Monday, June 12, 2017

6-11-17 “Summer of Love” series, “The LAW of Love”

6-11-17 “Summer of Love” series, “The LAW of Love”

   We all recognize, I believe, that there are some names in Scripture, either of people or of groups, that can be difficult to pronounce. They aren’t names that are common today. And names in the Hebrew language often have the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle for us.  Kim D., when serving as our liturgist, for some odd reason that I can only credit to the Holy Spirit has drawn readings that are full of challenging names several times and we’ve all sat here and urged and supported her on in her reading. It’s for that reason that I always meet with the liturgist prior to worship in order to go through the service, and particularly the scripture readings, to make sure that if there are any difficult names or words, we work on them together before worship begins. 
I have always done that since I began ministry because 
I know how it feels - I’ve been there. 
I learned a lesson though, a few years ago in a previous church that I served, to “trust and verify” as they say, because sometimes a reader thinks they know how to pronounce a name, when in reality they do not. You see, one of the readings on that day in that church was one of our same passages from today, and the liturgist was a woman from the church who had served in that capacity many times before but apparently had never come across the name, Sadducees before. And as she began to read, she moved smoothly and confidently into telling of the encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees and the Seducees. 
Yep, she said “Seducees.” 

   I have to tell you, it took everything I had in me to not laugh out loud, because that mispronunciation of Sadducees seriously changes the meaning and hearing of that passage. The only mispronunciation of scripture I’ve ever heard of that is perhaps funnier than “Seducees,” might be one that a clergy colleague told me about, when the liturgist in his church announced that she would be reading from Paul’s Letter to the Fallopians. 
Those Fallopians and Seducees will get you every time!

   Despite that memory, or maybe because of it, I’m particularly fond of this section of the gospels of Mark and Matthew. The two gospels parallel one another very closely, but there are distinct nuances to each that really help us to understand more clearly what’s going on. In a nutshell, Jesus is having a tough day, you know? He’s being challenged at every turn by either Pharisees, or the Sadducees, or by some legal expert, for the express purpose of trying to catch him in a misstatement, or some form of blasphemy that they can then turn into a chargeable offense against him. In this same section, told as though these events seemingly occurred one after another, we have in Mark’s gospel the story of a vineyard owner who sent his servants to collect the harvest from the tenants only to have them beaten and turned away, in response to which the vineyard owner then sends his son, whom he expects will be treated with great respect. When the son arrives, rather than respecting the owner’s son, the wicked tenants, thinking that they can somehow get their hands on the son’s inheritance, kill the son. 
And hearing Jesus tell this story, in this way, the Pharisees, shrewd listeners that they are, understand that Jesus was talking about them and are not too happy. 

   Now, also in this section is a story that I like to call, borrowing from the famous play and movie, “One Bride for Seven Brothers.” Here, instead of the Pharisees being frustrated and embarrassed by Jesus, it’s the Sadducees who end up with their tails between their legs. The Sadducees, among other things, didn’t believe in resurrection, so they proposed a question they thought was scripturally sound but that would be a real gotcha for Jesus. They asked him, if a man is married to his wife but has no male children, Jewish law, as given in the book of Deuteronomy, requires that if the man dies his brother must take the widow as his wife in order to produce a son, an heir, for the deceased brother. Well, they propose, that brother dies without giving a son, and the next brother marries the widow, but he dies without producing a son, and so on and so on until all seven brothers have married the woman and died without producing a single son. Whose wife, they want to know, will the woman be in heaven? 
   Now, before we get to Jesus’ response, I think I know what at least some of you are thinking, depending on whether you’re a man or a woman. The men are likely thinking she’s not going to be anyone’s husband because if all seven of her previous husbands died nobody’s going to be brave enough to take the chance. Am I right? On the other hand, the women are likely thinking that if this woman has to have possibly seven husbands in the afterlife, then it’s certainly not heaven - am

   But Jesus, the passage says, points out to them that there is no marriage in heaven - that marriage is for this earthly life - and that they don’t know their scriptures as well as they think they do, both embarrassing and silencing the Sadducees. Jesus, you’ll note, is not heeding Dale Carnegie’s advice on “How to Win Friends and Influence People” here. Nevertheless, all of the stories in this section are told in basically the same way, if not in exactly the same order in both Matthew and Mark. But our passage for today featuring the legal expert gets a little more detailed and extended treatment in Mark’s gospel than what we heard Bob read for us from Matthew. In fact, Mark, the shortest of the four gospels, gives twice as many words to this story as does Matthew. And while this is not one of those passages that Matthew basically copies and pastes from Mark, the first parts of the readings are very similar. But where Matthew stops after the line “all the law and the prophets depend on these two commands,” Mark continues on, taking this story even deeper.

