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    Oct 29, 2017

    Proper 25A October 28/29, 2017

    Preacher: The Rev. Ted Foley Deacon

    Series: Deacons

    Category: Weekly Sermon


    Our Gospel readings for the past few weeks are taken from near the end of Jesus’ life. In his Gospel, Matthew shows Jesus in a verbal sparring match with the leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem. It apparently lasted several days. They keep presenting him with trick questions, trying to catch him in a mistake that would turn the crowd against him or – worse yet – get him arrested by the Roman authorities.

    Last week was one example of this type of trick question – should we pay taxes or not? As we know, Jesus was up to the challenge and managed to answer all of their questions without getting into trouble.

    Today’s question was the last in the series, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?”

    Jesus’ answer was again flawless – to love God and love your neighbor. Jesus knew that this 2-fold commandment – to love God and love your neighbor – went all the way back to the time of Moses. Jesus knew it and the Pharisees knew it. He passed the test.

    However, the problem was that, sometimes the Pharisees seemed to forget about the 2nd part – to love your neighbor as yourself. Or, at least this may have been a second priority for them. But Jesus, time and again, reminded them that this second is “like unto it”. The second part is just as important as the first. You can’t do one without the other.

    All 4 of the Gospels give us examples of Jesus healing on the sabbath. The Pharisees gave him a hard time for doing this. But Jesus always shot right back with the message that “the second is like unto it”. You cannot love God without loving your neighbor.

    The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus / God loves us no matter what. God’s love for us is never ending. God’s love for us is unconditional. God loves us, always has and always will – no matter what!

    The hard news of the gospel is that God also expects us to love one another – without conditions. No matter how awful, no matter how smelly, no matter what kind of sins someone has committed – we are called to love that person – not a passive emotional kind of love. But a love that is active, filled with compassion.

    Last Sunday we were talking about this in the 9 AM book discussion group. We, along with a lot of other people in the parish, are reading the book, “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans. In it, the author talks about her experience in trying to find a church that follows the “way of Jesus”.

    One of the issues that she struggled with was finding a church that was not judgmental. In many churches she found that she would be welcomed but there were conditions. She said that, many churches would “invite people in but only if they:

    beat their addiction, or
    If you weren’t gay, or
    If you would sign the doctrinal statement, or
    If you would Tithe, or
    If you were married, or
    If you didn’t have doubt

    Only if you met all their conditions would you be loved and welcomed in to their church.

    The problem with this approach is that this is exactly the opposite of how Jesus lived his life. Jesus always put love first and love was never conditional. In the Gospels, people first realized that they were loved, then they would follow him.

    Remember the story of when the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery? The Pharisees wanted to stone her but they tested Jesus asking him what they should do.

    Now, Jesus didn’t turn to her and whisper, “you know, if you change your life I’ll help you out.” No, the first thing he did was to love her and prevent her from being stoned. After that, he freed her and asked her to follow him. First the love and then discipleship.

    One of the nice things about this book is that the author is now worshipping as an Episcopalian, so it gives us an appreciation for our own tradition. Apparently, she was welcomed into an Episcopal church without being judged. And, I think we generally do a good job at that in this church. We may not be perfect, but we certainly don’t put conditions on people before we welcome them.

    For the most part, I’d say that we do the Jesus thing and love people first.

    Today, along with our Latino congregants, we are celebrating the “Day of the Dead”. It’s a day when we remember and honor those who have gone before us. Among the people that I am honoring today is my father who died 25 years ago next month. I’ll have a picture of him and my mother at the altar tomorrow.

    I want to talk about my father because I believe that he had a big influence on my life. And, while he was not a perfect man, he really taught me by example of how to “love you neighbor as yourself.”

    My father was always helping out friends and neighbors - including Mr. Kelly, one of our neighbors across the street. Mr. Kelly was probably 30 years older than my dad and not particularly handy around the house. Sometimes, when something needed fixing, Mr. Kelly would give my dad a call to see if there was anything he could do to help out.

    I don’t think my dad ever turned him down. He always crossed the street to see what he could do. And he would do it happily. You see, Mr. Kelly was a kind and friendly man. And, even though he grew up in the Jim Crow South and was African-American, that didn’t seem to leave a scar on him. Mr. Kelly had a gentle spirit that was easy to love.

    We also had another neighbor – Mrs. Gaines. Mrs. Gaines was about the same age as Mr. Kelly and she too was African-American but ‘life’ apparently left its scars. Mrs. Gaines was always grouching about something. She would sometimes go outside and yell at us, saying that we made too much noise. Sometimes we’d be playing ball in the street and the ball would go into her yard. If she found it there she would keep it. More than once, Mrs. Gaines called my parents to complain about us. Unlike Mr. Kelly, Mrs. Gaines was hard to love.

    One year we had a big snow storm. So, my dad borrowed a snow-plow to clean out our driveway. He also cleaned the driveway of several of our neighbors – including Mrs. Gaines’ driveway. When I asked him why he cleaned out her driveway he said something like, “because she needed the help”.

    I don’t know if Mrs. Gaines ever called to thank him. I don’t think that was the point anyway. To my dad, he was just doing what his heart was telling him – to “love your neighbor as yourself” – even those neighbors that you don’t like. As Jesus showed us, love comes first, without conditions.

    Today, Jesus tells the Pharisees and tells us, that there are two parts to this commandment of love – both are equal. So, I’d like to leave you today with one last thought. It comes from a different author, Brian McClaren. McClaren envisions a world where we live into both parts of this commandment. He writes, “What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith …. as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion … and is dedicated to a beloved community for all? Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?”

    Something for all of us to think about.