Reflect. Remember. Rejoice!
How busy are you on any particular day? Are you ever so busy that you forget appointments? I sure did that this week. In the process of preparing to preach today and offering pastoral care, in the time devoted to helping Lee get up to speed, in my wife life and even with a list, I forgot an appointment for myself. As soon as the phone rang and I saw who the caller was, I flipped from pastoral to pissed. And I was pissed at no one but myself. There was a time when I would get angry at myself and everyone else. Some call that being human. I call that not paying attention to what is the most important to me and what should be my priority. Back to basics for me every time. I stop. I take a big breath in, gathering all of that negative stuff lingering in my body. I blow it all out. There in that place of reflection, I thank what is right in front of me, that which is with me and around me all of the time. I thank God. And I am called back to reality.
How often are you called back to reality from your busy day? Oh, wait! You thought your busy day was your reality!?! Me too. That trick our ego plays on us is so easy to fall for. Some people call it monkey brain, that whole mental gymnastics that doesn’t slow down long enough to let you remember that it is NOT you making up scenarios and thinking about things that must be worried about. And it is most definitely not the God in you or me.
Jesus came to show us about the God in us. The stories of Jesus reveal a man who embodied the pure resonance of God. Jesus also spoke the truth about what it takes to restore God’s world on this planet Earth. He taught this truth when he preached the Sermon on the Mount. He lived this truth when he shared the table with tax collectors, the ill and elderly and women and prostitutes and others of unclean professions - people like that, others with unclean ideas - people like that and others with unclean bodies. You know, people like that! The religious authorities were horrified with Jesus behavior. What was he doing hanging out with people like that? What was he saying? Who did he think that he was? Jesus knew he was living a human life of love and acceptance which mirrored God’s love for us. He came to transform us into living, breathing love by showing us just how that might work. We were given a working model of Divine Love. So un-pharisee-like of him. So unreligious of him.
Today’s scripture falls within the events of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. He is in the temple and all of the temple elite are trying to trick Jesus into saying something heretical to their teaching. This is nothing new. They had been dogging his steps since he began his ministry. Finally a lawyer asks about the law and the commandments. “What is the greatest commandment?” he asks.
This time there are no stories. No parables. Jesus gives a straight answer.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with
all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You
shall love your neighbor as yourself. (vv. 37,39)
I know even as I write this that Jesus means me too. So I’m gonna prove I’m a good Christian. First and foremost, I love God. That’s easy. “Yaaay, God.” “Hey. God. Love ya!” Check that off the list. “Oh and happy that you’ve blessed me with X,Y and Z.” Fill in the blank. Perhaps a home, a church, a spouse, children, friends, employment, health, music, Jesus….. “I’m ready for my next blessing now.”
Don’t get me wrong. These things are blessings. Sometimes mixed blessings. Especially if we forget the second part of the equation - “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I’m never sure which hangs me up the most - loving myself enough or loving my neighbor enough. And by the way, Jesus, who is my neighbor? Is it the guy who starts his lawn mower at 6am? Maybe it’s the guy who starts his Harley in the alley too early and just sits and revs it? You know… all of those important categories.
Is there a limit to love?
Humans seem to think so. We create categories of people we can’t or shouldn’t love - the homeless, the incarcerated, anyone who is LGBTQ, Republicans, Democrats, the owner of that incessantly barking dog. We make up these lists of “undesirables.” And then we teach and reteach those categories over and over. We codify them and make a religion of them. Jesus teaches that God’s love has no bounds. Anyone with whom we come into contact in our world is our neighbor. We are commanded to show love and mercy to anyone within our reach. And he has already taught us to love our enemies.
God’s love is limitless in the same way that God is infinite and undefinable. I never could wrap my head around that idea until I realized late in life that God does not love the me that I see or that I berate. God loves the created me, the glorified me that exists since the beginning of time and has been incarnated in this body. I invite you to close your eyes for a few moments. I want you to remember that your body is elementally stardust. As Pete Terpenning wrote so eloquently in a recent blog - every atom of our body is water and crystals and fundamental elements of the universe. Go ahead and gaze upon your body of water and crystals and elements. Now add light. The very brightest light you can imagine - pure, unlimited, blazing light. Gaze on that image a moment before you open your eyes. See that this image is beautiful and resembles the icon of a saint. This is the real you - seen through the eyes of unlimited Love.
I am challenging my own inner skeptic even as I say this. The skeptic tries to convince me that God could not possibly love me that much. It has taken me years to break that skeptic’s hold on me. But I must. Jesus did not equivocate. Jesus commands that we give this love back to God. And this love he called us to give is not some passive emotion. It is an active mercy. (Clayton Schmit - “Seeking and Serving.”) Loving all, but especially those we think we don’t know how to love, is a choice we have been commanded to make and make again.
Two weeks ago, Pastor Rick preached about “how our life would change if we knew we had five minutes to live?” How would we act? I have another question for us. How would we be different if we treated others as if they had five minutes to live? An old friend of mine once suggested a way of looking at others that I found to be profound in its simplicity. Choose to treat everyone you meet as if it were their last day to live. Even the guy that cut you off in traffic or stole your laptop. How much more would we understand about ourselves and how to live God’s love if we could remember that the angry or disrespectful person facing us - that person may be facing their own last day on earth. In this way, loving that other person is a not just a mantra, it is a tangible task that we can imagine assuming.
But back to loving God with the entirety of our being of spirit and stars and flesh. It means we can’t just say a quick prayer in the morning and call it good for the day. We must act like we love God. Think about what human love for another means. We want to spend time with them, tell them our deepest thoughts. We take actions to make that happen. Don’t you often feel a kind of spiritual bond with them? And always an emotional bond. How would our lives be changed if we felt like that - actively, emotionally, spiritually and mentally devoted to God? God is always there, waiting for our invitation, waiting for us to remember.
The pharisees reduced the love of neighbor to what or who is holy enough. The more they codified a rule-based separation from others, the further away they actually moved from God’s love and turned their backs. In confronting Jesus, they couldn’t even recognize God anymore - even when God was standing in front of them in the person of Jesus.
So… As my husband Peter says, ”what is the takeaway from your message?” Today’s takeaway is the answer to this question, “How do I learn how to love God with all of myself and my neighbor without limits?” Father Richard Rohr says it this way:
The only way I know how to teach anyone to love God, and how I myself can love God, is to love what God loves, which is everything and everyone, including you and including me! “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4.19). Then we love with an
infinite love that can always flow through us.
Love - in infinite and holy dimensions. That is truly something to rejoice about!
Let us pray.
Generous God of love,
Thank you for the life you have given us in this time and this place. We ask that you help us to stop and remember to operate our lives from love. Let us manifest your love in this community and in your created world. I pray this in the name of Jesus who showed us the Way. Amen.