Sunday’s sermon: Listening Out Loud


Texts used – John 17:1-11; Acts 1:6-14

  • It probably won’t surprise you to learn that for a long time when the boys were little, we had a double stroller that lived in the back of our van. This stroller was devoted solely to making it easier to run as many errands as possible with two small children. The longer I could keep them strapped in and contained, the better!
    • Double stroller description
      • Folds up easy
      • Comfortable for the boys
      • Even storage for the diaper bag
    • Running errands with Mom and the boys one day – story of stopping at Once Upon a Child → When I pulled the stroller out and unfolded it, it was pretty obvious right from the get-go that something wasn’t right. And it didn’t take very long to figure out what was missing.
      • Front wheels = double wheels
      • One of the double wheels = missing (fallen off)
        • Found wheel in the back of the van → reattached it and the stroller worked like a charm
    • There are a lot of things in our lives that go hand-in-hand, aren’t there?
      • Julia’s book: We Belong Together[1]
        • Peanut butter and jelly
        • Hot cocoa and marshmallows
        • Hands and gloves
        • Paper and pencil
    • In our Scripture readings for this morning, we see how two elements of our faith also go inextricably hand-in-hand: prayer and action.
  • Let’s look at the passage from John first.
    • Context within rest of the gospel: These are the last words that Jesus speaks to his disciples as a free man. And what are they? A prayer.
      • Beginning of long prayer in 3 sections – this section: prayer of glory – text: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that the Son can glorify you. … I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I shared with you before the world was created.”[2] → much of this passage glorifies the work that God has already done, is doing through Jesus, and will do in the future
      • Prayer = conclusion of much longer dialogue (chs. 14-17!) between Jesus and disciples in the upper room → whole dialogue sandwiched by powerful actions
        • Preceded by Last Supper
        • Followed by Jesus’ arrest and betrayal
        • Prayer in today’s passage = certainly turning point in the story – commentator: [John] has positioned Jesus’ farewell prayer to stand as the theological climax of the Fourth Gospel. … Jesus’ prayer stands between his words to the disciples in the Farewell Discourse and the beginning of the passion story. The prayer thus stands at the pivotal turn into the events of the hours.[3] → So the intense spiritual experience of the Last Supper feeds into this prayer, and in turn, this prayer pours out strength and assurance for the final act that is to come: Jesus’ journey to the cross. Therefore, this prayer is both the beginning to an action and the end.
          • See this in Gr.: lots of Gr. words in this passage that have juxtaposed meanings – both “coming in” and “going out,” both “turning” and “returning” → makes the whole prayer to occupy that essential, pivotal in-between space that’s not “either/or” but “both/and” – coming AND going, turning AND returning
            • Theologically speaking: the “already/not yet” of God’s Kingdom → how God’s Kingdom is both already begun in the work of Christ and all the believers (including us) but is also something that is coming at the end of time
            • E.g. – Jesus: I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.[4] – Gr. “finishing” = both “fulfilling” and “initiating” → In a sense, Jesus’ divine mission on earth is coming to a close … but in another sense, it’s just beginning. But no matter which way you look at it, it’s a mission that requires prayer. Prayer simultaneously establishes and completes this mission.
    • The rest of Jesus’ prayer – continuing beyond the portion that we read this morning – is for other people.
      • Prayer for the disciples – text: “Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they (the disciples) can share completely in my joy. … I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one.”[5]
      • Prayer for those who will hear God’s word through the disciples – text: “I’m not praying only for [the disciples] but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”[6]
        • Words of assurance of God’s grace and forgiveness that we use sometimes: Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, and Christ prays for us.
      • Commentator: On the eve of his death, Jesus speaks to God on behalf of the faith community. Jesus entrusts the hope for the future of his followers to God in prayer. … Jesus’ final words before the hour are not last-minute instructions to the community about what it should do in Jesus’ absence; instead, his words turn the future of the community over to God.[7] → inextricably links prayer and action by gathering them under the same umbrella: faith
  • So what do we see of prayer and action in our passage from Acts this morning?
    • Like gospel passage, prayer sandwiched between 2 powerful actions
