Julia Macy Stroud
October 29, 2017
Year A Proper 25
All Saints’ Church
This rainy, Fall Sunday is the start of a great season at All Saints’, our annual stewardship season, or the month each year where we talk about how we will take care of this place, how we will be good stewards of it financially, how we will offer our time, talent, and money to keep All Saints’ alive.
The perfect beginning to such a discussion is why exist in the first place? What is special about All Saints? What is necessary about All Saints? What do we offer the community and ourselves that merits such careful stewardship? Is 150 years enough? Should we maybe just throw in the towel?
So I will ask you today to keep that question in mind ... a basic existential why are you here, why are we all here, as you move through worship this morning.
Now I'm going to paint you a picture of what I think is a familiar, perhaps universal, New York City scene:
You’re on the subway, and you’re lucky enough to get a seat. You like to be on the edge, so you can lean against the poles on the side of the seat, maybe get in a little shut-eye depending on what time it is and where you’re going. And then the train starts to get crowded, taking on more and more people at every stop. Until someone is forced to lean from the other side, against those same poles, the back mid-section of their body now protruding slightly through and against your face.
UGGHGHGHGH. ICK. Get out of my space. You look up at the back of this interloper and think, “Do you not realize there is someone here?” Every little thing they then do becomes fodder for your increasing annoyance and anger towards them. Ugh, you can hear the music through their headphones and it is awful. Their backpack, thrown on the ground, is perilously close to leaning against your leg. “You are the worst,” you think.
So here’s another familiar subway scene:
You’re waiting and waiting and waiting on the platform. You were about 3 minutes late when you left your apartment, but then you remembered you forgot your umbrella, so then you were 7 minutes late, and then you just missed a train. So now, all of a sudden you’re 17 minutes late, maybe for work, maybe you know your boss will not be happy about that ....
And then ten minutes goes by and the train is not there and the platform is getting crowwwwwded. And the train finally comes 3 minutes later and now you’re 20 minutes late and the car is crowwwwwded. So you just kind of sneak in the best you can, sidewise, so you’re leaning against the side rail next to a seat. You take your backpack off because you’re a good subway rider and put it on the ground wherever you can find a spot and put in your headphones to try to get a little peace of mind but every single person around you is driving you crazy. If people would just move IN there would be enough space. And if this person who is so lucky to have a seat behind you would just stop leaning against your backside. Ugh, “you are the WORST,” you think.
You’ve probably figured it out by now, you are both people. Have we not all been both people?
“’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.”
Jesus has thrown up a flare here today: this is the thing to pay attention to, this is the one--Rarely has a preacher’s job been easier!
Of all the other things in all of scripture, this is the most important and the second most important thing to know, this is the Great Commandment, all you really need to know: Love God. Love your neighbor.
Love God. Love your neighbor.
Love God. Love your neighbor.
Amen. Sermon over. What else is there to say?
Well, it’s not easy is it? And my little opening example is just the tiniest, most simple, banal example of a situation that plays out over and over every day in slightly bigger or much bigger or nastier or even systemic ways -- we do not love our neighbors, we do not love ourselves.
We do not love our neighbors when we don’t welcome them in,
when we don’t provide healthcare, especially for children,
when we put them in prison, at especially high rates if you’re a neighbor of color,
we do not love our neighbors when we let them sleep in the street.
We do not love our neighbors when we use guns to kill huge numbers of neighbors at one time, to wound hundreds of neighbors and not offer them any care.
And if we do not love our neighbors, how are we loving God? We aren’t, we can’t.
So if it’s so simple, then what does LOVE look like? What does it really mean to LOVE GOD with all your heart and soul and mind, and to LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.
What does love like that look like?
I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and a friend put up a post about her son’s fifth birthday. She said, “You are 5 today, just like that! My heart, my soul, my 1st born love! This little guy made me see life in such a different way, one in which I understood feelings l never knew existed before.”
“My heart, my soul, my 1st born love!” Maybe you have a child and know exactly what she is talking about. Or maybe like me you marvel at this kind of love. Wonder if it could really be true that a little baby could make you see life so differently.
Even though I don’t have children, I have had the privilege in my life of doing a lot of babysitting. I am currently spending time with a 16 month old named Teddy two days a week. As far as I can tell, 16 month olds think they are fully functioning humans, but in reality they can barely walk. They want to run free, but they tumble over every 20th step. They want to talk, but their words are mostly babble. And to go outside with a 16 month old means a lot of chasing and a lot of calm shushing, a lot of picking up and brushing off, kissing cheeks, and a lot of laughing.
So whether or not you have your own children or not, there is a universal truth about each and every one of us, about you and you and you, and even you! You were 16 months old once. You tried so hard to talk, you laughed at the sound of your own voice, and you relied on someone to take care of you. Someone, somewhere had to chase after you or you would not be here.
Follow that love. The scholar Cornel West often reminds us in his teaching “You are who you are because someone loved you, someone attended to you.” In the world around us, loving God means keeping track of that love. That universal love that keeps the world moving. Reaching deep into that well within you and giving thanks. To know that to God, you are still 16 months old, and God is always chasing after you, brushing you off, taking joy in your laughter.
That is the greatest and first commandment, to love God with all your heart and soul and mind. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Cornel West says another thing about love, I like to think of it as aligned with the second part of this commandment. Dr. West says “never forget, justice is what love looks like in public.”
If it’s all so simple, the question we’ve been wrestling with is: What does love LOOK like? And the answer is, of course, love looks like justice, it looks like taking care, like serving others, like leaving the world better than you found it.
Recently at a lecture about the economy, Dr. West expanded on his famous quote, what does it mean that justice is what love looks like in public? He says: justice means “We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that's the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.”
This is the core of our faith as a Christian people. In our bones, at our center, is the story of Moses, leading the people to the promised land. He stood on the mountaintop and saw it, but never made it there, as we read just this morning from the Old Testament. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on this very text the day before he was murdered. “I have been to the mountaintop, I have seen the promised land.”
To live, to be Christian, is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.
Is this all sounding very easy or very hard? Very inspiring or very overwhelming?
The trick, though, is that you’ve got to love yourself. Right? That’s the thing about the subway story, you’re both people. You’re always both people. So if you find yourself being really hard on the other person, it’s probably coming from a place deep inside. Love yourself, then love your neighbor the same way.
And the gift of Christianity is that you don’t need to do any of this alone. That’s why you are here this morning, together, in community, gathering around a table to be fed. To do that first commandment loudly and in chorus, to love God and worship God in the beauty of this place, in the beauty of these prayers and songs. To let God chase you up to the altar, brush you off when you tumble.
What are we at All Saints’ stepping into together? What promised land can we glimpse, what promised land can we hope to bring those we love into?
Love God, with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, like a mother who is changed by her child, just as God loves you. And love yourself. And love your neighbor the same way. It’s why we are here. Amen.