A Reading from the Book of Wisdom (3:1-9)
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them forever.
Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect.
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.
2 For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3 “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? *
and who can stand in his holy place?”
4 “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5 They shall receive a blessing from the Lord *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
8 “Who is this King of glory?” *
“The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.”
9 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10 “Who is he, this King of glory?” *
“The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.”
A Reading from the Book of Revelation (21:1-6a)
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (11:32-44)
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 4The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
by the Rev. Deacon George Snyder
MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION IN ALL OF OUR HEARTS BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT, O LORD! YOU ARE OUR STRENGTH! YOU ARE OUR REDEEMER!
Today’s gospel lesson is about questions. In fact, most of the entire 12th chapter of Mark is about questions. What we just heard a minute or two ago tells us that Jesus answer another question given to him by the Scribes and Pharisees; then, “After that no one dared to ask him any question.” If Jesus, himself, were standing here in front of us today, would any of you dare ask him a question? I suspect that most of you would. You would be in awe to begin with, but once that first question came, and He answered it; then, the questions would rain down on him like it did with Hurricane Sandy.
In today’s gospel when Jesus was there with them, no one dared to ask him any question. What an opportunity they missed. Would we miss that chance if we were given it?
Several times in the Bible we hear that people didn’t want to ask any more questions. Sometimes it was the common people, his followers, or his disciples. Were these people confused about what Jesus was telling them, or not wanting to show their lack of understanding by asking another question? Were they afraid to ask more questions? Had they heard enough from Jesus to know that following him would be difficult—that following him would have a price to pay?
Other times it was the Pharisees and Scribes. Much of Mark, Chapter 12 is exactly that—the Pharisees and Scribes asking questions. Usually their questions were not to gain knowledge from Jesus, but rather were intended to trip Jesus in his response. One question they asked a few verses before today’s lesson begin was “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?” They were hoping that he would speak against the emperor and get himself thrown into jail—or worse. Jesus, without much thought, asks whose face in on the coin? He is told that it is the emperor’s image. Jesus then says, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” These Pharisees and Scribes were sly foxes; however, they met their match in Jesus. They could not trip him up with their questions.
When the Scribe in today’s lesson steps forward to ask his question, “Which commandment is the first of all,” we are not told for sure whether the scribe really wanted to know the answer, or whether he was trying to trip Jesus up again. It would appear, though that Jesus’s response is positive—he must have read the scribe’s heart. We might be able to assume that he truly wanted to know because, later, we find that Jesus approves of his answer. What makes the scribe’s motives uncertain for us is that just a few verses earlier, the leaders were trying to trip Jesus up.
Jesus gives a two part response to the scribe’s question, “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.” Jesus continues with the second part, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The scribe says, “You are right, teacher.” Jesus then tells the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
This has to be my favorite passage in the Bible, for it is very powerful verse. I know that I have said it to myself hundreds of times—maybe even thousands! I have been told by some people that I try to simplify theology, and in my attempt to do so that I miss some important elements. That criticism is quite accurate, I know. In spite of that criticism, I am going to say that Jesus simplifies a great deal of theology in this passage.
Our Book of Common Prayer put this passage in a slightly different wording, taking it from Matthew 22:34: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Jesus seems to be stating this premise clearly and distinctly: Love God and love your neighbor. All the laws of the Old Testament and everything that any of the prophets of old said are based on loving God and loving our neighbor. You don’t kill someone because you can’t hurt someone you love. You cannot commit adultery because it hurts people you love.
Did you realize that the questions for Jesus stopped after He told them that the two great commandments were to love God and love your neighbor? Was it because Jesus made everything crystal clear? Was it because the Scribes and Pharisees understood that their practices in the Temple and in their own lives did not reflect these two commandments? Did they realize that their rituals, sacrifices and hundreds of small laws which they lived by were not needed in order to please God?
We Christians tend to pictures the Scribes and the Pharisees as self-serving corrupters of God’s law who were only interested in their own comfort, their control over God’s people, and their collecting money from them. If we are realistic and fair, we have to understand that there were Scribes and Pharisees who practiced their religion in a manner that they thought pleased God. There had to have been sincere leaders who were interested in following God’s law. They weren’t all bad—just as there are some Christians who have misinterpreted Jesus’s will. Can you imagine how a devout Jew, who had followed what he thought was the right pathway to God, would feel when he realized that he had been wrong all of his life?
