“What is it that matters?” Rev. Stacy Swain, 3/22/20


Psalm 89: 1-4

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
    your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to my servant David:
 ‘I will establish your descendants forever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’”

Mark 12: 28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”  Jesus answered, “The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

          This time last week, I was pretty stunned.  It was the first Sunday that we were worshiping online and not in person and it was profoundly disorienting not see you in the sanctuary.  Try as I indeed did, during the sermon time, I just could not seem to keep my eye on the camera but instead reflexively keep turning towards the pews looking for all of you. 

          Now we have had a week of this new and every changing reality.  We have shifted all programming and meeting online. We are trying something new this morning, providing both a recorded service and an interactive space via Zoom.  We are experiencing church in new ways as we realize ever more deeply that church is really a way of living and not just physical proximity.  Church is people who are committed to living in the Way of Jesus amidst of all that our days contain and to capacitating and supporting each other as we seek to do so.  

          So we are now a week into this new reality, and I find myself wondering, “What is the most challenging aspects of all of this for you?

          Let’s name it, just shout it out popcorn style.  So what is the most challenging aspect of all of this for you? I’m going to unmute you all so go ahead and shout it out.

          Is it that we don’t get that good hug on Sunday morning and that affirmation in it that we are treasured?

          Is it that what the work you were doing before has now become impossible for you to do?

          Is it that the routine you had is now completely gone and you find yourself pacing around the house wondering what to do next?

          Is it that the kids are home and are sucking up all the oxygen in the house?

          Is it that you so want to help others but don’t really know how best to do so?

          Is it that those you love are so far away and you cannot get to them right now?

          What is it that is most challenging for you?

          These challenges are real.  And putting them in words, naming them, articulating them out loud can help us see more clearly these challenges so that we can begin to be more in control of them instead of being controlled by them.

          In the midst of these very real challenges, let me ask you another question and perhaps this is the more important question, perhaps the most important question and that is:   What matters most to you right now?

          What matters most to you right now?  That was the question on the lips of the Pharisee in this morning’s scripture:  “Which commandment is the first of all?”

At other times, questions from the religious authorities were not mean to seek answers.  No at other times in the gospels, questions from the religious authorities were meant as tests and traps.  They were offered not out of a receptive yearning place but out of a dominating and controlling place. 

          This is not such a time.  Here this man wants to, needs to know.  He needs to know what matters.  What should he be giving his energies to and in what direction should he be marking out his path.  For you see it is a dangerous and confusing time for him.  The Roman Empire that had tolerated the Jewish people and their practices is now starting to polish their armor and mount their war horses and the people are agitated and angry, tired of the oppressive weight of taxes and ever present threat of violence.

          And so this man asks, what matters right now?  How should I orient my life?  Where am I to find the bedrock that I need to stand on in the midst of the threat and crumbling of what I know that seems to be all around me?

          And what does Jesus say? Does he say something new?  Something cleaver? Something that only he can say? 

          No, not at all.  He joins his voice with the voice that echos down the age, the voice that called forth creation and that has been embodied in it ever since.  He reaches back and brings forth the commandment to love.  From the book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew scriptures he says Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’   Ad reaching back into the book of Leviticus he says:  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

          This is what matters.  This is what you know and the bedrock on which you can stand in the midst of whatever it is you face for when you do so  you stand with God and with all those across time and space who have sought to lead a life oriented by love. 

          The opportunity and invitation that I am beginning to see in this time is to return to living love as the organizing principle in our lives right now? 

          I find provocative about this passage is that this encounter between Jesus and the Pharisee takes place in the Temple which was the hub of meaning in the day. The Temple was where people came to make sacrifices.  Jesus loved the Temple but he also was challenging the religious authorities not get so caught up in building that they lost touch with what the building was to be all about and that was helping the people love God with all their hearts and minds and strength and helping the people love their neighbor as their self.   And I wonder if we too are finding ourselves also in a profound moment of rebirthing and remembering what church at its  essence is and can be. 

          This makes me remember of a story that a long time member of the congregation told me a few years back.  He said that when he was a boy, his mother insisted that he and his sister come to church each Sunday and sit through the service in the pews. After the service he and his sister were free to walk home while his mother lingered to share in the fellowship and often times the work of the church.  Every Sunday, he told me he and his sister would stop off at the local five and dime in that time and buy candy which they would eat on the way home. 

          After may weeks, maybe even months of doing this, he told me that his mother found the candy wrappers in their pockets and asked where in the world they were finding the money to buy candy!  He hold me his sister was flummoxing at the question and then said, that they did not find it but that they were offered it every Sunday.  Every Sunday, they were offered a plate full of money it in that  plate that ever Sunday was passed down the pews in the time of offering.

          Turns out the sister was taking money out of not putting money into the offering plate.  I just love that.  Isn’t that what church is (not that we don’t all need to keep giving and we do need to give as well) but isn’t that just a great metaphor that  church is how share sweetness that grounds us in the true meaning of live which is as Jesus says – Love.

          This moment is giving us the opportunity to take a good look at our way of life, and perhaps to see it in a new way.We are in a new reality but the wisdom that has been alive across the ages has not left us and is alive to us now.  What matters? How are we to live? 

          Jesus answered, “The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

          So let us go forth even as we  stand on the bedrock of our faith and discover what living the sweetness of love looks like for us now for us as the union church in Waban, how we can offer it generously to all who need it.  For there is much that we don’t know and these times are full of challenge for sure.  But we do know what love is and on that we can stand.  Thanks be to church, thanks be to God.  Amen

Benediction, end of the prayer

Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM

March 13th 2020”