Psalm 104: 24-34
12:28 “One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.” (Mark 12:28–34, NRSV)
Let us pray: Holy God, Creator Spirit and Giver of life, you spoke the world into being. So, we pray that you will pour your Spirit to the ends of the earth that all your children may return from exile and our divisions may be healed by your word of love and righteousness to turn the sin and sorrow within us into faith, power, and delight. Amen.
I am glad that I have an opportunity to respond to the wonderful faith statements each of the confirmands shared on Wednesday evening. They were heartfelt and informative, funny and deep, personal and reflective of your personalities and most importantly they were yours. It was humbling to listen to them and to learn from them. I heard some of you say on Wednesday evening in your faith statements that sometimes church can be boring and that sermons can be hard to follow, I heard you loud and clear. What is so great is that you can now help to shape and form the church into the experience and the place you think God wants it to be. It is a perk of being confirmed and a member of the church it is now your church too. So, if you would like to see things change as members of the church you are empowered to bring about change but more on that in a moment.
Today is a day for joy and gladness. We’re here to celebrate. Congratulations to each of you confirmands. Your year of study and reflection and learning about yourself and your faith is over. Your faithfulness and hard work and vision make us joyful. We’re joyful because in your effort and your willingness to enter your future we see signs of God’s kingdom breaking in around us. And so, first and foremost, today we are celebrating God’s faithfulness to all of us.
Today you will be officially confirmed and welcomed into membership of the Indian Hill Church by publically professing your faith in Jesus Christ. This is not a magic ceremony or a mystic service where you will be a different person once it is all over. Actually this is not an end it is really just the beginning of your public faith.
Being a part of a community is an important part of your faith. It was vitally important in biblical times to be part of a community. It was often the difference between life and death for people of the ancient world. So, it was important to belong because you were defined by your community. Biblical historian’s state that at that time and in that culture that to be fully human was to be part of a specific community.
To be in conflict with one’s community was a major challenge to one’s own identity. To be cast out of a community created personal crisis. This world was quite different from our North American emphasis on individuality and self-importance. This is the backdrop in which The Gospel of Mark was written. The time is around 70 AD after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and it left many Jewish communities to ask, “Now what? With the Temple destroyed what does it mean to be Jewish? What is the core of our Jewish identity?” For Mark’s particular congregation their identity was to welcome and include Gentiles, non-Jewish believers into the fellowship.
Having Gentiles, non-Jewish believers as full-standing members of the community was problematic to more traditional Jews. Some such folk believed that Mark’s congregation was unfaithful because they were no longer truly Jewish. Consequently, tension developed between the two groups; traditional believers and those open and welcoming to Gentiles. It led many to ask, “Are we truly Jewish, if we welcome others into our congregation? Will we have a congregation/ a place we belong?” With their world rocked and their central place of worship destroyed, their entire world has been turned upside down. They must have been afraid… and now they are welcoming in outsiders, what has become of the faith?
So, Mark reminds the congregation of their core beliefs, he reminds them to 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 then to love your neighbor as yourself.
It is really no different today – thousands of years later, many congregations’ today face issues of identity – questions and uncertainties similar to those before Mark’s community. Even more importantly Christians are facing an ever changing world and we need your help.
If the foundation of the Christian faith is to love God and to love our neighbor, then we need your help in loving God and our neighbors. Young people seem to be more open and accepting while we older folks are much more set in our ways, so afraid, so resistant to change. Our world is rapidly changing and if we are to love God and our neighbors we are confronted instantaneously by that difficultly.
When we think about our neighbor, I am not just talking about the people who live on your street or in our school district or zip code, I am talking about our city, our state, the nation, the whole world, all of creation as our neighborhood. As we are all so well aware, our neighbor’s look, act and live differently than we do; our neighbors are no longer just white, upwardly mobile, upper middle class to wealthy people with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence and the American dream in their back pocket.
Our neighbors not by proximity but our neighbors none the less are struggling and we see it and we hear about it every day.
Our neighbors have taken to the streets to protest violence and death, they are chanting and saying that “Black lives matter.”
Our neighbors are seeking equality both in acceptance and marriage and they have taken to the courts encouraging others that “It gets better.”
Our neighbors don’t speak English and may even be here illegally only wanting a better life for their families just like we do.
Our neighbors don’t worship like we do, they are Jewish and Muslim and Hindu, and more and more of them simply don’t practice any religion or believe in anything beyond themselves.
So you see it is a fascinating time for the Christian church and that is why I say we need you!
We need you and that is what makes a day like today so exciting, so hope filled, because you are the church, not the future of the church but you are the church, now, today, and we need you.
Jesus gives his follows these words to live by: 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.’ The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ These words are in your hearts help us live by them, challenge us, push us, walk with us, as we all strive to be the community God created us to be.
Let us pray: