Chocolates, Conversation, Compromise: A Love Story
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Gospel of Luke 10:25-29
Here we are, February 12th. I look forward to this week all year long. We've got a very special day coming up this week. Long stemmed red roses will be delivered, restaurants will be full, and cards will be exchanged. Tuesday is Valentine's Day.
But that special day that I love so much isn't Tuesday, the 14th...it's actually Wednesday, the 15th! Because that's when those big red, heart shaped boxes of chocolates will be 50% off!
Tuesday is Valentine's Day. A day set aside for love. So today we talk about love, but not about loving one other...instead, we talk about loving each other.
In the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, in Deuteronomy Chapter 6, verse 5 we learn that we should love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. In the New Testament, the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 10, Jesus changes it up a bit. First he says you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. Then he adds “and love your neighbor as yourself”.
Before Jesus, and even during his time, a neighbor was regarded as someone who lived nearby, but more, had the same ethnicity, the same language, the same culture, the same religion. Back then, people from different places had different customs. They wore different types of clothing. They spoke different languages...and they were often at odds with each other.
Jesus was asked “who is my neighbor?” and it was rather radical of him to give the example of the Good Samaritan.
You know this story, right? A Jewish man is mugged—he's robbed and beaten and he's left in a ditch. A Jewish rabbi comes by sees him and walks by, a Levite —also a Jewish man— walks by, sees him and turns the other way. A Samaritan comes upon the scene, is moved by what he sees, puts the man on his donkey, bandages his wounds, takes him to an inn and gives the innkeeper money to care for him. He also promises to pay whatever extra it takes to keep the man safe and on the mend.
What makes this so radical is that at that time, the Jewish people and the Samaritans had been enemies for years!
To Jesus, a neighbor was anyone with whom you came in contact. This is a great life lesson for us today. A reminder, as the day we celebrate love approaches, to love your neighbor as yourself.
Love is a way of being in relationship. It's a way of approaching the world
Our neighbors today are those who live near us, but they're also the people shopping alongside us at Shaw's, and dropping off their dry cleaning at Dependable Cleaners, and having dinner at the next booth at the Cheesecake Factory over at the Plaza. In 6 hours, you can be in Europe. And with the world wide web, you can shop at stores in Asia. Our neighbors also people across the globe.
Our neighbors are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Humanist. Our neigbors speak English and Spanish and Mandarin. Some share your customs; others don't. Some of our neighbors have been here forever and some have just become citizens. Our neighbors are Republicans and Democrats and those who prefer the “unenrolled” designation.
The directive isn't to think like your neighbor. The charge isn't to act like your neighbor. It isn't to agree with everything they think or say or do. And it isn't to judge your neighbor. It's to LOVE your neighbor.
When you love, you care. Caring means that you recognize that we have more in common than we don't. And it sometimes means standing up for what's right even if there is some personal sacrifice or risk.
Martin Niemoller, a German pastor and concentration camp survivor, wrote the poem, “First They Came”.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.
We don't always have things in common with our neighbors. Witness, “the Good Samaritan”.
Love is a way of being in relationship. It's a way of approaching the world
Meet Ben. He lives on a farm in rural Maine. His family has owned acres of land for 300 years. Ben is an oil truck driver and his wife is a social worker. They have two little boys. For the past several years, Ben has had a side-business cutting firewood. About a year ago, the house next door was sold. Ben's new neighbor recently came over, angry. He'd been riding his horse when the horse was spooked by the noise of the wood chopper. He threw Ben's new neighbor to the ground.
Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. So...do you love your neighbor when he comes to your home and yells at you?
You could exchange angry words and tell him that since you pay your taxes, you have a right to do whatever you want.
You might ask that he pick a weekend time when he can ride and during which time you'll refrain from cutting wood? If you have a conversation and come to a compromise, you may even find that he teaches your kids to ride.... and he buys firewood from you!
As humans, we are hardwired with the capacity for compassion.
A couple of weeks ago on the news, you may have seen a bungee jumping accident on the news. A girl jumped off a cliff and a few seconds and several hundred feet into the fall, the bungee cord snapped and the girl hit the water, hard, and was carrried down in the current. Watching that, I felt my heart skip a beat. And I prayed for her. Have you ever had that kind of a reaction? Even though you don't know personally know the person, and even though you will never go bungee jumping, you have compassion for the one who had the accident.
Maybe that's what it was like for the Good Samaritan.
Love is a way of being in relationship. It's a way of approaching the world.
Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Start with a prayer. And a conversation. You will be strengthened when the fabric of your life is open to others.
When you love another, there is compromise. Do you communicate with others? Are you willing to see beyond yourself and to make changes to benefit others? (Will you also ask for what you need?)
When you love another, it's easy to see the good. Do you see the good in others? When you consider your life, do you see the good in yourself?
