What is the Greatest Commandment? Mother Teresa, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Abe Lincoln, and the Presiding Bishop answer!

Proper 25 Year A 2020

Dear Jesus, Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. POSESS  my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance OF YOU. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. Amen.  

When I was younger I thought Mother Teresa was the most amazing person. I wanted to be just like her when I got older. In my eyes, her life was uncomplicated, she lived simply, spoke truth and served others. That was her life.

We see what we want to see sometimes, don’t we?

When I realized that she owned only two saris and was only 5ft tall, i realized quickly that i might not grow up to be JUST like her, yet her life’s work is a legacy and inspiration to us all.

A fierce tiny woman who showed love to each person she encountered and was a force to be reckoned with.

When I realized that being a short nun wasn’t my calling, I then decided I would be a doctor and serve with Doctors Without Borders. Well, organic chemistry helped steer me out of that field quickly…..

And yet a call remained.

And also for me (and in turn you) a reminder that your call fits you right where you are.

When we look to others and marvel at their gifts and compare ourselves to another’s vocation, we have sold our own selves short. If we covet those gifts and strengths of others, we will continue to find ourselves inadequate compared to someone else, and in turn we have under-realized that God has called us right where we are, who we are, to do work right where we are.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross says, “the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that filled them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Beautiful people do not just happen.

If we pause for a moment and look to our neighbors to our right and our left, let that sink in.

The beautiful person beside you has known struggle, loss, and found their way or are finding their way right now. This shapes their beauty and who they are to you. It also is their story to tell and ours to walk alongside of and be neighbors, friends, angels along the way with them.

Recently, I was reminded of a quotation by Abraham Lincoln, “We are FRIENDS not enemies. We’re going to look for the better angels in each other and embody the best of the American Character”- words from another time of division in our nation. When the beautiful people around us were not all seen as neighbors.

In this election season it is easy to see the divisions that currently exist, to choose to live ignoring those who have a different opinion than we do. To turn beautiful people into enemies, over simplifying their story and beauty to simply a single solitary position. In this pandemic season it is easy to not seem to be able to meet new people because of precautions and yet we are still in community, together.

If we truly listen to Jesus’ words today we have to acknowledge the reality that we are to love our neighbors- all of them. We are to see the beautiful people that they are, the struggle that has formed them and all of who they are. We are to live with our neighbors and care for those around us, as family should.

We are to seek out the better angel in each of us and in that search, let go of our self-induced dreams of control, domination, and catch the glimpse of the divine in the face of the other- (Barbara Holmes)

The Pharisees today are asking Jesus a testing question, “What is the greatest commandment”- they bring their illusion of control in their favorite lawyer who asks the question (remember Lawyers know the law and how to debate).

And Jesus answers. He answers his neighbor, the lawyer, seeing the beauty of the individual. Jesus answers with compassion, with grace, with focus, and with directness. Quoting our passage today in Leviticus, Jesus says, “LOVE GOD, LOVE your neighbor as yourself”- he states the first of the Ten Commandments and then summarizes the other 9 into 1 single sentence.

Similar to last week’s answer about render to Cesar what is Caesar and to God what is god’s creation. Jesus is saying if you love God with all of your whole self, that sort of love should spill over in all that you do, each person you encounter and all those you find yourself surrounded by. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry said it this way recently, “love seeks the welfare of other, the well being of others. Love is about living for WE, not just me. (See the full conversation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsT0hBJtRnI&t=3438s)

Loving our neighbor starts with loving our own self, loving who God has created us to be and THEN in response we are to share that love we have received, unconditionally, without judgment and accepting us for who we are – If we are so accepted, why wouldn’t we see this divine nature in those beside us and acknowledge the beauty that lies beneath the surface of our neighbors?

Hard to do?

Yep.

Still called to do it? Yep, Daily.

Loving our neighbor is what we are called to do and why Mother Teresa spent her days in prayer. Opening her day with the prayer that started this sermon. Beginning with prayer, ending with prayer and praying her steps everywhere between….. this close and constant relationship with God gave her courage and a fierce love to advocate for those who were cast aside and establish the sisters of charity organization- providing care for the elderly who needed care and those who are left behind.

Creating a space where each person was treated with dignity and respect and equally cared for as treasured family members.

Mother Teresa lived a life of service. Not a one sided “always giving without receiving” service but in the manner with which we serve one another in family. She lived a life of service in relationship, in deep knowing , love, respect and admiration of the other person. She always beheld the face of God in the person she met from the beggar on the street with tatters of clothing to the head of the system when she wanted change for the poor. She saw the beauty of person within, their struggle, their likeness of God, the beauty of who they truly were.

St John’s has a deep and long legacy of servant hood.

Our mission statement says that we are shine the light of Christ in Tallahassee and beyond. Seeking to build up the community and kingdom of God.

In our deep gratitude of being a community these brick walls have not kept the love that we know retained within them. We see this weekly from Deacon Joe’s own weekly command to us to “GO in peace to love and serve the lord” in our dismissal, to his living example of caring for those in the prison, those who call the church and need pastoral care. We see this call to mission in the daily work and mission of Grace mission, to the gift of our school mentors giving of their time and growing in relationship with the students of Riley Elementary around them. Even in these pandemic times.

Growing up I thought serving meant I should travel to different countries, give up everything, be short and wear a sari.

The truth is that while some ARE called to serve in far way lands, our neighbor can also be found right here beside us, inviting us to open our eyes to listen deeply, see the divine in the person beside us and remember that they too are family- THIS is what Jesus is talking about …. serving is walking alongside of, being present and not always filling a financial gap but wrestling with our inner assumptions and injustice and striving to bring our neighbor, our brother and sister the equity that should be available. Love seeks the wellbeing of others.

Loving God and Loving our neighbor is the teaching that Jesus lived for us, he daily served through conversation, walking with, meeting with, asking for change, and even tossing some tables along the way. Jesus was constantly upsetting the normal flow of things because all of god’s children were not receiving the care they deserved.

Servant hood is about relationships, not judging the outward appearance but recognizing the deep beauty in each person and being willing to fiercely love them too.

This week, reflect on who has lived out this form of servant hood for you- the people who have tenaciously loved you, right where you are. Who challenged you to keep growing, to ask questions, to challenge the norm?

And also,

How will you do something different this week to live into this servant hood you too are called to…. start or strengthen a relationship with a neighbor?

We live in a world of too many divisions and silos. This week how can you seek out the better angel, the beautiful person in those you might otherwise quickly judge and dismiss?

Will you lean into this call this week, this month, at this time?

I will with God’s help.

Join me! 

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