Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

The Future is near!
Mark 12: 28-34, November 1st, 2015
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

How might we speak of heaven? Is it a city or is a resting place? Some say heaven is paradise. Others of us have said that heaven is the kingdom of God. Jesus tells the Scribe in our scripture this morning: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” /verse 34/ I have heard it said that certain places on earth are “God’s country.” When they say this are they suggesting that the kingdom of God is actually a place here on earth? And if we line up all the places that people have referred to with such admiration we would begin to realize that all of, or at least a great deal of, Mother Earth, could be consider “God’s country”, ‘God’s Paradise’, here on earth!

Ultimately, I think the real question most of us want answered are the same questions children ask. Simple basic questions really. What and where is heaven? Is heaven real? How do I get there? When will it be my time to go? Will everyone be there? What about my pets, can they come with me? Will I be reunited with my loved ones and my friends in heaven? Lots of questions and yes, there are lots of answers. So how do we sort out which answer is correct?

Well, as much as I want to give you all the answers, I think it would be better if we considered the possibility that Pastors and Preachers, Priests and Rabbis, don’t always know all the answers. However, I believe we can get some real clues about how to come to grips with these questions by simply listening to others with more life experience then ourselves. And yes, a lot Rabbis and Priests, Preachers and Pastors, have had a lot of experience talking with folks and studying the scriptures and may have some important clues for us to consider. That’s right, the idea that experience helps to build wisdom has some merit. Another way is to look to the scriptures personally. Looking to how the ancient tribes of Israel came to know about God is a good start. But, as a modern Christian, I love to see what was recorded about Jesus and the conversations that are passed on to us to consider as we ponder all these questions, in the midst of living our very real day to day lives. With this in mind let’s take a look at this morning’s lesson.

As we delve into this piece of scripture I want to share with you a couple of remarks several different theologians say to us about this passage. First, we have a man named, Emerson Poway, telling us that “Nothing in Mark’s story prepared the reader for this conversation between Jesus and this Jerusalem scribe.” Secondly, Henry Langknecht, tells us “This reading from the Gospel of Mark is a two-act drama with some intriguing and troubling connections.” And then we have, David Ewart, proclaiming that “No one in that crowd of both opponents and admirers would dispute, “Love of God,” as the greatest commandment. But when Jesus goes on and links it to, “Love of neighbor as oneself,” he has lifted attachment to the welfare of one’s neighbors above all other duties and obligations, including – gasp! – religious ones.” Now that these three scholars have totally tossed this passage up in the air, how are we to get to the core of this passage?

One point is crystal clear, “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.” /verse 30/ Not only does Jesus put it forward as the first aspect of the first commandment, so does the Scribe! “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.’ (verses 32 & 33a) But even more astonishing is that the Scribe goes on to say: “and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Verse 33b) This is very surprising in that what is usually a cross examination by scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus, whom were trying to entrap him and discredit him, for they were afraid of a rebellion because of the crowds gathering and following Jesus; yet, here we have the scribe totally agreeing with Jesus. And most amazing is that Jesus ends this discussion by complementing the scribe and giving him what appears to be praise: When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Verse 34a)

We need to stop and take note of this conversation. We need to lift up these points and realize that something profound has been shared with us. For surely, Jesus, was stating something very deep, very important, perhaps he knew that the scribe would be forced to agree with him. Thus, Jesus has the opportunity to put this statement at the top of his interactions with one of the religious authorities’ full agreement. Have we missed something? Has Jesus ultimately gotten the high road in this discussion after all? The gospel of Mark is not always so subtle, so elusive in making points. Yet, here is this very delicate yet powerful interaction between Jesus and the scribe.

So, let’s see if we can connect this discussion to our questions about heaven. Jesus tells the scribe that he is not far from heaven, after agreeing with him in conversation about the most important commandments. Does this mean that heaven is close at hand for anyone who agrees to these primary commandments? As we examine this have you noticed how smoothly Jesus got that second phrase into his discussion with full agreement from the scribe; especially the part about “loving your neighbor as yourself”? If we are to accept this as ‘gospel’ then we must assume that loving our neighbors is at the same level as loving God; and we need to love both God and our neighbor as much as we love ourselves! That’s saying a lot!

The irony here is that Jesus has clearly been debating with the religious leaders, through the gospel accountings, that they are not loving their neighbors as they so lavishly love themselves, thus they have put greater “important on whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” as is shown in the story of the money changers and how the common person was being cheated as they were forced to buy the offerings that the Pharisees demanded of them for sacrifices. “Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.” /Matthew 21:12/ Ultimately, Jesus has once again – entrapped – one of the religious leaders by their own words! Let us not fall into the same trap!

I want to get to heaven one day and so do you! So if Jesus is telling us that heaven is not far away, when we live into the truth of these commandments, then it seems prudent that we ought to do exactly that. We need to live as if the ‘future is near’ at hand! Note here that living into the commandments is not the same as being able to intellectually agree with Jesus. If you say one thing and do another than you are not living into the commandments. Therefore, Jesus’ remarks to the scribe are only relevant if the scribe is actually loving God and his neighbor as himself. But, if the scribe is loving himself disproportionally to his love for his neighbor or God then Jesus’ statement does not apply to him after all!

If a Spiritual Leader or a Preacher like myself, says all these wonderful things about how Jesus wants us to live our lives, then goes out and does the opposite, then we are not walking the walk of faith, even though we can speak about it quite eloquently! We know that the religious leaders at the time when Jesus walked the earth, did not love their neighbors as they did themselves. If they had, they would have been more concerned about the wellbeing of those that they were responsible for, and not so concerned about protecting their own privileges bestowed upon them by their oppressors, the Romans. Clearly, those religious leaders that were constantly trying to entrap Jesus, were not looking out for their neighbors. They did not love their neighbors as they loved themselves!

Don’t we all want to believe that we are not far from the kingdom of God? It doesn’t matter whether God’s eternal home is here or there; it doesn’t matter whether we call it paradise or heaven. What does matter is that we believe that there is some mystical way we will be with our God in the hereafter. And that time is nearer than you may want to acknowledge. Not because you or I are concerned about going there! But, many of us haven’t quite relinquished our special privileges here on earth! Yes, we know we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and strength. We even know we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. But, we think we can ‘take our time’ implementing these commandments, because there is still plenty of time to get this right later on!

This is wrong thinking.

We need to live into these major commandments today; right now. Jesus said it himself: when you love like this, then “the kingdom of God is near.” (Verse 34b) That future opportunity, to make things right, needs to be put into action in the here and now. Let’s make sure we stay connected – to the ‘good news’: heaven, that ultimate paradise, is near; and it is real.

“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament, the Gospel according to Mark, chapter:12, verses: 28-34”

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?”
29 Jesus 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.

“Allow God to move us to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”

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