Monday, April 22, 2013

What's Our Promise?

We make promises all the time.
    (Congregation responds with promises.)

When Jesus was asked 'what is the most important commandment', he answered with a promise.
It was a promise he made every morning, along with all faithful Jewish boys & men (officially, and the women too, I’m sure before their own early morning chores) It’s call the ‘Shema’.

Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God is One, You shall love the LORD, your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. (In Mark’s story, Jesus adds ‘mind’ to the list, which helps those of us who grew up influenced by Greek thought and philosophy about the seat of our thinking.)

But there was another one of the 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible (our OT) that Jesus quoted. It was one that the prominent Rabbi Hillel taught as extremely important.
Jesus says it is second only to loving God. We find it in Lev 19:18 (b) “ shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Brethren like this part.)

Scouts have many sayings and have to learn some promises and priorities.
ASK: What are they? (You’ve already said one...)
Jesus is making a point about priorities that goes beyond numbering. He says these two commandments or RULES, are actually equal. These are the ‘law’ for all Hebrews and all followers of Jesus. He says you can’t have one w/o the other.
Then it’s not commandment 1 then commandment 2, Jesus says it’s 1 AND 2 TOGETHER.

Scholar Won Hur wrote; "To love one's neighbor without loving God would be mere humanism, losing profound connection to God."1

You might ask, but what is MORE important, my own connection to God OR DOING and ACTING lovingly to my neighbor(s)?
Great consideration of Humanism v Christian

There is no better week to ask this question than the one we just lived thru.

After evertything that went on this week, the bombing and man-hunt, the explosion and deaths in Texas, it has been a week of compassion between neighbors. It has also been a week of fear and mis-trust of other neighbors.
I was touched by something else Won Hur wrote and went back to read it again. "In loving God, one gains a deep awareness of God bringing hope and strength in times of despair."
You can see why that jumped out at me this week. All people need hope and strength in times of despair, especially when we are afraid.

It has been a week filled with fear. I follow Josh DuBois on Twitter and he wrote, "Fear is at our national doorstep. [Our primary question] is how will we respond?2

ASK: What were some of the responses you saw or heard this past week?
(Congregation responds)
I believe the greatest commandment holds the key to our response for followers of the Jesus’ Way.

In his article about fear, Josh wrote about how the Israeli and Pasestinian communities responded to the 4 years of terror, bombing, public conflicts called the Second Intifada, that ranged from rock throwing to shooting into crowds. It was a 'war' of sorts that claimed many many lives. (and the terror continues in many places.)

He noted that during those four years, the two communites ‘leaned In’. Each community clung together within themselves, leaning on the other members of their group and using the repeated traditions of their faith to remember other difficult times in their individual histories.

I thought he chose a difficult example, considering the shared Abramhamic traditions and continuing struggle in the middle east, but perhaps that's the point.
It is in extreme difficulty that we most notice our need for someone or something that lifts us to live beyond fear.

Have you seen responses to fear where people struck out instead of leaning in?
OR wondered HOW forgiving ‘the enemy’ fits the picture?

We can look back at our own history and find an example of one who lived beyond the fear that plagued his life.
Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the eulogy for the four little girls killed in 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL.  Dr. King said,
"Life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters.
And if one will hold on, we will discover that God walks with us, and that God is able to lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace. And so today, you do not walk alone.”3 . . .

Jesus never walked alone. Thru all he suffered, from daily rejection to accepting death at the hands of the powers that be.
Even when HIS community of disciples DIDN’T lean together but disserted him, he never walked alone. And HIS assurance gave him the strength to forgive, even as he hung dying from their assault.  .  .

In JESUS people saw the reign of God draw near to them, not because he died, but because he died forgiving those who killed him.

We see the reign of God in his life because Jesus LIVED to a higher LAW, ‘LEANING IN’/ON to - a power greater than his earthly life. He never let fear of death stop him from doing what was right all BECAUSE he loved God, before all else. . ... .then acted in love to his neighbors.

