Please click here: 12-11-04 Thy Kingdom Come – Love in Actoin to hear the Word proclaimed.
Epistle Lesson: Hebrew 9:11-14
But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
Gospel Lesson: Mark 12:28-34
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?”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.’ The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 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’; 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.” 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.
As we have come together today on this All Saints Day Sunday, I feel that it is a must that I explain a bit about All Saints Day, and who we understand to be saints. You see, early in the Christian history was born a belief that saints was a status that we held aside for the holy elite. That they were recognized in their life after death as people who were more holy than others, and so their bones and tombs were seen as honored and when come to with reverence, full of power. This is still a belief that is held by some, but not often found within the traditions of the United Methodist Church. More often we have understood the word saint to mean what it is translated as found in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Within our scriptures we see the word Saint to refer to “Holy Ones”. With this definition, we proclaim as we see in the Apostles Creed, a Communion of the Saints. A communion of a gathering of those who are holy, set aside, for the work of God. In this understanding we are celebrating today ALL who have gone before and who are present who are set aside for the work of God’s Kingdom. So who is set aside for such this task? EACH and everyone of us, in our baptisms are commissioned to be set aside, made holy for the work of the kingdom. Today we celebrate not just those saints, those who are set aside who are living today, the church. But ALL those who have been set aside who are made holy through the blood of Jesus Christ. Let me clarify as best as I can. The church: consists of all the saints that are alive bodily today as “The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world.” While the communion of Saints includes the fold of all disciples, of all time periods, in all geographical locations.
With that being said, we have a wonderful heritage, a wonderful cloud of witnesses that we celebrate as we, the small community of Red Valley, participate in such a large communion of saints. We celebrate as we name those saints of Old like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph and Moses, Aaron and Joshua, David and Solomon, the prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel or Nathaniel and Isaiah. We remember the saints like John the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus. We remember Peter, James, and John. We recall apostles Paul and Silas and Timothy. We recognize and remember the stories of the martyrs like Polycarp who was burned alive and when the flames did not touch him was put to death by the sword. Or Bonehoffer a German Lutheran pastor who died under the hand of Nazi Germany. We recall and remember Saints of the early church fathers who wrote for us the living out of a Christian faith like Augustine, Justin Marty, Tertullian, Clement and Origen. We recall saints like Jermoe and Ambrose. We remember those who brought out the movements of monasticism like that of Benedict of Nursia. We continue to recall saints that questioned the church for the sake of God’s kingdom like Jan Hus and Martin Luther. We give thanks for the lives of saints who led in the Great Awakening like John Wesley and George Whitfield. We remember our modern Saints like Paul Tillich, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day. These are just but a few who have stood out in the history of the church, this communion of saints.
We remember them why? We remember them because of their passion for Jesus Christ and their work for his Kingdom. In our Gospel lesson today we have a lesson that has been timeless. The double love command of Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. A lesson that I am sure has been taught and shaped the saints of today, but has been a lesson that has molded and shaped the saints of all ages. We have a quote from Augustine of the fourth and fifth century, Saint Augustine wrote, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he [or she] understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all.”
This double love teaching has been foundational to the saints of Jesus Christ. You see, these saints above named are alive today not because of what they did, but because of what God did for them through the grace of Jesus Christ. They are exemplars of faith though as it was in their faith made present to us in their love of God and others. Notice in Mark’s Gospel that when the scribe repeated the double love command to be greater than any sacrifice or burnt offering, Jesus told him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of love. A kingdom that lets the moral attributes of God shine through those who were created in his image. Think about this. “The Kingdom of God is in you.” This is a quote from the Gospel of Luke told to us from Jesus. “The Kingdom of God is in you.” This to me says that when we allow ourselves to be who God created us to be, the Kingdom of God is made present. So who has God made us to be? Well we share in some of God’s moral attributes like words that define God as “caring, pure, forgiving, holy and [grace filled.]”
We become the kingdom of God when we as in our Great Thanksgiving says, “Offer ourselves as a holy and living sacrifice in union with Christ’s offering for us.” We do not just pray this prayer during communion each week out of repetition or for the sake of saying it. We pray it because we need to remember who we are. We must lay aside ourselves, sacrifice, as we love God and neighbor fully. What does it look like to love the Lord your God with ALL of your heart. It means that you are infatuated with God just as you are in love with all of your emotions. You chase after God. Or with all your soul. It means that you do whatever is necessary to love God spiritually by attending upon the things that align your spirit with that of God. Or to love the Lord your God with all your mind. It means to seek after God through knowledge. Through the studying of God’s word. To know it in and out. To have a desire to know who God is and to KNOW what is important to God. To have knowledge of his Kingdom. And finally to love the Lord your God with all of your strength. God doesn’t just want us to know about him, but he wants us live out with all of our strength acts of faith. Again not because we are trying to seek his approval, but because we are filled with his Love we must share it with others. We are able to do this through our giving and our missions. As we finished our study this last week with Kyle Idleman, he brings about a parable. And I would like to close today with this parable because I believe it is the difference in the Kingdom of God coming near, and the Kingdom of God being present.
Imagine with me, if Jackie and I were to go out for a month on some vacation, and we leave our house in the hands of someone else. We though did not just leave them the run of the house, but Jackie and I left behind a guide to some things that we think are important to have done. We leave not just some things, but a notebook with details of what needs to be done while we are away. Important things like Delilah and Spencer needs to be fed everyday. The food is in the cupboard by the television. And the trash needs to be taken out once a week, the dumpster is right around the corner beside the Rescue Squad. And things like the dishwasher needs to be ran and the detergent is under the kitchen sink. Imagine how Jackie and I might feel when we come home to see the trash never taken out, and there are dishes piled so high that we cannot see through the kitchen window. Out in the woods we see erected 2 little crosses with the names of Delilah and Spencer on them. And when we are greeted by the person we left the house in charge of they say, “This notebook is awesome! It was so full of great things. I highlighted the most important parts, and I just loved the part of where the food was located for Delilah and Spencer. I was so enthused by how great this notebook was, I began small groups about it and it was just great!”
You see, the Saints we remember today are saints that did not just read the directions of the notebook, but they lived out the Kingdom of God each and every day . They did not just merely perform dead works, but worshipped the living God as they loved God and their neighbor. First John 4:7-13 says this,
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
May we, who carry on as the saints of today, Go and do likewise.