Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“Not Far from the Kingdom of God”


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 4 November 2012 by the Rev. John LeMond. The scripture readings that day were Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Hebrews 9:11-14 and Mark 12:28-34.


One of the essential elements of religion

Is a set of rules

What we should do and what we should not do

For Christians these rules are quite ancient

Going all the way back to the first books of Judaism

These rules provide guidelines for how to live our lives

There are hundreds of rules, or commandments, in Scripture

Covering everything from farming to marriage to business.

We often think of Judaism, out of which Christianity was born

As a religion of rules and commandments

Rules so difficult to follow that they seemed like a yoke, a heavy bar, on one’s back

So there has always been the need of a summary of these rules

Something that encompasses all of the rules of the religion

In a simple, straightforward way.

And here we have that summary in the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning:

The writer of Deuteronomy says:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

There we have it

Follow this rule…follow this commandment

So that…what?


So that… your days may be long.

So that… life may go well with you,

So that… you may multiply greatly

In a land flowing with milk and honey.

Follow this rule…and you will live a good life.

It sounds so simple.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might

And you will live a good life.

In fact, it not only sounds simple, it sounds simplistic.

It sounds naïve, unsophisticated.

We do not live as wanderers 4,000 years ago

We live in the very complex world of today

Can a rule that old really provide guidance…

For people who live in a modern, even a post-modern, world?

A world in which many people either deny,

Or seriously doubt, the existence of God?

And a related question is this:

What will happen if we choose not to follow this rule of God?

What will happen if we choose to deny even the existence of God?

Well, the answer seems simple

If we choose not to follow this rule of God

To love God with all our heart, soul and might

It would seem that we will not live a good life

The days of our life will not be long

We will not multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey.

The same questions come up in the passage from

One of the scribes asked Jesus: "Which commandment is the first of all?"

Jesus answered, "The first is,

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.'

And the second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'

There is no other commandment greater than these."

Jesus has expanded on the original rule from Deuteronomy, adding “mind” to the rule

And he has added a second commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

This part was not original to Jesus, but he chose to attach it to the love of God

Indicating that the two were clearly related.

But, in general, it is the same rule that we find in the passage from Deuteronomy.

Love God…and in loving God…love your neighbor.

But the two questions remain:

What will happen, Jesus, if I do love God and love my neighbor?

The answer is the same

All of Jesus’ listeners knew the passage from Deuteronomy by heart

They knew what Scripture said about loving God with heart, soul and might

Long life, good life, full life.

And the second question:

What will happen to those who do not love God and neighbor?

Again, the answer seems simple

No long life, no good life, no full life.

But here we have to stop and reevaluate our answer

Because neither of the Scripture passages actually says answers the question in this way


Nowhere does it say what will happen to those who do not follow God’s commandment

Nowhere does it say what will happen to those who do not even believe in God

From our own experience we know that there are people in the world

Who are very happy…who live long, happy lives

Who multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey

And who do not acknowledge God’s existence.

Is this fair?

This is a question that has worried believers for ages

What is the good of believing?

What is the good of following all of God’s commandments?

What is the good of being good?

When unbelievers seem to prosper?

As Christians, we often have an answer for this situation

The Christian answer often is: the reward, and the punishment, will come in the after life

Those who believe and follow God’s rules will enter heaven

And those who do not believe in this life

Will enter a hellish existence in the after life

That seems to take care of it.

That allows us to endure a difficult life,

When we, and not they, will be rewarded on the other side.

That seems fair…to us.

But notice that in neither of these passages

Is there a mention of salvation as a reward

In neither of the passages is there a mention

Of either heaven or hell.

In neither of these passages, in fact, is there a mention

Of what will happen to those who do not follow God’s rules,

To those who do not even believe in God.

There is no mention of retribution or vengeance…or even justice

Is that fair?

Fairness is something that we associate with rules and laws and commandments

Follow the rule and you’re safe

Break the rule and you will be punished

That is fair, that is just

We know the rule, we follow the rule,

We want to be rewarded

And we want others to be punished

This is fair, this is just

For many that is the essence of religion

The essence indeed of Christianity:

Fairness, justice, reward and punishment.

But the Scripture passages that were read today,

While seeming to talk about rules and commandments,

Take us in a different direction.

The letter to the Hebrews says this:

One has come into the world

One we call the Christ

Who has made it possible

 For all of creation

To be reunited with God…eternally.

God has come to us and has loved us

These passages are less about what we should or ought to do,

And more about the all-encompassing love of God for creation.

What is the motto of Kowloon Union Church?

“Where All Are One”

This is a revolutionary idea.

Listen!...the Lord is God, the Lord is one

And that Lord is in love with creation.

The book of Deuteronomy tells us:

Listen!

Love the Lord your God as God loves you

With all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

The Gospel of Mark tells us:

Listen!

Love the Lord your God as God loves you…

With all your heart, and with all your soul,

And with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Listen!

Love your neighbor as God loves your neighbor…

With all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

And what?

And you will not be far from the kingdom of God.

The essence of Christianity is not, after all,

About rules and commandments and laws

It is about an all-encompassing love.

The essence of Christianity is not, after all,

About what I must do or about what others should do

It is about what God has done and is doing.

The essence of our faith is not, after all,

About either reward or punishment, fairness or justice

It is about living near to the kingdom of God,

Every day, every moment.

And being invited to enter fully into that kingdom

Through love of God, love of our neighbor, and love of ourselves.

Which commandment is the first of all?

The first commandment, for all creation, is this:

God is love.

Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, November 06, 2012

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