Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 10, 2024

Posted on March 15, 2024, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

March 10, 2024

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Mark 12:28-44
Psalm 89:1-4

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last Sunday, our readings jumped ahead a bit. And so, last week, today, and next Sunday, the events in our readings happen during Holy Week. In two weeks, we’ll go back to Palm Sunday.

Leading up to today’s reading, Jesus is still being questioned by religious leaders. They were trying everything they knew to try and trick him so that they could come up with a valid reason to arrest him. And they were failing because Jesus is Jesus.

But when the scribe in today’s reading asks Jesus which commandment is the first of all, it marks a shift in those conversations. This scribe actually liked the way Jesus was answering the questions. So his question comes from a place of genuine curiosity.

And the answer Jesus gave wasn’t new. The words he spoke are written in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and they had been passed down from generation to generation. The scribe would have known them well.

The commandment, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone” was given by Moses to the Israelites as their time in the wilderness came to an end. That commandment became a prayer, that became part of their daily prayers.

The entire prayer is called simply The Shema because the first word of it in Hebrew is Shema, which means “to hear” or “to listen.” And that one word reminded the people who heard it that God heard their ancestors’ cry for deliverance from slavery, and that God listened to them.

But it also reminded the people of the entire instruction for how God wanted them to live – the care that they are to have for one another. And for people today who are devout Jews, this prayer is the first thing they say when they wake up in the morning, and the last thing they say at night. And they believe that when they recite the Shema, they receive the kingdom of heaven.

Remembering that God listens to them, and receiving the kingdom of heaven, begins and ends their day. And living according to God’s instruction happens in between. It’s a very loving way to live.

In this first part of the answer that Jesus gave to the scribe, only the word “hear” or “listen” is the command. The second part is simply, “You will do these things” in the sense that “you will love God and you will love your neighbor as yourself because God is who God is.”

Not only are these two things most important as far as God is concerned, they’re at the core of Jesus’ ministry and teaching. They are what he embodied throughout his life.

And as our reading continues, Jesus breaks the connection between the Messiah and the Son of David, so that the expectation of who the messiah is would also shift. So that instead of expecting the Messiah to be a military hero, they would be understood as someone that taught people how to live in the way of God.

And then Jesus warns about the religious leaders who “perform” their role. The class of scribes that Jesus points out called attention to themselves for their own honor and recognition, instead of because they were embodying God’s love.

And at the end of the reading, when the widow put in her last two coins and, by the way, each coin was worth 1/128th of a day’s wage, she was trusting that the community would step up and take care of her – as is commanded in the Torah. That’s how vulnerable she was.

When we weave the parts of this reading together, we discover that the commandment is about vulnerability. And that it’s about vulnerability because it’s about trust. To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself is about letting go of your ego – and that’s the royal “you” because we’re all in this together.

It’s about letting go of that mask, that shield, that we keep in place to protect ourselves, and then listening to God and remembering who God is and trusting that, because of who God is. It’s the life of faith we’re called to live.

When I was in seminary, there was one day that I was feeling particularly overwhelmed. I don’t remember why. But one morning I remember feeling really restless and anxious. And so I sat down and tried to pray. And my prayer ended up being something like, “I don’t know what to do.” And then I just sat with my eyes closed and listened.

And after a few minutes, I felt the answer, “Love God. All you ever have to do on any given day, is love God.” And I took a breath and opened my eyes and said, “Okay.” And I went to class and then to work.

I worked in the seminary bookstore at the time. And that day, 3 minutes before closing, someone came in and looked for a book to buy. I was feeling kind of impatient because I wanted to close up and go home. Anyone who has worked retail knows that feeling.

But he found what he was looking for, brought it to the register and paid for it. And then he asked me if I would wrap it because it was a gift. And that was something we did. So I said, “Yes.” Again, still feeling really impatient.

But as I was wrapping it, in the back of my mind, I heard, “Love God. All you have to do today is love God. And right now, this is what that looks like.”

When we think about what it means to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself, I think we often think it means doing “big things” – like giving a bunch of money, or cleaning someone’s yard or their home. And sometimes it does mean that.

But most of the time, it’s ordinary day-to-day things. Like checking in with a friend that you know is having a hard time. Helping a friend with their homework. Praying for people. Taking a meal to someone. Being patient with a customer that needs you to help them out with a gift for a friend.

At its core, loving God means listening to God’s command to love and letting go of our ego so that we can actually honor the command.

Loving our neighbor means living in a way that recognizes and honors the value of other people, and loving them simply because God made them.

And loving ourselves means acknowledging the part of ourselves that we keep hidden from the world, and remembering that God loves us anyway simply because God made us.

As we live our life of faith, we’re reminded over and over again that God not only sees us, but that God also hears us and that God loves us. That’s who God is.

We don’t do any of this perfectly. We don’t listen to God or love God and our neighbor as ourselves perfectly. We can’t. And we need reminders to do it throughout our lives, sometimes lots of them. But our ability to do it at all, our ability to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, begins and ends with God’s love – that’s what we listen to and that’s what we trust. Because that’s who God is.

Thanks be to God! Amen.