The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Watch the sermon here.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.
Today’s Gospel Reading from the Twelfth Chapter of Mark’s Gospel comes very near the end of that Gospel. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem begins in Mark 11:1-11. Then Jesus curses a barren fig tree (Mark 11:12-14} in what was a thinly veiled attack on the barrenness of temple religion. Then Jesus cleanses the temple (Mark 11:15-19}, which aroused the hostility of the chief priests and scribes, who set out to kill Jesus. (Mark 11:18).
Mark then reports a series of conflicts which Jesus encountered with a variety of religious authorities. After which, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders ask Jesus: “By what authority do you do these things? Or who gave you this authority to do these things?” Jesus replies that he will not tell them by what authority he does his ministry. (Mark 11: 33.)
Mark 12 begins with Jesus telling the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in which a Rich Landlord is cheated by his tenants who not only fail to pay their rent, but who also kill his agents he has sent to collect the rent. Most readers believe this is another attack on the scribes, Pharisees, and the Sadducees who are implicitly like the “tenants of the temple.” This is followed by the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees all trying to set a verbal traps for Jesus. Then in Mark 12:28, one of the scribes asks Jesus: “Which commandment is the greatest of all?”
Jesus responded to this question with care and clarity. He answered, “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.”
The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, there is no other commandment greater than these.”
Then the scribe said to Jesus, “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; and to love one’s neighbor as oneself’ – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus realized that that the scribe had responded to his answer generously and kindly Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Mark the Evangelist notes: “After that no one dared ask him any question.”
I would interject that most scholars believe that Old Testament Judaism had 613 religious laws, and there were 10 Commandments, so Jesus’ capacity to zero in on the “love God, love your neighbor” response, demonstrated his capacity to set forth the most important commandments, without putting himself at further risk – at least for a very little while.
In the verses that follow; Jesus teaches in the temple, warns the crowd about the scribes, and praises a very poor old widow who made a sacrificial gift of coins in the temple. Incidentally, I believe that poor old widow is delighted to participate in the kickoff of the St. Michael’s Stewardship Sunday and Pledge Drive.
At the beginning of Mark Chapter 13, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, and then the clock ticks ever faster towards the observance of Passover with his disciples, the betrayal of Jesus, his arrest, trial, and crucifixion in Mark 14-15. Finally, Mark 16 briefly describes Easter morning and some very limited Resurrection appearances – by far the sparsest of any of Gospel treatments of the Resurrection, the appearances of the Resurrected Jesus, Ascension Day, and the gradual emergence of the Early Church.
I have wondered why today’s readings were selected for the lectionary. I believe that one answer is that this particular Sunday is observed by many Protestant Churches as “Reformation Sunday,” which commemorates the day when Martin Luther put his 95 theses critical of the Roman Catholic Church on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. The Reformed Protestant tradition would be pleased with a Gospel reading which highlights the events of Good Friday and Easter on this occasion, since they share with us the New Revised Common Lectionary which specifies which Biblical readings we will use on a particular Sunday in a three year ctcle.
Finally, first I want to say that this is my final Sunday assisting at St. Michael’s Church during Mother Kate’s sabbatical. I will continue to be involved with the Adult Bible Series on the Wisdom Literature, until we complete that work in mid-November. I can be reached by telephone or e-mail if I can be of assistance to groups or individuals in that program.
Secondly, I want to say that St. Michael’s Church is one of the most exciting churches in which I have been blessed to serve during my forty years of Episcopal Priesthood. You have superb multi-talented clergy and staff. You do significant outreach with your feeding program and your engagement with the neighborhood. Your organist, choir, and music program are magnificent – I dare say often transfixing! You have strong and effective lay leaders on the Vestry, the Reparations Committee, and in a variety of other roles Your congregation is diverse in almost every possible way, and the people are welcoming, mutually respectful, and eager to serve the Lord and one another. Your church school and other programs for children are impressive at a time when such efforts are especially challenging. You have realized that technology and communication are essential tools for ministry and service in the 21st century. You have a beautiful church building, awesome stained glass windows, and careful plans to improve the physical plant in the near future. The church is immaculately clean and the restrooms are spotlessly clean and free of odors – alas something which is not the case in churches I gave visited to served over four decades.
I could go on and on, but it is time to stop. In the spirit of the poor old woman who made a sacrificial gift of coins in the temple, I hope and pray that as many of you as are able, will support this church – both its present reality and its exciting future – as generously as you are able.
Let me add, I sincerely hope to visit from time to time, and I am already telling lots of people that St. Michael’s Church is a place which many people, both churched and unchurched, should consider visiting or joining! God bless you all!