See also Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Leviticus 19:18, 34
Listen for the Word of the Lord from Mark 12:28 – 34.
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another…
Now before we go any further, we need to pause and ask who the scribe heard arguing with Jesus. You see, once Jesus healed Blind Bartimaeus in Jericho last week, the whole group trudged the long, hot 18-mile road up the mountains to Jerusalem. We find Jesus in the Temple area during the beginning of the Passover celebrations, and no sooner has he arrived than the entrenched religious and political establishment begin arguing with him.
First it was the Pharisees and the Herodians who were trying to get Jesus to trip up about paying taxes to Rome. Then a group called the Sadducees, who don’t believe in life after death, began nit-noiding Jesus on issues on the idea of resurrection. The crowds are all pushing and shoving to see the upstart Rabbi take on the religious and cultural elite. The crowds were blown away by Jesus’ teachings and healings; it was a carnival atmosphere. It’s at this point a scribe, a Jewish theologian and teacher of the Jewish Law, approaches Jesus and asks him a penetrating question. Unlike the other absurd questions the other groups asked him, the scribe approaches Jesus with a question of honest substance. Jesus responds by quoting Hebrew scripture the Scribe would know all too well. Let’s continue with the scripture reading.
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
In 1986, Ike and Tina Turner released a hit called, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Do you remember the refrain? “What’s love got to do, got to do with it? What’s love but a second-hand emotion? What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” Well, Tina, I’ve got to disagree with you on three fronts.
First, love is not a second-hand emotion. Our scripture reminds us that it’s top tier! Second, love is so much more than an emotion; yes, it describes how we feel but love is better understood as a verb. In both the Hebrew and Greek texts, love is a verb, not a noun! Third, love does indeed break hearts and it’s the broken heart that is the engine propelling love outward. I want to spend the rest of our time together looking at the fact that love is a verb and that our breaking hearts are the engine to moves love to action.
Love is a verb. Love as a concept is noun. Love is. As a concept, as a noun, love is not a bad thing at all. It’s pleasant to think about. It’s lovely to read and write about it. Yet, love as a concept, as a noun, is impotent if it does not do something. Love moves from a noun, a concept, to a verb when love is expressed in action.
I can tell you, “I love you” but it’s only when I show you in tangible ways that I love you does love become real and true.
I can say, “I love my neighbor” but it’s only when I demonstrate that love does it become tangible and real.
I can say, “I love the least of these who are in prison, love those who are hungry, and love those are naked” but it’s only when I empty my pockets before I go and minister to those behind prison bars, it’s only when I see the face of a child whose parent is incarcerated open an Angel Tree gift, or become a pen-pal with an inmate does love become enfleshed. Our love for the hungry is shown in my personal attempt to curb food waste and seek out ways and means to put food in the mouths of the hungry. Our love for those who are naked means working against systems that exploit child labor or deny a living wage for people to live and get by on.
Years ago, I heard the story of a little girl who was beginning to sleep on her own in her own bed in her very own bedroom. Mom and dad said prayers with her, kissed her goodnight, put on a little light, and went to bed. A little while later, the father heard muffled crying coming from his daughter’s bedroom and goes to see what the matter was. “Sweetheart, daddy’s here. Everything is fine.”
“Daddy, I got scared.”
“Well Little Bit, you know God is with you and watching over you. You’re never alone.” And the little girl looked up at her daddy with her arms stretched out saying, “I know daddy, but I needed to feel the love of someone with skin on.” Love must be enfleshed.
The ancient root for the Hebrew word for love is helpful here; it has shades of meaning that we miss. One meaning is this: do you remember the first time your eyes saw the love of your life? There’s that moment when you find yourself unconsciously catching your breath because you are stirred so much. It’s a breathing that expresses itself in sighs and moans words cannot express. In Arabic and Hebrew, the root word for love means “to seed, germinate, or to be verdant, alive.”3 The Greek word for love that we know so well, agape, is not just a feeling of your heart towards another, agape is an active, demonstrable, inconvenient, and sacrificial expression of care for another, perhaps even to those people you really dislike and detest, too. This is word both Jesus and the scribe are using in today’s Story.
Christ-like love is a verb and is expressed outwards towards other people and their lives. But what gives power to love? It’s a broken heart.
Friends, a broken heart is the engine and motivation that puts love in action. Earlier in Mark’s gospel in chapter six, Jesus crosses the Galilee with his disciples and lands on the other shore. While he was disembarking, people were swarming to him in droves and the text says, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” A literal reading of that would be that when Jesus saw the large crowd, he felt for them so much his stomach hurt. The ancients believed the place where a person feels love, compassion and pity was in a person’s gut, literally in their bowels. In our culture, we think of the heart as the place where a person feels love and compassion for others. Wherever you want to place it, the point is this: Love arises out of a physical, visceral action that occurs in our body. When Tina Turner sang, “Who needs a heart because a heart can be broken,” she failed to realize she was hitting the nail on the head! Broken hearts move people to action.
When you and I pass a homeless woman sleeping in her car with her child, our hearts should be broken and torn apart prompting us to do something about homeless families.
When you see the news about how Afghan women who are resorting to sell their infants in order to raise money to buy food for the rest of her starving family, our hearts should be broken and torn apart prompting us into some type action.
When you witness the ugly, outward signs of bigotry towards the aliens and immigrants who are fleeing for a safer, better life, when you see the outward signs of bigotry towards people of a different sexual orientation, skin color, or religious heritage, our hearts need to be broken and town apart.
Beloved, what do we think God sees in the humanity He created as we are hell-bent on killing each other, hating each other, and consuming our natural resources until they are depleted? God’s heart is broken, and that brokenness moved God to action by becoming one of us, a man, Jesus, whose heart was broken as well. Friends, God knows all about broken hearts because God’s heart has been and shattered as well. God knew that we too needed to be loved by someone with skin on!
A broken heart is the catalyst in making love more than a concept but an active, engaging, inconvenient, self-sacrificing verb.
So, on this All Hallows Eve, throughout this week, let the Holy Spirit haunt you as you reflect upon what breaks your heart and whether that broken heart is energizing you to put skin on that love and do something. Do I live as though love was a concept or a verb? Do I just talk about love and give it lip-service or am I actually loving towards others? So, let it be.
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.