Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pentecost 20, 2014: Incarnate Love

Lectionary: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Our gospel lesson today offers us a very simple lesson: We are to love. Jesus tells us that we are commanded to love with our whole selves… but the command to love God and neighbor as you love yourself carries a presumption of privilege.
Jesus is talking to the Pharisees – a wealthy, educated, powerful group of men who operate from within a patriarchal society. Love God and love others as you love yourself, Jesus says to them. This would include: decisions that put the success of God’s plan ahead of your own, a difficult task for the rules makers; and actions that favor the other, not yourself, giving them the better portion, the better deal, the place of honor at the table.

Imagine how hard this command must have sounded to a person who is used to dismissing someone who is a slave, a female, a child, a non-Jew - and getting cultural affirmation for it.

Current events tell us it’s still that hard to hear.

Love radically. Move beyond tradition and let your love be far-reaching and thorough. That’s the command.

Jesus is using the word ‘love’ here as a verb. It’s active. It’s relational. And it’s real. This kind of love can be seen, felt, and shared.

Love, Jesus said. Sadly, I don’t think the Pharisees heard him. The religious leadership were bent on stopping Jesus and his movement in order to preserve their small understanding of God, themselves and God’s plan of salvation. Jesus’ radical message of love was threatening to disrupt their religious system; and as an occupied people, about all they had holding them together was their religious system.

The guardians of that system were nervous. They kept trying to trip Jesus up – to catch him breaking Jewish law or show him misunderstanding the scripture. But every time they tried this, they ended up being the ones tripped up. As we saw in the gospel last week and this, they get tripped up by their small, divisive, earthbound perspective.

Granted, the world had taught them to be divisive in their thinking. Their survival as a people with a particular identity depended on them segregating themselves and protecting their language, traditions, and worship in the face of constant attack. But over time, the walls they had built to protect and fortify themselves, had become the boundaries of a prison that held them bound, made them blind, and led them away from God, and God’s plan of salvation for the whole world.

They had come to believe that being religious was the same thing as having a relationship with God. It isn’t. And they seem to have forgotten that salvation would come to the world through them. At some point, they were going to have to bring down those walls and let the world in.

Jesus was letting them know that that time had come. The promise of salvation for the whole world was being fulfilled - now.

To give them opportunity to open their minds and hearts to this, and to invite them back into right relationship with God and neighbor, Jesus asks them about the Messiah: “Whose son is he?” They reply correctly: “The Son of David”

This isn’t a hard question. Scripture is pretty clear on this. It also isn’t a trick question, like their questions were for Jesus.

Then Jesus quotes Psalm 110 to them. Having confirmed that the Messiah is the son of David, Jesus then asks these learned religious leaders: how then he can call him Lord AND be his son? The answer is: it’s impossible… No one can be God and the son of a human at the same time… Right…?

Yet standing right there before them is Jesus, who is the Christ (which means Messiah). But they were blind, imprisoned in their expectations so they didn’t have eyes to see or ears to hear.

Jesus is the living answer to this question, the manifest reality of the mystery of the Incarnation, fully human and fully divine proving once and for all time that it’s not only possible, but accomplished.

I feel kind of bad for the Pharisees who had this sprung on them. In a way, it was the ultimate trick question. It took the church over 600 years to find its way through this and the bottom line is – it’s still a mystery. No wonder they dared not ask Jesus any more questions.

We can’t comprehend it because it isn’t comprehensible - at least not while we’re incarnated ourselves. The best thing we can do is live in the mystery and let it live in us. To do otherwise would lead us to fall into the same trap as the religious leadership of Jesus’ time.

There are many things we can know and more is yet to be revealed to us. That’s the promise: continual revelation to us of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But the wholeness of it, the full revelation of it, has already been given to us in Jesus Christ who is God Incarnate.

We are the love of God incarnate in the world today. We know that loving like Jesus commands us to do requires more from than we have in ourselves. It isn’t in us to love our enemies, to trust God in the throes of a dark night of the soul or some earthly crisis, or to surrender to God’s plan when ours seems so right.

While it’s true that it may not be in us, it is in God who, our faith assures us, lives in us; and not just in us, but in all people - in all times. And so, by the power of the presence of God in us, we can forgive all people, all things, past or present.

As our psalmist says, “Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another...” God is our refuge. Whenever our earthly journey leads us to feel lost or attacked or unloved or unworthy, God is our refuge. When our earthly journey traps us or imprisons us, blinds or deafens us, cutting us off from God and one another, God is our refuge.

By the mystery of the incarnation, we are reconciled to God; and made one body, one spirit in Christ, with God and with one another, and all we can do in response is surrender to the love and rejoice.

I love how medieval mystic Meister Eckhart describes this in his poem called, “But He Wanted Me”

I could not bear to touch God with my own hand
when He came within
my reach,

but He wanted me
to hold

How God solved my blessed agony,
who can understand?

He turned my
body into

(Source: “Love Poems from God” translated by Daniel Ladinsky, Penguin Compass Press, 2002, 106.)

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