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Learning to Love: Two Loves

February 11, 2007

Mark 12:28-34

On this Sunday every year, I try to give the men in our congregation advance notice that Wednesday is Valentine’s Day. Are you ready? Clare writes the words Valentine’s Day on my calendar and blocks out some time so that we can be together. Wednesday is an important day, one we do not need to overlook.

Robert Ripley, famous for Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, tells us that an artist from Paris is responsible for the longest and the simplest love letter ever written. He actually dictated every single word of the letter, which contained just three words, “I love you” The artist did not just say to his secretary, “Write these three words down 1,875,000 times.” He actually repeated the words “I love you” almost 2,000,000 times as the secretary wrote them. Then after he finished dictating the love letter, as the story goes, he asked the secretary to read it back to him to make sure he got it right. In all, he and the secretary repeated those words more than 5,000,000 times. He was an old man by the time the letter was delivered.

I want to share with you another love letter, one found in the twelfth chapter of the gospel of Mark. We will look at the words of Jesus, beginning in Verse 28. A teacher of the law, who had heard Jesus debating with other religious leaders, comes to Jesus. Noticing that this young rabbi from Galilee had given some very wise answers, this teacher of the law asks, “Of all the commandments, which one is most important?”

Now, you must understand that the Jewish religion had more than 600 commandments, some say as many commandments as seeds in a pomegranate, maybe 612 or 639. During debates regarding the commandments, the rabbis questioned which commandments they were to consider heavy and which they were to consider light. They were concerned about those they really needed to pay attention to and which ones they could ignore. Of course, the Pharisees deemed all 600 commandments equally important. Rabbis often debated this question, so this teacher is actually asking Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which one really weighs the most? Which one is the most important?”

Jesus responds with two answers, saying that two commandments were the lowest common denominator for all of the commandments in the Jewish religion. “The most important one,” answers Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as your love yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Jesus gives a simple answer, but I would submit to you that those two commandments, identifying two kinds of love, really are the most important Valentine that we can give in this week.

You know the story perhaps about the man called Saint Valentine. He was a priest who lived in the early centuries of the Christian church, centuries pitted with intense persecution, especially at the hands of the Romans who were torturing and putting Christians to death. This young priest took it as his mission to give aid and comfort to his fellow Christians. For that, he was put to death on February 14, the day we know as St. Valentine’s Day. It has become a day we celebrate romantic love, but it should be a day to celebrate the abiding love, expressed in the life of that saint. We should be celebrating self-sacrificing love, the love we see supremely expressed in Jesus Christ.

The two kinds of love that Jesus lists – the love that we have for God and the way that love is enacted in our lives by the way we treat other people – are the best Valentines we could give. Jesus, of course, is quoting the Shema, a passage from Deuteronomy 6, still used today in every Jewish service of worship. He says, “You are to love God with all that you have, everything in you. You are to love God with all of your heart so that your deepest desire is to express your love for God. You are to love God with all of your soul so that your life is devoted to him in prayer and in worship. You are to love God with your entire mind so that the first thoughts you have in the morning and the last thoughts you have at night are of God. You are to love God with all of your strength so that your physical energy is put into service for Him.”

The second most important commandment, Jesus said, “is like unto the first: ‘Love other people the way you love yourself.’” He is literally providing a commentary on the Golden Rule. He is telling us to treat other people the way we want to be treated. We are to love them the way we want to be loved. In my experience, I know that everybody wants to feel loved.

I heard a story about a husband and wife who had been married for a number of years. Early in their marriage, they did not have much money, but they wanted to give each other a Valentine’s card. They went to the card shop together and browsed through the selection. They could really only purchase one card, so they searched until they found one they both liked. That first year, they gave the card to each other. He signed it and gave it to her. She signed it and returned it to him. He kept the card until Valentine’s Day the following year. Then, he signed it again, dated it, and gave it to her. The next year, she signed the card and returned it to him. The couple exchanged the card year after year. They said that this experience of recycling the card had not caused the message to become trite or insignificant. The exchange actually made their expression of love deeper. Saying “I love you” when you are young seems very easy, but I urge you to continue to repeat those words through the years. Saying “I love you” never grows old. Saying “I love you” is so important, no less so in our relationship to God. Telling God that we love Him is vital.

