Sunday, October 26, 2008

RCL - Proper 25 A - 26 Oct 2008

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Mrs. Suzette Cayless, AHC
RCL – Proper 25 A – Sunday 21 September 2008

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
1Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

“Which is the great commandment in the law?” An interesting question asked of Jesus by a lawyer. In reply, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The words are part of the Shema, recited by observant Jewish men and boys in Jesus’ day, from their twelfth birthday onwards. It was the minimum of religious practice. Joachim Jeremias in his book “The Prayers of Jesus” notes that “women, children and slaves were free from this obligation (as well as from all others that had to be performed at specific times, because their time was not at their own disposal)”.

Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter. Only the dedication of the whole of life to God, in love for God, can be regarded as the highest observance. It is not a question of obligation, of duty, but an attitude that arises from love, of being drawn by God’s Love, and responding - and Jesus does not stop there. He adds a significant verse from Leviticus 19 verse 18, and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Romans 13, verse 9 & 10, St. Paul has an interesting commentary on this verse. He says: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Love God - and love your neighbor. This is indeed the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It sounds simple - but so much gets in the way of actually doing this. Loving means putting the other, whether God or our neighbor, at the center of attention; it means wanting for others what we desire for our own lives; acting unselfishly rather than satisfying ourselves. Even the injunction to “love our neighbor as ourself” is not easy. So many of us do not love ourselves! We abuse our bodies with too much food, alcohol, cigarettes, and so on.

We make excuses as to why we cannot pray, worship, help out with unpleasant tasks. We forget that loving involves taking care of, disciplining, teaching - including ourselves. We like to be in control of things, and do not always put that within the context of loving God and neighbor. We forget that we do not control the world - even though we sometimes think we do! All of us have been reminded of the folly of that approach by the current financial situation that has affected not only the USA but the whole world. Many people certainly feel that they have lost their way and do not know how to get on track again.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are treasure troves of stories that are like parables and that have rich meaning in terms of our spiritual search. I want to read a passage from Alice’s experiences in the Garden of Live Flowers that deals with finding our way. Alice has been investigating the various flowers in the garden when they all hear the approach of the Red Queen.

“I think I’ll go and meet her,” said Alice, for though the flowers were interesting enough, she felt that it would be far grander to have a talk with a real Queen.
“You can’t possibly do that,” said the Rose: “I should advise you to walk the other way.”
This sounded nonsense to Alice, so she said nothing, but set off at once towards the Red Queen. To her surprise she lost sight of her in a moment, and found herself walking in at the front-door again.
A little provoked, she drew back, and, after looking everywhere for the Queen (whom she spied out at last, a long way off), she thought she would try the plan, this time, of walking in the opposite direction.
It succeeded beautifully. She had not been walking a minute before she found herself face to face with the Red Queen, and full in sight of the hill she had been so long aiming at.
“Where do you come from?” said the Red Queen. “And where are you going? Look up, speak nicely, and don’t twiddle your fingers all the time.”
Alice attended to all these directions, and explained, as well as she could, that she had lost her way.
“I don’t know what you mean by your way,” said the Queen: “all the ways about here belong to me - but why did you come out here at all?” She added in a kinder tone, “Curtsey while you’re thinking what to say. It saves time.” Alice wondered a little at this, but she was too much in awe of the Queen to disbelieve it. “I’ll try it when I go home,” she thought to herself, “the next time I’m a little late for dinner.”

Note the questions asked of Alice by the Red Queen: “Where do you come from?” “And where are you going?” These are appropriate questions for each of us to address and especially at such a time as the present. Alice, in her adventures found herself in a confusing place that she could not understand. Things kept changing. She encountered the strangest people and had weird conversations with them. It all seemed nonsense. Where do you come from? And where are you going?

I think we are all sometimes hard-pressed to give answers to such questions. We have doubts in the midst of all the uncertainties of the economic climate in which we live. It is easy to lose our focus and forget what we are about. Where do you come from? Our only answer must be, from Jesus Christ. The Gospel Covenant stretches back into history and encompasses all the faith history of our ancestors. Every bit of it - the quarrels and arguments, the battles and estrangements, the political disasters, as well as the times of blessing. Where are you going? To Christ - raised from the dead. Christ the foundation of the new covenant, the basis of our faith, the giver of grace who leads us into truth. We go to Christ by loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind - and loving our neighbor as ourself, focusing our attention on going to God. We can only be led by the grace of God and be open to it however costly that may be, trusting that the Lord indeed knows who are his and draws each of us to Himself.

Originally uploaded by AliceJapan

Now, a bit more of Alice:

“The Queen took a ribbon out of her pocket, marked in inches, and began measuring the ground, and sticking little pegs in here and there.
“At the end of two yards,” she said putting in a peg to mark the distance, “I shall give you your directions. At the end of three yards I shall repeat them - for fear of your forgetting them. At the end of four, I shall say goodbye, And at the end of five, I shall go!”
She had got all the pegs put in by this time, and Alice looked on with great interest as she returned to the tree, and then began slowly walking down the row.
At the two-yard peg she faced round, and said, “A pawn goes two squares in its first move, you know. So you’ll go very quickly through the Third Square - by railway, I should think - and you’ll find yourself in the Fourth Square in no time. Well, that square belongs to Tweedledum and Tweedledee - the fifth is mostly water - the Sixth belongs to Humpty Dumpty - But you make no remark?”
“I - I didn’t know I had to make one - just then,” Alice faltered out.
“You should have said,” the Queen went on in a tone of grave reproof, ‘It’s extremely kind of you to tell me all this - however, we’ll suppose it said - the Seventh Square is all forest - however, one of the Knights will show you the way - and in the Eighth Square we shall be Queens together, and it’s all feasting and fun!” Alice got up and curtseyed, and sat down again.
At the next peg the Queen turned again, and this time she said “Speak in French when you ca’n’t think of the English for a thing - turn out your toes as you walk - and remember who you are!” She did not wait for Alice to curtsey, this time, but walked on quickly to the next peg, where she turned for a moment to say “Goodbye,” and then hurried on to the last.
How it happened, Alice never knew, but exactly as she came to the last peg, she was gone. Whether she vanished into the air, or whether she ran quickly into the wood, there was no way of guessing, but she was gone, and Alice began to remember that she was a Pawn and that it would soon be time for her to move.

Remember who you are! - a child of God; redeemed in Christ. Like Alice, we have choices to make - and like Alice we have no idea of the adventures and strange places we shall go in our journey as we move on towards the vision of God’s kingdom - the Eighth Square where it’s all feasting and fun! Once Alice realized that she was a Pawn, and therefore part of a great game that was being played out and of which she was a vital part, her adventures began to make some sense. It was not all nonsense - rather she was involved in the strategies of the game - and she had a part to play which no one else could perform.

It is worth noting that a game of chess involves strategies, within the rules of the game. It is not something played in isolation - every piece is important - it is a communal effort. Alice also began to see the goal of the game - that she would eventually become a Queen - and then her restricted movements would change. She would see things from a new dimension and have so many more capabilities. So she became intent on traversing the rest of the squares - looking forward to becoming a Queen.

Where do you come from? And where are you going? Remember who you are. These questions and the injunction are apt for each of us. Reflect on them and recall that like Alice you and I are all engaged in something much greater than we are. We each have a part to play and our individual part is something that we must fulfill - no one can do it for us. Amidst all the changes of life, our belief in Jesus Christ is the one safe and sure thing to hold on to. Remember that the game is God’s game and the outcome is in His hands. We are simply called to respond to the injunction to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and to love our neighbor as ourself.

Thanks be to God.

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