When God affirmed JESUS' way of self-giving love by raising him to new, resurrected life, JESUS then promised his followers that WE would never walk alone and sent His very own spirit to accompany us.

Weeks like this one show how much we need the presence of the Divine in our lives because these experiences require us to love and it is NOT a pleasant emotion, but more a difficult skill that takes practice.
Greg Jones and Celestin Musekura wrote a book called, “Forgiving as we’ve been forgiven” They describe forgiveness as dance steps to learn. Difficult contortions for some of us (like me, who are not graceful). Sometimes the lessons seem unconnected and the instructor, a harsh task master.
Then the music of the waltz is played and the instructor takes a student and twirls around the floor in graceful circles showing the beauty of the end product.
But learning the dance of forgiveness is not easy,

 (They write) Our hearts, souls, minds and bodies are deeply formed by the habits of sin and evil. Despite our destiny for communion (with each other), we human beings do not typically give and receive freely with one another, and certainly not with any trusting expectation. 7
Instead, we often attempt to secure our lives at the expense of others. In short, we are well practiced in the steps that lead to mutual destruction and death while we know precious little of the steps that make up the divine dance of forgiveness.

***Jesus knew and experienced that the promises we make, the commands we commit to follow are the first lesson in learning the ‘dance of forgiveness’. And eventually they lead us to beauty - the beauty of truly living in harmony with people and the earth.
Love God, Love Neighbor

Love God, Love Neighbor, Journey with Jesus, is the central Christian message. It is what we teach our children, it is how we are to live our lives.
It all begins with loving God. It all comes from following Jesus.

When we are asked WHY?
Why isn't it enough to do good?
Surely you know someone who says, .... “I know someone who is ALWAYS generous with her time and money and never misses an opportunity to serve neighbors. She doesn’t attend church and I don’t ever hear her mention God. Yet isn’t she LIVING the commandment Jesus lifted up?”

I think [it is] a question we all ask from time to time is,    “Why isn't it enough to help my neighbor, what does GOD have to do with it.?”
Yet it if we stop there, obeying the ‘love commandment with right living alone, we are shortchanging ourselves and those we teach.

Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm was one of my professors at Bethany Seminary. She wrote about this passage, and she answers our “why” question by getting to the heart of what LOVE MEANS. 
 "To love God and neighbor means more than believing or even understanding the right thing. IT MEANS offering the WHOLE OF OUR LIVES in service to others, as God in Christ love us.
In this way, we enter the reign of God that has already drawn near to us thru the presence and power of Jesus Christ.”4

We are mistaken when we think we know how to express love without help from God.5  We wrongly define love as an emotion; an unconscious response.
Dawn help me remember that,
    "Jesus makes love a matter of conviction, reflection, and behavior.
To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is to love as Christ loves."6

This is the promise we make when we choose to follow Jesus. The bonus is we get to experience life without succumbing to fear.

When we promise to FIRST love God and live it, then we will BE ABLE to love our neighbor as ourselves!

Closing Litany

Christians find in the OT prophet, Micah, the words that justify our desire for DOING, because these are good words,
    “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
yet the words we say last, are the promise we need to make 1st. Loving God is a humbling walk, but it is the true GIFT of life, now and always.

I Invite you to join me in reading this scripture that embodies our promise.
Scripture of Promise                    Micah 6:6-8
All: We promise to ‘do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”
I invite you to stand and sing these words as our departing hymn.

1 Won Hur Clergy Journal Vol. LXXXV, No5 May/June 2008 (Nov. 1, 2009 Focus: Mark 12:28-34 The Most Important Commandment) p. 62
2 Joshua DuBOis The Daily Beast Defeating Fear, from Boston to Texas April 20, 2013,
3 ibid quoted in the Daily Beast
4 Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm Preaching Mark (Louisville: WJK, 2008)214
5 ibid 215
6 ibid 215

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