The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

NO HOLDING BACK

Delivered 11/2/97
Text: Mark 12:28-34
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Familiar words. "Heart...soul...mind...strength...your neighbor as yourself." We learned them as the GREAT COMMANDMENT. All others pale in their light.

We agree, of course. "Love the Lord your God with all your HEART." Not the blood-pumping heart, the "heart" that, from ancient times has been considered the seat of our emotions. Two weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching for our neighbors at the Church of God of Prophecy - it was an exciting service of worship because those Pentecostals really do get their HEART into it. When the Pastor said, "Let us pray," everyone did...out loud...and accompanied by piano, organ, sax, guitar, and drums. I wondered how the Lord made sense of it. During the sermon, if something was said that struck a chord, it resonated through the whole room: "Amen...Hallelujah...Preach it, Brother!" To be honest, the Pentecostals get their HEART into loving God more than a little bit better than we Presbyterians. After all, they do not call us God's Frozen People for nothing. "Love the Lord your God with all your HEART"...and we can do a better job of it. No holding back.

Then, "...with all your SOUL!" The Greek word that stands behind that is psyche from which we get our words like psyche and psychology. It is closely related to what we think of as personality. It really means "Love the Lord your God with whatever makes you YOU. Are you happy-go-lucky, outgoing, gregarious, the life of the party? Fine. Then let your ebullience be reflected in the way you serve God. Are you quiet, introspective, much more comfortable out of the limelight than in it? Wonderful. Then let your quiet stability be put to work in the name of your Lord. The message is that there is no such thing as cookie-cutter discipleship. One size does NOT fit all. Love the Lord your God with all YOUR soul. And no holding back.

Then, the "mind." Here is where we Presbyterians shine. I Peter says, "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you,"(1) and we are. We have as systematic a theology as anyone, and we are more than willing to spend hour upon hour in conversation about it. We are very cerebral in our approach to matters of faith. We do NOT believe that anyone should have to take their head off when entering church. The gospel may be beyond rational in the scope of divine grace, but, even with our limited resources, we will use all our brain-power in helping anyone understand. We are comfortable with that. Love the Lord your God with your MIND. And we are pleased that no one could ever accuse us of holding back.

Finally, "strength." The Greek behind this one is dunamis from which we get dynamite. This is serious power. There is a concentration of effort. Focus. All the resources are drawn together in a common cause. It is the kind of discipline that sees that Sunday morning has arrived and has no question concerning what is in store - CHURCH...and any alternative would be unthinkable. That prayer time among our Pentecostal friends requires that kind of attention - all hands in the air, everyone praying aloud and with FEELING. No way anyone's mind could be wandering to next week's grocery list. Time, talent, treasure are all put into the service of God. Nothing is left out. All is concentrated and consecrated. Those who can sing, sing; those who can teach, teach; those who are good with details administer; the list goes on and on. Each one does what he or she can, and no one would consider not pulling a proper share of the load. Love the Lord your God with all your strength. No holding back.

Now, up to this point, those folks on the road who were listening to Jesus banter back and forth with the local rabbis would not have been surprised by anything they heard. After all, love for God...the God who is celebrated by the Psalmist "who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry...opens the eyes of the blind...watches over the strangers...upholds the orphan and the widow(2)...love for this God would be a given (even though it might regularly need a bit of fine tuning). Jesus' response to the question about which commandment superceded all others ("Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with...) was the Jew's normal call to worship...right out of Deuteronomy.(3) But then Jesus added the words about loving your neighbor as yourself. Suddenly, (and for the first time, as far as any of us can find out) a respected Jewish teacher is saying that there is a relationship between all our piety, all these high-sounding things we attach to our worship of God, and the way we treat those around us.

Love for neighbor was not some unheard-of concept - the command had been around since Leviticus.(4) But linking love for God and love for neighbor this way was a novel approach. That is probably why the scribe who asked the question to start with came back with as uninspired a response as, "You are right, Teacher..." That is about as good as someone saying, "There's a lot of truth in what you say, Pastor." Uh-huh. And that is probably why the gospel record notes, "After that no one dared to ask him any question." They had a new concept to chew on first.

Not new for us though, is it? We have heard it and heard it and heard it. In fact, we have heard it so much that, in recent years, we have begun to hear sermons that wax most eloquent in offering advice about loving ourselves sufficiently so as to get on with the business of loving our neighbor. Well, I hate to burst any psycho-babble balloons, but this love for neighbor that the Bible talks about is not rocket science. We do not need to buy into any pious self-help messages before we can do our duty. This loving your neighbor as yourself that the scripture calls for is not much more than the Golden Rule writ large. Treat folks the way you yourself want to be treated, and do not do those things to people that you would not like someone doing to you. In fact, go the extra mile and deliberately do things for one another that you know would be appreciated. And one more thing: be generous. In a nutshell, that is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. No holding back. Clear enough? I hope.

I wish we did a better job of it. The biggest hindrance is money. We worry too much about it. Whether we will have enough. The stock market goes crazy, and we fret about our paper losses. Of course, none of us misses any meals because of it (unless by our own choice we choose Maalox over meatloaf). God says that the standard for giving is the tithe - ten percent - but people hold back from giving that much because they think they might miss out on something they need. I doubt that anyone could point to an individual who went hungry or lacked shelter or medical care (or anything else at all, for that matter), because they faithfully tithed. Meanwhile, there ARE cold and hungry people in this world who could be warmed and fed if the money were available. Does loving my neighbor as myself mean that I do something about the problem? Of course, it does. And no holding back either.