      • First action = most of today’s passage: Jesus’ ascension into heaven → part of what Jesus had been praying about in our gospel passage: I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one.[8]
      • Prayer: When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying … All [the disciples] were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.[9]
        • Disciples praying this time, not Jesus → already following Messiah’s e.g.
      • Today’s passage = followed by 2 more powerful actions
        • Directly after this time of prayer – chose new disciple to replace Judas
        • Soon after = Pentecost!
        • Once again, prayer both stemming from and precipitating action. The disciples gathered together to pray after they watched Jesus ascend to heaven. We can imagine that they prayed for guidance for whatever was to come. Were they supposed to go back to their homes? Were they supposed to go out into the world? Were they supposed to stay together in one large group as they had with Jesus? Were they supposed to split up? What did God want them to do, and how were they supposed to do it? So they prayed. And that prayer precipitated powerful action – a new disciple, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in wind and tongues of fire and various languages abounding.
    • Ill. that prayer in and of itself can be the action, too – commentary: Waiting on the Lord to act is not a passive inactivity: They waited by praying and studying Scripture together. … Praying together publicly demonstrates the importance of their spiritual unity and resolve in accomplishing their missionary vocation as Jesus prophesied it and as God will continue to clarify to them.[10] → letting the actions of the world inspire prayer while trusting that prayers will affect the actions of the world
  • Interestingly enough, we’re reading this passage on a particular Sunday in the church year: Reign of Christ Sunday (or what used to be called Christ the King Sunday).
    • Origins of Reign of Christ Sunday[11]
      • Instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe or Feast of Christ the King in response to growing secularism and nationalism in the world at the time → supposed to be a reminder of who we are and whose we are as Christians
      • Adopted by many other Protestant branches much later
    • Frankly, it’s a bit of a controversial day in the church calendar because many people – especially those who have been marginalized and oppressed and subjugated in harmful, violent ways – are uncomfortable with the similar language of being subjugated by Christ. To be honest, it’s not language that I’m terribly comfortable with either.
    • HOWEVER, important point in terms of what we’re talking about today as we observe Reign of Christ Sunday = The reign of Christ was not a reign of force and violent action and harsh subjugation. It was indeed a reign of prayer … a reign of compassion … a reign of teaching … a reign of trying to open people’s hearts and minds and lives to the love and grace of God.
      • Prayer was the action
      • BUT prayer also initiated the action → Jesus prayed for people and then did something to help them
        • James: Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.[12]
  • So what does this have to do with our lives here in Oronoco?
    • Like disciples in John, we have heard God’s word through Christ
      • Hear it in our worship services
      • Hear it and witness it in the world around us
      • And we cannot help but be changed by this word.
        • Gr. “received” (“they have received [these words] and know in truth that I came from you”) – “received” = “put on” → implies change in those who have heard these words
          • Change initiated by the words
          • Change perpetuated by the words
          • Commentator: This Christian community of ours can be wild and frustrating and crazy, but we place our trust in the prayer of Jesus. The disciples Jesus loved, and the community that he loves now, lived and still live – enveloped by that prayer.[13]
            • Prayer that continues to inform and inspire our actions
    • Prayer is also one of the greatest ways to include people in that community – the community of faith within these four walls and out there in the wild and frustrating and crazy world.
      • Pray with others
      • Pray for others
      • Prayer no matter what
        • Often hesitation over “imperfect prayer” → no such thing as an imperfect prayer when prayers come from the heart
          • Words or no words
          • Lots of words or one simple word
            • Anne Lamott’s popular book: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers[14] in which she says basically all prayers boil down to 3 simple words: help, thanks, and wow
      • Popular contemporary Christian author Max Lucado: “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” → “The power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it.” Thanks be to God! And so we enact our faith – we listen out loud – with our prayers. Amen.

