A preaching superstar once said that every preacher really has just two or three sermons in them, which they re-package every week. (He said that one of his is, “Christianity’s weird, odd. Why would anyone possibly want to be a Christian?” I’m pretty sure it was William Willimon, but I’m happy to be corrected.)
If this is true, I’m pretty sure that one of my three regulars is “Love one another. God really meant it. I really mean it!”
This week’s Revised Common Lectionary (texts can be found here) is more than perfect for me. The Hebrew scriptures offer us the first chapter of the book of Ruth the Moabite, whose loving loyalty to her mother-in-law extends beyond all expected boundaries, including that of being a hated outsider. (In Psalm 60:8. God is alleged to have said, “Moab is my washbasin,” a really nasty slur– think, chamber pot.) Ruth’s lovingkindness is likened to that of God through the use of the Hebrew word, chesed. In fact, the passage offered includes one of the most passionate declarations of love found in all of scripture: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” (Ruth 1:16-17)
That very same lovingkindness of God forms the heart of Psalm 146, in which we hear that it is God
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow… ~Psalm 146: 6b-9a
Without ever using the word “love,” the letter to the Hebrews describes what elsewhere in the New Testament is called agape: the selfless and limitless love of God through Christ, in which he offers himself, the great high priest, as expiation for human sinfulness.
And finally, we have the passage from Mark, in which Jesus is once again being put to the test by religious authorities. Even though RCL preachers are approaching the end of the liturgical year (and then the beginning of Advent), it’s good to remember that this passage takes place during what Christians think of as Holy Week. Jesus has been defending his ministry from a set of challenges, all circling around the question of where, exactly, he gets his authority. The cross looms. Jesus is asked: “What is the greatest commandment?”
In his response, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 …. almost perfectly. He says, “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.'” As a nerdy mainline Protestant clergywoman, I take great delight that Jesus’s understanding of full-person devotion to God includes the mind, the use of the critical faculties God has given us.
Jesus adds that the second commandment is, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”(Leviticus 19:18b), and goes on to insist, “There is no other commandment greater than these.” These words take on added power in the context of a week in which Jesus’ love for his neighbor will lead him to the cross.
Last evening I attended a vigil in memory of the eleven children of God murdered by a white supremacist in Pittsburgh last Saturday, during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue. The director of our local chapter of the NAACP reminded us that the antidote to fear is love… what he called, righteous love.
How about you? Will you preach righteous love this Sunday? What shape will your love, love, love, love sermon take? Or will you go in another direction… perhaps, a sermon series on Ruth, highlighting her status as a refugee twice over, as well as a hated outsider who becomes the grandmother of King David? I look forward to our conversation in the comments. Blessings on your study and your proclamation of the Word.
Image: P. Raube, 8-13-2017