Message for 31 October 2021: “Love is the Greatest”

Today’s message comes from Mark 12: 28-34, wherein Jesus answered a key question by a studious observer. Jesus had just finished winning arguments with religious bureaucrats near the Jerusalem Temple when a man asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ response provides humanity with the answer to what God most wants, which is to receive and share love.

The topic of God’s love is the core of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition and arguably the Bible’s most significant message. Love is the most powerful force in the universe and is God’s essence. “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16).

Jesus’ answer to that man about loving God and others affirms the pinnacle of human aspiration: “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, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31a). Love is the fantastic energy empowering all life. Jesus was crystalline clear and succinct with his words, which echo through the ages. Have you ever wanted a straight answer? As Jesus spoke about loving God, he told the truth full-on, without any parable storytelling or the use of obscure language.

The root of human meaning entails loving God and neighbor (two sides of the same issue). It makes sense that God is love because that is a way of understanding how God as a spiritual entity has power and can be in many different places at once. God as love also means that each of us can coalesce with God spiritually when we receive and share love. One of the ways you can better prepare to love God and others is to regularly meet with other people, and church is a great place to do this. We gather as a faith family so we can encourage one another and demonstrate compassion.

Someone may ask, “What’s wrong with doing miracles, charity and kind acts?” There’s nothing wrong with any good deed, but to reap the full benefits love invites you to involve another human being as much as possible. Paul, the New Testament’s most prolific writer, emphasized how it works: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). Neglect love and you miss the point of life and you can’t please God or achieve life wellbeing.

In the formal, institutional church, realize that no liturgy, tradition or religious performance art can replace your acts of love. God wants people to become more loving, not more religious. Religion consists of many outward behaviors but religion can’t build a stairway to heaven. Spiritual vitality is about strong personal relationships, not rituals. Going through the motions may make someone religious and create a feel-good vibe but it doesn’t ensure soul health and may even detract from it. The key to a life of wellbeing is to cultivate a personal, intimate relationship with God. What you do and how you think outside church says more about you than what people see you do on Sundays.

Love is often difficult. Love costs and can be inconvenient and messy. Love is also imprecise in that unlike most religion, it doesn’t follow a rule book or ideology. The struggle with love is worth it because a life devoid of love is shallow and incomplete. Love is each believer’s life purpose and nothing is greater. As people of faith we all have the joyful responsibility of loving God by loving others, and of loving others by loving God. The relationship here is reflexive, such that you can’t claim that you love God if you don’t demonstrate love toward others (and vice-versa).

Jesus encourages us to be wise, and to build our spiritual houses upon God’s foundational promises. Jesus warned that those who ignore God’s love do so at their peril. Although Jesus’ critics heard his response about love, they fought against it and hardened their hearts because they didn’t want to make changes to their attitude and lifestyle. Unlike the critics, let us choose love and life and draw close to God. No matter what you face, you can commit to overcome whatever holds you back. You are a victor, not a victim.

If there is anything greater than love, then God has not revealed it. Love exceeds all creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Love is the bottom-line of Christianity and the essential element making your faith true, powerful and relevant. Let us pray that we will allow God to teach us the depths of love, including how we can better receive and share it with every living creature. May God be praised, and may we receive, celebrate and share God’s love every day and in every way.      –Reverend Larry Hoxey

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