[1] Joyce Wan. We Belong Together. (New York, NY: Scholastic Books), 2011.

[2] Jn 17:1b, 4-5.

[3] Gail R. O’Day. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 787.

[4] Jn 17:4.

[5] Jn 17:13, 15 (clarification added).

[6] Jn 17:20-21.

[7] O’Day, 797.

[8] Jn 17:11.

[9] Acts 1:13-14.

[10] Robert W. Wall. “The Acts of the Apostles: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 10. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), 45-46.


[12] Jas 2:15-17.

[13] Linda Lee Chandler. “Seventh Sunday of Easter – John 17:1-11 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2.(Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 543.

[14] Anne Lamott. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), 2012.

Sunday’s sermon: Keeping Up Appearances

widow pennies

Texts used – Mark 12:38-44; Acts 20:32-35

  • I want to let you all in on a little secret this morning. Some of the best shows that can be found on television … come from Great Britain.
    • Doesn’t really matter what type of show you’re into – those coming from the BBC are generally among the best
      • Historical drama – e.g.s: Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife
      • Awkward humor – e.g.s.: The IT Crowd and The Office (actually originated with British television before the American version became wildly popular)
      • Classy reality TV (yes … I just said “classy reality TV”) – e.g.: The Great British Baking Show
    • One particular show – sitcom: Keeping Up Appearances
      • Initially aired in the early to mid-1990s
      • Follows the life of Hyacinth Bucket (which she insists on pronouncing “bouquet”) and her beleaguered and often-exasperated husband, Richard
      • Hyacinth’s greatest goal in life is to climb the social ladder → episodes packed full of all the ridiculous lengths Hyacinth will go to in terms of her garden, her home, her looks, her vacations, her hostessing/entertaining, her car, and even her breakfast cereal to keep up the appearances in the eyes of her neighbors, her sisters, and – most importantly of all – herself
        • E.g. – exchange between she and Richard over breakfast one morning[1]: Richard is looking for regular cornflakes but Hyacinth presents new “exclusive European high fiber breakfast cereal” – it’s merits: it was “highly recommended” by the Dutch Royal Family and (even better) it has a royal-looking crest on the packaging à All Richard wants his is regular cereal, but in her attempts to appear more affluent, more “high society,” and more important than she really is, Hyacinth insists that even their breakfast must be grander. Breakfast cereal, y’all … Breakfast. Cereal.
  • Gospel reading this morning tells a similar tale of characters around Jesus trying showcase their wealth and status
    • Text: Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny.[2] → Before we go any further than that, let’s talk about the layout of the temple a little bit so we can get a better picture as to what this scene might have looked like.[3]
      • Temple was elevated → approach up some grand steps that ran all the way around the perimeter of the structure
      • Many different gates to enter the temple structure itself – one of the most common = East Gate which led into giant courtyard (roughly the size of 2 football fields) surrounded by columns → “Women’s Courtyard” because this was as far as women were allowed to go in the temple structure
        • “Women’s Courtyard” = where Jesus did much of his teaching because more people were allowed to be there
      • From the Women’s Courtyard, you go through another huge, elaborate gate into the inner temple which included things like the altar, the places for sacrifice, and the Holy of Holies, which housed the Ark of the Covenant
      • Temple treasury and vessels for money collection were located in the Women’s Courtyard : 13 giant, trumpet-shaped receptacles that ringed the courtyard → gave people plenty of opportunity to toss their money in in plain view of everyone else milling about in the courtyard
    • And this is exactly where we find Jesus and the disciples in our Scripture reading. Jesus has been teaching in the courtyard of the temple for quite a while.
      • Scope of the gospel – today’s text comes after Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey (“Palm Sunday reading”) in that intermittent time between entering the city and Jesus being arrested → Jesus did a lot of teaching in the temple during that last week of his life, and today’s passage is part of that teaching.
      • So Jesus and the disciples are hanging out in the Women’s Courtyard of the temple teaching and preaching and basically people watching when Jesus comes out with this warning – text: As he was teaching, he said, “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged harshly.”[4] → Jesus is basically talking about the Pharisees here. That’s who the “legal experts” are.
        • Interesting because this passage comes on the heels of what we read last week – exchange between Jesus and one of the scribes in which Jesus and the scribe agree that the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole heart, would, mind, and strength and also to love your neighbor as yourself → Last week, we talked about how, even though most of Jesus’ encounters with the scribes and Pharisees were antagonistic encounters, this one was actually cordial and agreeable. The scribe recognizes that Jesus’ answer is correct, and Jesus affirms the scribe by saying, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”[5] But then, after the scribe turns around and leaves, Jesus gives his disciples this warning – a warning that, when you get down to the heart of it – is about authenticity and righteousness and motivation.
