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It all boils down to this…. Love.

Pentecost +21, Common Lectionary year A

Matthew 22: 33-46

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Introduction to scripture

I don’t quite know what’s happening to my sermon prep these days.
I work hard and long on studying the text,
then with the Midrash group, I listen to the wisdom of others as
we turn the text this way.
I’m well into my semon –germinating/writing by midweek,
and then sometime in the 48 hours before I write,
something happens.. in my life, in the life of this community, or the life of the world
that seems, at first glance to upend all that hard head work.
It’s as if a word from the heart wants to get through all the head work.
Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that’s what happens
with the Rabbi Jesus in this encounter.

It’s been a long, tough week,
of arguments in the public sphere;
clashing ideologies and ethics,
seemingly deliberate misunderstandings,
loaded and goading questions,
vitriol, threats and counter threats…
I’m talking about Jesus’ week,
but, I guess it about sums up our last week too, doesn’t it?
Scandals, collusion and obfuscation in high places
while the population suffers inadequacies and inequities without number.
Then, now. Both/and.

The parade of inquisitors (for Jesus) was seemingly unending.
I can’t imagine how exhausting it must have been,
to have his whole way of living God’s Dream
come under such relentless scrutiny!
Today’s questioner – a scholar of the Law,
asks him a ‘duh’ simple question.
I really don’t know if it was another trick question,
or one of those friendly interviewer questions
– a soft lob thrown for the Rabbi on the spot
so he can hit it out of the park…?
Does it really matter that much
about the motives of the questioner in the end?
What matters is that it was a good question,
the right question
the real question.

What’s the greatest commandment in the Torah?
What’s the most important guiding principle for living a good life
one that is good for us, and for all?

When Jesus was asked,
his right hand swept over his face,
his voice immediately answered with the prayer
he’d recited twice a day since before he understood the words:
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad,
You shall love the lord your God
with all you heart, with all your soul,
and with all your might.”

The right, the head-first answer.
But somehow, in that moment,
with everything that was going on,
he just knew that these words floated somewhere
above the muck and mess of living.
They made the soul feel good,
but they wouldn’t be worth the speaking
until they are brought down to earth.

And welling up from his heart,
words poured like liquid gold into the space
between him and the Pharisees and Sadducees,
between piety and practice,
between religiosity and real-life faith in action,
between right and left,
between despair and hope,
between then and now,
and here,
right in the middle of all the CoVid isolated spaces
that are gaping in our fragile social fabric,
“AND… you shall love your neighbour as you love your very self.”
[Hebrew text removed] (vayahavta lere’akha kamokha)

When Luke tells this story,
some bright spark counters with the question,
“And who is my neighbour?”
and Jesus responds parabolically
with the story of the Helpful Enemy
(aka Good Samaritan). **
Matthew doesn’t.
Instead he has Jesus hang these two loves
up for all to see,
saying, “it all hangs on these two.”
and then, typical for a Rabbi,
he turns the tables asking his inquisitors
one of those zinger mic-drop questions
that they dare not answer.

We can of course, us head-y types,
get all distracted by the intensity of the debate,
and almost forget
the peg with the two hearts.

Until something happens
and our world crumbles,
someone kicks the crutches away,
CoVid locks you down,
knocks you down,
you’re overwhelmed with all the transitions
and changes of moving, of aging,
of loving growing or grown up kids,
loving failing to grow kids,
you’re despairing as you watch society crack
with hatred, and inequity,
a friend, a neighbour a loved one dies and you can’t grieve aright….
and you’re failing, flailing, falling.

And as you do, you catch sight of those hearts on the peg…

“Love God with all you’ve got.”
“Love your neighbour”…
wait… “as you love yourself.”

Three hearts!? Oh God! **
I’m preaching to me here,
so just listen in, overhear,
I hope it may be of some help.

“As you love yourself….”
For too many of us, this heart never makes it to the peg.
What if you’ve been so busy loving your neighbour…
heading in for another 12 hour shift at the clinic or hospital,
for another day teaching other people’s kids in poorly ventilated classrooms,
homeschooling your own children,
laundering all those masks and sweatpants,
picking up after the mess of the ‘neighbours’ with whom we live as family,
loving the neighbour who won’t wear his bleeping mask,
who stands too close,
who FB shames your parenting, your loving,
loving your neighbour boss who thinks that now
you’re working from home, you’ll answer emails
on Sundays at 4 pm, or on Tuesdays at 5 am?
What if you’ve been so busy loving your neighbour the way
RevE tells you to,
filling the comfort food freezer,
gathering socks
supporting families falling on hard times,
mailing a cheque to Mission & Service, CPU?
praying for the powerful who are flailing…
that you are all out of loving,
that there’s no loving left for loving you?

He meant it, Jesus.
He hung these loves on the peg,
hung them on the cross,
so you could hang them by the door,
on the edge of your mirror,
on the loo roll dispenser,
the rearview mirror,
the office door,
the bedroom door,
wherever it is you need it
to remind you…
Love yourself.

Put on your oxygen mask first.
Breathe life into your deadened, worn out spaces.
Step outside. Move your body.
Hallow the space between loving everyone else.

If you need to,
allow yourself to be angry,
to set limits, to say no.
If loving you means
you need time to be in grief, then grieve.
Be present to your hurts, and your joys,
and give both the space they need,
do whatever you need to
to love the you you hide,
to love yourself like you love your neighbour.

Because God knows
you can’t keep loving your neighbour
until you can look in the mirror,
touch your forehead,
say your name,
I am God’s beloved.
I am enough.
Do it. No one’s watching….!

Oh, and one more thing;
while this loving yourself can take a lifetime for some
to get the hang of it, never doubt that it is
God’s desire for you.
For as another writer of our sacred texts
passed on to us,
“We love because God first loves us.”


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