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What Matters Most? Second Lenten Sermon Manuscript and Video

The agendas of life constantly compete for our attention, forcing us to ask: “What matters most?” Both scripture and the example of Jesus teach us that relationships—with God and others—are what matters most.  This sermon is about the God who relates to us (we call that grace), so that we might relate to God (we call that repentance and faith).

This post contains the sermon preaching on February 21, 2016, at The Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.  The sermon is titled:  “What Matters Most” and is based on Mark 12:28-34.  This is the second in a Lenten series of sermons titled:  “Life’s Essential Questions”

You can see the video read the manuscript below.

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“What Matters Most?”  Mark 12:28-34 (NIV)

 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he 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.”

 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

 

We find a rarity in today’s scripture reading.  We see a positive, healthy, and even friendly exchange between Jesus and one of the Scribes.   Usually such exchanges were marked by tension and dissention – not surprising, since Jesus had many problems getting along with the religious system.

 

Sometimes that’s hard for us to recognize.  We have so baptized Jesus into the culture of contemporary religiosity that we miss out on the radical nature of the things Jesus said about the coming of God’s Kingdom.  Jesus confronted their legalism.  He challenged their traditions.  He pointed out that God was much bigger and better than their thoughts, concepts, dogmas, and beliefs.  He said that life with God should be deeper, richer, and more fulfilling than the surface skimming of their traditions.  Not only that, but Jesus also accepted those rejected by the establishment– the poor, the outcast, foreigners, and those that tradition called immoral and unethical.

 

Jesus words and way still bring that kind of challenge.  Modern religiosity seeks to force fit the teachings of Jesus into a format that makes folks feel more comfortable and content.  We have difficulties really hearing the radical nature of Jesus teachings.  We say “Amen!” when we hear Jesus teaching, but often we really do not mean it.  In the  secret recesses of our minds we say, “Amen, but…”

 

“Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Amen! But…

 

“Blessed are you when persecuted” Amen! But…

 

“Take up the cross and follow.” Amen! But…

 

“The first shall be last.” Amen! But…

 

The words and way of Jesus were a challenge to the  tradition laden, ritual oriented, rule-based systems of the religious establishment of Jesus day.  It’s still that way today.  Jesus points to a radically different style of life than what is currently on the scene.  The status quo was largely  uncomfortable with what Jesus said.

That’s why the positive exchange recorded in today’s scripture lesson stands out as such an oddity.  Most of the time, the aim of the religious crowd was to discourage and distract.  If possible, they’d be happy to trip up and embarrass.   They were always trying “gotcha” questions about some diminutive detail of their religious tradition.

 

That’s the backdrop for Jesus’ encounter with this Scribe.  He had been watching Jesus engage the rest of the religious crowd in a series of debate questions.

 

First, they try to trick Jesus in a discussion about paying taxes which might get him in trouble with Caesar.  Next, they thought up this silly question about who a person’s spouse would be in heaven if they have outlives several spouses here on earth.  It was all quite ridiculous.

 

Their rhetorical tricks didn’t work.  Jesus was always three steps ahead. Each time they tried to trick him, they ended up confounded by his replies.

 

That’s what make this passage so amazing.  In the midst of all this turmoil with the religious establishment, Jesus has an apparently positive interchange with one of the Scribes.

 

The text says that the Scribe was impressed by Jesus answers.  So, he started up a conversation.  He asks:

 

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important.”

 

“Hey Jesus, when we are talking about God, goodness, and the way to live life, ‘What matters most?’” 

 

Jesus quotes the Book of Deuteronomy.

 

“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 – and the second commandment is this – you shall love your neighbor as yourself

 

To this, the Scribe offers genuine words of affirmation and praise.  He even shows Jesus respect, by giving him the title “teacher.”

 

“You are right, teacher…. this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”

 

Hearing this, Jesus sees that the Scribe was something of a kindred spirit.  So Jesus says,

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

These are amazing words, especially when applied to a type of person so often portrayed in the Gospels in such a negative light.  Jesus says…

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

It just goes to show that there is wisdom in the law of God.

 

If you study the scriptures, you will find truth and hear Jesus say…

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

If you are trying to do what is right…

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

If you believe in God…

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

If you affirm the authority of scripture…

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

If you love God and love your neighbor…

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

These are great words for those who are trying to do the right things and live the right way. 

 

These words come straight from the mouth of the one sent to embody and proclaim the Kingdom. 

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

The hang up are those two words:  “not far.”

 

You are almost there.

You have almost arrived.

You can see it from here.

You are not far, but you have not arrived.

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

What matters most is something beyond obeying all the rules, rituals, and regulations.  What matters most is something more than attending worship and doing a few good deeds.  That will never get you to your destination.  Jesus is saying, “You are NOT FAR, but you are also NOT THERE.”

 

This is not a lesson about believing something, accepting something, confessing something, or joining something.  I know that this is what we talk about all the time in the church buildings – but that is not what Jesus is saying.

 

Jesus is talking about “the kingdom of God.”  We don’t accept, confess, or join the Kingdom.  We simply realize by faith that the sovereignty of God is all around us, it is absolute, and it is complete.  In the teachings of Jesus, the “kingdom of God” is that situation in life where we repent of our self-sufficiency and then acknowledge by faith the Lordship of Jesus over our lives in God’s Kingdom.

 

“You are not far!”  Jesus says.  “You are doing good things – but something is missing.  You are almost there, but almost is not enough.”