   So we’ll go deeper as well, because it’s in Mark’s gospel that the legal expert, rather than challenging Jesus’ teaching, as did the Pharisees and Sadducees, affirms it. “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.” Unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees who attempt to disgrace or trap Jesus, the legal expert, this keeper and interpreter of the Law, affirms Jesus’ teaching that all of the Law - from the Ten Commandments to the 613 Laws in the Holiness Code - comes down to the twin ideas of loving God and loving neighbor. At the same time, in saying that these are more important even than the sacrifices required by the Law, he affirms what Paul said in his letter to the Galatians that we looked at last month, that the Law of Love wins out over the moral legalism that the Pharisees and their predecessors had insisted upon as the only way to salvation.

   So, the Law of Love that Jesus states very clearly in this passage, reads,  “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and you will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

   So, what does this Law of Love look like for us? 
What does following Jesus’ Law of Loving God and Loving Neighbor look like in practice? As I shared before, “Love” in scripture is about more than just an emotional attachment, regardless of how deep that attachment is, it’s about action. Love is an action, Love is a verb. Loving God is something we do in response to the fact that God first loved us - so much so that God sent Jesus. Sent - another action verb; God sent Jesus and Jesus sends us. So the question is, as sent disciples, how do we love God? And the answer according to Jesus of course, is by loving our neighbor, by doing good for our neighbor, by caring for our neighbor. We do it when we put the needs of our neighbor ahead of our own desire for comfort. German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “We’re not the church unless we’re being the church for others.” 
And Christian theologian Leslie Newbiggin suggests that “the church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”
   So, what might THAT look like? Well, it looks like feeding people at the homeless camps and food pantry and the free store and the free meal. And it looks like clothing people in the free store, visiting people in hospital and in jails, and supporting the children in Freedom School and tutoring third graders and hosting Vacation Bible School for youngsters and also ministering to seniors and older adults in new and exciting ways as well. 
That’s ALL “love your neighbor” kind of stuff, and it’s all good. But if we look closely, only a couple of those things require us to be sent, to actually go to our neighbor. Everything else requires our neighbor to come to us. 
Most of these very good ministries don’t ask us to leave our own comfort zone in order to love our neighbor. Rather, they come with the expectation that our neighbor will leave THEIR comfort zone and come to us in order for us to love on them. And, I don’t know, when we think about it that way, it just doesn’t sound as “Jesusy” does it? I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind, when, in the Great Commission in Matthew 28, he says “Go and make disciples.” It doesn’t say “stay and wait for people to come to you,” or “if you build it, they will come.” That might work in Hollywood, but it’s not how the Kin-dom of God functions.
   So, to that end, I’m inviting as many of you as will come, to be here Wednesday morning at 10:30 for a time of prayer. 
During this time we’ll pray together for our members, for our mission and ministries here at Crossroads, pray for our community, pray for our neighbors, and see if we can’t hear God more clearly and more specifically about what it looks like to love our neighbors, particularly the neighbors who live in the 24 houses that immediately surround the church. What does loving God by loving our neighbor look like in relation to THOSE 24 families? 
What would sharing the love of God look like if we asked THEM the question of how we could be good neighbors instead of assuming that we already know? 
What would it look like for us to say yes to Jesus’ Law of Love, by showing our love of God in how we share God’s love with our closest neighbors. 
If we can detach our ideas about what it means to love God from being a mere emotional expression (which, if you think about it, is much easier on us and requires little in the way of action) and into an act of love, what would we have to do differently, as a church and as individuals? What comfort zones would we have to cross over? 

   During the original Summer of Love in 1967, those who descended on San Francisco, did so out of a strong desire to be in a community based on love and not of fear; on love and not war; on love and not hate. 
So they did things like community clean-up projects that turned abandoned lots into community gardens. They set up a free health clinic for the people in the neighborhood long after the last of the so-called “long-haired-hippie-freaks” had gone back home - a clinic that, as I shared with you last week, is still in operation today. They fed the already existing homeless community that they encountered when they got there. You see, the Summer of Love was about more than just sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It was about “making love” - figuratively as well as literally - and not war. It was about reaching out to the marginalized in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, and saying, as our song “Get Together” invites, “Come on people now smile on your brother, Everybody get together try and love one another right now.”
   That’s the kind of thing Jesus had in mind when he sent out the apostles, when he went out and fed the thousands who were hungry, when he traveled from village to village and healed the sick, when he made the lame walk, and when he raised the dead. 
And that’s the kind of loving action that Jesus calls us to today. 
That’s the kind of ministry that Jesus’ Law of Love calls us to share with our neighbor as sent disciples. Amen.

So, with that in mind, I invite you to pray with me please.
   Yes, God! We want to love you by loving our neighbors, by being the church to them in your name. 
Yes, Jesus! We want to love you by being sent BY you, as the disciples were, to the neighbors you’ve surrounded us with, instead of passively and fearfully waiting for them to come to us. Give us the fearlessness of the faithful, Lord, that our acts of love might be sign and symbol of our love, not only of our neighbors, but of you. Lord, we ask your blessing on these your saints within these walls, that we might be a blessing to our neighbors outside these walls.
Open our eyes and our hearts, God, to each of the 24 homes, families, neighbors, with which you have surrounded us, and bless them, Lord. Help us to reach out in your name to them in order to show our love to you in how we love the neighbors you’ve given us. In Jesus’ most holy name we pray, Amen.

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