Love: Foundation Stone of the Kingdom – Mark 12:28-34
Guest Preacher Rev. Dr. Ned Allyn Parker
Please accept my gratitude for the opportunity to be in this sacred moment with you – gratitude to you for being here (and setting your clocks last night) and gratitude to Tom for this chance to share. I bring greetings from your friends at Andover Newton Seminary in New Haven. It is good to be with you this morning.
We have sanctified this space by invoking God’s presence – or more appropriately, focusing our own attention on God’s presence already made manifest in all places. We have sanctified this space by passing the peace, and by lifting our voices in song, and by breaking bread at this table. We have sanctified this space by covenanting together and by reading sacred scripture. We have sanctified this space by showing up… It ain’t church if the people of God don’t show up. Thank you for showing up.
Now, I don’t know you that well, I mean we’ve only just met, but I would hazard to guess that each and every Sunday you do the work of sanctifying this space in these ways for two reasons:
1) You love God.
2) And, you love each other.
Is that true? Is that a fair assessment? Is this why you come here? Because, I mean, if so, then your gathering is a direct response to this passage that we just read: What’s the greatest commandment? Love God. Love each other. For this reason, and for so many others, let me say once more that it is good to be here… Thanks be to God.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes my travel schedule has me spread so thin that I’m not always exactly sure where “here” is. While I’m attending an event or speaking engagement, I wake up in my hotel, jet-lagged and confused, and I have to think about where I am. Recently, I have started trying to make a spiritual practice out of this confusion. Instead of answering the question in terms of where I am on a map, I try to answer the question in terms of where I am in the context of my faith journey. I try to answer the question with this answer: “I am in the midst of the Kingdom” – some traditions say kin-dom.
I think it’s very rare that we – any of us – truly answer the question of where we are faithfully. How could we? As divisions deepen in our polarized society, some of us find that even family members become strangers. Too often, suspicion, resentment, and fear seem the only adequate responses to where we are on a spiritual or even an emotional level.
And yet, remember that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says – and I’m paraphrasing a bit here – “Some will say that the Kingdom of Heaven is over there, and still others will say that the Kingdom of Heaven is somewhere up there, but I say to you that the Kingdom of Heaven is right here, in your midst.” Some translations even say, “The kingdom of Heaven is within you.”
We look around and think, “This can’t possibly be the Kingdom that Jesus was talking about. If this is the Kingdom of Heaven, then the world shouldn’t seem so broken. If this is the Kingdom, then pizza should be a vegetable. Chocolate cake should be a whole grain.”
In our scripture passage this morning Jesus is asked to name the most important commandment – the one commandment that might help us build the Kingdom of Heaven up. And Jesus says, “You just need to do these two things: Love God. Love each other…”
This is where the theology of Jesus and the philosophy of John Lennon and Paul McCartney come crashing together: Love is all you need. Do you know that song?
All you need is love [do do-do-do-doooo] All you need is love [do do-do-do-doooo]…I think Jesus could groove to that. But I’m not sure he would agree with those verses that each end the same way, like: “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.It’s … [easy…].” Is it? Easy?
In our reading from Mark this morning, Jesus says, “Love God. Love each other.”
But Jesus doesn’t say, “It’s gonna to be easy.” In fact, I’m not sure Jesus ever asks anything of us that’s easy. The passage ends: “’You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.” It was almost too much to bear – too heavy a burden to carry.
Love can be complicated and challenging and difficult. Love is work. Love is work, especially in times like these – in social contexts like these. Just ask the family who used to happily gather together for holidays like Thanksgiving, but now avoid these opportunities because they just don’t want to have the same old arguments about politics anymore…
Love is work, and love is the foundation stone of the Kingdom. We talk about building the Beloved Community, because, like a massive Theo-political construction project, the magnitude of the undertaking requires commitment and work – it requires endurance.
As we are propelled into the 21st century, if the church is to find success in faithful ministry, it’s because we do the challenging work of love, not the easy work of judgment. The themes of condemnation and judgment, which we can trace throughout the history of the church, will not build the Kingdom when the foundational directive from Jesus is to love.
Based on Jesus’ own directive, we are coming to understand that in order to build a Kingdom whose foundation stone is love, we must create safe authentic spaces where the world can enter in and experience radical hospitality, and a love that embraces people no matter where they are on life’s journey. On your website, Tom writes: “We meet to be replenished and refreshed — seeking God’s wisdom and call — so that we can do our part to make the world a better place; to get closer to the Kingdom that we believe our Creator intends us to co-create.”
When we are loved as our authentic selves and we experience welcome that does not require us to reject who we are, then we are able to do the brave work of Kingdom construction. So, as I learn about your congregation’s work from Tom, I am able to recognize and appreciate the deep and difficult work of love you are doing in the world. With the ministry that unfolds here, you inspire each other to enter the world bravely and build the Beloved Community. You live into those greatest of commandments: “Love God. Love one another.” And you are faithfully answering that question about where you are: You are in the midst of the Kingdom because you’re building the Kingdom.
So, why am I here and what does any of this have to do with Andover Newton Seminary? [I’m so glad I asked.] I am here to share good news and glad tidings. Even in the midst of this massive transition in which the Andover Newton community finds itself, our mission remains unchanged: “Deeply rooted in Christian faith, and radically open to what God is doing now, Andover Newton educates inspiring leaders” for faith communities – faith communities just like this one. I think you have had a few Andover Newton students and alumni/ae walking your halls here at MCC – have you not?
And what do faith communities need in the 21st century? They – you – need leaders who can help develop safe authentic spaces where the work of the Kingdom can unfold. They – you – need servant leaders who know how to love their communities, love the world, and love themselves. They – you – need leadership that is non-judgmental and bold. They – you – need a shepherd willing to get down in the earth and dig around in the dirt in order to securely place the foundation stones of the kingdom.
As Andover Newton becomes an embedded institution at Yale Divinity School, we are able to hone the training we have offered now for 211 years. We are able to double down on our commitment to educate inspiring leaders, and we are able to do that within a world-class university system. Our students have access to 17 million volumes of books and are able to double-major in theology and forestry, or theology and medicine; they will have the opportunity to take courses in non-profit administration at the Yale School of Management; and they will learn how to develop and nurture authentic, loving, and faithful communities – just like this one – because they will be part of one as students at Andover Newton Seminary. They will have opportunities to learn in the head and in the heart. It is an academic program that upholds integration of the spirit and the mind. And we are only able to offer an intentionally-integrative program of this caliber because of the past support and – we hope – the future support of communities like Memorial Congregational Church. We have been, and continue to be, grateful for you.
Once a week, at Andover Newton, we gather together for a service that we call The Emmaus Gathering. The gathering begins with a homemade meal, and a Bible study led by one of our professors. Following this sacred time together, we all move into the chapel, where we sing, pray, hear a testimony from one of the students, faculty, or staff, and then we conclude with Communion. So, food is shared in a sacred way in both the beginning and the end of our time together.
I served a church in Seattle, WA, for seven years before returning to New England. At that church, we had a saying: “Love is best served with food.” A sentiment I felt echoed here, as we broke bread together a few moments ago.
Jesus says, “Love God. Love each other.” And, remember that the disciples – who were surely listening in here – were not the easiest lot to love. When Jesus asked them to stay awake while he prayed, they fell asleep. When he asked them to understand, they scratched their heads. When he gathered them together for the Last Supper, Holy Communion, he included the one who would deny him, the one who would doubt him, and the one who would betray him. Not an easy lot to love, but Jesus did the hard work of loving them anyway.
Jesus was not a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of guy. He loved even in the midst of brokenness – the brokenness of others, and eventually his own brokenness. He loved even when it was difficult. So, let’s go, friends, let’s go and do likewise. Together, let us go forth and set the foundation stone of love.