Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

March 22, 2020

Psalm 89:1-4, Mark 12:28-34

As we come together in this time of uncertainty, in new and different ways, we find ourselves confronted with this question from the scribe. What is the greatest commandment of all? What are those things that are at the foundation of how we are to live our lives? 

To love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. To love your neighbor as yourself. 

Over this past week I have watched as the world has responded to the corona virus in many helpful and caring ways. I can see those things that once divided us melt away while something unifying and more important takes precedence. I have watched as community members, organizations, and services step up to affirm the need to care for one another in this time. I can begin to see a truth that we as a community are willing to seek after in times such as these. Where we feel the need to put aside our differences and seek to keep one another healthy. 

Now it is important to take a quick moment to recognize the context of this text. It comes at the end of a line of questioning from several different religious authorities, who wanted to trap Jesus with their questions. If answered in the wrong way would cause problems and possibly end this movement. This question, for today, comes at a time when the opposition to Jesus’ movement is at a fever pitch. When the religious authorities are at their wits end and want a quick resolution to their problems. 

Then in comes this scribe who is seemingly friendly, but still set up as the opposition, asks Jesus a simple question. A softball question that seeks to get to the heart of what Jesus is all about. There is no sense that the scribe is trying to trap Jesus but rather wants to know what is the core understanding behind this movement. The answer is one that reveals that even if the authorities and Jesus’ movement are constantly on opposing sides, they are still unified by a truth that everyone who is a person of faith can get behind. A response that recognizes and affirms Jewish tradition, and sums up the commandments into two all encompassing statements. 

To love God with our whole being, and love our neighbors as ourselves. 

As people of faith, this isn’t a hard statement to get behind, and yet it can call out our own brokenness, if we are honest with ourselves. 

To love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength, doesn’t leave space to carve out a little bit of ourselves to keep from God. To love God with all of our being, doesn’t allow us to hold onto those vices that cause us to stray from the divine. To love God with everything that we are, doesn’t allow us to willingly, and intentionally stray away from the divine. Or to create idols out of our TVs, cellphones, or even public figures. It also means that we are willing to set aside time to nurture our relationship with the holy. To name our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our sins, and our failures, to acknowledge that we do need the divine in our lives. Naming those areas for which we need grace and mercy. Seeking God’s forgiveness to mend the broken places in our relationship. So that we can Live out our lives in such a way that affirms who God is to us, and why we seek to make space for the holy in the midst of a busy and chaotic time. 

To live a life where we love God with all our being, should resemble any other relationship based on Love, rather than one based on asking for what we want and hoping we get it. A relationship that takes work on our part, because scriptures continue to remind us along with God’s continual presence in our lives, that God has remained faithful to their children. But we at times tend to wander off. 

Giving our whole selves over to the divine in love, requires great devotion and hard work. It takes us striving to be better. Striving to stay on the path, striving to express the love that we have found in the holy.

The second statement of how we are to live in this world, can and has created some issues because of its brevity. To love our neighbors as ourselves. This statement has led to questions for clarification. Such as, “Who is my neighbor?” “How broad is that category?” “What if we have a hard time loving ourselves, should we then love our neighbor in that same way?” “What if there are two different groups of people that need help, which one should I tend to first?” “Shouldn’t they fix their behavior before I help them?” I will care to guess that you can hear some of these questions, and maybe even some others popping up in your mind.

But all of these questions seek to limit who we have to love, and how we love them. The questions we come up with are an attempt to deflect the blame of another person’s condition away from ourselves. Sure that family who has been traveling for months are hungry and in need fo shelter, but are they really my neighbor. I don’t even know them. Or, sure that person could use a kind word right now, but so could I. Why should I put another person’s need for kindness before my own?  Or, I am committed to helping this specific demographic first, before helping another, is that so wrong?

Hopefully you get where I am going with these excuses. If we name them out loud, in connection with the commandment for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, then they begin to sound rather absurd. They begin to show themselves as thinly veiled excuses, that let us off the hook of caring for another person. 

Most recently, our love of our neighbor means keeping a distance. Wanting to stay connected with one another. Doing whatever we can to help when we hear a need, but also, most importantly recognizing that we could be carriers of the coronavirus and so we take steps to keep others healthy. Not for our selves, but because we care for one another. 

As we take these steps to care for one another in this way, our eyes are opened to discover just how connected we all are. Whether it be through our friend groups, or hobbies, to how disease is easily spread through a community. We have found that the Corona virus, is a disease that has caused us all to evaluate how our actions, and behaviors can and do have an impact on our neighbor, even if we do not even know their name. 

It has caused our community in Spokane to seriously consider how to shelter all of the individuals experiencing homelessness. It has caused us to confront the importance of our schools, for not only education, but providing basic meals to the children in our community whose families are experiencing poverty. It has causes us to recognize and honor the importance of those who are working in the food industry, in the grocery stores, and all those who work behind the scenes to keep our lives moving smoothly. We recognize that they are the ones who are caring for us even when society has treated them as less than based on their hourly wages. 

I am also mindful of how quickly the agencies here in Spokane got together to create an updated resource list in this uncertain time. A list of what organizations are doing. Some of the ongoing projects and outreach has had to change. Of how because of how they are already connected through coalitions, they have been able to spread word about needs and set up TP drives to ensure all the organizations have access to the essentials even as the store shelves are bare. 

It is in times such as these that the truth of how we are to live our lives, becomes even more tangible and real. That we are to love God with all that we are, and to love all our neighbors as much as we deserve love from others, for we are children of God.