Monday, July 16, 2007

July 15 Sermon: Go and Do, Sit and Listen

Deut 30: 9-14
Luke 10: 25-42

Go and Do, Sit and Listen.
During my senior year of college, I studied the English reformation while abroad for a term at Oxford University. It was quite inspiring to walk in the shadows of those ornate gothic spires on the way to my tutorials. I remember the huge book on Thomas Cranmer that I was assigned, which I fortunately found in the Oxford Student Union Library.
I was surrounded by beauty and history. Much of the English Reformation, not to mention the later Wesleyan revivals, happened in the town I was studying in. I remember riding my bike across the little cross in the middle of the street where Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake when his reformations fell out of favor with the monarchy.
Oxford was a student’s city, there were pubs on every corner, and always something happening at one of the colleges. There were also a lot of homeless people. They would particularly come out and beg for money on the weekend nights, when the city center would be crawling with students making their way from one pub to another. I distinctly remember on several occasions when I would notice the young people begging for money, I would cross to the other side of the street so that I wouldn’t have to make excuses why I wasn’t going to help them.
That’s the image that came to my mind this week when I reflected on this scripture. It was convicting. I didn’t want to be bothered with the needy, so I simply walked to the other side of the street so I wouldn’t have to deal with them. I can see the Priest and the Levite averting their eyes so they could pretend (to themselves) that they didn’t see the assaulted man lying in the road there, can’t you?
Jesus paints a picture for us. Describes priest and Levite walking clear on the other side of the road when encountering the person in need. That distance is an adequate description of how far we are from eternal life when we fail to live the commandment of Love—when we fail to love our neighbor. We are on the clear other side of the road from eternal life. Eternal life is right under our noses, and we pretend like we don’t see it and hurry along our way.
What prompts this story is a question. It is a question that we no doubt would pose to Jesus if we had the opportunity. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And it is a question that Jesus, in true Rabbinical methodology, answers with a question. “You know the law, how do you read it?”
“How do you read it?” is kind of a strange question, isn’t it? Jesus knows he is dealing with an expert in the law—he wants to know, how do you read it? Do you read it conservatively, not adding to or taking away from the original document, like we expect from our judicial appointees? Do you read it with an eye for detail, perhaps looking for loopholes or caveats? Do you read it looking for an overarching theme, like Jesus seemed to promote?
Yes, we find the lawyer knows the answer that Jesus wants to hear. Perhaps he was even there when the Pharisees had tested Jesus by asking him to define the greatest law, and Jesus crystallizes all 613 laws into 2 in Deut 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength. And Love your neighbor as yourself.” .
The importance of the qualifiers heart, soul, mind, and strength, is to plant the flag of God’s sovereignty over the whole of one’s life. God’s claim on us reaches to every area of our experience, to our innermost being (heart); our lives—what gives us our individual identity (soul); our energy, strength, resolve, and resources (might); and our understanding and intellectual capacities (mind). No part of ourselves is to be withheld from God.
Three loves characterize the life of one who is already experiencing a measure of that life that will characterize the age to come: love of God, neighbor, and self. Only in this sequence of priority, however, does each require the others. Perhaps in asking, “How do you read it?” Jesus is asking the lawyer and us, “Do you read it with your intellect or do you read it with your heart? Do you read it with the intention of doing it?”
Jesus responds: “Do this, and you will live.” Eternal life is found not just in knowing the commandments but in doing them. The answer to the lawyer’s question is implicit in the question itself: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Those who live rightly ordered lives now—living out of their love for God, others, and self—show that they have been touched by the kingdom of God. They will have the capacity to receive the promised inheritance: life in fellowship with God and others in the age to come.
As an illustration as to just how broadly this “neighbor” idea is to be extended, Jesus tells the story of a stranger caring for another stranger while on a treacherous road. Jesus defies our expectations not once, but three times in his description. It is not a priest, or a Levite, but a hated Samaritan who responds to the needs of the fallen man with care and compassion.
Immediately after this text, we find the story of Mary and Martha, and Jesus seems to reverse the qualifications for living rightly. Here, Martha is the one who is “going and doing,” and it is Mary whom the Master uplifts.
Neither the story of the good Samaritan nor the story of Mary and Martha is complete without the other. Each makes its own point—the Samaritan loves his neighbor, and Mary loves her Lord—but the model for the disciple is found in the juxtaposition of the two. To the lawyer, Jesus says, “Go and do,” but he praises Mary for sitting and listening. The life of a disciple requires both.
It’s a difficult balancing act. Oftentimes our personalities lend us to one extreme or the other. Martha is given as an example of one who compulsively “does” and forgets to nurture the other side of the spiritual life. Here, Jesus, whom she calls “Lord,” is in her very own living room—and she is in the kitchen banging around pots and pans trying to get her sister’s attention!
How often we fall victim to our own predispositions. We go to them, and then we feel justified in staying there because “that’s what I most naturally do,” or “that is where I feel most comfortable.” I think it is pertinent for us to understand there is a difference between “gifts” and predispositions. Paul outlines various gifts of ministry, different “fruits of the Spirit,” but we should remind ourselves that we are all called to both “Love our God with all our heart, soul, might, and mind,” and “Love our neighbor as ourselves.” We should all balance “go and do” with “sit and listen.”
Where do you think your pre-disposition lies? What ways do you see yourself nurturing the less natural side of discipleship?
Upper Room Ministries, which is supported by the UMC General Board of Discipleship, has developed a wonderful program called “Covenant Discipleship Groups.” The CDG’s are based on the general rule to “witness to Jesus Christ in the world, and to follow his teachings through Acts of Compassion, Acts of Justice, Acts of Devotion, Acts of Worship under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. CDG’s are groups of up to 7 people who meet together each week and give each other accountability on these four actions. If you hold the four rules up to our two stories today, you see that Devotion and Worship are the two displayed most compellingly by Mary in the second half of the reading, and Justice and Compassion are displayed very beautifully by the Samaritan.
The power of these two stories consists not just in that they exemplify the great commands of 10:27 but in Jesus’ choice of characters to illustrate the love of neighbor and the love of God: a Samaritan and a woman. The social codes and boundaries were clear and inflexible; a Samaritan would not be considered a model of neighborliness, and a woman would not sit with men around the feet of a teacher.
Jesus takes his listeners to task for our inherent predjudices by making the heroes of the story those we would least likely expect. He undercuts our interest in getting ourselves off the hook by characterizing this kind of behavior as “saintly” or “next to impossible” by putting the behavior in those whom his listeners would certainly feel superior to.
Here’s where the Deut. text comes in— God says, “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”
How far are you from eternal life? God writes the law on your heart. It is closer than the air you breathe. He asks us to respond to the stirring of compassion: To nurture it and act upon it. God asks us to take time to nurture our spirits. He asks us to sit with him and be still and listen. We have a balancing act to accomplish. This is possible for us to live, but we must be diligent, purposeful, and willing.