Why did they not ask any more questions? Maybe they just didn’t want to have a discussion about love. Maybe they just didn’t want to love their neighbors—neighbors who lived in poverty—neighbors who were far beneath them. Maybe they realized that to love their neighbors, they would have to give up something—their own comfort, money, and prestige.
The Rev. Suzanne Metz, a vicar in the Diocese of Exeter, North Devon England says, “What we need to remember is that the word love in this context is not the kind of love we too often think about today. Loving with the whole heart isn’t the emotional, huggy-kissy kind of love we find on the Hallmark cards. It isn’t the type of love that is portrayed in advertisements near various holidays, especially Valentine’s Day. Loving with the heart in that day first of all meant being loyal. So Jesus was talking about being loyal to God—loyal to God’s laws, loyal to the promises of the covenant the people made with God. Included with being loyal to God was being loyal to your neighbor. “ …. Because they knew their scriptures, the Jews knew that being loyal to their neighbors meant that they would care for their neighbor, fight oppression, feed the hungry, and make provisions for the poor, the widowed, and the orphans. No one would have a surplus of food or money or clothes when others had none.
They had no more questions. Maybe they realized that there was a huge price to pay if they asked more questions and thought about what Jesus said to them. Following Jesus’s words could be terribly expensive.
We do not know why the Jews stopped asking questions. The passage doesn’t clearly tell us. What we might need to consider with this passage are these two questions, “Do we modern Christians have any more questions to ask Jesus?” or “Jesus, what do I need to do to be loyal to you, to love you?” Obviously there are times that we do not need to hear the answer to these the questions, we respond in a manner that shows that we are both loyal to our Lord Jesus and to our neighbors—even those we will never meet. I suspect many of you sent money to the South after Katrina; some of you have already sent a donation to the victims of Sandy. Others have brought money in for the Day of Change to support St. Paul’s food pantry. Still, others have responded to Father Mike’s plea last week for us to refill the shelves at the pantry with food we can bring in. There are many ways that St. Mark’s parishioners respond throughout the year.
A question that I frequently ask myself is, “Do I do enough?” We all need to be honest in considering when we are not being loyal to God, and not helping our neighbor enough. It is hard for us to think about “loving our neighbor” when we do not particularly like that neighbor. It may be hard for us to love our neighbor when they are on one side of an issue and we are on the other, or they support one candidate, and we support another. It may be hard for us to be loyal to our neighbor when those neighbors suddenly move into our neighborhoods, into our church, and into our lives.
There are two major issues going on in Troy right now that I think are actually examples of this. The first one has to do with the placement of a food kitchen. People will say, “Yes, we need the food kitchen; it feeds a lot of people. But, I do not want that kind of people in my neighborhood.” Another issue is about zoning; people who live in $300,000 homes on five to ten acres of land do not want people who want to build a $150,000 homes on a half-acre; “It will ruin our property value.”
It is easier to be loving when you do not have to see poverty every day in your own neighborhood. Seeing that daily can be debilitating and crush your spirit. In today’s world, poverty is not just something we see in South America, Africa, or Asia. We see it every day in our own country. We have been told by pollsters that 20% of Americans live in poverty; 20% percent of our neighbors that Jesus tells us to love. One in four children lives in poverty—children that Jesus calls us to love.
Maybe those who did not ask questions in today’s gospel were overwhelmed with the possibility of what they would have to do in order to be loyal to God. Maybe we are overwhelmed in the same way in today’s world.
Some of our families and people we know are in need. Indeed, some of us are in need. It is overwhelming. There is so much need. Taking care of those needs would be too large of a burden for one person to undertake. For the last several weeks, Judy has been asking us to work together to help our neighbors in a small way; if we each give some money for the Day of Change, the entire congregation can give a lot. We can’t do it alone; that is impossible. But, we can do it—and, indeed, we have done it in the past— by working together as God’s people here at St. Mark’s.
I pray that each of us have a week filled with opportunities for us to love God and our neighbors. Furthermore, I pray that we respond to God when he puts those opportunities in front of us.