I was pleased to see that the Society of St. Andrew (which we at St. Paul support) recently was given the first Hero of Food Recovery and Gleaning Award by the US Department of Agriculture.(5) Since it began in 1979, the Society has collected more than 200-million pounds of fresh produce - perfectly nutritious food that might have some cosmetic deformity, making it unsaleable - and delivered it to soup kitchens, food banks, Salvation Army Centers, homeless shelters, and the like. 200-million pounds that otherwise would have rotted. Ken Horne, a United Methodist minister who is a co-founder of the group accepted the award and noted, "There is enough surplus food in this country to feed every hungry person...No one should ever have to go hungry." Amen! Can you imagine that God does not mind if people go hungry, that God does not care that every day some 40,000 children around the globe die of malnutrition-related causes? Hardly. Then we who say we love God will demonstrate it in love for our hungry neighbor. All it takes is the commitment of God's people, time-wise and money-wise, and the problem will be solved. No holding back.

A letter will be going out to St. Paul members tomorrow informing you that on November 23rd, three weeks from today, we will celebrate Consecration Sunday here. Between now and then, you will be asked to prayerfully consider what God would have you do concerning the stewardship of those possessions with which you have been entrusted. You will not be asked to make any commitment to a church budget; you will simply be asked to estimate your giving for the coming year. Dr. Joe Mullin will be our preacher that morning, and no doubt he will remind us of what God's expectations are, then we will respond. As a climax to our worship, we will make our way to the front of the church and place our Estimate of Giving cards on the Lord's Table. After all the cards are in, your officers will determine what we can do in the Lord's name as a congregation in 1998. What problems will we be able to solve? What new ways will be open for sharing the gospel? Who will we be able to help for Jesus' sake? In my experience, nothing ever demonstrates our response to this Great Commandment to love God and neighbor better than what we do on Consecration Sunday. This literally puts our money where our mouth is.

A rabbi was asked, "Which act of charity is higher--giving out of obligation or giving from the heart?"

All in the class were inclined to respond that giving from the heart had something more in it, but they knew the rabbi was going to say just the opposite, because in spiritual teaching nothing is logical. They were not disappointed.

"Giving from the heart is a wonderful thing," the rabbi said, "It is a very high act and should never be demeaned. But there is something much more important that happens when somebody gives charity out of obligation.

"Consider who is doing the giving. When somebody gives from the heart, there is a clear sense of oneself doing something; in other words, heartfelt charity always involves ego gratification.

"However, when we give out of obligation, when we give at a moment that every part of us is yelling NO! because of one reason or another--perhaps the beneficiary is disgusting, or it is too much money, or any of thousands of reasons we use to avoid giving charity--then we are confronting our own egos, and giving nonetheless. Why? Because we are supposed to. And what this means is that it is not us doing the giving, rather we are vehicles through which God gives...(6) Hmm.

Jesus says, "Hear, O Israel...Hear, O St. Paul Presbyterian: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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...You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."

Tom Troeger, who teaches preaching at Iliff Seminary in Denver, has a poem about this passage:(7)

If all you want, Lord, is my heart,
my heart is yours alone --
providing I may set apart
my mind to be my own.

If all you want, Lord, is my mind,
my mind belongs to you,
but let my heart remain inclined
to do what it would do.

If heart and mind would both suffice,
while I kept strength and soul,
at least I would not sacrifice
completely my control.

But since, O God, you want them all
to shape with your own hand,
I pray for grace to heed your call
to live your first command.

No holding back. I wish I did a better job of that. Do you? I read somewhere of a minister talking with the children about the importance of living right, and he wrapped up with the challenge, "Now, if all the good people in the world were red and all the bad people were green, what color would you be?"

One tot thoughtfully replied, "I'd be streaky." Out of the mouths of babes.

It was dark, winter dark, so cold;
And I
Drowning;
I cried aloud, "Lord, save me!"

And then,
Out of the bushes,
I heard the Lord's voice,
"Give me your hat."
"No, Lord," I answered, -
For in that sort of dream
The drowning have breath and time to talk, -
"I am fond of my hat
Which reminds me
Of many occasions I want to recall."
Then my head went under for the first time,
So I gave my hat into the Lord's hand:
After that I floated much higher
for the hat had been wet through.

Then the Lord said, "Give me your coat."
"Look," I said, familiar in desperation,
"I'm fond of my coat, it's a favorite possession,
And, if I give up my coat
I don't know if I can afford another -
And, anyway,
They don't make them so well nowadays."
Then my head went under the second time,
So I gave my coat into the Lord's hand:
After that I floated much higher
For the coat had been wet through.

Then the Lord said, "Give me yourself."
And I found that the hardest of all.(8)

Amen!


1. 3:15

2. 146:6-9

3. 6:4

4. 19:18

5. "Society honored for antihunger efforts," Christian Century, 10/8/97, pp 866-867

6. David A. Cooper, Entering the Sacred Mountain: A Mystical Odyssey (Bell Tower, 1994)

7. Thomas Troeger, copyright 1994, Oxford University Press, quoted by Rob Elder, via Ecunet, "Sermonshop 1997 11 02," #43, 10/31/97

8. Merv Skey, via Ecunet, "Sermonshop 1994 October 30," 10/29/94 quoting his cousin, an English judge

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