I have heard God calling me to introduce this covenant discipleship group to this church because it meets the need for us to live balanced lives of discipleship. I have studied how it works, and have concluded that we should begin with a pilot group who will commit to it for a year and keep in close contact with the church council to appraise them of its progress. I have even thought of several of you who I would like to be in the group. This is a way of life for a church. You can see more about it on the website on your bulletin or if you are interested I have printed out 14 brochures for you to take.
The group will write its own covenant, the individuals will commit to specific actions of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion, then each week the group will meet for an hour to “watch over each other in love.” The covenant is the only agenda of the meetings. The participants share with one another how they fulfilled or neglected the covenant that week. Together, the group holds each member accountable and helps each disciple to grow closer and more balanced in public and private works of mercy and works of piety.
This is a re-claiming of our roots. This is the original Methodist class meetings that gave birth to our great church. Through this attentiveness, I believe our church can be re-born and renewed. As we respond to the word being shared through our affirmation of faith and song of invitation, I implore you to look within your hearts and judge if this is where God is calling you.
Come forward to the chancel during the hymn of invitation or tell me on the way out of the sanctuary if you would like to participate or if you would like to just take a brochure and pray with it this week. “Go and Do Likewise, Sit and Listen to your Lord.” It is our invitation to eternal life—and it doesn’t begin when we die: it begins as soon as we commit to taking it on.

No comments:

Post a Comment