Sermon for November 1, 2015, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, All Saints Day on Deuteronomy 6:1-9 & Mark 12:28-34
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?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 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’; 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.” 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.
The one big idea that opened up biblical study for me was that every text is situated. Every text has an author who lived in a specific time and place, and had a reason in mind for writing something down. If you know that one big idea, then you can proceed. Without it, you are lost.
There is something satisfying about a big idea that brings together many smaller concepts into one. We hold in high respect the people who are able to see unity where everyone else only saw diversity, simplicity replacing complexity.
Like Copernicus. Copernicus’ big idea was that the sun, not the earth, is at the center of our solar system. It was revolutionary. We call it the Copernican revolution. All those ridiculously complicated formulas that they came up with to try to account for the movements of the planets and stars around the earth could finally be tossed into the trash. It is far more simple, once you know they all revolve around the sun, as Galileo’s telescope demonstrated.
Einstein’s big idea was E=mc2, meaning that matter is form of energy. There is an essential unity to everything. Of course that has all kinds of scientific implications.
We read a text about Moses’ big idea, which was that the Divine exists as One, not many. We call that monotheism. The great creed of Judaism that every observant Jew recites, proclaims that God, the Divine, is one. Naturally then, we give our complete loyalty, or in the words of ancient covenant treaties, our “love” to that One alone. We are to love God alone. To love Israel’s God alone is to be loyal to Israel’s God, and none other.
Of course a big idea has implications. Moses, as the story goes, brought down a summary of those implications in a list of Ten Commandments.
Jesus’ Big Idea
Perhaps it was reflecting about those Ten Commandments that gave Jesus his big idea; that they way to love the one God alone was to love one’s neighbor. The first half of the Ten Commandments, after all, is about God, and the second half is about our neighbors. The first half begins,
“You shall have no other gods before me”
and then the second half continues,
“you shall not kill….”
and so on.
To elevate the love of neighbor to the level of the love for God alone is a huge move. It brings love of neighbor right next to the central and fundamental commitment to love God; this has enormous implications. Now every person counts.
There are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, this means that every person I meet is an opportunity to show my love, my loyalty to God. Every act of love, every kindness, every act of mercy and compassion, every cup of cold water given to another person is service to God.
Serving becomes spiritual. Working for justice is spiritual work. Ending all forms of discrimination and oppression are spiritual acts that God takes personally. Helping a child with their homework, enriching a student’s life with the fine arts, and collecting kits for refugees expresses love to God.
The other side of the coin is that each one of us individually matter to God. Each one of us is important to God, made in God’s image, and worthy of dignity and respect. There are no exceptions. You matter to God.
The Big Idea, the Kingdom, and the Family
Did you ever consider an odd conundrum in Jesus’ big idea? It is that he spent most of his time talking about the kingdom of God. He told parables about the kingdom of God, comparing it to a pearl, a treasure, a field growing grain. He even told the scribe he was talking to, in our text, that he was not far from the kingdom, since he knew that love of neighbor what right up there with loving God.
And yet, most of the time, when Jesus spoke to God, or about God, he called God Abba, papa, or father. That is different from calling God “his royal highness,” as you would a king. In other words, the king of the kingdom is part of the family. The king is papa.
This turns the concept of a king’s sovereignty upside down. Now, instead of a God as a king who issues decrees and enforces his rule with the threat of punishments, this king is papa who is all about providing daily bread. The kingdom is a kin-dom; a family.
This is why Jesus did not teach people to be privately religious alone, but gathered around himself a group; what we today would call a church. A group of people who matter to each other because they all matter to God, the father of the family.
Each of us matters. We just read the names of those who have died this past year, as we do on All Saints Day. We remember what they meant to us. I am sure you have noticed how each person present changes the group. I know on Wednesdays when I am with our kids in youth group, I notice how different it feels if one is missing. It changes the group. Each one matters. Each one brings ideas, perspectives, and a distinctive personality.
At a deeper level, each one of us has gifts to share that we all need. In the letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he uses the analogy of a body; we matter to each other like each of the parts of the body matter; hands, eyes, tongues, all provide something distinct, something necessary to the whole body. That is the way our spiritual gifts function. Some are teachers, some are better at administration, some have gifts of mercy and compassion, but everyone matters.
I read about a church which had a custom of waiting until Easter for baptisms, so several people were baptized on the same day. Their custom was that the newly baptized would introduce themselves to the congregation, saying something about how they could matter to the rest. They would say things like, “I’m Joe, and if you need help with your car, I’m your man.” Or “I’m Mary, and if you need a casserole, I’m on my way.” And, “I’m Sarah, and if you need someone to come sit with you for a few hours, call me.”
It takes a lot for a family to make it. There is a mortgage to pay, groceries to get, someone needs to cook the meals, there is always cleaning up to do. In between the cooking and cleaning is the table. That is where the family gathers and is fed. Everyone has a place at the table. Everyone is served.
At the table they process their experiences. They show caring concern for each other, they affirm each one’s own uniqueness. They help each other grow into maturity. That is how the church works. Each one matters, and each contributes their gifts to the others. This is a form of our spirituality, right along side devotion to God. Loving God and loving neighbor as a family, a kindom.
We are able to be here now, as a family, because of the gifts given to this family by many people over the years, including the ones we named today. Over the years, they paid the mortgage, served the suppers, taught the classes, fixed the toilets, and sat with the sick.
They prayed for the poor, and they started the Christian Service Center. They built new class rooms, they dedicated stained glass windows, they made sure the electric bill was paid and the grass was cut. They did everything that families do, making it possible for us to gather here as a family today.
Now, this is our watch. We are today’s family. We do not take this lightly. Everyone of us matters. That is why we are not afraid to ask people to pledge in Stewardship season. It is a matter of saying, “I’m in. You can count on me. I am committed to this family. It matters to me.”
And just like a family with children and with elderly people, everyone’s part matters, though they vary widely. In this family we are not valued for our wealth our wisdom, or our abilities, but rather for who we are as equally Papa’s children.
For us, loving God means loving everyone in the family, they way parents love infants in the middle of the night; not just with warm feelings, but sacrificial love that gets out of the warm bed. It is practical.
This is a great time to be in this family. We are growing. New programs are being offered, new people are discovering us. We are so filled with gratitude. Stewardship is a way we have of expressing our gratitude to God for each other, for this family.
Whether you are new to this family, or you have been here for years, one thing is true: we are in this together. Together we nurture the children. Together we encourage and guide the youth.
Together we are there for each other as complicated adults. Together we make sure the family’s needs are met, from the bed time story to the mortgage. Together we are there when it is hard, when problems come. Together we celebrate our joys and transitions.
This is Jesus’ big idea in action; a community of people who have embraced the message that God is for us, that we are reconciled to God, that God has created us as his family in which every one matters. How can this not fill our hearts with gratitude?