Today’s lectionary passage is Mark 12: 28-34, where we find Jesus responding to 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 with the Almighty and with one another.
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 awesome, comforting force in the universe. “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). Exploring love will provide encouragement and focus to all of God’s followers.
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). Absorb how 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. So lucid was Jesus’ response that there’s no legitimate excuse to resist love’s embrace.
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 manage your strengths and weaknesses. Church is a great place to do this. We gather ourselves as a faith family so we can grow in every good manner. Church is more than a spectator sport or something you do because of mindless habit or social pressure. Hopefully, you engage church because you are drawn to give and take with those around you. The stakes are high because your soul health hangs in the balance. Set aside whatever interferes with your spiritual vitality and strive to immerse yourself in God’s glorious love. There’s no substitute!
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 absorb the compassionate power you’re sharing with others. 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 on its own doesn’t build a stairway to heaven. Spiritual vitality is about 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. Religion without the reality of a conscious acceptance of love is anemic. The key to a life of wellbeing is to cultivate a personal, intimate relationship with God. And it’s also good to know that what you do and how you think outside church says more about you than what people see Sunday.
Love is often difficult. Love costs and it is 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 at best 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 God’s children to be wise, and to build their spiritual houses upon God’s foundational promises. You are precious to God, and as a spiritual child of the Almighty you are precious. Alternatively, 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 Hoxey