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"What Matters" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer

What Matters

A sermon for Northminster Church

Preached by Rev. Jillian Hankamer

June 2, 2024

Mark 12: 28-34 & 41-44

 

 

            What matters? In one way or another, this is the question the entire world is asking right now.

            -war in Ukraine still raging

-in the Middle East hostages are still being kept while displaced people living in tents are bombed

-American college students face police action for taking a stand for Palestine

-The guilty verdict of a former President does nothing to decrease our political and social divide

-And we’re still 6 months away from a presidential election with two candidates who’ve not only faced each other before but are the oldest presumptive candidates in our country’s history

 

So what matters?

 

In this morning’s passage from Mark the answer is straightforward; love God and love your neighbor as yourself. But notice I said the answer is straightforward, not easy. It’s simple but not simplistic as even the contents of this passage force us to evaluate our assumptions.

 

I’ve said to you before that we Christians have a long history of painting the Jewish people and especially Jewish religious leaders as bad guys. Too rigid and concerned with power to listen to Jesus. At worst, such reading of the biblical text can be anti-Semitic. At best it’s careless and lacks nuance, so pay close attention to the conversation that happens between Jesus and the scribe in this morning’s verses.

 

Rather than trying to trick Jesus this scribe seems genuinely interested in his thoughts on the first commandment. When Jesus answers his question, the scribe not only agrees with Jesus but expands on his answer. For his part, Jesus’ answer is thoroughly biblical. His first response, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one” is from Deuteronomy 6:4. Called the Shema this “is the centerpiece of morning and evening prayer for devout Jews. It is the origin of the mezuzah and the tefillin - the scroll posted on the doorpost and the scripture in a black leather pouch worn during prayers.”[1] As commentator N. Clayton Croy notes, “...in a flash Jesus answers the [scribe’s] question with a familiar and beloved commandment, a response that might well have been given by some other rabbis.”[2] 

 

Jesus’ second response, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” alludes to Leviticus 19:8 which reads, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” This concern with others, this recognition that the scribe's notes of people being “more important than all whole burnt offerings and all sacrifices” is consistent with passages throughout the Hebrew Bible.

 

Listen closely and you’ll hear the voices of prophets like Hosea through whom God says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) Or the beautiful, convicting words of Hosea 5: 24, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” A faith-based in loving God and the constant pursuit of justice is completely in keeping with Jewish teaching, which is likely how Jesus and this scribe are able to find commonality. But move a few verses later to the story of  “The Widow’s Mite” and you’ll see Jesus’ frustration.

 

Usually, the story of the widow putting her only two copper coins into the treasury is used as an example of faithful stewardship and giving sacrificially. But I’d like for us to think about this widow through the lens of Jesus' words in the previous verses and on the framework of the question, “What matters?”

 

 For if what matters is justice, then is not a story about stewardship but an example of a religious system exploiting the vulnerable. If what matters is loving others as ourselves then we must wrestle with this woman only having two coins to give while so much ostentatious wealth is on display. It’s bad enough that no one is helping this poor widow - as is commanded time and again in the Hebrew Bible - but what’s truly condemning is that no one but Jesus notices she’s there. If love of neighbor truly is as important as loving God, the widow is failed by her community which both forgets her and doesn’t see her.

 

The widow’s story is also a stern reminder that religious communities of any faith tradition cannot exist at the expense of others. It is not our right as “holy” people to treat a single child of God as a means to an end or to take anyone for granted simply because we don’t think we’re doing anything harmful. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that we are to do the exact opposite, loving others with the same breath and effort, constancy, and thoughtfulness with which we love God.

My friends, you already know the Good News this morning and even my best sermon is, of course, no match for the straightforward clarity of Jesus' words. We are to love God and love each other. It’s that unarguably simple and that encompassingly complex and we have the ironic challenge of living out this dual command in the midst of a pandemic. As if it wasn’t hard enough to love God and each other, now we have to figure out how to do these things while not getting each other sick.

 

 Dear ones, it's an easy time to lose patience with each other. To be dismissive and use our closed doors and physical distancing as a means to not do the hard work of living out Jesus’ dual command to love. But we need each other too much for such a lack of energy. God’s justice in the world is too precious for us to lose sight of those who are at risk of being exploited. And the spark of Christ in each person we encounter, no matter how we encounter them in this odd time, is too sacred for us to ignore. So when you need a reminder, a pause to catch your breath, something to calm your racing mind or soothe your tired spirit ask yourself; what matters? Then trust you know the answer.


[1] Robert Beck, “Commentary on Mark 12: 28-44” from  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4231

[2] N. Clayton Croy, “Commentary on Mark 12: 28-44” from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2585

 

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