Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nutshell - A Sermon

I am sorry I’m not here today, but Deacon David has agreed to read my sermon so you won’t feel too deprived. To make up for my absence, I have doubled the length of the sermon. Just kidding.

But the context of this sermon IS important. Because what the lessons today talk about is nothing less than the gospel in a nutshell.

One of the things I make the Confirmation Class memorize each year is the summary of the law, which is taken from today’s Gospel lesson. Why would I do that? Because it is the key to life.

In this passage, a man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus throws the question back at the man who replies: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all your strength and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s it. The entire Good News: Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Do that, and you’ll live.

But what does it mean? What the heck is Jesus talking about when he says “LOVE?” I tend to be a little more sympathetic to the young man who asks this question of Jesus because I’m constantly confused as to what it means to love -- and as to who my neighbor is. I bet I’m not alone.

Of course, Jesus answers this question with the parable of the Good Samaritan -- which tells us that everyone is our neighbor, and that therefore we are to come to the aid of all who are in need.

HOW do we love: the illegal immigrant, the church that wants to throw us out, the employer who acts unfairly to us, the exec of BP? Or can we limit it to those who need our help?

I don’t know. I have a hard enough time reaching out to those strangers who present themselves to St. James’ looking for financial help. Even when I know their need is sincere and great. Sometimes it’s hard to reach out beyond ourselves -- to really love those who are not close to us.

I do know that this attitude is not new. The prophet Amos proclaimed in a most unpleasant manner God’s condemnation of Israel for not loving their neighbors -- and he did this even while the people of Israel thought they were in God’s good graces.

You see, things were going well in Israel at the time. King Jeroboam is enjoying a period of relative peace, and his priest Amaziah has given him the spiritual thumbs up. Because in that culture, wealth and health were a sign of God’s blessing.

Then comes along Amos from the south, and he says, “This is not what God wants!” He says, “It’s okay to enjoy health and well-being, but never at the cost of ignoring the poor.”

Now, you don’t really get this from this week’s reading -- just that Amos is not doing his prophecy for the money, but rather to obey God. But wait till next week’s reading!

And yet, Amos’s form of love is that he -- initially at least -- is obeying God even when there’s nothing in it for him. He knows he’s going to get grief. He goes because he knows God wants to give the Israelites a wake-up call -- a chance to turn around from their selfish and destructive ways. He calls them to learn mercy and kindness.

Bringing this hard news to people is also loving God and your neighbor. Which is the gospel in a nutshell.

Just one more note. These lessons seem to indicate that love is seen in actions. But remember that the actions are empty if they do not come from within - from a desire to serve rather than to gain. That’s not easy. But since when was love -- that is to say the Gospel -- ever easy? Amen.