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“Love for God and Neighbor”
Mark 12:28-31


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost—October 23, 2011

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

In 1982 an American author coined the phrase, “random acts of kindness.”  The idea caught on, and soon there were books, television shows, movies, charitable foundations, all to promote “random acts of kindness.”  That’s very admirable as far as what we call “civil righteousness,” your life as a citizen in this world.  But, as a child of God, your heavenly Father wants from you much more than a few random acts of kindness.  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians, “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.”

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus tells us that, as a child of God, what your heavenly Father really wants from you are not merely random acts of kindness, but responsive acts of kindness.  Acts of kindness toward others that are motivated by, in response to, God’s love toward you.

“One of the teachers of the law . . . asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’  ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  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: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’”

Love for God and love for one’s neighbor are like “two sides of the same coin,” as the old saying goes.  You can’t truly have one without the other.  The Apostle John expresses this very beautifully: “We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

But, we must all confess that we have all failed miserably on both sides of the coin.  We often do not have in our hearts, or show in our lives, the pure love that God requires, either for God, or for our fellow humans.  As we confess in our Liturgy: “We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment.”  That is the place to begin: repentance and confession of our lack of love.

The Liturgy continues with the Good News: “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. . .  Almighty God in his mercy has given his Son to die for you, and for his sake forgives you all your sins.”  “We love because he first loved us.”  As a child of God, what your heavenly Father really wants from you are not merely random acts of kindness, but responsive acts of kindness.  Acts of kindness toward others that are motivated by, in response to, God’s love toward you.

Jesus put it this way at the Last Supper: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  The love you show in your life isn’t merely random.  It is a confession of your faith.  “Let your light so shine before men,” Jesus said, “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  As our Liturgy says, “Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.” “We love because he first loved us. . .  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

That is the meaning of today’s Gospel Reading.  As a child of God, what your heavenly Father really wants from you are not merely random acts of kindness, but responsive acts of kindness.  Acts of kindness toward others that are motivated by, in response to, God’s love toward you.

“‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”

“With all your heart.”  The heart is your emotional being.  God forbids you to have an emotional attachment to anything greater than your attachment to him.

Jesus gives the ultimate example, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  Lord willing, you will never have to choose between your family and following Christ. But, Jesus says even if you are forced into that sad situation, you must “Love the Lord your God with all your heart,” with all your emotional being.

“And with all your soul.”  The soul is your spiritual being.  God forbids you to have a spiritual attachment to anything greater than your attachment to him.  He declares in Isaiah “I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. . .  I will not give my glory to another.” 

Recently, our military has killed in action several terrorist leaders overseas who were United States citizens.  It is very ironic that one of the most notorious actually grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which means “the cross.”  The very city he grew up in was named after the cross of Christ.  And there have been many plots thwarted within the United States and Britain by such “home-grown” terrorists.  But, the real tragedy is not only that they have turned against their country, but in most cases they were raised as Christians, and have turned against their God.

Jesus warns, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”  You must love the Lord your God “with all your soul,” with all your spiritual being.

“And with all your mind.”  The mind is your intellectual being.  God forbids you to have an intellectual attachment to anything greater than your attachment to him.  Paul puts it this way in Colossians: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” 

An example in our modern society is rejecting the doctrine that we confess each week in the First Article of the Creed, as beautifully portrayed in our new stained-glass window: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”  Hebrews says, “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. . .  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command.”  That’s what our window depicts, the universe being formed at God’s command, the Maker of heaven and earth. 

Modern man declares the doctrine of creation obsolete, but Paul sternly warns in Romans against rejecting this doctrine, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”  Instead of becoming captive to the hollow and deceptive philosophy of the world, in 2nd Corinthians Paul says that you must “make every thought captive in obedience to Christ.”  You must love the Lord your God “with all your mind,” with all your intellectual being.

“And with all your strength.”  Strength is your physical being.  God forbids you to have a physical attachment to anything greater than your attachment to him.  Paul warns in Romans, “Let us behave decently . . . not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and depravity. . .  Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the lusts of the sinful flesh.” 

However, it is very shocking that several Christian denominations have recently declared that “gratifying the lusts of the sinful flesh . . . in sexual immorality and depravity,” as clearly forbidden in Scripture, is supposedly acceptable for Christians.  They have even started ordaining clergy who openly engage in such sinful activity, and perform perverted ceremonies in their churches to give their approval to such activity.

Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “Flee from sexual immorality. . . Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”  You must love the Lord your God “with all your strength,” with all your physical being.

“‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

On the front cover of the bulletin is an illustration of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.  We call these the “Two Tables of the Law,” and for symbolic reasons we traditionally put commandments one thru three on the First Table, and commandments four thru ten on the second table.  We don’t know if God originally wrote them that way on the two tablets of stone, but that asymmetrical arrangement symbolizes that the first three commandments, the First Table of the Law, deal with our relationship to God:

You shall have no other gods.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Jesus is summing up the First Table of the Law when he says that the greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God.”

The next seven commandments are the Second Table of the Law, and deal with our relationship to other people:

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Jesus is summing up the Second Table of the Law when he says that the second greatest commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  In Matthew’s account Jesus concludes by saying, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  These two Tables of the Law symbolize that love for God and love for one’s neighbor are like “two sides of the same coin.” You can’t truly have one without the other.

The Apostle John says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love comes from God. . .  We love because he first loved us.”  The First Table of the Law, to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, is the only foundation upon which the works of love in the Second Table of the Law must be built.  Random acts of kindness without love for God are meaningless in God’s sight.  That’s what Paul means when he says in Romans, “Everything that does not proceed from faith is sin.” And Isaiah declares that without faith in God’s sight, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

On the other hand, true faith will always show itself in acts of love: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Truly following the First Table of the Law, love for God, will always result in striving to fulfill the Second Table of the Law in your life, acts of love toward other people.  James puts it very bluntly: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” 

The two Tables of the Law, love for God and love for one’s neighbor, are like “two sides of the same coin.”  You can’t truly have one without the other.

As a child of God your heavenly Father wants from you much more than a few random acts of kindness.  “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.”  As a child of God, what your heavenly Father really wants from you are not merely random acts of kindness, but responsive acts of kindness.  Fulfilling in your daily life the Second Table of the Law, because you fear, love, and trust in God as declared in the First Table of the Law.  Not merely random acts of kindness, but responsive acts of kindness, motivated by, in response to, God’s love toward you.

“Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Amen.

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