A LITTLE NEIGHBORLY ADVICE[1]

MARK 12:28-34

JUNE 7, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

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            I considered titling todays message Deja Vu All Over Again.  Thats part of a quote attributed to Yogi Berra who reportedly said, Thats like deja vu all over again, but, as you can see I didnt go with that title.

            I was tempted to go with that as a title because, if you were here last Sunday you likely thought to yourself this morning, Didnt we already experience this?  Didnt we read this Scripture last Sunday?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, in the sense that it covers the same event that we looked at last week, but no because last Sunday we read Matthews account of the event and this week we are considering Marks account, and there are three differences in the accounts.

            First, Marks account is longer than Matthews account which is somewhat of an oddity given the fact that Marks Gospel is the briefest of all the gospels and Matthews Gospel the longest of all the gospels.  So, its somewhat curious, given Marks brevity that he devotes more verses to Jesus encounter here than Matthew did. 

            Second, in Matthews story the question about the greatest commandment comes from a member of the Pharisees.  Mark has no mention of the Pharisees.  He tells us a scribe posed the question.  Furthermore, in Matthews version the Pharisee posed the question as a test, but here the exchange is far less adversarial.  In fact, both Jesus and the scribe end up complimenting one another after the exchange.  We dont get that sense in Matthews gospel.  We sense that the Pharisee left the exchange rather frustrated because he had failed to entrap Jesus.

            The other significant difference in the two accounts is the extra all yours in Marks account.  They both have love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, but Mark adds a fourth all your.  He adds and with all your strength.

            We didnt cover this last week, so lets take a moment to look at the all yours this morning. We are to love God with all our heart, not the blood-pumping heart, but rather the "heart" that, from ancient times has been considered the seat of our emotions. A number of years ago, when I was the pastor of West Hills Presbyterian Church in Omaha, we had a choir exchange with a congregation in north Omaha.  And let me tell you, what a difference preaching with the Salem Baptist Choir as a back up rather than the West Hills Choir as a back up.  I mean the Salem Baptist Choir really had their heart into it.  And Im not just taking about the anthem.  Im talking about the sermon.  During the sermon, if something was said that struck a chord, I heard things like Amen Hallelujah Preach it, Brother!" emanating from the choir.  To be honest, those folk got their heart into worshiping God more than we Presbyterians seem to do.

            Then, theres the word soul.  Love God with all your soul. In the Greek word its the word psyche from which we get the word psychology. It is closely related to what we think of as personality. It means "Love God with whatever makes you you.  Are you happy-go-lucky, outgoing, gregarious, the life of the party? Fine. Then let your ebullience be reflected in the way you serve God. Are you quiet, introspective, much more comfortable out of the limelight than in it? Wonderful. Then let your quiet stability be put to work in the name of your Lord. The message is that there is no such thing as cookie-cutter discipleship. One size does not fit all. Love the Lord your God with all your soul, with what makes you you. No holding back.

            Then, Mark and Matthew both have Jesus  using the word "mind." Love God with all your mind. Here is where we Presbyterians shine. Generally speaking we presbyterians are very cerebral in our approach to matters of faith. We do not believe that anyone should have to take their head off when entering church.  Love the Lord your God with your mind. Most Presbyterians have this in spades.

            But then Mark adds another word that Matthew does not use … “strength.  The Greek behind this one is the word dunamis which means power. We get the word dynamite from it. This is serious power. This is a concentration of effort. This if focus. All our resources are drawn together in a common cause. 

            Its interesting that Mark includes the word strength and not Matthew.  Its also interesting that Jesus added a word that was not included from the original quote from Moses.  What Jesus states here about loving God comes from Deuteronomy 6.  In that verse Moses instructed the Israelites to love God with all their heart, and with all their soul and with all their might, which would be very similar to strength.  What Jesus adds is the word mind.  I dont have any idea why Jesus added that word, but being Presbyterian, Im glad he did.

            Well, last week we looked at what it means to love God with all our heart, soul and mind.  Today we continue our Five Great Loves sermon series and turn our attention to the second of five love directives  that Jesus gives to us loving our neighbor.  As Jesus said, Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first and the greatest commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.

