Monday, October 27, 2014

Community

O God of love, who sent your Son to reconcile us to you, break our hearts so completely that the whole world falls in and is shown your love through us. Amen.

A young disbelieving man goes to his local rabbi and asks him to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. The rabbi chases him away, so the young man finds Rabbi Hillel and asks him to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Rabbi Hillel stands on one foot, says, "Love your neighbor as yourself. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it."

The story we heard this morning from Matthew is similar. Neither give complete answers. The young man still has to study the commentary. While the commentary, the rest of scripture is important, we are going to delve into what Jesus says this morning. Jesus answers the testing lawyer by falling back on two very orthodox and yet radical statements of the Torah. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." And "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Both need more study to understand how important they are. The first line comes directly from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, part of the Jewish Shema, the statement of belief. Every Jew that had ever studied the scriptures would have known them: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Similar in a way to our Nicene Creed, the Shema is recited in the synagogue tradition at every service. It is the basis of relationship between each person and God. 

The second line is the basis for all our relationships with other people. It can also be found in the Torah, in Leviticus 19:18. Since we know the Jewish story about Hillel is orthodox, as it comes from the Talmud, we know that Jesus isn't stepping too far out of the line. However, it is still rather radical because of how Jesus means it. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were very meticulous in their rendering of the laws of God. Certain things had to be followed, dotting every i and crossing every t at the correct angle. Yet by summarizing the Torah, Jesus answers the question about the most important commandment without stopping to dot any i's or cross any t's. We have heard the story of the Good Samaritan. It was a samaritan, an outsider, who followed the greatest commandments better than the pure religious leaders in stopping to care for the beaten man. We have heard Jesus teach us to love our enemies, everyone who hates us and causes us problems. Jesus teaches us to pray for them, and not that they would end up in jail. Jesus teaches that our neighbors include everyone around us, not just who we like or agree with. Loving our neighbors is a significant way to love God, remember the line, whatever you do to the least of my people, you do to me? When you feed the hungry or shelter the homeless, you do this to me, to God. Jesus has broadened the concept of who our neighbors are. Especially during this season, loving our neighbors can be difficult when some of them are spouting political statements we do not agree with. Or in all of this wonderful weather, having loud evening parties on their porches. Last year in the neighborhood I lived in, there were a group of people having a party outside one night and it was fairly noisy. I lived two houses down from the party, but what I found most disturbing was not the music, but that for a little while you could hear a man from another house bellowing at them using strong language and threats. The next day it was apparent that most of the neighborhood had taken sides and it took a few weeks before everyone was able to join the neighborhood cookout again.
 
Despite all of our struggles with our neighbors, both in the pew next to us and across oceans and countries, we have been called to enter into community with all of our neighbors. The Episcopal church's tag line has come under heavy fire by many, but we continue to stick to the idea that the Episcopal church welcomes all. No matter what political leanings, no matter what socioeconomic standing, no matter where you live or lived or who is in your family, or what you have done in your past. This is a community for all neighbors. And we are not just welcoming people in. We are called to create community. Loving our neighbors does not just mean we wait for them to come to us. We can go to them. Wherever we are, there are people around us that we are called to support and lift up in prayer.

There are many ways in which we love our neighbors. Prayer, offering hospitality of food, shelter, and care. An listening ear, being an advocate, sharing a story. We live among people who we can offer support to in various ways. It does not matter if they are Christian or not. It does not matter if they smell good or not. It does not matter if they have any money. One way is inviting them to dinner. Another is inviting them to church. 
We are going to fail. Our anger provokes us and them. Our frustration and our egos get in the way of seeing the true needs of our neighbors. Many times it isn't the money or the solution to the problem that we need. Its someone to show us love, someone to show us grace, someone to show us that we are listened to. We are someone else's neighbors. We don't usually think like that. But we are. Someone else is trying to figure out how to love us. And we all fail. Oh boy do we fail. We fail to see. We fail to love. We fail to show grace or forgiveness or we shame another. The religious leaders in the parable of the Good Samaritan failed big time. They ignored a beaten man lying on the side of the road! My neighborhood failed to be kind to each other around an issue of celebration. 
The best part though is not that because we are in community that we can try again. That is nice to know, but thats not the best part. The best part is that the community does not depend on us. We have been baptized into the household of God and we are forever part of it. We have been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Anastacia means resurrection. Our Annie is having her name fulfilled today in her entrance into the resurrection of Christ. Our place in the community is a gift from God and nothing can take our place away from us. We will perform the outward sign of this gift with Annie today by baptizing her into the community and promising to share with her the knowledge and love of God. When we fail, we are not destroying the community and we will not be kicked out. We are still part of the body of Christ. God has welcomed all into his community and we have been given the gift of participation just as much as the next person. We have been given the most abundant gift ever given: the overwhelming love of God in relationship. 
We celebrate Annie's entrance into the joy of this community and the gift of God's love for her. 
Amen.