Fourth Sunday before Advent
Introduction and Call to Worship Today we are reminded that love must be the foundation and direction of our lives. This is not a one-sided matter for God pours love and mercy into our lives. Let us open our hearts and minds to this love as we worship. Today’s Readings First Reading Deuteronomy 6:1-9 God’s people are commanded to live their lives totally orientated towards God. This involves their whole being and is so important that it is to shape their whole day, every day, from morning to night. Second Reading Hebrews 9:11-14 Jesus Christ is the supreme sacrifice, greater than any other, given freely for us so that we can be part, not of a dead religion but of a living faith. Gospel Mark 12:28-34 Jesus says if we give all our energy to loving God and our neighbour we will find ourselves close to the Kingdom of God. HOMILY “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34) It’s funny how some elements of technology completely change the way we do things and we wonder just how we coped before. A good example is Satellite Navigation Tools – those wonders that many of us now have fitted in our cars. Do you remember the days before them, with large A3 size maps and someone trying to navigate you from the passenger seat or worse, trying to look at a map while driving? Dreadful. Did you hear about the man in Florida who was driving with an alligator reading a map in the passenger seat? The police asked what was going on and the driver said, “That’s my Navi Gator”. Back in the UK, Yorkshire Constabulary has had all their sat navs stolen. A spokesman said that they are searching for Leeds. Unlike my jokes, we hope our sat navs will point us in the right direction or help us to reach our destination as quickly as possible. Finding our way, navigating a path is an essential gift for life and applies to many aspects of daily living. We need to know the way, and the life markers that help us along that path are very important. Our relationship with God, our faith, is a very important tool for navigating life’s journey as is the Church community, our extended family. We may not always appreciate just how much we need Church but we do. Having a community of friendship and support, an extended family of faith, is an essential tool for navigating life’s journey because this place, and the people here, help to keep us following a righteous path; the way that leads to the Kingdom of God. At the heart of this journey we are called to live by God’s commandments and laws and the greatest commandment is to love. Jesus tells his disciples that he gives them a new commandment. He does this as he washes their feet at the last supper (see John 13:34). This sentiment was already part of the Jewish tradition dating back well over a thousand years before the Incarnation. In Deuteronomy the people are told to bind these words to their hands, to write them on their doorposts, to repeat them when they lie down and when they get up. In fact, at every moment of their life these words are to be their guide and their path. God, and only God, is to be loved with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. Not just at every moment of our lives, but with every fibre of our being, God’s law of love really matters for life’s journey. In Old Testament thought the heart is seen, not just as the place of emotion and desire, but also as the rational centre of our thinking, how we make all our choices. The soul is our innermost being, the part of us that shapes who we are. It is where we feel most deeply. Our mind is the place of intellect, the means by which we understand things, and our strength. This love demands energy, stamina and resilience that keep us going on, whatever the journey of life is like, and let’s be honest, life is not always easy, by no means. In fact, this love for God must shape the whole of our existence and demand our whole attention, not just on Sundays but in every waking minute – especially at those times and moments when we feel far from God’s Kingdom and when our defences are low and we feel under attack or pressure. God has not abandoned us! Jesus reminds his disciples of this saying, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34) Jesus adds to the teaching from Deuteronomy, perhaps by way of explaining it a little more. For the truth is that if the commandment to love God is really taken on board, then love for our neighbour will simply happen anyway. We reveal the reality of our love for God by the way in which we treat our neighbours as we journey life’s tough path. In his “Seventh Homily on the Letter of John”, St Augustine of Hippo summarised this challenge of love succinctly when he wrote: “Love God and do what you like!” This is not as flippant as it sounds, for if we are truly giving our heart, mind, soul and strength to loving God, we will find that our choices about what we do and how we treat others flow from that love. And if we want to know what this love for God might look like as it is lived out in a human life, we need not look further than Jesus. Think about his life’s journey and ministry; loving, healing, challenging with love, even forgiving from the cross of suffering. Friends in faith, all that we are about day to day, and even here in worship and the fellowship of St Mary’s Church, is meaningless if we are not characterised by love for God, striving to build his Kingdom anew and fashioning our own priorities in light of the example of Jesus; love for our neighbours, bringing healing, comfort and hope in the face of daily challenge. In today’s Gospel from Mark, when Jesus sees that the scribe understands this even though he may not be perfect in fulfilling it, our Lord tells him that he is not far from the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ teaching, his outpouring of love, is a resource for all time – for us today. Yes, this love for God, and for our neighbour, is challenging and at times difficult but it marks us out as a kingdom people. Keep walking the path of righteousness and love, as so many others have before you, some of whom we remembered on Friday at our All Souls Eucharist, and be assured that in God’s time others will take up the challenge and follow on too. Only you and God know what this means in your own life, as you journey on. But perhaps today you may be willing to take stock, to pause for a moment, allowing the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist to fill you, and God’s Word teach and inspire you. In other words, let St Mary’s and your commitment to regular faithful worship sustain you in your faith journey, in the good times and the bad – much better than any map or sat nav because this is the way that leads to eternal life! Amen. SUMMARY 1. Sat navs are such an improvement on those large A3 maps. 2. The readings from Deuteronomy and Mark highlight faith is a journey and God’s law of love is our guide. 3. If we truly love God then love for our neighbour will follow naturally. 4. The greatest commandment to love is a guide for our whole life and it applies to everything we do. St Mary’s Church is a resource for the journey of life.