Mark 12:28-34
Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Saint?
November 1, 2015
All Saints Day
If I asked you last week what special day today would be, you may not have come up with the fact that today is All Saints Day, but if I were to ask you what special day yesterday was, almost all of you could tell me Halloween. Yes, yesterday was Halloween, but today is a very special day in the Christian year. It’s November 1, All Saints Day. All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1 every year, and the fact that it happens to fall on a Sunday this year makes this All Saints Day very special.
Believe it or not, All Saints Day used to be more important to people than Halloween. In fact, if it were not for All Saints Day on November 1 we would not have Halloween on October 31. Since early in Church history November 1 has been used by Christians as a day to remember all those who had made an impact for God on their lives. Christians began visiting cemeteries and decorating the graves of those who had died that had made a positive influence on their lives. Well, people being as they are, some people decided that if good people and saints could have their day that not so good people and not so good things should have their day also, so the night before All Saints Day, the night of October 31, came to be celebrated by some as the night for witches and ghosts and scary things. They called it Halloween, or All Hallowed Eve. Now Halloween has overtaken All Saints Day in popularity, but we need to observe All Saints Day to remember those who have impacted our lives for God, and to consider how we can impact other’s lives with God’s love.
One October day few a few years back I was sharing with several of the members of the Church I was serving at that time about how All Saints Day was approaching and that I was planning a special service for it. Someone made the comment: “All Saints Day? Well, that day can’t be for me! I am certainly not a saint!” Everyone laughed and nodded in agreement! They may have been agreeing because they agreed this person was not a saint, but maybe also because they did not believe they were saints either! Most of us don’t think of ourselves as saints and don’t want others to think of us as saints either.
Why is that? Well, what images come to your mind when you hear the word “saint”? Maybe someone who is so good that you don’t think you will ever be as good as they are? Maybe someone who prays for hours every day? What do you think of when you hear the word “saint”? I want to offer a thought for you to consider today, a definition of a saint for your consideration, and that is that a saint is a person who tries to love God and love others. Not a person who perfectly loves God and others, but who tries to do so and depends on God’s strength to do so.
In our scripture passage for today from Mark 12:28-34 a scribe comes to Jesus asking, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?” Many religious leaders came to Jesus asking questions to trap Jesus, but maybe this man came with an open mind, seeking and hoping for a good word. His question, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?” sounds like he is asking for the most important commandment, but he may be asking for even more. He could have been asking for the commandment that would help him understand all commandments, or the commandment that will point his life in the right direction, or the commandment that will bring harmony to his life, or the commandment that will tell him in a nutshell all that he needs to know.
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus didn’t hesitate. He said: “‘Hear, 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 first phrase of Jesus’ answer is from Deuteronomy 6:4:”Hear, Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In th Hebrew religion this is called the Shema, and devout Jews recited the Shema every day. It was part of their daily worship. It reminded them of who God was and who they were. Then Jesus gives a commandment: “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 word used for love here in the original Greek is agape. Agape love is the love that God has for us. At our best, it should be the love that we have for God and for each other. Jesus tells this scribe that he needs to love God like that, that he needs to love God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. In other words, with all of himself. Love God totally, Jesus says. What a great answer! This scribe had been looking for one commandment that is the key to all commandments, and this is it! If he loves God with agape love, if he loves God with all of himself, then it will be easy for him to keep all the commandments. If he loves God like that, he will always be seeking to please God and to do what God wants him to do. Keeping the rest of the law will be a natural part of his life.
But then Jesus, having answered this man’s question, continues with a second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. The scribe had asked for one commandment, but Jesus gives him two. Why did Jesus do that? The answer is that we can’t truly love God without loving what God loves, and God loves our neighbor. The truth is that, if we want to please God, to do what God wants us to do, we will not only go to church on Sunday, but we will also do good things for our neighbor. One of the best ways that we have of loving God and pleasing God, of doing what God wants us to do, is to love our neighbor with agape love, with the kind of love that reaches out to help others. That neighbor, you see, is God’s child, just like you are God’s child, and nothing you can do will please God more than seeing us help His child, your neighbor.
Love God and love others. These are the greatest commandments. These are the things that makes us the people God wants us to be. These are the qualities, I believe, that will qualify you for being a saint.
“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”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”
What do you think it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? It means to love God totally and to not love anything or anyone else more than God. It means to give all your life to God and put God above everything else in your life. Last week at the Small Church Conference Sally and I heard Steve Macchia, a professer at Gordon Conwell Seminary, speak about loving God and putting God above everything else in our lives. Using the John 21 passage where the resurrected Jesus asked Peter “do you love me more than these?” Macchia asked what we thought the “these’s” were that Jesus was referring to. He said that there were several interpretations to what these “these’s” might be, but he suggested that Jesus was referring to anything in Peter’s life that he put above God. Macchia then challenged us to not put anything above God in our lives, but to put God in charge of everything in our lives. He challenged us to reflect on what things we might be putting above God in our lives, our “these’s” that might be keeping us from loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Macchia then challenged us to give all, everything in our lives, all our “these’s” that might come between us and God, to God. What a powerful way to drive home what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, with all we have.
“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”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”
What do you think it means to love our neighbor as our self? It means to care for and only want the best for our neighbor, and to do whatever we can to help and show love to our neighbor. We might want to put barriers around this type of love for our neighbor, and maybe try to define who our neighbor is so that we don’t have to show this type of love and care to too many people. In Luke 10 a scribe asks Jesus how to receive eternal life, and He responds to love God and love his neighbor. The scribe then asks for a definition of who his neighbor is, and Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus is saying that anyone who is in need is our neighbor, and to show God’s love to all people.
“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”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”
Love God and love others. Love God more than anything else in your life. Put your relationship with God above all other things in your life. Love others, whoever and wherever they may be. On this All Saints Day we need to look at what it means to be a saint, what it means to be the person God is calling you to be. The two commandments Jesus gives to the scribe, to love God and love others, show you how to be a saint, how to be the person God is calling you to be.
To be the person God is calling you to be, you first must love God. You must love God above all other things in your life. You must not let anything come between you and your relationship with God. You must put God above all the “these’s” Steve Macchia talks about, all the things that separate you from God and keep you from having a committed relationship with God. Don’t let anything keep you from having a committed relationship with God.
To be the person God is calling you to be, you must also love your neighbor. That means all people. That means doing everything you can to help others in need, no matter who they are or where they are.
So how about it? Do you qualify to be a saint? Do you qualify to be the person God is calling you to be? What in your life is keeping you from the committed relationship to God that God wants you to have? What in your life is coming between you and the committed relationship with God? What in your life is keeping you from having a committed, personal, loving relationship with God? What are you putting before God in your life? What in your life is coming between you and the committed relationship you can have with God? What are your “these’s”, the things that you might love more than God and that are blocking your relationship with God, keeping you from being the person God is calling you to be? What about your love for others? Do you see all people as your neighbor, the person God is calling you to love and care for? Do you see that you are called to care for anyone in need, no matter who or where they are?
Do you qualify to be a saint? Jesus is calling you to love God and love others. Jesus is calling you to put God above all things and to show God’s love to all people. You know, earlier I said that a lot of times we think of a saint as being someone we can never become, someone who is perfect and does no wrong. When you hear that qualifying to be a saint means loving God and putting God above all things in your life, you may think that you will never meet those criteria. But here’s the good news. If you will work on your relationship with God every day, God will bless you. We will never be perfect. No one ever is and no one ever has been. But if you confess your sins to God, God will forgive and bless you.
As I look out over this congregation today, I see a lot of people who qualify for sainthood. I see a lot of people who strive to love God and put God above all others things in their lives and who always try to reach out to others with the love of God. I praise God for the way so many members of Edgewood bless us and others. They truly qualify to be saints.
Do you qualify to be a saint? You do if you strive to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love others as yourself. You do if every day you strive to put God above all other things in your life. You do if you will ask yourself every day “what are the these’s I put before God in my life?”and give them to God. You do if you will strive to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. You do if you will then strive to show God’s love to those in need, whoever they are and wherever they are. No, you will not be perfect, but God will strengthen you so you can love Him more and love others more.
Love God. Love others. Be a saint. Amen.