I always like to start the New Year with a reality check, which is perfect, since today is Epiphany,
the day of revealing, the day of light, the day of being able to see what is actually real. So, Reality Check: what is the most important thing in our lives, and how do we live into that. Because if we’re putting all our energies into things that aren’t important, then we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot. Right?
And what does God say is the most important thing in the whole world? We say it most Sundays as the Affirmation of Faith at the end of the service.Would you say it with me?
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it: Love our neighbor as we love ourselves. There is no greater commandment.” (Mark 12:28-34)
Love God, Love People. Do those things and we’ve lived the fullness of our lives. Love God, Love People. Nothing Else Matters. Period.
So what is it to love? How do we love? Like a good Baptist preacher, I’m going to split it into 3 sections that all start with the letter S: 1) Love as Seeing others; 2) Love as Seeking others; 3) Love as Serving others.
The most obvious fact in all of these three categories is that love includes somebody else. We can’t love alone. There has to be an object of our love. We can love… a cat, our little sister, God. We love… someone.
And so the first thing we do in order to do the most important thing in our lives is to actually see the person in front of us. Because in order to love someone, we first of all have to notice that they’re there! We have to see them.
And that is not necessarily easy. If the truth were known, we’re usually so caught up in our own selves,
in what we need and what we have to get done… that we don’t see anyone. Not really.
We’ll host our Family Promise homeless families next week. We’ll give our families a bed in their own private and healthy, hot meals. But the most important thing we do is to see them, be with them, let them know that someone cares. It’s not necessarily easy. Sometimes we’re too busy getting the meals out. Sometimes we’re just uncomfortable around strangers, especially homeless strangers. And sometimes they aren’t used to be seen, noticed, acknowledged, and they’re not comfortable with our attention. But bottom line, that’s why we’re here: to see, and to care. Of course, we should be doing the same thing in every other part of our life.
Family holiday – what is the most important thing? To take the time to look at our family, our friends, and simply love them for what they are, apart from whether or not they are helping out in the kitchen.What is our child, our grandchild so intently playing? Which person is off by themselves, and as you study them, are they happy being by themselves, or do they look like they’re feeling excluded? Love is all about seeing what is really there.
Now, spiritual directors are always saying, Visualize this, Visualize that. But you have to know, my ability to visualize anything is akin to that of a kumquat! Tell me to visualize something, and all that comes up is static. So I’m not going to ask us to visualize anything.
But when we go home today, try looking intentionally at the person before us. Try to empty our minds of the conflicts or the plans or the grocery list, and just study them without being creepy, of course!) The contours of their face… The little wrinkles or dimples… What color are their eyes.? Is the life within those eyes anxious? Happy? Strained? Content? Can we see them for who they are, and not for what we need them to do?
When we really stop to see another person- to try to see the person within- compassion often wells up inside of us. If we’re nagging, exasperated, frustrated, the best thing we can do is sit back and look at the other person deeply. Not look at the thing that’s driving us crazy, but look at them. And often the gift of compassion will start to gather within us.
This brings us to our second point: to love someone is to seek them. ‘Seeking’ someone is a very active verb. To really see someone, we must seek them- reach out and touch them with our eyes, our heart.
I think of a drawing class I took. The instructor didn’t even look at what she was drawing. Instead, she looked intensely at what she was in the middle of drawing. The flower. The child. The landscape. And as she concentrated on what she actually say, the image traveled from her mind to her hand, without looking at her canvas. It was all one process, as she sought the true lines of the object before her.
We’ve seen the same thing in the play of a child, as they examine a shell or a flower. They hold it in their hands and look at it so hard you think they could see right through it. They turn it around and study it from all sides, because they are interested in the thing itself; they are seeking the thing itself. In itself, the shell is intensely fascinating. And they explore it with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. And with this exploration, they are learning to love.
Say a friend comes up to us with a problem. We assume they want our pearl of wisdom, and so we start formulating what we’ll say without really listening to them. And that makes us feel good, but doesn’t do a thing for the person hurting. But then we realize that they really don’t want our advice; they just want to be heard, understood. And so we keep our mouths shut and listen. Our eyes narrow, and our mind becomes totally focused on understanding what our friend is saying. Love seeks the beloved, not to control or to advise, but to understand and embrace.
And this brings us to our third consideration: to love is to serve. We have truly seen the person before us, and this stirs in us gratefulness for them. And as we have intentionally seen them, we have sought them, an odd thing happens. We start to seek their good and their well-being. We want to serve them.
In a lovely fairy tale, once upon a time, a Lover wooed and won the heart of their Beloved. After a magnificent wedding and a lavish reception, the Lover approached the Beloved and said, “Beloved, you have made me unutterably happy by marrying me. But now that the reception is drawing to a close, I’ll say good-bye. I’m leaving you to live in a distant city. I will always love you; however, there is no place in my life for the restraints of matrimonial bonds and obligations, and with paying off my car and my boat, I certainly can’t afford you. But don’t worry; whenever I get back to town, I’ll try to look you up.
That’s not how the fairy tale is supposed to go! When we love someone, we want to face life together, with all the problems and pains and joys. We want them to be happy and whole.
Seeing, Seeking, Serving: that is how we love. In this New Year, that is how we make our lives worth something. And if we seek to love those around us in this way, how much more so are we to love God in this way:
To set aside our agendas and our busy-ness, and to see God in the beauty God has created;
to seek God in the face of a stranger; to serve God by serving our neighbors.
Love God. Love people. Nothing else matters.
In the Name of the One who sees us, and loves us, and will never let us go;
even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture for Jan. 6, 2019 MARK 12: 28-34
One of the scribes who had been listening to the Sadducees debate with Jesus appreciated that Jesus had given a good answer, so he asked Jesus a further question.
“Which is the most important of all the commandments?”
“This is the most important commandment:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
The second most important is this:
‘You must love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’
There is no commandment greater than these.”
Then the scribe said to Jesus,
“You are right, Teacher.
You have truly said the God is One and besides God there is no other’; and to love God 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 the scribe 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.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.