Our mission statement at St. Johns Christian Church is "Loving God, Loving People, Meeting Needs." This is a pretty standard mission statement for many churches. Many churches have "Loving God, Loving People" as part of their mission statement. This is because of a story from the gospels. In Mark 12, people were coming up to Jesus to trap him. Jesus was debating with Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, teachers of the law, and scribes. One of the teachers of the law noticed Jesus’ knack for giving good answers, and asked which commandment was most important. A tough question, considering tradition holds that there are 613 commandments in the first 5 books of the Bible! (For an example of someone trying to live out each one of them, check out A.J. Jacobs' “The Year of Living Biblically.”) You would think that Jesus would maybe grab something from the Ten Commandments. Jesus, however, brings up most of the beginning of the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith from Deuteronomy 6, saying, “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.” Then he tacks on a bit from Leviticus 19:18b, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The guy didn’t ask for the second greatest commandment, but Jesus gave it to him anyway. The teacher of the law then said “to do both of these things is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” A shocking thing to say, as they were IN THE TEMPLE at the time, where people would be burning offerings and sacrifices all around them. Love God, love your neighbor: more important than the religious activities going on around them. (BTW: Not all scribes/Pharisees/Saducees are wrong and villains in the gospels. This one gets it.)
Two similar stories are seen in other gospels. In Luke, a lawyer asks what to do to gain eternal life. Jesus asks the lawyer’s opinion, and the lawyer says “love God and love your neighbor.” Unfortunately for the lawyer, this is a case of “quit while you’re ahead.” The lawyer asks who his neighbor is. Jesus then goes into the Good Samaritan story, and points out that the lawyer’s “neighbor” is actually his enemy. And then we have the book of Matthew, where a lawyer asks which is the greatest commandment, and Jesus says “Love the Lord your God...and love your neighbor as yourself.” But then, interestingly, Jesus says “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” These two commandments are NOT just the best two. Every Other Commandment fits into these two.
At St. Johns Christian Church we have our mission statement: Loving God, Loving People, Meeting Needs. Technically, Meeting Needs is part of Loving People. Or it should be. But it’s good for us to spell it out, because our love for people needs to be more than emotional, caring love. It needs to involve action.
Since Loving God and Loving People are, according to Jesus, the most important commandments, and since they’re part of our mission statement, we’re going to be looking at what it means to live our lives Loving God, Loving People, and Meeting Needs. And to do that, for the next ten days, I’m going to be looking at the Ten Commandments. If all of the Law fits into Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself, then let’s look at the most foundational of the Law.