Our Command

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 | Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 | 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 | Matthew 22:34-46

(More of what was preached for Proper 25)

The other day on the radio I heard an engineer talking about the amazing thing that a tiny robot can do (called the robo-bee). Fifteen of them together weigh about as much as a penny, she said. It flies, and now it can swim. More than that, it can launch itself out of water, converting water to gas to create enough propulsion so it can break through the water’s tension and emerge above water ready to fly again. Amazing. Most of you know my husband is a computer guy, so I understand there’s a whole programming side of things that I will never fully understand. My husband spends a lot of time at the command line on the black terminal screen that most of us regular users never see, but it’s the commands that he puts in that keep the software running as it should, just as the programs coded for the little robo-bees direct them in what they are able to do.

So when we have this account of Moses death, that he died as the LORD commanded, I marvel at the significance of his obedience even in death, knowing full well that his life has not been perfect. Even in his imperfection, Moses had been singled out by God to know and experience God in a way few have. Joshua had big shoes to fill, leading the Israelites, but they carried on, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses. They persisted in following the law, keeping their tradition alive through generations.

By the time of Jesus, there are an estimated 613 laws to follow in Judaism. The Pharisees know them and are responsible for keeping them. A lawyer would presumably be one skilled in Mosaic law, also, and that’s the person who speaks up to test Jesus, offering what he’s sure to consider a trick-question. “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” To which Jesus unhesitantly replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And the second is like the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” a natural outgrowth, seemingly, of the first.

Knowing your Book of Common Prayer, you of course knew this summary of the commandments, as it’s in the Catechism. This “Greatest Commandment” is also in Mark and Luke, with the addition of loving God with all our strength. We can know these commands by memory, but what does it mean to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul? “Love” alone is complicated. Sometimes we want to focus on agape as a love that seems to evoke the all-compassionate love of God, philia that has the brotherly-love emphasis, or eros that gets at desire. Yes to all of these, and more. There’s so much more than sentimentality here. This all-encompassing love asks for all of our heart. However much we think we love, it’s that and more, requiring our loyalty and devotion. It’s putting God before all else, before any idols we might have, be they animate or inanimate (thinking of relationships, power, money, etc.). Love God with all our heart and with all our mind. I can’t even begin to wrap my feeble mind around God, but with all that I am, I let my thoughtful self love God. I allow myself to bring all of my questions, doubts, concerns, and fears to God. I bring my whole intellect, even when what I’m wrestling with makes no rational or logical sense. Love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our soul.With the very essence of our being, we love God. It is our soul which most yearns for restoration in full likeness of God.

With whole-hearted, holistic love of God, love of neighbor is both a natural outgrowth and a societal obligation. But especially here, it’s important not to forget that Jesus is talking with people who want him dead. Earlier, in Chapter 7, Jesus tells his followers that the greatest thing they can do is treat others as they want to be treated, thus we get the golden rule. Now, he’s telling his enemies, his neighbors, that they are to first love God and then love one another. Jesus could have easily pointed out how these people were disobeying both commandments, kind of like the scene with the men charging a woman with adultery when he tells the one without sin to cast the first stone. Jesus is writing something in the dirt, and when he looks up, everyone but the woman is gone. Perhaps he was enumerating their own transgressions. But Jesus doesn’t do that here. He goes on to ask a question of his own, a question that as he interprets it, points to his own divinity. Psalm 110 is referenced about 37 times in the New Testament. In Christianity, it points obviously to Jesus’ Davidic ancestry but also to his divinity, his life as fully human and fully divine. Obviously, this isn’t so for the Jews then any more than now, but that didn’t change the Truth of who Jesus was and is. He had his own commands inscribed in His being and in His will. It’s no wonder those who were adamantly trying Jesus were ultimately left speechless, not daring for a time to ask any more questions.

