) What's the bottom line? What is God looking for? Jesus response? "The most important thing is this...: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as
yourself.' There is no greater commandment than these." (Mark 12:29-31)
Right then and there Jesus silenced the debate. Not only does Scripture tell us that the teacher in question agreed with his response, but we're also told that 'from then on no one dared ask him any more questions." (Mark 12:34) Jesus' response was so profound his critics had nothing more to say.
But as profound as it may be, it also sounds a bit odd. Why would God command us to love Him? Is he so insecure that He is desperate for some reassurance and attention? Not likely.
In his letters to the early church, Jesus' beloved disciple John, wrote this: "Beloved friends, let us love one another, for love flows from God Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loves us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life thru him. This is real love — not that we loved God, but that he loved us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins."
(I John 4:7-10)
Three things are revealed here about why God commands us to love him and one another. One: true love flows from God since God is love. Two: such love is not emotional, its sacrificial. It's God's gift that keeps on giving. Three: God's love brings eternal life, a life of neverending love and joy
First, love flows from God since God is love. So in order to love God as he desires, we must come to know Him. That's why being a student of scripture is so vital — it is there through His words and actions in the past that we come to recognize his words and actions in the present.
It seems so simple but in some ways, it is not. So many of us have a distorted view of God. That's what the enemy is after, to fill our heads with lies about who God is, prompting us to question God's goodness. The enemy's been at it ever since the Garden when he placed the seed of doubt in Adam and. Eve's minds: "Did God really say you mustn't eat it? You won't die!" (Genesis 3:1, 4)
Translation: God's holding out on you. He's a killjoy, a meanie, a liar! Satan wants to trick us into fearing God because fear is the root of distrust and all manner of sin. It's not a coincidence that the most uttered command in all of scripture is, "Fear Not! Be not afraid!" (Mark 6:57)
God does not want us to be afraid of him but to trust him, which is possible only as we get to know what he is truly like, and God is love. The one thing we all need more than anything else is to know we're loved and to be loved and to be constantly in the ebb and flow of God's love for us.
Second: such love is not emotional, its sacrificial. That doesn't mean that it won't evoke strong feelings and emotions within us but our emotions don't quantify it. After all, our emotions rise and fall, come and go, but God's love for us never ceases. (1 Cor. 13:7) It's God's gift that keeps on giving, because His love is by definition, sacrificial. It reveals that genuine love always puts the other first.
In his book, The God Shaped Brain, Dr. Timothy Jennings, notes that "the law of love is the principle of selfless giving, which is the foundation upon which all life is built to function. Simply put, the law of love is the law of life! You can see this at work everywhere in the natural world.
The oceans ive their waters .to the clouds, which rain over the land, giving their waters to the plants & animals, ultimately giving back to the oceans to start the circle again. If a body of water separates from the circle and ceases to flow, it stagnates and everything in it dies as is evident in the Dead Sea, which takes from the Jordan River but gives nothing in return. We see the circle of love in everything God creates. In every breath we demonstrate giving: we give away carbon dioxide to the plants and the plants give back oxygen to us So it is in every living system. If its to be healthy, the
circle of giving must not be broken. (from Dr. Timothy Jennings' The God Shaped Brain)
God calls us to love Him with all of our being so that we stay in this flow of life, a non-stop act of giving ourselves away, and in the giving come to experience the fulness of life Jesus spoke of.
Third, God's love brings eternal life. As Jesus told another teacher who showed up asking questions: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever may come to believe in him would not perish, but have eternal life. " (John 3:16)
God calls us to love him because it is the only thing other than our own souls, that we take with us into eternity. In fact, ifs the single most powerful reality of eternity, as conveyed in the film, Ghost. [DVD clip from the film, Ghost; 2:00:50 — 2:02:00]
In his book, Imagine Heaven, Pastor John Burke tracks the most common elements of people's near death experiences that include some pretty amazing things: better bodies, reunion with loved ones, the most beautiful place imaginable, the presence of angels and so much more! But the one thing above all else that people experience that makes them want to stay is experiencing God's love, like Khalida.
Khalida wandered the streets of Bethlehem as a child, orphaned by a missile that took the lives of her whole family. Sold into slavery as a child, she was later married off to an abusive Muslim man, who beat her and left her for dead. She survived only to wind up homeless and impoverished.
A woman took her and her children in, gave her ajob and told her of God's love in Jesus. Khalida prayed asking God if it was true about Jesus. In response, she had a vision of heaven....
"A person was standing in front of me, (whose) voice was the same voice I heard years before when I was still in Palestine. He said to me over and over, when my Muslim husband was beating me and threatening my life, 'Leave the darkness for the light.'
Now he spoke to me in my native language of Arabic, 'I am the truth, the life and the way, no one comes to the Father except by me.' His voice was like rushing waters, powerful and soothing at the same time. The minute he spoke, I knew immediately it was Jesus. I'd never read the Bible before, but somehow I knew his words were from the Bible. I dropped to my knees and looked up at him. He was so beautiful and glorious — all light inside of light.
He said, 'I came to save you. You don't have to do anything, just know that I love you.'
I said, 'That's it?' He said, 'Yes, believe in me. Trust in my love.'
With his voice came light (and love). He didn't preach to me; He was just talking to me like another person, but with a beautiful, strong voice. It was so loving, and sweet like honey.'
(from John Burke's Imagine Heaven)
What's the most important thing? Learn what it means to love the Lord your God with all you've got, living in the flow of his relentless, reckless love for you! So "Beloved, let us love one another, for love flows from God Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God showed how much he loves you by sending his only Son into the world so that you might have eternal life thru him."
(1 John 4:7-10)