          • Why do the legal experts parade around in long robes and say their long prayers? To be known, to be acknowledged, to be recognized → They desire greetings of honor and places of honor in the synagogues. They are supposed to be leaders of faith – helping people to understand God through the observance and practice of the laws, and yet Jesus says their desires fall more on the side of worldly recognition. It’s an ostentatious sort of way of going about their days that reeks of exaggeration, self-aggrandizement, and self-righteousness. They are living their faith not for the sake of faith itself but for the benefits it will bring them.
            • Not so different from Hyacinth who attempts to live the life she wishes she had, not because it’s practical or because it’s a true reflection of her life, but because it “looks good”
    • Contrast = the widow with her coins
      • NOT grand
      • NOT self-righteous
      • NOT seeking any recognition for her contribution → contribution that is the very definition of meager in comparison to the amounts being tossed in by all the other, wealthier people around her – just 2 small, copper coins totaling a single penny together
      • Scholar: [The widow’s] actions and her commitment to pursuing them reveal something basic about her: that she is in need. … Whatever else is driving the widow, it is not hypocrisy.[6] → This cuts to the heart of the matter. Very often, this Scripture reading is preached in terms of holding up the widow giving out of her lack as opposed to the rich people giving out of their abundance. How many times have you heard this preached as a stewardship sermon? “You can give even out of nothing. Be like the widow!” But in truth, Jesus has no words of judgment for the wealthy people who are contributing as well. Jesus doesn’t disparage them for their offerings. He simple holds the widow up – not because of the size of her contribution but because she gives and lives authentically.
        • Text: Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”[7] → “She from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.” It doesn’t get much realer than that, does it?
          • Interesting note: I mentioned that this encounter is part of the week leading up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, and that knowledge plays into this interaction, too. The widow gave all she had, even what she needed to live on. And Jesus himself will give all he has, even his life, to demonstrate God’s utmost love and grace for all people. – scholar: in anticipation of his act of self-sacrifice, [Jesus] teaches his disciples not to limit their commitment by keeping the law’s demands, but to give their whole being to God.[8]
  • Other NT reading this morning from Acts gets at this idea of giving and living wholeheartedly and authentically as well
    • Context
      • “I” in this passage = Paul speaking → speech as he’s getting ready to leave the city of Ephesus after establishing the Ephesian church
      • Part of a larger warning against those who will come in after Paul has gone and attempt to distort the teachings of the church → So this is Paul’s way of reminding them, “This is who I am. This is how I’ve conducted myself while I was among you. This is how I have lived my life and my faith together as one.” – text: I haven’t craved anyone’s silver, gold or clothing. You yourselves know that I have provided for my own needs and for those of my companions with my own hands. In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak. In this way, we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”[9]
        • No ostentatiousness or self-righteousness like the legal experts
        • No disingenuousness or hypocrisy
        • Just a man living and working and doing what he could for the gospel – giving of himself and his time not because of how it would benefit him but because of how it would benefit God’s Kingdom – text: In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”[10]
  • Friends, the whole notion of keeping up appearances doesn’t matter. It makes for a great sitcom basis, but in the real world, that’s not what counts! No matter what society tries to tell you.
    • Poignant ill. of this – phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”
      • Disputed origins[11]
        • Story 1: came from a comic strip of the same name by American cartoonist Arthur “Pop” Momand in the early 20th
        • Story 2: inspired by ridiculously opulent mansion called Wyndcliffe Castle built for Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones as her summer home in Rhinebeck, NY in 1853
          • 24 rooms
          • Gothic style
          • Entirely brick exterior
          • Originally sat on 80 acres of wooded property overlooking the Hudson River
          • Inspired other well-to-do New Yorkers to build even bigger, fancier homes so they could “keep up with the Joneses”
          • But today? Today, that beautiful, massive, extravagant American castle is abandoned and crumbling. It’s been abandoned for almost 70 years. What was quite literally a monument to wealth and status and privilege is now deteriorating – completely beyond rescue and repair. Because in the end, it’s not about the flashiness of life. It’s not about the flourishes and the flaunting. It’s about faith. Pure and simple. It’s about how we live our faith. Are we more like the legal experts? In it for the look and the return – what it might bring back to me? Or are we wholehearted and authentic like the widow with her coins? Committed and purposeful and all-in? Amen.


