Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Command to Love God, Self and Others

Homily, Year A, Ordinary 30
Matthew 22:34-40
Originally presented at Bloomington Inclusive Mass on October 26, 2014.

The Command to Love God, Self and Others on Vimeo.

Text Here:

In the Name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, may our hearts and minds be opened to words of life, truth and freedom. Amen.

Today in our Gospel story, the religious rulers of Jesus’s time come to him to ask what is the greatest command, rule or law for the people of God to follow. Actually, these religious leaders cared very little what commandment Jesus believed to be the most important. They only confronted Jesus hoping to cause him to stumble with his words and show himself to be a false prophet or teacher of lies. You see Jesus was pretty terrific at breaking the rules: he would offer healing prayers for the sick on days when he wasn’t suppose to, he would dine with supposed sinners and the dredge of society, and he would talk to just about anyone including, wait for it, women! Yes, Jesus was fabulous when it came to breaking traditional rules of religious and social decorum in order to interact with another and create meaningful relationships. In the minds of the religious leaders, this vile behavior could mean only one thing: Jesus was not a follower of God. So one of the religious leaders speaks up and asks what is the greatest rule for us to follow?

Now, Jesus is a quick study, and without missing a beat, he proclaims some of the most sacred words in all of Judaism found in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Deuteronomy: “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.” Jesus is well aware of what the religious leaders are rooting around for. He knows they doubt his love for God because he is so very willing to work outside the typical religious institution in order to spread hope. However, Jesus does not end with the answer the religious leaders wish to hear, he follows it up with another, with a qualifier essentially. He says that while the first is “most important” it cannot be separated from a second, which is like it and equal in value. Jesus says, “You will love your neighbor as yourself.” The version of scripture we heard a few moments ago breaks it down even father, simply saying, “Love others as well as you love yourself.” Bam! Jesus doesn’t hold anything back and with a few simple words he calls everyone within ears distance to radical and inclusive love of self and others.

However, before we go any further I find it necessary to refute a commonly held belief that is anything but true. In this moment recorded for us by Matthew, Jesus did not introduce a new belief or doctrine. As matter of fact, Jesus is simply reciting another famous rule of Judaism found in the Hebrew book of Leviticus. Many of us know these words as the Golden Rule and they stretch far beyond the boundaries of Christianity, Judaism and yes, even Jesus. Some form of the Golden Rule has been discovered in nearly all ethical and religious traditions within the human family. You will find the Golden Rule in the ancient mythologies of Egypt, in Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, heck even Wiccan! It is a core part of our humanity, to seek to care for others, to love others and to love our own selves. It is instinctual, it is survival; it is human.

So, if Jesus isn’t the first to express this idea, this command, this rule, why then have these words echoed so powerfully for centuries in the hearts of Christ’s followers? The answer is simple. For the first time Jesus takes two commands and reveals that the one cannot truly be fulfilled without the other. Jesus calls the religious leaders out and demands that they experience their faith on a much deeper and practical level! He proclaims that the “ability” to supposedly love God through doctrines and liturgical practices alone and apart from compassionate concern for one’s neighbor is worthless. Jesus even dares to claim that for people of faith, all rules and regulations, all belief systems, all previous teachings, all scriptural texts, all religious institutional decisions hang on these two commands! For Jesus nothing should be done, nothing should be believed; nothings should be instituted if it goes against the simple, yet profound, calling to love God, self and others.

For those who seek to follow in the ways of Jesus, these truths are inescapable. In our faith community, we hear them each week at the beginning of the Mass. We are reminded that our calling as faith people, exploring the Divine, is to love God; that is to love the possibility and ways of God: to love the gifts of Divine mercy, forgiveness and grace. We love the Divine who is made known to us in the beauty of newly fallen autumn leaves, in the precious cry of a newborn infant, in the broken bread we freely share with one another and even in the whimsical reflections of a muddy puddle of rainwater. We love God most truly by loving and caring for our own selves and all those who are placed before us in life. We love, most purely, when we demonstrate a radical inclusivity that does not ostracize those who are weak, those who appear different, those who are of varying genders and sexualities, and those who religious institutions have often considered unworthy of meaningful approach and concern. We love purely when we glance in the mirror and see beauty, possibility and great worth. We love most purely when we love as Jesus loved. When we dare to break the rules that say to judge, hate, ignore or, even despise!

Those of us who consider ourselves to be progressive people of faith, many of us progressive Christians, know what is it like to have people doubt our love for God. Because we dare to ask tough questions of our doctrines, traditions and the actions of our faith ancestors we are thought of as less godly and presumed to even be false prophets and perpetuators of lies. Because we dare to share God’s table and Holy Communion with all who seek love and compassion, we are deemed to be heretics and haters of God. Because we do not judge the actions of others but embrace each wherever they are on their life journey, we are considered to be failures as followers of Christ. Nevertheless, today we are reminded that 2,000 years ago many religious leaders thought the very same of the one we call Lord and Guide. Today, we are reminded that Jesus does not call us to create barriers to the gifts of God but rather to simply love with a kindheartedness that knows no bound. We are reminded that our adoration for God is not based upon our theological formulations, doctrines or liturgical practices but rather lived action in thought, word and deed, as we care for others and ourselves.

In this moment, our sacred calling as people of faith is renewed by the words of Jesus and many other great prophets and teachers. The Christ says to you and I, “Love God, loving others as well as you love yourself.” Christ reminds us that if anything or anyone asks us to do otherwise and we listen, we have lost our vocation as lovers of God and lovers of God’s image, all people kind. This day choose to walk in all-encompassing and compassionate love regardless of the names you are called by those who consider themselves religious leaders. Regardless of what religious institutions, namely the Church, ask of us we will listen first and foremost to the commands of Christ and seek to emulate Christ’s actions in all we do. Yes, it will be radical. Yes, some will doubt our love for God. Yes, people will call us vile names but - you and I are in good company…Jesus walks before us and with us.

Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

I challenge you to prove Gandhi wrong and in doing so glorify God as Christ teaches us.


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