 

Lent is a time for us to reflect on the nature of the gospel.  The gospel is NOT about our efforts and accomplishments toward earning or achieving grace, goodness, and salvation.  This Scribe was apparently doing everything as right as right could be.  But in the end it was not enough.

Jesus said to him, “You are not far…”

 

He was NOT FAR, but he was NOT THERE.

 

Something was missing.

 

So, what was missing? 

 

We can rule out something things right away.

 

We can rule out the need from more rules.  Jesus had just said that everything in the rule portion of the book was covered by the two great commandments, but even then, observing these two commandments did not cover the spread.

 

We do not need more rituals, either.  We’ve got plenty of those.  We know when to stand up, when to sit down, when to bow our heads, and when to close our eyes.  We know the mathematical equations for figuring our tithes and offerings.

 

We also do not need a renewed focus on dogmas and doctrines.  Understand, the Scribe’s entire life revolved around the orthodoxy of correct doctrines and proper dogma.  He was a teacher of the law, after all.  Yet still Jesus said, you close, but have not arrived.

 

“You are not far from the kingdom of God”

 

So what is it?  What is the difference between “not far” and “having arrived?”

 

“What matters most?”

 

I suggest to you that it has something to do with what is happening in the heart.  I suggest it has something to do with what motivates and moves us.  It is not the form and format on the outside, but an intimacy with God on the inside that flows from the realization that we are LOVED by God.

 

Salvation is not the result of some formula for life improvement.  It does not come as we impose some sort set of rules on our behavior and set of standards on our beliefs.  It does not come imposed from the outside-in.  It is a process of life transformation that God the Holy Spirit produces from the inside-out.

 

What is your motivation for doing God’s will?

What is your reason for obeying God’s commands?

 

Is it fear of retribution if we do not obey? 

Is it a desire for approval because we obey? 

Is it the desire to have the praise of people?

Is it the desire to hear people speak well of us?

 

Here’s the challenge today.  Let’s look at ourselves and ask:  “Do we (really) love the Lord my God with our ALL – all our heart, soul, mind, and strength?”

 

If the answer is no – and I suspect there is something of a NO to that question for all of us – then next let’s ask, “What now?”

 

If the answer is to try harder to do something more …you are missing the point.  That will get you “not far,” but it will not get you THERE!

 

Instead of trying harder and doing more, learn the importance of resting in God’s grace.  Face the gospel-truth reality that God loves you with an amazing, radical, no-holds-barred, unrelenting kind of love.

 

You see, such LOVE is transformational.  TRUST, rest, abide, have faith, in the reality of that God. 

 

When we accept that this is the way we are loved, it creates in us a love for God.  And when our lives begin to overflow with an awareness of this sort of Divine love, it begins to impact the way we treat others.  The radical love of God equips us to love others.

 

The Scribe was “not far” rather than arrived because, I believe, that he lacked an awareness of God’s amazing grace and radical love. 

 

Here’s what that means.

 

I suspect that his religion was more about duty and obligation, rather than a spiritual transformation that led to eagerness and passion.

 

I suspect that there was too much of an emphasis on the kind of holiness that removes a person from engagement in the world, rather than the kind of that leads to compassion, empathy, and love.

 

I suspect these things because that’s the kind of stuff I see in my own life.   These are the kinds of things that people share with me about their religious lives.

 

They are trying so desperately to live FOR GOD, but that is not the way to a victorious Christian life.  We are not called to life FOR GOD, but FROM GOD, about of the abundance of his transforming love and amazing grace.

 

So, on this second Sunday of Lent, we are asking the question:  “What matters most?”

The answer has NOTHING to do with the formulas of religion.  If you go after the formula, Jesus is speaking to you when he says “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  You are NOT FAR, but that also means you have not arrived.

 

Instead, move beyond the formula toward transformation.  Have the faith to acknowledge that God really does, passionately, radically, and fully love you.  Bask in and then live from the resource of that grace.

 

And the end of every service of worship, I share a benediction that challenges you to leave our gathering, fully conscious of God’s love and grace. GO IN PEACE, I say, AND AS YOU GO, KNOW THIS…

 

It is by the GRACE of God that you were brought into this world. 

 

Your very existence is not an accident of random chance.  Nor were you created with some particular  job description or outside obligation.  You started out in the HEART OF GOD, as an expression of God’s LOVE and grace.  Next I say, It is by the mercy of God that you have been sustained till this very moment. Every day of our life and mine is an expression of God’s goodness, deference, kindness, and mercy.  When we are at our best, it is still NOT US that sustains us.  When we are at our worse, God never turns us over to our faults, failures, and foibles.  WE are sustained by God’s mercy, grace, and kindness.

 

Finally, I say:  And it is by the love of God, fully revealed in Jesus Christ, that you and I are redeemed, now and forever more.

 

What matters most? What brings us redemption, salvation, and life?  It’s not what we have done or what we will do.  It’s what God has done and it doing.  IT’S ALL ABOUT GOD’S LOVE, fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

The Greatest Commandment: How the Sh’ma Leads to More Love in Your Life
by: Irene Lipson
publisher: Messianic Jewish Publisher, published: 2007-08-01
ASIN: 1880226367
EAN: 9781880226360
sales rank: 226679
price: $6.95 (new), $4.74 (used)

“What is the greatest commandment?” Yeshua was asked. His reply – “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one, and you are to love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all

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