We can love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves, but in practice, things can get a little fuzzy. We have a day like Thursday. I’m all ready to go to the gym to practice my self-care after I drop Avery off at school, but on the way to school, my oil light comes on in my car. It’s the big red hazard light and another oil can light. Rarely do they both come on at the same time, so this is a huge red flag, and I’m just praying my engine doesn’t seize up in 8:00 traffic on 102. I stop in for an oil change at my regular place, and they tell me it will at least be an hour and a half, but I have a lunch appointment in Siloam. So I go to a 15-minute oil change place. I have my schedule to stick with, things I’ve got to get done. As the mechanic is welcoming me to my new venture, being my first time there, he’s smooth. I’m thinking he’s about to up-sale me on everything, but he assures me he’s not. At some point in the conversation, I tell him I’m an Episcopal priest. Before long, he brings my air filters to me to show me that they’re not bad, that I have a bulb out, and that they’re about finished. When we’re wrapping up the paperwork, where he’s giving me a first-time discount, it’s mentioned how expensive things are, and he says something about not being able to afford the best stuff, either. And I say, “Are you doing okay, though?” “Yeah, I’m alright,” he says. And he shares with me in less than five minutes the abbreviated version of his life story. How his mom’s life changed drastically when she found out she was pregnant with him, how it was her come to Jesus moment. How he didn’t really have a relationship with his birth father, but his mom found Jesus and also found a husband in a Church of Christ pastor. He shared a lively story about her being caught up in Spirit. His family is mostly in central Arkansas, so he’s a bit isolated up here, but he’s radiant with life. I probably would have bought anything he suggested, because I was smiling as I pulled away from the shop. That feeling of fullness and contentment, that happens when we let go of our preconceived notions of how things should be or how we think they are, even when they’re not. Opening ourselves to love God first and then extend it to our neighbors, we open ourselves to unlimited possibilities–yes, of potentially being hurt but only because the love is so grand.

So with the fullness and taste of joy and a much happier car, I drive to the gym and eventually make my way to Siloam, where the sapphire skies are shining, it’s nearly 80 degrees, and all seems right in the world (I rocked out to Hamilton rather than listen to the news). My colleague treated me to lunch as we caught up on life and work. He showed me some of the plans that Grace has for their expansion, as they get ready to break ground. I left with that same feeling of having had a lovely time.

But on my way back to pick up Avery, I started to feel a bit of worry, maybe a touch of anxiety or fear because I had signed up to go to the Q Commons event, an event sponsored by–as my colleague pointed out–some very conservative evangelical folks. Even the speakers were from the very conservative side of the spectrum. People who are probably praying for me, right? I’m going to this event where I imagine I’ll be judged, and I don’t know anyone else. We see what’s happened, don’t we? I’ve walled off myself in fear and worry, already forgetting what God has revealed to me just in this one day, let alone my whole life!

So I go, and there’s Christian folk being played from the stage, the tables are set, the food truck vendor has a buffet at the back and I judge it to be typical hipster scene. (The cookies on the table were a nice touch!) I’m mistaken for a sister, but the mistake informs me that someone I know will be there. Before long, I get to see her and make contact with someone I know. I talk to people in line, at my table. I start to see and converse with people I recognize but also meet new friends, all of us coming from various Christian denominations. But the whole event was about showing up to address Questions of this particular cultural moment, when we’re as divisive now, it’s perceived, as we were during the Vietnam era.

During the talk, NYTimes contributor David Brooks talks about cultivating virtue. Kara Powell talks about our addiction to technology. Propaganda talks about how complicated our lives are, how truly connected we are to one another so that we shouldn’t judge one another. Local folks spoke about art, service, and the Confederate statue. We listened, and at our tables we had a few moments to share. Of the many things I heard that still resonate in my mind, David Brooks mentioned how much our society shies away from commitment; we’re not anchored. We’re like the fall leaves right now, barely hanging on, and when a gust comes along that makes life difficult, we run away. We’ve been told by society we’re free to do whatever we want, be whatever we want, and have forgotten our covenant. We’ve forgotten that while we are free, we are in a committed relationship not only to God but to one another, with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul. This covenantal relationship anchors us through trials and tribulations and keeps us moving forward in life, hopefully more aligned with God’s will.

