Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26) – Deacon Rex Watt

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 / Hebrews 9:11-22 / Mark 12:28-37


+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Expectations.  Expectations are a part of daily life, aren’t they?  If you are employed, your boss has expectations about the quality and quantity of your work; and you have expectations that you will get paid fairly for your efforts and that your job will be there tomorrow.  If you are a student, your teachers have expectations about your attendance and homework assignments; and you have expectations that they will teach you things you will need to know in life.  If you are married, your spouse expects you to be a source of support and encouragement; and, of course, you expect that your spouse will reciprocate.  If you are a parent, your children expect you to drop them off to wherever they want to go, feed them, clothe them, and have an extra $20 in your wallet at a moment’s notice!  And you expect your children to behave and be nice.  Our lives are full of people who have expectations; expectations they want from us, or expectations they want us to fulfill.  And we have our expectations.  Everybody has expectations.

The people in Jesus’ day had expectations.  Some of them were expectantly waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ.  Others, while in the back of their minds knew that their scriptures foretold a coming Messiah, had their own ideas about what that Messiah might look like.  When Jesus shows up on the scene, He didn’t exactly fit their expectations.  Our Gospel text for today is the conclusion of a string of questions and challenges and testing that various Jewish leaders put to Jesus.  It all started back in the 8th chapter with the Pharisees demanding a sign from Jesus to validate His claims.  They later questioned Him about divorce, paying taxes to Caesar, how to obtain eternal life and even what happens with respect to marriage after death!  Many questions were put to Jesus about various aspects of God’s laws.  Finally, in this last story of the string, a scribe, an expert in the Law, comes to Jesus and askes, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Here’s a guy who is the legal beagle par excellence!  Scribes were the experts in all things pertaining to the Law.  They knew not only the 10 Commandments by heart, they knew all 613 commands found throughout the Old Testament writings: the 248 positive commands (you shall do this!), and the 365 negative commands (you shall not do that!).  He had just witnessed the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees in their failed attempts to trap Jesus, and asks what appears to be an honest question.  “Let’s skip the small stuff Jesus and get right to the point.  What is it, bottom line, that God expects of me?”  And Jesus responds right out of our OT lesson, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And 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” (Mk 12:29b-31).  Jesus sums up the entire 10 Commandments, and all the rest of the OT commands in this concise statement, “Love God; and love your neighbor.”

Sound familiar?  It should.  The explanation of the Small Catechism picks up on this and says this saying of Jesus distinguishes the two parts of the 10 Commandments: love for God (commandments 1-3), and love for neighbor (commandments 7-10).  Question 15 in the new 2017 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation says, “The Ten Commandments are God’s Law, His good and loving will for the lives and well-being of all people” (pg. 53).  Then question 16 asks, “What is God’s will for our lives?”  And the answer is: “God wants us to trust Him above all else, to love Him, and to love our neighbor.” (pg. 53)

How are you doing with that?  Have you loved God perfectly today?  Have you loved Him with all your heart – so that there is nothing in this world you love or trust more than Him?  Have you loved Him with all your soul – so that there is nothing in this world you consider a higher good than your Heavenly Father? Have you loved Him with all your mind – so that this world offers nothing more exciting or interesting or important than the living words of God?  Have you loved Him with all your strength – so that nothing in this world is able to pull your eyes off the prize of God’s goodness?

And what about that second part – to love your neighbor as yourself?  Husbands, have you always loved your wives with the self-sacrificing love Jesus has shown his Church?  Wives, have you submitted to your husbands with the faithful humility with which the Church submits to the Lord Jesus?  Have you always given your employer an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay – or do you do as much as you can to do as little as possible to get by?  Students, do you do the same?  Have you shown the highest kind of love to your neighbor or family member who doesn’t know Christ by giving him/her the reason for the hope that is in you – or do you just keep quiet whenever the topic of religion comes up?

Dear saints of Redeemer, as we reflect on what Jesus tells this scribe, this expert in the law, and look at our lives in comparison, about all we can do is fall to our knees and cry out for mercy!  Neither you, nor I, have loved God today, or any other day for that matter, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Nor have we really loved our neighbor as ourselves.  Oh, we can be pretty good at faking it – good enough so that people around us think that we are pretty good people.  But God sees our hearts; your heart, my heart.  He sees the self-centeredness and the selfishness that lives there by nature.  We fall short, and we know it.  This morning if you have come to the realization that you fall short of God’s expectations for you; if you have come to the realization that you cannot by your own efforts, reason or strength measure up to God’s requirement that you “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength,” if you have come to the realization that you need a Savior; you, like the scribe in our text, are not far from the kingdom of God.

The scribe, upon hearing that he was “…not far from the kingdom of God” said no more.  In fact, the text tells us that no one said anything more!  I guess they were comfortable with just being close, at least closer than those other folk.  As if close is good enough.  My dear saints, close is only good enough in horseshoes, hand grenades, and atomic bombs.  With the kingdom of God, you are either in, or you are out.

As we saw a couple of weeks ago, what is impossible with man, is possible with God.  Upon seeing that no one dared to ask Him any more questions, Jesus poses a question to them, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?  David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.’  David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?” (vss.35-37)  Jesus poses this question to them to get them to see that the Christ, the son of David, is also the Lord.  The Christ will not be a mighty warrior come to throw off the shackles of Roman rule, but the God-Man; Lord of heaven and earth, and son of David, a man after God’s own heart.

And so, Jesus came; God in the flesh.  He came to do the impossible.  The very One who demands perfect love from us; the very One who knows that we cannot render that love, has responded by showing His perfect love to us.  He showed us that perfect love by becoming one of us, by placing himself under all the same divine expectations that you and I are under and by placing himself alongside the same people you and I call neighbor.  He showed us that perfect love by living a perfect life of perfect love, by loving God with all His heart, His soul, His mind and His strength; and by perfectly loving His neighbors in our place.  He showed us that perfect love by taking all our loveless acts, all our half-hearted devotion onto Himself – and then offering Himself as the perfect payment for all our sins.  “He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves, but His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12).  That blood of Jesus, shed on the Cross for all of your sins, was applied to you in the waters of your Baptism.  Your Lord Jesus Christ has secured your eternal redemption and brought you into His new covenant so that you “may receive the promised eternal inheritance”  (Heb 9:15).  My dear Saints of Redeemer, you are not just “close” to the kingdom of God, you are “in” the kingdom of God, because your Jesus has walked in the law of the Lord for you; He has kept His testimonies, sought Him with His whole heart, was forsaken by His Father so that you won’t be.  To Him be praise, glory and honor now and forever.  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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