            Of course, love for ones neighbor was nothing new. The command had been around since Leviticus.  Loving our neighbor, however, is not new for us. We have heard it and heard it and heard it. Eight times we find that directive in the Scriptures, and not just from Jesus. And this morning I want to address the question … “Who is our neighbor.

            First, I want to underscore the fact that a neighbor is anyone in lives in proximity to us.  Webster defines the word as a person who lives next to or near another person.  It begins with our family. 

            An elderly woman was dying in the hospital. Her son went to be with her. Her pastor happened to be with her when the son arrived and the pastor said, The son walked over to the bedside of his aged and dying mother, kissed her on the cheek and said, Mom, you have been such a good mother to me and I want you to know that I love you.'"

            The pastor said the elderly woman started crying. Through her tears she said to her son, Last Friday was your 63rd birthday and that is the first time in months that you told me that you loved me. Those words mean so much to me.

            Loving our neighbor begins at home.

            Who is our neighbor?  Anyone who live next door or near to us.

            Most of us are fortunate to live in good neighborhoods. I have two great neighbors, especially the neighbor immediately to my north.  When we went on vacation a couple of weeks ago, he and his wife watched our house for us.  We watch their house for them as well we they head out of town.  We are fortunate to live in a great neighborhood, with great, for the most part, neighbors.

            I wonder, however what they think of me as a neighbor? To tell you the truth, I'm not as good as I should be.  Sure, I smile, wave and speak but I don't take the time to know my neighbors.

            Novelist Jonathan Franzen writes,

 

            The American family today is a tiny nuclear unit inhabiting an enormous house in which each person has his or her own bedroom and bathroom. It is no longer a rule that you know your neighbors. Communities increasingly tend to be virtual, the participants either faceless or firmly in control of the face they present to others. Transportation is largely private; the latest SUV's are the size of living rooms and come with onboard telephones, CD players, and TV screens where people sit behind the tinted windows of one of these high-riding I see you but you can't see me' mobile privacy guard units. No wonder we feel isolated.

 

            Loving our neighbor, starts nearby, with those who live in close proximity to us.

            The other thing I want to say is a neighbor is also a person in need.

          For years now State Farm Insurance has advertised their business with the slogan. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there." That promise is only partially true. Like any insurance company, State Farm is there:

            - If you pay your premiums in a timely fashion.

            - If you don't have too many accidents in one year.

            Jesus, of course expands what it means to be a good neighbor. Next week we will look at Lukes version of the greatest commandment question and answer encounter which is quite different than Matthews and Marks reporting of the event.  In fact Matthew and Mark, despite their differences are more alike than different when compared to Lukes account. But in a nutshell, a lawyer asks Jesus to clarify the meaning of neighbor and in answer to the lawyer's question, Who is my neighbor?" Jesus told a story that the world cannot forget: The Story of the Good Samaritan.

            The punch line of that story is a neighbor is a person in need. In this regard let me tell you about a Catholic priest named Sean OKelly. Sean OKelly had a church in the heart of Newark, New Jersey.  He is redheaded and speaks with an Irish brogue because he had only been in America a few years, and always seems to have a smile on his face.

            On one occasion, Sean heard that a family in his parish was hungry. Because of a government bureaucratic foul-up, a mother with five small children had no food and no hope of getting any until the end of the month.

            Although the family was not Catholic, Sean OKelly went to the grocery store and bought a supply of groceries, three full sacks worth of groceries, and he went to the apartment building where the family lived. After carrying the groceries up four flights of stairs and walking down a long hall, he came to the apartment. He rang the doorbell, and a little boy about seven years old answered the door. He looked at Father OKellys clerical collar and the sacks of groceries, and then screamed at his mother: "Mama, Mama, come quick. Jesus brought us some food!"

            Sean said, "I will never forget that childs comment."

            Being a good neighbor in Jesus eyes means if we have the ability to help someone in need, we help.  Those opportunities are almost endless even in a neighborhood like ours. Amen.



[1] Much of sermon inspired by David E. Leininger No Holding Back, Dr. J. Howard Olds Lighting Up Your Neighborhood, and Robert L. Allen Religion In a Nutshell.