[2] Mk 12:41-42.

[3] and

[4] Mk 12:38-40.

[5] Mk 12:34 (NRSV).

[6] Mark Douglas. “Mark 12:41-44 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 396.

[7] Mk 12:43-44.

[8] James W. Thompson. “Mark 12:41-44 – Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 397.

[9] Acts 20:33-35.

[10] Acts 20:35b.

[11] and

Sunday’s sermon: The Look and Feel of Love


Texts used – Ruth 1:1-18; Mark 12:28-34

  • Orpah. Ruth. A scribe. And Jesus. An interesting cast of characters for our Scripture readings this morning, right? We have an embittered widow, two foreign wives of Israelite men, a religious man whose profession required him to spend all day focused on the rules, and the Messiah. What could this ragamuffin group possibly have to teach us about the light of God’s love in our lives? Well … I’m glad you asked.
  • Let’s start with the passage from Ruth.
    • First, we meet Naomi.
      • Lived a tough life
        • Left her homeland because she and her family were starving → move to a hostile land
          • Relations btwn Judah and Moab = always contentious
        • And to make matters worse, after moving to Moab, Ruth’s two sons decide to take Moabite wives. → serious transgression for Jewish men at the time
          • Deut: Don’t intermarry with [outside nations]. Don’t give your daughters to one of their sons to marry, and don’t take one of their daughters to marry your son, because they will turn your child away from following me so that they end up serving other gods. That will make the Lord’s anger burn against you, and he will quickly annihilate you.[1]
        • Within a span of 10 yrs., husband and both sons die → Now, I want to make it clear what a terrible position this leaves Naomi in.
          • Status of widows = non-existent, zero rights/privileges/property of their own → women in ancient Is. had to have a male relative to take care of them or their only option would be begging on the street
        • In desperation, finally heads back to Bethlehem with daughters-in-law → But part of the way back, Naomi stops. In her darkest hour, when she herself is desperate for comfort, support, and love, Naomi realizes that Orpah’s and Ruth’s best chance at a good life is back in Moab. So despite her own time of need – or maybe because of it – Ruth tries to convince her daughters-in-law to turn back for their own good.
          • Text: Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the LORD deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. May the LORD provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. [2]
      • In this selfless act, we see the power of Naomi’s love → sacrificing love
        • Scholar explains: [Naomi] seeks a place of settled security for [her daughters-in-law]. This word … means “settled down” after movement or wandering. … In essence, it connotes permanence, settlement, security, and freedom from anxiety after wandering, uncertainty, and pain.[3] → This is Naomi’s wish. When Naomi says, “May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security,” this is what she wants for her daughters-in-law: this permanence, this comfort and security, this settled circumstance after hardship and pain.
        • And this is the kind of love that God has for us – a love great enough that God willingly came to earth to live and love and die and rise again as Christ. And isn’t this also the kind of love that we aim to have for those we care about? A love that would move mountains, dry tears, and shatter fears no matter the cost to ourselves?
          • E.g. – story of Dave learning to walk and falling down the basement stairs → Dad swinging his leg out to catch him before he hit the cement basement floor and ending up with a broken toe
    • Next, we encounter Orpah.
      • Sometimes gets a bad rap – she turns and leaves when Ruth stays → But there’s actually an important lesson we can learn from Orpah, too. You see, Orpah’s love is an obedient love. It’s a love that obeys, a love that follows, a love that is devoted.
        • 10 commandments kind of love – Honor your father and your mother, exactly as the Lord your God requires.[4]
        • Remember, Naomi wasn’t the only one weeping at their parting. Orpah also wept. But she does what Naomi asks because Orpah is being faithful. I don’t believe she wanted to leave any more than Ruth, but her obedient love for her mother-in-law led her to turn back. In this love, we find reverence and humility. I wonder what our lives might be like if we showed God this kind of devoted, faithful love?
    • Finally, we come to Ruth.
      • Ruth’s love = also devoted → But unlike Orpah’s obedient devotion, Ruth’s is a involved devotion.
        • Ill. in her own speech: “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”[5]
          • To be sure, not a form of love without its struggles – scholar points out: There is a unique attribute to the Hebrew [word] “to [stay],” … the [staying] here [indicates] a place of discomfort, laden with complaints or bitterness.[6] → So this staying that Ruth is committing to is no picnic. Ruth knows that following Naomi is going to be difficult. She’s aware of the Israelite’s prejudices toward her people. She understands that she’ll be shunned and taunted, mistreated and distrusted. And still … she clings to Naomi.
            • Powerful form of love that can see us through darkest of times – pain, loss, fear, doubt, anxiety
            • Reminds me of devotion you hear in weddings vows: For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, so long as we both shall live.
    • Important Heb. word woven throughout this passage: hesed – steadfast love, trustworthy love, love full of faithfulness and grace
