On the top of Nkhoma Mountain this past Thursday (see pics below), a 4th-year degree student said “Kuzuna-o-Kukoma.” I asked what it meant and was told “Sweetology.” As the sun shined down, and the breeze refreshed after the steep ascent, and we ate peanut butter sandwiches, we looked out over Nkhoma Village and miles beyond to the smaller remote villages, and nodded, “Sweetology.”
The same student theologian then gave a brief prayer and sermon about the passage in Mark where Jesus quotes the two Great Commandments–loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength; and loving neighbors as we love ourselves.
Just so happened I was preaching in the Seminary Chapel service the next morning at 7am. I had spent a week preparing one sermon, but I was moved to build off of the sermon on Nkhoma Mt and use the Markan passage as well the very next morning; here is its gist:
After the student’s thoughtful sermon on Nkhoma mount, I, the dutiful Instructor, asked him a couple questions. Question 1: “Can we love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength without loving our neighbor as we love ourselves?” The other six seminary students thought a minute and answered, “No.” The two Great Commandments go hand and hand and cannot be separated. To fully love God necessarily means striving to love our neighbor as intended and demonstrated by Jesus.
Question 2: “We know we are to love our neighbor (Jesus says so very clearly even as he referred to Leviticus 19 where God tells the Hebrew people to love their neighbor as themselves), but what does it mean to love our neighbor? What does it look like? What does it involve?”
With 24 pastoral students graduating in two weeks–the future leaders of the church in this CCAP Synod of Nkhoma–my sermon explored loving our neighbor in WORD (in our loving speech and verbal witness to God’s grace in Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit moving within us and through us), and in DEED (in literal actions of loving service). We didn’t have all day in the brief Chapel service, so I condensed it down to the following faithful loving actions: not judging others by seeing the speck of dust in their eye before removing the plank in our own eye; forgiving others 70 X 7 (Deb is surely above the first equation of 490 times of forgiveness across our 33 years of marriage); helping the orphan, widow, handicapped, hungry; including where Jesus says in Matthew 25 that when we do not feed those without food, do not give drink to those who are thirsty, give clothing to those without clothing, do not visit those who are sick and in prison, we are not doing these things to Jesus, himself, who lives within our neighbors in need.
My ending paragraph to the future leaders of the church here in Malawi: “Please, my prayer and my plea: help your churches, the body of Christ, to be generous, giving at least 10% of tithes and offerings back out the door of your churches to those neighbors in need surrounding your churches.”
Kuzuna-o-Kukoma! Jesus’ call to sweet, yet strikingly demanding, theology-in-action.