So we can see how we have commands built into our Christian DNA. Born in Baptism, we are commanded to do certain things. We agree to them in our Covenant. It’s not just a contract, though; it’s a relationship. It doesn’t make life easy, but it roots us deeply in something bigger than ourselves. It might come with persecution or ridicule, but it promises us eternal life through Christ. It comes with expectation, too. Dr. James Hawkins from New Heights in Fayetteville, who spoke about the statue, said that we keep looking to our government, to politicians, to make changes. He told us that it’s up to believers to start the revolution, the radical move to life lived for love of God, that it’s up to us to pave the road of reconciliation. It’s up to us to love God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul and love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s what we’re commanded to do, but it’s also what I want to do with every fiber of my being.

 

Continue Reading

Clarity of Vision

"William Blake - Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus - Google Art Project" by William Blake - XQENbMVCvBS7kw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Blake_-_Christ_Giving_Sight_to_Bartimaeus_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:William_Blake_-_Christ_Giving_Sight_to_Bartimaeus_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
William Blake – “Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus”

The Scripture Texts for Proper 25, Year B, Track 1  are

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 | Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22 | Hebrews 7:23-28 | Mark 10:46-52

It’s a dusty, busy, crowded scene, the street where we find Bartimaeus today. I’m sure Bartimaeus wasn’t the only one begging, and the twelve disciples aren’t the only ones in the crowd following Jesus to Jerusalem. Still others are likely watching the passers-by with curiosity, suspicion, or apathy. The hearts and minds of the men, women, and children sound in myriad voices, a cacophony contrasting with that of the clarity of purpose, the clarity of vision with which Jesus made his way, being one so fully aligned with the will of God.

The scene isn’t dissimilar from today. We are part of the crowd following Jesus. We, like Bartimaeus, ask for mercy. We, too, follow our Lord and Savior toward the promised land through our loud and busy lives.

Every three years in our lectionary, we come to this healing of Bartimaeus, to this scene at Jericho, where Jesus stands still and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Let me see again,” Bartimaeus says.

“Go,” Jesus tells him, “your faith has made you well.” With regained sight, with renewed vision, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way.

Thank you, Jesus, for standing still.

While we may not be blinded by an all-consuming darkness or desperation, we may be wearing blinders, oblivious in other ways. We may be like the crowd telling Bartimaeus to stay down and keep quiet. So focused are we on our goal to where we think we are headed that we might trip upon one another, caught off-guard by the sudden stop in our journey. Jesus is standing still. Hopefully he has our attention.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks all of us in our moment of pause.

“Let me see again,” we might say. “Remind me where we’re going, what we’re doing. Restore my vision. Rekindle my passion for God’s will, the fire of Spirit within me.”

We’re crazy to ask such a thing, you know.

If we look around with unobstructed vision, we see things as they are, and we can’t unsee.

Starting with ourselves, we recognize the wholeness Christ brings to our broken lives, the healing we experience through redemption and the power that brings to us.

Then we notice the injustices around us. If you don’t already see, talk to parishioners about Project Hope, Jackson House, or Salvation Army. Ask about Safe Haven, Potter’s Clay, and Samaritan Ministries. Talk to principals, teachers, doctors, and nurses about our local schools and the uninsured. Talk to Kathy, CB, and me about the needs of folks we see here throughout the week and about other people and agencies that are struggling to meet those needs. Jesus opens our eyes to see, our minds to understand.

With clear vision, with wholeness and well-being, Jesus tells us to “Go.” Where else have we to go but after Jesus? He’s not telling us to go away from him. There is no place we can go that Jesus hasn’t already been or isn’t already present. In our moment of pause, we are re-set, but we can’t stay still, basking in the radiance of Christ. He doesn’t say, “Stay.” He says, “Go.” We are, after all, his disciples. We are to get moving. We follow him.