      • Kind of love that pops up time and again in psalms
        • E.g. – Give thanks to the LORD because he is good. God’s faithful love (hesed) lasts forever! Give thanks to the God of all gods— God’s faithful love (hesed) lasts forever. Give thanks to the Lord of all lords— God’s faithful love (hesed) lasts forever.[7]
      • This is the kind of love that God has for us. This is the kind of love that we are made to have for God. And like Naomi, Orpah and Ruth, this is the kind of love that should be reflected in all our relationships.
  • This is the message that we encounter in our New Testament passage for this morning, too.
    • Need to grasp just what an odd situation we find Jesus in in this story → remember, along with Pharisees, scribes were the ones always getting on Jesus’ case – It was the scribes and Pharisees who …
      • Trying to trip up his teachings by incessantly citing the law
      • Trying to keep him from healing on the Sabbath
      • Eventually demand that Jesus be crucified
      • And yet today, we witness this strange encounter – this unexpected peace between opposing sides → not only civil to each other but actually in agreement with one another
        • Scholar: The exchange between Jesus and the scribe becomes itself something of an illustration of the Great Commandment. Even though the exchange occurs in the middle of a dispute, … Jesus and the scribe are able to … join together in the conviction that there is no commandment greater than love of God and neighbor. … Both the scribe and Jesus have stepped away from the “us” versus “them” categories.[8]
    • In the scribe, we actually see an open-minded and respectful love.
      • Right off the bat, this scribe admits that Jesus has answered his companions’ protest and accusations well – no small words coming from one of Jesus’ most zealous and forceful critics. → text: One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”[9]
        • Answer that has become quite familiar to us: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.[10]
          • Implies that we are to put our whole selves into this love → not always easy, especially when our views don’t exactly line up with our neighbors
        • Scriptural e.g. → Ruth and Orpah’s love for Naomi and her love for them
          • Moabite women clinging to their Israelite mother-in-law
          • Israelite mother-in-law weeping at having to be parted from her Moabite daughters-in-law
          • Labels didn’t matter → love did!
        • Recent real-world e.g. of this in an unlikely place → response to shooting at Tree of Life synagogue last weekend
          • People all across the country standing in solidarity with Jewish friends, neighbors, co-workers, and strangers against such a horrible, hateful act
          • Greatest amount of money that was raised to help Tree of Life Synagogue and the Jewish community that it serves was raised by the local Muslim community in Pittsburgh→ This might be surprising when we think of the tensions between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East – tensions that have simmered and raged for centuries – and yet the Muslim community in Pittsburgh showed up en force for their Jewish neighbors.
            • Finding love even in the midst of stark differences and historical tensions
            • Truly inspiring e.g. of how we should treat our neighbor
          • Also an apt reminder for how we approach God → come as the scribe before the Messiah – thoughtfully, respectfully, open to teaching and guidance
      • There is incredible power and encouragement, love and acceptance, forgiveness and grace in this kind of love. It is an all-encompassing love.
        • Gr. “love” in this passage is agape love – that special, generous, other-focused love
          • Scholar – what this means in terms of our neighbors: To love my neighbor agapically requires that I recognize my neighbor as one who is irreducibly valued. Agape toward the neighbor enjoins that we love our neighbor even when our neighbor refuses to reciprocate.[11]
    • You see, all of this – the sacrifice, obedience, desperation, open-mindedness, and guidance – this is the core of the love that God gives freely to each and every one of us. It is this great love that should inspire us each day to draw closer and closer to God. And it is on this supreme love that we should base all other loves in our live.
      • Crucial reminder in our exceptionally divisive political climate today
      • Especially crucial on the cusp of an election when the rhetoric and the mud are flying fast and hard
    • So this morning, I want to leave you with a question: How can we embody this kind of love in our lives? In our congregation, our communities, our denomination, our families, our workplaces? How can we be the heart and soul and mind and strength of God’s love in the lives of those around us, especially in the lives of those who differ from us? Amen.

[1] Deut 7:3-4.

[2] Ruth 1:8-9.

[3] Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. The Book of Ruth. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 105.

[4] Deut 5:16a.

[5] Ruth 1:16-17a.

[6] John Ahn. “Proper 26 (Sunday between October 30 and November 5 inclusive) – Ruth 1:1-18, Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 247.

[7] Ps 136:1-3 (hesed added).

[8] Pheme Perkins. “Mark: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995). 679.

[9] Mk 12:28.

[10] Mk 12:30-31.

[11] Victor McCracken. “Proper 26 (Sunday between October 30 and November 5 inclusive) – Mark 12:28-34, Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 262 (emphasis added).