When you love another, you offer encouragement. Do you support others? (And do you see the possibilities in your own life?)
When you love another, it's easy to do things for that person. Do you care for others? (And do you take care of yourself?)
My friends in faith, when you love God, you live a full, rich, life.
When you love your neighbor you are compassionate, helpful, open to communication and willing to compromise.
When you love yourself, you are peaceful and hopeful, and you reflect God's light right back into the world. So love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. Blessed Be and Amen.
Super Scout Sunday
February 5, 2012
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Isaiah 40:21-31, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Today is Super Sunday...because it's Scout Sunday. (And I also hear that there's a football game on later today!)
In the Scripture we just heard, we learned that God is everywhere, all the time, and God gives us strength. That is physical strength, mental strength, and moral strength. It's the courage to try new things and it's the patience to try and try again. Those are all things we use in scouting and in life.
We also learned that Paul talked to different people in different ways, basically taking to them in language they could understand and relate to. For example, if I said “wicked”, some would hear that and think that it was very bad. Others, particularly those here in New England, hear “wicked” and think of it as a very good thing as in “that was a wicked fun ride”.
Today, I'm going to speak to you in a language that I hope you can all relate to...on this Super Sunday.
I see similarities between stadium games, scouting and spirituality. Yes, football, scouting, and Christianity do actually appear to have sevearl things in common.
1. First, there are the uniforms.
Football players have uniforms. And, actually, the fans do too, in a sense.
I bet that already today, you saw people wearing their Patriots gear. Maybe the runners you saw this morning had on Pats baseball caps or the supermarket bagger was wearing a Patriots jersey. Maybe as soon as you leave here, in your car with the Patriots license plate, you'll be putting on jeans and your Patriots sweatshirt.
Scouts have uniforms. And Christians have the opportunity to wear a uniform, too, and to visibly show others our faith. (We'll come back to that in a little bit.)
2. We also all work for the greater good.
In football, each player does his part to help the team win, but it's about more than just the game. Teams have outreach to their communities. The Patriots have a charitable foundation and this year, they've had a season-long campaign called “Celebrate Volunteerism” which, according to their website, honors Myra Kraft's lifetime commitment to philanthropy and charitable service.
The Scout Slogan is “Do a good turn daily”. Scouting is about so much more than doing something to get a merit badge or going on a campout. It's about living the slogan
In Christianity, we want to help others. Jesus modeled that behavior. He talked about feeding the hungry, clothing those who had little, visiting the sick, and more. Today, we support food pantries and social service organizations. We hold hands with people that need our strength and offer prayerful support for people, situations, and the world at large.
3. Another thing we have in common is practice.
Players don't get to an NFL team without years of practice. A team doesn't get to the Superbowl without months of practice.
Scouts learn and practice new skills. A badge or a palm isn't given 'just because--they involve the mastery of a skill...and that only comes with practice.
As Christians, we're given the opportunity to practice our faith everyday. To walk, as Jesus did, here on this earth and to face situations similar to what he must surely have faced. To deal with trying people and unpleasant situations and to be present in a way that shows grace, and love, and hope, and peace.
4. Football, Scouting and Christianity all have rules.
There are rules of the football game, there're laws in scouting; and there are the Ten Commandments and the rules that Jesus gave us. We all play by the same rules.
5. Teamwork is essential.
Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski , and each player has his role, but every person on the team is equally important. They work together to execute plays and win games.
In scouting, teamwork is a fundamental element. Principles and respect are two fundamentals of teamwork.
In Christianity, we're told to Love our Neighbor as Ourselves. We should consider everyone our neighbor. Jesus could have done it all alone, but he didn't. He had a team of twelve disciples. Even when a church takes a collection, when each person puts in what he or she can, that combined effort goes further and makes a greater impact than the funding of one or two alone.
6. We all also have leadership.
In football, there's a coach to lead teams to the Big Game.
In scouting, there are Scoutmasters who help lead youth to adulthood.
In Christianity, Jesus was referred to as a shepherd...one who lead sheep from place to place and kept them safe along the journey.
This is Super Scout Sunday!
May I have a show of hands....(play along if you're willing)...may I have a show of hands of people who either are scouts or were scouts at some point?
Thank you. I, too was a scout. I wonder if your experience was a bit like mine.
I remember the sense of belonging I felt in that uniform. I remember the sense of challenge I felt when attempting something new in order to get a patch and the sense of accomplishment I felt when I'd mastered a new skill and obtained it. I remember the sense of community I felt when we marched together in a parade. And the sense of helpfulness I felt when did good deeds in the community.
Looking back through the lens of one who is older and wiser, I see a lot of parallels between my experiences as a Scout and my experiences as a Christian.
As Christians, don't feel a sense of belonging to a larger community? Isn't there something beautiful and mysterious, yet somehow familiar about every church?
