A reading from Mark.
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" 29Jesus answered, "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." 32 Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that "he is one, and besides him there is no other'; 33 and "to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and "to love one's neighbor as oneself,'—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.
Lent One Wednesday Homily
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
Is there one verse that you think is more important than all the others?
Different churches emphasize different parts of the Bible.
Luther talked about the importance of justification by grace through faith.
Did you ever wonder what part of scripture Jesus thought was most important?
The lesson for this evening is the basis for all of our Wednesday Lenten reflections this year. Just prior to our reading, Jesus had been talking with the Sadducees. As you may remember, they were a Jewish group who only accepted the laws from the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy. They rejected the traditions of the elders who were interpreters of the law. You might say the Sadducees were the fundamentalists of their time.
One of the scribes of the Sadducees was impressed with the way Jesus answered their previous questions. They had been trying to trick him, but he outsmarted them every time. This time the scribe asked him a serious question: "Which commandment is first of all?"
Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, a prayer passage recited by all faithful Jews twice a day. This is the part of scripture that Jesus said was the most important commandment. We will focus on a part of it each Wednesday evening during Lent.
Tonight we look at the beginning of the passage: "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one."
That first word is important. In Hebrew it is "shema" which means "hear, listen, and obey". Shema is also the name we use to refer to this prayer. In English, we might distinguish among those various word meanings, hear, listen, and obey, but in Hebrew, that one word means all those things - hear, listen, and obey.
Think about the ways we try to get someone's attention. We raise our voices. We say things like: Listen up! Pay attention! We tell students to pay attention to their teachers. We don't just mean, "listen to what they say." We also mean for them to obey the instructions. We know what is means when a parent says, "did you hear what I said?"
That's what shema means. The people of Israel are to listen up, pay attention, and obey the words they hear.
The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Or the LORD is our God, the LORD alone. It can be translated either way, but the meaning is clearly the same. There is only one God and our LORD is that one and only God. Our God is Number One.
The people of Israel were surrounded by cultures that worshiped many different gods. They were the unusual ones because they were monotheistic, worshiping only one God. Now, it is more unusual to believe in many gods, so perhaps we can't relate to how important this was to them.
Or can we? The cheer,"we are number one!" is familiar to us, isn't it? We chant that for our sports teams when they win the game. We all want to root for the winner. We have giant size foam hands with the index finger pointing upward, and we chant,"we are number one!"
Just who is number one again? The world certainly tells us we should want to be number one. The world tells us to put our needs and desires above everyone else's. If you listen to commercials at all, you know they want you to buy whatever they are selling, so you can feel better about yourself, so you can be number one.
You can be the most attractive. You can be the most popular. You can earn the most money and buy the biggest house. You can have the best toys and win all the games. But you will never really be number one. The LORD our God is number one.
It is easy to get priorities mixed up and think other things are more important, though. There are lots of voices calling us to hear, listen, and obey. Some of them are pretty loud. They tell us to put ourselves first; put our community first; put our country first; let the others take care of themselves.
Putting ourselves first, thinking we can be number one, is the original sin. Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they wanted to be like God. No other reason. They weren't hungry, they wanted to be like God. They wanted to be number one.
What does it mean to hear and listen and obey the message that the LORD our God is number one? First of all, God isn’t number one because of anything we say or do. God is number one by definition. God doesn't have to earn the most points or win the most games. God doesn't have to have the more people in church on Sunday than on the golf course to win that number one title. It isn't a contest. God's status as Number One is forever. God is the Almighty Number One, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
God doesn't need anything from us. Even our prayers and praise don’t do anything to add to God's glory as number one. It is our privilege to pray and the praise God. It is our duty and our joy to pray and praise God.
To love this One God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself is much more important than anything else we can do or say. That is what Jesus said is the most important thing to remember from the scriptures.
Our God is Number One. But God did not exploit the power of being number one. God became human like us and came to earth to teach us, and heal us, and die a horrible death on a cross for us. Our number one God overcame death itself so that we might also live forever.
Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone. Amen.