Sunday, February 27, 2011

Epiphany 8A: Christian, love me more

Lectionary: Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

The great and present myth of the modern world has to be multi-tasking. We have convinced ourselves that we can do more than one thing at a time - and do both of those things well. Many of us eat our meals in front of the TV. Some of us knit while listening to an audio book, or exercize while listening to music.

When we eat in front of the TV we are either paying attention to what’s on the TV – OR we are mindful of the food we are eating – noticing it’s color and texture, temperature, and taste. We can’t attend to both things at once. How many of us have sat down in front of the TV to eat only to notice a few minutes later that our food was all gone and we hardly remember eating it? And you can ask my daughter how many times she’s had to recall me to the cell phone conversation we were having because my attention had drifted to something on my computer screen.

Humans can attend (truly attend) to only one thing at a time. And this is the lesson Jesus is trying to teach us in today’s gospel story. Using words familiar to the listeners of his time, Jesus continues his sermon on the mount saying, “No one can serve two masters; a slave will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. Jesus’ listeners understood that to love someone or something is to give attention to it, to be loyal to it – “devoted,” as Jesus says. They understood that to hate someone or something is to ignore it and to abandon it for something else. These words (love and hate) were also commonly understood to mean ‘to choose’ or “to not choose.”

Jesus is lovingly reminding us that this limitation of our humanity is a fact. He isn’t making a judgment – he's just reminding us of a truth about us. As much as we’d like to believe we can choose both (God and earthly wealth) we can’t. One of them is going to be abandoned for the other.

So, which one do we choose? And which one do we abandon? And maybe more importantly, how often do we make these choices - and which way do we choose most?

Jesus tries to assure us, using the beautiful imagery of birds and wildflowers, that the only thing we need is God – who knows what we need and desires to give it to us. Why? Because God loves us. (It’s as simple as that.) “Why do you worry about what you will eat or drink? Why do you worry about your body or what you will wear? …Strive first for the kingdom of God and… righteousness [that is, right relationship], and all these things will be given to you as well.”

This is a lesson we know well here at Redeemer. When I arrived, I preached a lot about looking beyond ourselves and our own needs, and seeking to serve God’s people instead. We are doing that now through the Shepherd’s Table and Food Pantry. And as we have seen with our own eyes, the more we give away, the more we have to give, and the more we have to give, the more we have showing up who need it. It’s a blessed cycle of abundance, and what drives it, what underlies it… is Love – God’s love.

God is always faithful. That is the character of God. No matter how unfaithful we are or how disrespectfully we act, God continues to be faithful to us, always seeking a relationship of love and tender closeness with us. Even in the face of our continuing sinfulness, God continues to forgive. God turns the other cheek for us and expects us to do the same for one another.

God’s promise is now what it has always been: God chooses us eternally, God is devoted to us eternally and God never abandons us. As we heard in the reading from Isaiah today: “Sing for joy… For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones… I will not forget you [God says], see I [keep] you as a [tattoo] on the palms of my hands.”

God is our true and life-giving Master. It is God, and God alone, whom we serve. It is God’s love, the mystery of God’s total and amazing love for us, that we carry into the world so that everyone will know where our hope is. And they need to know where our hope is for all of the many times the world disappoints. We teach our young ones about the mystery of God’s love so that they and their children will know that whenever the world disappoints, God remains faithful.

That’s why Jesus reminded us not to worry. Worry in itself is a distraction and separates us from the Love of God. When we worry, we are failing to trust that God’s love for us is real, that God’s love is enough in every circumstance we find ourselves. When we worry, we disrespect ourselves by forgetting how much God loves us. When we worry, we give ourselves (and our strange certainty that we think we know what needs to happen) priority over God and God’s perfect plan for us.

Yet no matter how often we stray, God will always call to us to return to Love where we find comfort for what hurts us, peace for what upsets and distracts us, and celebration for what gives us joy.

What God wants in return is very simply our love. I remember the first time the truth of this sank in – that God was actually seeking MY love. Think about it: the Almighty God wants our love. Our love matters to God. WE matter to God. Knowing this makes it so much easier to set worrying aside – forever.

In the wisdom of her ministry, our Music Director chose an opening hymn that I want to commend to you for further meditation. (Our hymnal is rich with prayers we can use in our personal meditations.) Turn with me please to Hymn # 550 - our opening hymn - and see how our Christian brother, Cecil Frances Alexander, said so beautifully:

When the “tumult of our life’s wild restless sea” disrupts our peace, Jesus says, “Christian, follow me.” (v.1) When the many tempting treats in the “vain world’s golden store” have captured our attention and tempted us to love things and to prioritize ourselves over God, Jesus says, “Christian love me more than these.” (v. 3)

“Jesus calls us! [...and keeps calling us...] By thy mercies, Savior, make us hear thy call, give our hearts to thine obedience [which means help us to hear and respond], serve and love thee best of all.” (v. 5)

“By thy mercies, Savior, may we hear thy call…”

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