This is the homily entitled “The Will of God in a Nutshell (a Phy-lac-ter-y)” that The Revd Arnold Bush delivered at The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany on Sunday, October 23, 2011. He based it on the Gospel lesson for that day:
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
`The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”‘?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
A story is told of a discouraged, disheartened, and depressed Rabbi who was thrown into a Russian Prison. As the Rabbi matriculated into the prison system, there was a big strong rough speaking guard who would shout to each prison entering. The guard would speak: “Who are you?” and then the second question: “Why are you here?”. Later the Rabbi conversed with the guard saying, “You ask those two questions so effectively, would you come to my synagogue one Saturday and asked those two questions”. The guard responded by saying, “It will cost you some big bucks.”
How would you answer these existential questions about life?
Who are you? And Why are you here? What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of Life? What is God’s Will?
Philosophers, theologians, professional advertisers, college professors, and pastors all have different ways of answering these basic questions about life.
II Some ways folks define the meaning of life:
a. Life is just something we endure; life is difficult, just trying to get through one day at a time. Some folks just say I was given a poor set of cards…so I cannot win.
b. I have met some folks who just say “life is just one damn thing after another”. They are not saying life to be celebrated with grace filled moments.
c. Some folks just get out of bed to physical limitations, chronic illness, and constant pain or discomfort…. Then they just want to get thorough the week with less discomfort… may be under the care of a pain management physician.
d. Some folks are in employment positions that are danger of laid off. Or there are some retirees who remain bitter, depressed, because they have poor relational skills or unwilling to discover a meaningful volunteer role in this county.
e. If you live on the NW FL Gulf Coast like we did for 20 years or on Lake Martin, you have seen this sign on an large RV, large boat, seen this sign: “The one who dies with the most toys wins!”. Somehow those toys do not fit into their casket.
f. There are some of our colleagues, relatives, or friends who have drifted into a performance mode. They are motivated feel good, look good, do good things please God so he will accept them. Life is really just being a good person with a check list of things to accomplish.
g. Some folks seem to get their esteem by defining who they are by their kin folks. “Tell me, where you from are and who were your mommy and daddy.” I like some research of genealogy, but a few take it too seriously. They define themselves by their ancestors and genealogical family tree. They have no idea they are a child of God adopted by the Creator of the Universe at their baptism.
I am sure we could continue with such a list; but let’s look at one of those questions the Russian Prison Guard asked each prisoner. Who are you ? Pause a moment…. How would you answer this “Who are you”? You are loved by God… you are a child of the King….as I mentioned last Sunday in the story of the coin with Caesar’s image on the coin. Remember we have been stamped with MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD.
WHY AM I HERE? I am here because God created me in his image. He is a loving God. A loving God must have an object to love. I am here because he loved me and created me and he sustains me. I am not here on this earth because of a leaf on a Family Tree. I am part of God’s Creation.
III If God loves me and He created me…then it behooves me to seek his will. What is God’s Will?
Now, looking at the context of the Gospel lesson today: MT 22:34-46. In the past few Sundays the Gospel lesson has been taken from Matthew 21 and 22, where Jesus is in the Temple courtyards. There were three parties to whom Jesus was a threat to their way of practicing the Jewish faith. Note this drawing of the Temple on eastern wall of the walled city of Jerusalem.
THE SADDUCEES: They were silenced by the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the very conservative, priestly tradition in Judaism in the time of Jesus. They did not believe in the oral tradition espoused by the Pharisees and believed if it was not in the Mosaic Laws it did not matter. They were very rigid and could not adapt to change. Being the sect of the wealthier and more aristocratic elements of Jewish society they wielded considerable political and economic power. Their very existence depended on sacrificial rituals practiced at the Temple. The destruction of the Temple in 70 AD decreased their influence in Judaism. Their approach left them with 613 laws. If one wanted to know God’s Will they would say: “Here; memorize these 613 laws.”
THE PHARISEES: They were not as rigid as the Sadducees, but they would add new laws needed for changing culture. These new laws were to fill in the gaps of the 613 laws. (248 affirmative laws and 365 negative laws). This was a large number of the Jewish community in the time of Jesus. If one is seeking the Will of God, then they must observe the written Law (Torah) and the oral law (unwritten Jewish religious tradition.) Their understanding of the Law was more complicated. If someone asked what is the Will of God, their answer was “memorize these 613 laws, but a commentary is in the library.”
COMMON PEOPLE LEFT OUT: To practice Judaism in the time of Jesus left out the common people who could not go to the Temple of synagogues to read and study. Fishermen, homemakers, shepherds, farmers , carpenters, etc did not have time like a scribe to study all the 613 laws. Needless to say, Jesus was on a collision course with these Jewish sects. As we see in the Gospel scene, the Pharisees find a very informed lawyer to devise a question that would trip Jesus up. So the lawyer comes up with this clever question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” All of us have our favorite song, hymn, Bible verse, American hero, and proverb. So, in that culture everyone had their favorite law. If he picked one, then they could say he is against all laws except the one he picked. In this entrapment question, Jesus could have struck out at the Pharisees in anger. Instead, Jesus is smart and quotes from the SHEMA found in Deuteronomy 6:5. This passage was quoted twice daily and men wore a phylactery on their forehead. A phylactery is a small box with the SHEMA written in a small piece of paper. Jesus draws together Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus19:18. Deut 6:4-5 reads: Here, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength….tie these as symbols on our hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of our houses and one your gates. “
He merges Leviticus 19:18, “ but love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is stating the best way to fulfill the first is in loving your neighbor. The two belong together. Like two hinges on a door. The two belong together is the New Law, the new commandment.