Next Sunday in our National Cathedral in D.C., Presiding-Bishop-elect Michael Curry will be installed as Presiding Bishop. In a recent interview, Bp. Curry says that one thing we most need in The Episcopal Church is “clarity of gospel vision.” According to Bp. Curry, who sees his position as CEO of The Episcopal Church also as “chief evangelical officer,” this clarity of vision means we Christians are clear about our role in what he calls the “Jesus Movement.” We are full-blown evangelists, proclaiming the good news of Christ, making more disciples, baptizing in the name of the triune God, all the while following Jesus on the way to the promised land. (He knows this is crazy, too, which is why he wrote a book called Crazy Christians. But it’s a good crazy.)

Evangelism doesn’t mean making others come to our church, which is probably the thought that makes most Episcopalians shudder. Evangelism “happens where we get into the deeper spiritual thing where (our faith stories) meet.”* It means my path crosses with someone else’s on the journey, and we pause together long enough to create a relationship. Somehow, when we open our eyes, we can open our hearts, too. Following Jesus takes us to places where we meet people face to face. We look into the eyes of a child we mentor and marvel at the hope still brightly shining, no matter what her life circumstances may be. We drop off the box of food at a place that doesn’t seem like much but is home to a family. We pray over the wounds of the sick and grasp the soiled hand because that is what love in action looks like. This is what Jesus has taught us to do. This, Curry says, “sets the stage for the Spirit to do what the Spirit’s going to do. And at that point, … it’s up to the person and the Spirit.”

We open up a space for love to intercede.

This is what evangelism looks like to us today.

For us Christians, evangelism includes talking about our faith in Jesus. It means talking about where we find God in our lives, especially in grace-filled moments. Sharing our stories with others about how we came to St. Luke’s and why we stay gives witness to others about how we follow Jesus through this place.

We understand we are following Jesus first and foremost. We love St. Luke’s with a passion. We’re going to raise a lot of money to assure our church’s stability and future, but we’re not a building first and then followers of Jesus. We’re following the way of Jesus, moving toward the kingdom with every thought and step inside and outside these blessed walls. We want to enable our church here in Hot Springs to continue to offer the many resources it provides to us and to our community. We want the ministries offered to grow because there is need and because we are called to serve. In this place we can be still, be healed, and go out again to share our ongoing story in Christ.

I often hear people say that if they’re still alive, they still have a purpose. Of course we do. We have the particular purpose of being disciples of Jesus, of following his way yet in our individual ways.

In Jericho, it looked like realizing we were wrong to hold Bartimaeus back and telling him to “take heart; get up,” helping him to move into the presence of Jesus and then walking alongside him toward Jerusalem.

Today as we move with Jesus, it can look like listening — listening to the friend who needs to share her sorrows and loneliness. Listening to our kids–young or old–who need our attention and affection especially when they are trying our patience. We hear the need and, as Jesus showed us, we stop to listen.

Today, moving with Jesus looks like stepping out of our comfortable routine to volunteer with those who expand our understanding of the human condition, giving our most valuable resource of time.

Being part of the Jesus movement looks like sharing this feast and other meals with all kinds of people, supporting ministries, organizations, and institutions that promote the teachings of Jesus and bring the promised land a little closer.

Our role as disciples requires vision made clear by faith in Christ. We need this clarity of vision to keep us on the path Jesus has already forged for us. Lord knows I need to stop more often than every three years to be still and regain my focus. Daily prayer helps keep us closer God and more aware of the grace of God in our lives, keeping us ever-ready to share the good news with others. Weekly worship helps unify the body of Christ, strengthening that clarity of gospel vision that leads us as a church forward, following Jesus through all that is and is yet to come. So we go today with restored vision to make room for Spirit to do some work, God’s will be done.

*“Michael B. Curry: Christian leaders need clarity of gospel vision,” Faith & Leadership, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, October 19, 2015, accessed October 22, 2015, https://www.faithandleadership.com/michael-b-curry-christian-leaders-need-clarity-gospel-vision.

Image used is part of Google Art Project and is licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue Reading