My good friend Bob Morgan has a favorite song, one included in your hymnal. Listen to the words of this hymn simply entitled “I Love Thee”: “I love Thee, I love Thee, I love Thee, my Lord; I love Thee, my Savior, I love Thee, my God: I love Thee, I love Thee, and that Thou dost know…” Up to this point, the hymn has included those three words eight times. In that first verse, the hymn affirms our love for God. Maybe the last line is the most important: “But how much I love Thee my actions will show.”

The way we are to love God is not just to give Him lip service. It is not just to say, “Lord, You know I love You.” We must demonstrate our love for God by showing love to other people. The Valentine we give includes really two loves: a vertical love, our love for God, and a love that reaches out to all people, including our enemies as Jesus taught us. We did not initiate this kind of love; God did. He has given us a Valentine, too. That Valentine is love that is self-sacrificing, the love of Jesus Christ, the love we see when we look at the cross. Sometimes our choir sings “Written in Red,” an anthem that reads, “I love You, I love You, I love You written in red.” Calvary had the same message, written in the blood of Jesus.

We never tire of hearing that God loves us. Neither does God tire of hearing our expression of love for Him. I suppose that in the same way a couple can recycle a Valentine’s card year after year and the message can grow deeper and deeper, we can say the same of our love for God and His love for us. We celebrate that love when we come to the Lord’s Supper.

We sometimes think of Valentine’s Day as a time for wine and roses. Valentine’s Day is also a time for the bread and cup because these elements symbolize the greatest love of all. We take this supper and remember that love from God, fully expressed in Jesus Christ. The bread reminds us of his broken body, and the cup reminds us of his shed blood. As Christians, we come to this table, a table that does not belong to Morningside, a table that is not even Baptist. It is the Lord’s Table. Anyone who believes that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior is invited to receive these gifts that express the most amazing love in all the world, the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

Today, we come to receive these gifts as we partake in the Lord’s Supper. Let us take the supper together.

The Scriptures say that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread. He blessed it and broke it, saying, “This is my body, broken for you.” We will have a prayer of blessing now for the bread.

Father, we humbly bow before you to remember the event that spanned the divide between heaven and earth. As the serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness for all to see, so the only begotten Son of the Father was also lifted up that all men might know the Father’s love. Father, as we receive the broken bread, the symbol of the bruised body of our Lord, may we remember his life, his death, and his resurrection, that he came so that we might have eternal life and have it more abundantly. Thank you, Lord, for Your goodness and grace that brings us to this hour. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain, I count but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride.

See, from his head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down;

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you. Eat this as often as you eat it in remembrance of him. Eat ye all of it.

We will have a prayer of blessing now for the cup.

Our Father, how we do thank You for the love You showed by giving us Your one and only Son. As we drink of this cup, help us to remember how much You love us. Help us also to remember that our love for You is seen in the actions we have toward other people. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ, my God;

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to His blood.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink ye all of it.

Today, we celebrate two loves: our love for God and our love for other people. Worshipping together as two congregations – as brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ – is a perfect context to do that. We worship in response to Christ Jesus. Think of what he has done for us. Think of what the cross means to us. If you have never accepted Christ Jesus as your Savior, if you have never asked him to come into your life, there is no better day than today. We urge you to make that decision. Settle the issue between you and Jesus. You may have other decisions to make. You may want to unite with Morningside or with New Day. You can become a part of either congregation represented here. If that is your decision, Pastor Hailstock and I will be here together to welcome you as we stand together and sing “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.”

© 2007 Kirk H. Neely

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