As to that sense of challenge and accomplishment...the gospel of Matthew tells us that With God, All Things Are Possible. As Christians, we know we're never 'going it alone'....God is always with us. And our communities are there for us.
Don't we want follow Jesus and help others?
This is what it means to be Christian. To be part of something that transcends your own personal relationship with God...it's means s we are part of one church and we make up the Body of Christ.
When I went out to sell cookies, I wore my uniform. Today, the scouts are wearing theirs. Earlier, I mentioned that as Christians, we have the opportunity to wear a uniform (and I don't mean a robe or a cross).
How do people know that you're a Christian?
What actions are you showing? What words are you speaking?
How are you both actively seeking God, and reflecting God's light back into the world?
Let's just say there were a Christian 'uniform' we could put on...and it came with a sash. What might be on it? A cross? (Of course). Your church name where the troop number would be? (Sure.)
What else? What would those badges look like? How about praying hands to show relationship with God? Clasped hands...for a show of solidarity? Extended hands to show a sense of helpfulness?
Would you tell others about your badges with a sense of pride? (Do you speak of your Christian experience?)
One critical component of church is relationship. I dare say that one critical component of scouting is also relationship. Earlier today, we heard the Boy Scout Oath. I'm going to read it to you again.
Please listen closely and see if it sounds vaguely familiar:
“On my honor, I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
Could it be that you heard a similar message here?
From the Gospel of Mark, "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”....(and) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
As to that Christian uniform, .the gospel of John says this, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Could it be that simple? That the uniform Christians can put on each day is “love”? “By this all mean will know that you are my disciples. If you love one another.”
Blessed Be and Amen.
January 8, 2012
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
Rev. Leanne Walt
Bill and I recently spent some time with a good friend who has two young daughters. Apparently his oldest, who is now 2 ½ is going through the “Mine!” stage. She regularly declares sole and primary ownership over all toys, cupcakes, and even refrigerator magnets in the house and she has taken to hiding some of these items, which she declares to be, “Mine!” in her crib. Even this year’s Christmas card from her grandmother was not safe from the jurisdiction of her “Mine!” Though intended for the entire family, the card was addressed to her and so she took this as a clear indication that this was HER Christmas card - so began her collection of Christmas cards in the far corner of her crib.
My 1 ½ year old nephew is also in the throes of the “Mine!” phase. He is inclined to yell, “Mine!” quite loudly at anyone who picks up his favorite toy football or stuffed Elmo doll, reminding them that he is the rightful, private owner of these playtime enrichments.
The “Mine!” phase is nothing unusual. If you have kids, they probably went through a similar stage, and if they are now grown, hopefully it did prove just to be a passing phase and they no longer take Christmas cards or ornaments to bed with them.
In fact this behavior is so common in children that there is a famous scene in the children’s movie Finding Nemo that is known for its “Mine!”s. In this scene Nemo’s father, a small and beloved clownfish finds himself stranded on a dry dock in the hot sun after being mistakenly swallowed by a pelican. Fortunately, the pelican is quite friendly and tries to help him search for his missing son, Nemo. The bad news is that there on the dock are hundreds of seagulls hovering around wanting to eat this little clownfish. All at once, the seagulls begin swarming him, each one declaring, “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!” The fish barely escapes by jumping into the mouth of the friendly pelican and this ends up being one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
I recently watched a documentary film entitled I Am, by Hollywood movie director Tom Shadyac that explores the phenomenon of the “Mine!”s. Yet, in the film the subject is not approached as an amusing childhood phase, but as a more pervasive and deeply troubling social reality in the U.S.
After making millions directing and producing hit Hollywood films like Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, Liar, Liar, and Patch Adams, Tom Shadyac had a terrible bike accident that caused him to seriously reevaluate not only his life, but society more generally. As he faced the possible end of his life, he began to ask himself, “If I am indeed going to die, what do I want to say before I go?” And he began to think about The Inconvenient Truth of the environment, the war in Iraq, poverty, and all of the other ills that plague our country. And he began to wonder if these aren’t the real problems after all, but rather causes of a poison lurking underneath the surface of American society.
So he began a journey around the world with a small film crew to interview religious leaders, historians, and academics asking the questions, “What’s wrong with our world?” and “What can we do about it?”
What he found was that our society functions in a certain way based on the understanding and acceptance of scientific claims, namely Darwin’s emphasis on competition as a means to human survival and the idea that we occupy a reliable and well-behaved universe where separate objects operate separately in time and space. The picture that has emerged from science is that human beings are made out of material stuff and that we work in mechanistic ways. Believing in the laws of competition and scarcity, we operate as self-interested and singular individuals, needing to be significant at someone else’s expense. We establish layers of separation between ourselves and others - the more stuff we have the better, the more layers to protect the stuff we have the better. The more wealth we have the happier we are.
