Love in Action

Proper 25A  20 Pentecost – October 26, 2014

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; I Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor

Well, here we are. It seems like a very long time since I first began talking with Mary McPherson about the possibility of coming to be with you during this transition. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing. I’d just retired in January, and I’m doing a lot of work, and I’m very happy with my life just the way it is. So I prayed, and the answer was clear, and it’s good to be with you today.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of you, and I’ve known and worked with some of you, but many of us are looking each other in the face for the very first time. And you’re wondering about me and what I’m going to do and what I’m not going to do, and I’m wondering about who you are and what you’re going to do and what you expect of me. We’re smack-dab in the middle of change. We’re in a place of beginning and of ending, a place of wondering what this change means for us, of wondering who and what we’ll be at the end of our time together. That’s what happens when change occurs. We wonder what it’s going to mean for us and our lives.

One of the first things I did after I yes to Mary was to look at the lections for today. And I was delighted with what I found. Over these weeks, as I’ve held you in prayer, I’ve been reflecting on this gospel and it’s seemed to me that this week’s gospel portion is particularly appropriate for this moment.

The Gospel according to Matthew was written to the messianic Jews in Antioch some two to five years after the destruction of the temple. They had a clear vision of what it would mean when the messiah came. The messiah would bump the Roman leaders off the throne and take their place, dressed in purple and filled with worldly power. That’s not what happened. Instead, the temple, the center of their faith, was destroyed, and they are struggling to live in a situation they never anticipated. The Gospel according to Matthew answers the question: How do we live with change? Today’s gospel portion seems to me to speak directly to that question. Two things happen. First the Pharisees ask Jesus which is the greatest commandment. He responds by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”. This is not new information for these folks. These are the words of the Shema Yisrael, the center of the prayer that observant Jews say at least once a day. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He also reminds the Pharisees of the Levitical commandment that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

But that’s not the end of it. Jesus doesn’t stop there. He asks the Pharisees a question that seems to be about a twist in the genealogy, and they can’t figure it out. What he’s telling them is that their understanding of Messiah as the tribal king whose power will bring God’s people into worldly power is too small. He’s telling them that Christ is not a person stuck at one point in time. He’s telling them that the Christ is eternal—the one who was and is and will be present with us throughout eternity.  He’s telling them they have to let go of what was in order to be present to what is.

Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the commandment to love. This is not a suggestion—it’s a commandment. And it’s not about that warm fuzzy feeling of love that we experience. You can’t command a feeling; you can only command an action. Responding to a commandment requires a purposeful decision. Jesus is commanding us to act in love.

I’ve learned a lot about love in the last six weeks. Many of you probably know that I’ve just returned from Europe—several weeks in Dublin and then in Stuttgart, Germany. My daughter, who lives in Stuttgart, traveled to Dublin for foot surgery because she loves the surgeon who fixed her other foot when she lived there. I love him too and was tempted to have my feet done just because he’s so good. Anyway, the surgery and recovery went well, but just about everything else that could go wrong did. To begin with, when two very independent women who are used to living alone are stuck in a 140 sq. ft. hotel room, it’s not pretty. Add in that one of them is on crutches with a great big plastic cast on one foot, and it doesn’t get any better. Add in the mother-daughter things that crop up—many of you know what that’s like. Things were easier after we flew back to Stuttgart and could be in my daughter’s house, but opportunities for things to go wrong didn’t stop. She had to fly back to Dublin for a post-op check-up. I drove her great big SUV back from the airport—on those narrow streets with all those little ant-sized cars swarming around—and it was okay. But when I got in the car to fetch her at the airport two days later, I turned the key and got nothing but click-click-click. It was that kind of visit. We had good time together as well, but it was a difficult situation, and it was hard. Sometimes we could talk about how hard it was; sometimes we couldn’t. But throughout those weeks, we worked hard at loving each other, and I’m so grateful that I could be with her during that time.

Love is an action, not a feeling. I spent a lot of time on Friday with your website and newsletter, and I saw a lot of love in action. You are doing good work in this community and in the larger community. Yesterday, Kimberly, Andy and Karen were love in action as we met and they walked through the service with me, so that I would be more comfortable with you today. While we were doing that, people were swarming all over this place, doing all kinds of things that buildings need. There’s a lot of love in action here, and I’m grateful to be with you.

At this point, as we begin our time together, we have no idea what will happen in the days and weeks ahead, so I want to make you some promises. First, I promise to be present to you. I promise there will be conflict, because people cannot live in honest relationship without conflict. I promise to do my best to be honest and respectful in our interactions. I promise that I’ll make mistakes, despite my best efforts, and I hope you’ll forgive me when that happens.

Most of all, I promise to love you. I don’t know most of you, but God who knows each of you better than I ever will, loves every single one of you. God loves every single one of you.

And that’s good enough for me.

Thanks be to God.