A METAPHOR: My computer broke in December. I had a hard drive rather crowded, but Staples placed all my five years data on a small flash drive. Jesus has taken the 10 commandments, all the 613 laws in the Torah and placed them in a chip, flash drive, within a nutshell. What is the Will of God for you and me? We do not have to be speed readers, attend college, seminary, read Greek or Hebrew, like the Pharisees expected others to do to fine the Will of God. No, we can be a shepherd, farmer, work on Sundays, homemaker, we can do the Will of God in our work-a-day-world..etc.
How can we seek the Will of God? How can we fine meaning in our lives? Why am I here? I am here to do the will of God.
Read together, BOCP,351
(Jesus said, “The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The Second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.,” MK 12:29-31….
The Will of God is to love God and to love every human being. This has been stated in thousands of ways. Look Up to God Loving Him; Look out loving others; the vertical of the Christian Cross points up to God and the horizontal reaches out to others. This is the greatest commandment with two hinges.
How would you answer these existential questions about life?
Who are you? I was created by God to use my own volition to love him back and love my every human being on earth.
Why are you here? To align my will with the God’s Will of loving Him and others.
Meaning and purpose in life as I greet each new day with a love for God, Jesus, Christ… and expressing love the crown of creation, men and women.
IV Way to Love God with our HEART,SOUL, MIND, AND STRENGTH
These four areas in Biblical times represent the entire human being. God has created us for His pleasure that we exist and are created. (Rev.4:11 and BCP,377). I John states, “He first love us.” Jesus says we are to love God back. Our word for loving God back is WORSHIP. Worship is our response to God. In the Catechism, BCP, 856 states: “Prayer is RESPONDING to God by thought, and by deeds, with and without words. In short, Jesus is saying let us respond to with our whole being, heart, soul, mind, strength. Last Sunday, I spoke about oblations being presented at the Altar.
Here is a schematic of the first part of the greatest commandment:
1) ATTENTION: We give other our attention by thinking about them. EG One pre-marital advice is give your spouse DAILY ATTENTION. How can I make my spouse happy, meet their needs, how to be more loving. Let us go though the day giving Christ our thoughts, tell the folks around you about your love for them, tell Jesus.
HOW: a) Running conversation with Jesus. Such as Br. Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God :Frank Labach’s The Game with minutes; Malcolm Boyd’s Are you Running with me Jesus. EG Beepers on watches; dots on watches, chimes, cards on the dash board, memory verse in pocket, let introverts say “thank you Jesus or Praise God”
2) He wants our AFFECTION – our heart. Do you remember that TV commercial by Budweiser Beer with the son in the fishing boat. The Son says, “I love you Dad.” The commercial reminds us that some men have difficulty expressing in public, “hugs, kisses, saying I love you.” Some of us need be become emotionally closer to God. Let’s pay attention to the many wonderful expressions of praise, affirmation, love to God in the hymnology. Some hymns or contemporary songs will cause me to weep or choke up. EG Joke about an expressive visitor in the pew. Von Hagel said, “I kiss my daughter because I love her, I also kiss my daughter in order to love her more.” As I said last Sunday, show your affection be whispering “thank you’s”.
3) He wants our ABILITIES – love God with all our strength…Let us love God with our attentive mind and thoughts, love him with our heart and emotions. Now let us love Him with all our strength and abilities. If you and I are going to respond to God in worship with our strength and abilities, our behavior and actions must support our love. Colossians 3:23 reads: “Whatever you do , work as it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for men.” We express our love in actions by doing such things as: repairing broken things, make a visit to someone, do and errand, prepare a meal, visit a friend in need. This phase has meant a lot to me: “Work as though you are working for the Lord.” Our tasks and work can become our WORSHIP. I recall a annual liturgical practice used on the feast of their Paton Saint, St. Andrew’s Parish in Panama City. Parishioners were asked to bring a symbol of their work or profession. Such things a ipads, Huggies, day timers, carpenter tools, cook book, product flyers, calculators, scissors, etc. When we offer our work to God who is our BOSS, this is a form of WORSHIP. We all can discover: “LIFE IS NOT SO MUCH WHAT WE DO, BUT FOR WHOM DO WE DO IT.”
As I said last Sunday quoting from Paul’s phase in the 12 chapter of Romans. “So then, my friends because of God’s great mercy to us, I appeal to you: offer yourselves (present yourselves) as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing him. This is the true worship that you should OFFER.”
I am aware I have not spoke in this sermon about Jesus’ phase from Leviticus “Love you neighbor as yourself.” That will come later.
This month let us love God with our attentive thoughts. Let us Give him our affections. Love him with the strengths in our abilities as we work for the Lord.
Prayer: Lord we do not have a small phylactery to wear on our foreheads, but in our baptism we were marked with the sign of the cross. You have loved us, created us, showered us with blessings, now may we live this campus Loving you with our entire being, heart, soul, mind, and strength. And loving our neighbors as ourselves.
BCP, p.832, bottom, Self-Dedication used after post-communion thanksgiving prayer.