Yet, through his conversations with philosophical, spiritual, and scientific leaders, all evidence began to paint this reality as a lie and instead pointed to an entirely different truth: that our basic nature is not to dominate, but to cooperate; that we actually function better in a state of empathy, compassion, and love, than we do in a state of dominance and competition. As it turns out, when Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, he used the phrase “Survival of the Fittest” only two times and the word “love,” 95 times.
In the documentary, Tom goes to see his father who was one of the founders of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, an organization that provides free cancer treatment for children and families, even for those without health insurance. St. Jude’s is truly an exercise in loving both your neighbor and your enemy, as patients receive treatment regardless of religion, ethnicity, political views, and socio-economic class. So, Tom approaches his father as someone who understands and has lived humanity’s greater call to compassion and service and he sits with him and asks him if he believes that it’s possible for society to live and operate in cooperation with rather than competition with one another.
His father answers by telling him, “There is a church out here that I go to every Sunday and I cry because there is so much love in that church for an hour and a half. Then, people go outside and get into their cars and they drive away. There are blacks, Hispanics, and white people in that church and they give each other the kiss of peace inside, but would they do that in the supermarket, on the street corner? Probably not,” he concludes. Because there is this pervasive perception that, ultimately, we are all separate from one another.
Yet, Tom and others he interviews continue to work to undermine this misperception throughout the rest of the film by suggesting that maybe we can look at achieving a profitability in our lives other than that measured by the financial economy and our place in it. And that maybe we can do this by changing the fundamental question that we ask from, “What do I get out of this?” to, “How am I adding value to my community?”
This film got me thinking about how difficult it is for us as Christians to live out the gospel in a culture that preaches separation and competition, in a culture that teaches us from the time we are toddlers to declare ownership over those things that threaten to be shared by others.
But, it also made me think about how much power we hold as Christians to break down the barriers of separation between members of God’s creation.
In our Wednesday evening Prayer Study, we have been talking quite a bit about how a prayer calls us to action, about how a Christian meditative, contemplative life is not a passive endeavor, but it is one that invites action. And, what’s more, that this action ought to be directed to serving the needs of others, working toward healing and fostering greater love, forgiveness, and peace, in this world because we believe that God is manifest in this world – working within, among, and between us.
When recently asked what is the most important meditation that we can do right now, the Dali Lama responded, “Critical thinking followed by action.” Discern how your gifts might benefit the world and you will discover deep contentment.
The magi saw the same power to herald in a new world and social order through epiphany – or the manifestation of God-in-Christ in the world – and they heard the call to perceive and participate in the glorious work of God. In response to the birth of the Christ child the three wise men ask, “What gifts can I bring?” They did not journey to Bethlehem and approach the manger proclaiming, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” They did not come to lay claim to the Messiah or to steal him away in the dark of the night. They came bearing gifts.
Whether it’s our time, money, or talent, you could say that giving is the beginning of an adventure. It involves a lowering of the guard to let the power of relationship have its way.
The magi respond to God’s initiative of grace by giving – a bold and countercultural gesture as much in their day as it is in ours. For the magi, this surely marked the beginning of an adventure. After they offer their gifts to the Christ child, the magi return home by another road. Perhaps it was a combination of meeting the Christ child and offering their gifts that directed them to change their direction or perhaps they were simply scared of the world’s Herod’s breathing down their back if they were to return home by the same road. Either way, the Christ child, epiphany – the manifestation of God in the world – caused these three wise men to change their direction.
The scene with the flock of seagulls preying on the small, helpless fish in Finding Nemo is so funny because it is so true. But maybe we ought to view it as more disturbing than humorous as we begin to see a little bit of the seagull in ourselves - not behavior that we naturally possess, but constructed and fostered by society - our need to declare ownership over what’s ours and our tendency to separate ourselves from others through individual achievements and private property.
But the truth is, the most important gift we can receive does not belong to you or to me or to my neighbor with the fancy car or to the Hollywood socialites living in the Hills of Beverly. The most important gift we can receive is epiphany – the manifestation of God in the world. And Christ does not belong just to you or to me or to the haves or to the have-nots, but Christ belongs to each one of us. Epiphany – the manifestation of God in the world – is not for us to claim as our own but to share with the world through bearing our gifts for the good and sake of others.
God’s manifest presence in the world calls us to think critically about the world and how we might best share our gifts. The economy of Jesus’ gospel calls us to ask, “How can we add value to our community?” Through talking to our enemies, loving our neighbor, inspiring our youth, eliminating poverty, trying peace, including everyone. Praying. So that we can be a people who herald in the new Jerusalem, who boldly receive Isaiah’s proclamation to, “Arise, shine; for our light has come” long after we leave this place for on Sunday mornings (Isaiah 60:1).
Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, ed. by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008) 199