Sermon series: A Lasting Legacy Scriptures: Mark 12:28-31
Tug McGraw was quite the baseball pitcher. He won two World Series with the New York Mets, and was one of the best closing pitchers in Philadelphia Phillies history. McGraw was a team cheerleader, the guy who coined the phrase, "You Gotta Believe!"
He might still be on television as a game announcer today if it hadn't been for the sudden change of health that came in 2003. By the time the brain tumor was discovered, doctors told Tug, all of 59 years old, that he had three weeks to live. Three weeks.
He lived nine months, pouring his time into his family, into a legacy dedicated to curing brain cancer, and even to reconciling with a part of his past he'd tried to ignore. He had a wife and kids, but he also had another son he had ignored.
The mother was Elizabeth D'Agostino. She didn't tell her son about his famous father, in part because she wanted to move past that particular part of her life, too. But Tim found his birth certificate, and made the most shocking discovery of his life. His favorite baseball player was also his father. Tim changed his name from Tim Trimble to Tim McGraw.
Tim found Tug when he was an older teen-ager, but there was nothing there. No warm feelings, no immediate connection, and no future. But once more, as an adult, Tim tried it again. And the second time, the attraction took. Father and son, as strange as it must have seemed to them, became close.
And when news came that time was running out, they became closer still. In the end, Tug McGraw even died at Tim McGraw's Nashville home.
In 2004 Tim's song, "Live Like You Were Dying," stayed on top of the charts for 10 weeks, breaking a record that had stood for 30 years, and was named the top country song of the year by Billboard magazine. It was the story of a man who got the news that he was dying - a man made a decision of how he would live with the time he had left.
Would it make a difference if you learned you had very little time left? Would it change your priorities if you felt life slipping away? We are all running out of time. The opportunity to leave the legacy we want is one day shorter than it was yesterday.
One day, a man approached Jesus with the same kinds of questions. We don't know his circumstances, but we do know he was wrestling with ultimate issues. And though Jesus was surrounded at the time by men intent on arguing with him, this man was not one of them. He approached the group and "heard them debating." He listened, recognized Jesus as a brilliant teacher, and went straight to the heart of the matter.
It's a twofold approach to life. Love God, and/// love the people God puts around you. Jesus modeled this perfectly, and His legacy has had more impact on the world than any individual in history. He didn't leave a legacy of money, property or power. Instead, He left a legacy of loving God completely, and sacrificially loving us.
When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment of all, he quoted the Shema. In Hebrew, "Hear o Israel." It is the first a Jewish child will memorize. So treasured are the words, they are written on small scrolls, rolled up, and inserted into a small container called a mezuzah, which mark the doorways of Jewish homes.
The question of the most important commandment had long been settled among God's people: Love the Lord God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and might. And all of Israel knew that truth. Knowing the truth was the easy part. Pulling it off was the difficult part.
But not for Jesus. He loved God completely. He wasn't interested in power, wealth, or popularity. But He was passionate about God. He depended on God through prayer, through knowing the Scriptures, and by submitting to God's will - even at the cost of His life.
What's involved in loving God completely? The better question would be, "What's not involved?"
According to Mark 10:17-22, another man approached Jesus, desperately wanting to please God. He ran up to Jesus, fell on his knees before Jesus, and asked, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus told him, "You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
The man on his knees insists that he's kept all of the rules. He didn't. He merely claimed the external righteousness that wealthy Jews of his time believed they could purchase through their almsgiving. And yet he's still on his knees, still waiting on the answer. Obviously, something is missing.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." The man's countenance fell. He left, overwhelmed with emotion. This is where we learn that he was also a very wealthy individual.
He loved his wealth too much to give it all away, and until he was willing to make that sacrifice he could not have the one thing he lacked: Jesus.
Jesus loved the "rich young ruler," but the man who came to him couldn't part with the things he loved. If loving God completely meant submitting every bit of his money to God, he couldn't cross that line. So he proved that he had been untruthful. He claimed to have kept all the Law since his youth, but he walked away having broken the greatest commandment. And therefore, he fell into the category of knowing the truth but not putting it into practice. But when people see it, they simply cannot forget it.
Historians tell us that two plagues swept through the Roman Empire while Christians were being horribly persecuted. The Antonine Plague was the first, century past the life of Jesus. The Plague of Cyprian a century after that. One document says that in Rome, where a million people lived, as many as 5,000 died per day. The epidemic filled the people with terror. There was no cure. There was no hope. So they left sick family members in their beds and ran for their lives. But Christians didn't run. They stayed and brought water, food, and bandaged the sick. They spoke kindly to them. They loved and encouraged them. And they got sick in the process.
There's no telling how many people were saved because Christians served, and there's no telling how many Christians lost their lives because they stayed behind. But the world is different today because in the middle of devastating despair - we might call it overwhelming darkness - those who followed Christ saw their opportunity to shine.
Jesus wouldn't have left the sick to fend for themselves. Jesus would have stayed. Jesus would have healed. Jesus would have loved. So they did what Jesus would have done. And people the world over were just stunned at the difference love made. The way these people acted - it was as different as light is from darkness.
Jesus added the command to "love others as yourself" without being asked to add any other commands that belonged in the same category as the Shema.
Jesus loved His neighbor perfectly. Jesus loved them all, until he had breathed his last. He would not even hate those who nailed him to the cross. Instead, He chose through the pain to ask God to forgive those who were in the process of executing him. And He loved you, while you were still in your sin, enough to finish His work on the cross and die so that He could bring you near to God.
Ask any pastor who's spent a career preaching funeral sermons. As families and friends gather to talk about their loved one, they almost never mention work or money, unless the stories are about how their loved one had used a job or their money in giving to others. Instead, the stories will come of fathers who read, or mothers who stopped to play, with their children. They'll tell of vacations and days when they finally understood the sacrifice of a giving grandparent. They'll tell of letters written, special days of worship, and of being loved.
What would you hear from people when they speak about you at your funeral. Strangely enough, it usually catches us by surprise to find that the things others considered most about us is not how successful we might have been, but rather, how much we loved them. But it is in loving others that we best show how we love God. Because Jesus loved His neighbor - you - we can love our neighbor by His Spirit.
Everyone leaves a legacy. For good, bad, or even indifferent, we all leave footprints behind us. We will be remembered for our generosity or selfishness. Those who mourn us will talk about the ways we loved them, or the ways we neglected them.
There's only one way to leave a Christ-like legacy - to leave footprints that will last. You cannot do this on your own. You cannot find life in loving God and loving your neighbor, because that is the Law. Scripture makes clear that the letter kills, but the gospel brings life. Receive Christ's offer of mercy, let Him fill you with His Spirit, and then watch as He empowers and teaches you how to love Him and others.