Year B Proper 26 Mark 12
What to Say When You Roll Out of Bed
Mark 12:28-34

A few years ago, a radio station ran a contest. Disc jockeys invited their listeners to tune in their clock radios. "Just for fun," they said, "when you wake up to the sound of FM-106, call and tell us the first words you spoke when you rolled out of bed. If you're the third caller, you'll win $106."

It didn't take long for the contest to grow in enthusiasm. The first morning, a buoyant disc jockey said, "Caller number three, what did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?" A groggy voice said, "Do I smell coffee burning?" Another day, a sleepy clerical worker said, "Oh no, I'm late for work." Somebody else said her first words were, "Honey, did I put out the dog last night?" A muffled curse was immediately heard in the background, and then a man was heard to say, "No, you didn't." It was a funny contest and drew a considerable audience.

One morning, however, the third caller said something unusual. The station phone rang. "Good morning, this is FM-106. You're on the air. What did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?"

A voice with a Bronx accent replied, "You want to know my first words in the morning?"

The bubbly DJ said, "Yes, sir! Tell us what you said."

The Bronx voice responded, "Shema, Israel ... Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." There was a moment of embarrassed silence. Then the radio announcer said, "Sorry, wrong number," and cut to a commercial.

Try to remember. What did you say when you rolled out of bed today? Chances are, those words set the tone for the rest of the day. For the pious Jew the first words of each morning are always the same, and they were the words spoken that morning on FM-106. They were first spoken by Moses, who said, "Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Teach them to your children and talk about them when you lie down and when you rise" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

In the passage we heard a few minutes ago, some scribe asked Jesus, "Which commandment comes first?" It was probably intended as a trick question. If Jesus picked only one of the 613 commandments, he left himself open for a barrage of criticism from those who favored another commandment. In the Gospel of Mark, there are over a dozen occasions when the scribes oppose Jesus. They mock him, dispute him, and conspire against him. Certainly they will pounce on whatever answer he offers. Yet the scribe immediately backs off when Jesus answers, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart."

It is no wonder. The primary obligation for every good Jew has always been to love God with the heart, with the center of all passion and trust. That is the primary purpose of human life. When we were baptized in the name of the Jewish Jesus and adopted into the promises of Israel, we were given the same script to follow. These words name our primary allegiance and bind us to our greatest responsibility: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart."

Today I want to spend some time unpacking what it means for us to love God. We know something about loving our neighbors. We have developed the notion of loving ourselves into a fine art. But loving God comes first, as our greatest obligation and our primary goal. What does it mean to...

  1. Love God with all your heart?
  2. Love God with all your soul?
  3. Love God with all your mind?
  4. Love God with all your strength?

Tears Are Our First Words
John 11:32-44

Tears are our first words.

The beginning way we have of communicating is through tears. Is there anything that gets a baby more attention than tears? Is there anything that can command complete, immediate devotion more than a torrent of tears. Is there anything that can makes adults feel more dismal, daunted, desperate than the wailing of an infant?

Our baby’s tears can bring us to tears as well.

In earlier cultures the tears of mourners were gathered into something called a lachrymatory, or “tear-catcher,” a specially created container for human tears of grief or sometimes of joy. In fact, a company is now bringing them back and selling them online. Here is the website with great images of what some of the early ones looked like:

Mourning tears were believed to have extreme powers — of solace, of sustenance, of spiritual healing. There were beautiful, delicate lachrymatory tear bottles for women and more masculine cigar-shaped tear bottles for men. Traditionally all were designed with an evaporation chamber. When the last of the gathered tears finally evaporated, the official mourning period was over.

In Roman times women were paid to cry into tear bottles, so that as many filled bottles as possible could accompany the extensive mourning processions that befitted any important, powerful figure. In typical Roman fashion, more was always better — whether one was dead or alive.

Even the most humble burial ceremony involved the presence of paid mourners. In Jewish culture the bare minimum required two flute players and professional wailing woman. Anything less was an insult to the family name. The grief industry in the first century — like that of the twenty-first century — was big business.

Have you noticed that as the economy has fallen, the number of ads for life insurance are on the rise? In the face of an uncertain economic climate, unstable global relationships, catastrophic environmental scenarios, and butt-headed political stalemates, there is always one thing that remains certain . . . death. You can always bank on death showing up. The grief industry never has a down turn.

When Jesus finally arrived at Bethany the first-century grief industry was already well represented. “The Jews” who came down from Jerusalem to “console Martha and Mary” (v.19) undoubtedly included many professional mourners, musicians, and trained tear-producers... presents Leonard Sweet