Sunday, October 29, 2017

Year A Proper 25 2017 Loving With All We've Got

Year A Proper 25, 29 October, 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Loving With All We’ve Got”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 22:34-46
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’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.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

How do we live a good life? What makes it good? Whose voice do we listen to when we seek answers to those questions?

Our answers to those questions will determine so much of our happiness over the years. I have heard all kinds of slogans, or mantras, whatever you want to call them:
  • “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
  • “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
  • “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
  • “God is not done with me yet.”
  • “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but how many moments take our breath away.”
All these are ways to look at the world, and our place in it. Some healthy, some not. But they all help us determine the small choices, that add up to our days, that make our years, that are our lives. We choose. We choose some things. We turn down others. And today I want us to look at what it is we say yes to, and because of our greater Yes-es, we have to have some Nos in response.

In movies when the characters want to know something about somebody, you often see them digging through the trash. And that is a way to learn some things about somebody. It gives a picture of some things we do, but more it is what we let go of, but it does not paint a picture of what we embrace.

Philosophy professor and theologian Dallas Willard in his masterpiece, The Divine Conspiracy, said that one of the things that defines us as humans is our ability to treasure things. We give import and meaning to some things more than others. We cherish, and we relish what we cherish. We have keepsakes and mementos. There are some things that neither hell nor high water could take from you. So, unlike our movie detectives, look at someone’s trash and I might see their actions, but show me your treasures and I will get a glimpse into your soul.

Someone saw me unpacking a box the other day in my office. And they said something about me still moving in. I am 90% settled, because I have spent more time getting to know you all rather than arranging my stuff that adorns my office. But there are treasures of mine there. Things I hold dear. And as the cliche goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. What I cherish are the tangible reminders of beautiful days and moments, those times that took my breath away. And I will always hold them dear.

Treasures give a glimpse into who we are, but our treasures are not, nor should they be, who we are. Prolific Christian author Henri Nouwen shares 3 Lies of Identity:
1. I am what I have
2. I am what I do
3. I am what other people say or think of me
None of these things are who we really are. With that caveat, let’s look at what Jesus said in today’s Gospel.

As we look at our treasures, and we see glimpses into our identities in them, I come back to the original questions. How do we live a good life? What makes it good? Whose voice do we listen to when we seek answers to those questions? The lawyer asking Jesus the greatest commandment was repeating a long rabbinical tradition of ranking God’s rules. Of the 613 in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, which was the top? And Jesus, like others before him, cites two, linking these two commandments together. “Love God with all you’ve got, and your neighbor like yourself.” The first comes from the great liturgical call of the Shema our Jewish brothers and sisters recite (Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One… Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and from the call to love our neighbors as much as ourselves (Leviticus 19: 17-18).

These summaries are tied because how can we love the unseen God if we cannot love our “seen” brothers and sisters? And also, how can we love others if we cannot love ourselves?

Starting today, I listed a number of phrases that could be seen as philosophical, but I think the commandments Jesus list here could fall into the same arena. Jesus’ answer is a touchstone on how to live that good life. Love God, others, and self. If that is the case, what does it look like to live a life when we love God with all we’ve got, and our neighbors and ourselves equally?

I would say you might get a good idea from glancing at a few things. These are everyday items, and you may not see them as spiritual or religious, but if I see your relationship with these things, I can get a glimpse into what and who you love.

The first thing I would ask you to delve into is your Calendar. And this is the only place where we are all equal. We are each given the same number of hours in the same name of days. What we do with them is where the proof is in the pudding. What are the blocks that you make sure you put into every day? What are the tidbits that fill in the cracks?
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
—Admiral William H. McRaven
We have to start somewhere, and our bedclothes are an intentional and deliberate beginning. It is literal and metaphorical. We all have to start where we are, and we all sleep. Does making our bed make us better Christians? Not necessarily, but as we look at how we live our lives, Loving God, others and self, our intentions and our actions do come into play.
"The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful.”
—Doug Henning

It really is like that. What do you make sure makes it into your days? What do you give to God DAILY? There is physical muscle memory, where once we learn to ride a bike we can always ride a bike. And I believe there is spiritual muscle memory, once we start including God on everything it becomes a habit, one we won’t want to break. The daily devotionals in the Book of Common Prayer is a great place to start. If you can make more time, the Daily Offices are transformative. As we look at our the Stewardship of our lives, our calendars are the best place to start your investigation.

Next, show me your Checkbook (or credit card statements these days), and look to where your money goes. Do you make enough to cover your bills? Do you fritter away nickels and dimes and over the decades miss out on where you could have been? As you look at your resources, where on the checklist is your giving to furthering God’s Kingdom? My wife and I give to this parish, and to Shrine Mont, and to other ministries that are important to us. What you give does not need only be to this church. But we are asking for you to thoughtfully, joyfully, and prayerfully give to St. James the Less, and if possible, we are asking you to increase your pledge this year as you are able. As you steward your checkbook, and intentionally review your patterns of saving and spending and giving, think of what you hope to accomplish and work systematically to get there. It is all tied together.

Lastly, I want you to look in the Mirror. There is nothing that can hide when you look yourself in the eye. And as you look yourself in the eye, ask “Who do I see? Am I on the path to be who God is calling me to be?” When you look yourself in the eye, are you critical? Or do you see yourself as God’s beloved? Brené  Brown says, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” It may be corrective, but it should always be loving. How on earth can we love God or others, if we do not see ourselves as lovable or capable of loving? In the 70s we heard repeatedly, God don’t make no junk! It is still true.

Today, was my “Stewardship Sermon,” how we manage and account for our lives as part of our Stewardship of this parish for the coming year. We ask of you to consider your Time, that looking at your Calendar and your plans for the coming year. We ask you to consider your Talent, that thing that you are uniquely qualified to further God’s work in this world. And we ask you to consider your Treasure, those resources you have and how you might use them to fulfill your needs, hopes, and desires for the coming year.

How do you show what you treasure when someone looks at your calendar, your checkbook, or watching you look in the mirror? All three speak volumes. What do yours say? Next week we will gather in the Pledges, and for those we have received already and those that will come in, we will have a time of blessing on them. Just like we do with the elements and the offering every week. We pray for God’s blessing on them. And this week, I pray for God’s blessings on your calendar, your checkbook, and your self reflection. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock