All Saints Sunday: November 4, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Deacon Richard P. Limato
The Jewish Talmud tells the story of two competing Sages, Shammai and Hillel, approached by a Gentile man who wanted to convert to Judaism.
The Gentile comes before Shammai saying, “Covert me on one condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.”
Shammai, a builder by trade, abruptly pushes him away with the builder’s measuring cubit he held in his hand.
The Gentile next approaches Hillel, who agrees to convert him. Hillel explains the Torah to him in this way, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another, that is the entire Torah, and the rest is interpretation. Go study it.”
In today’s Gospel, a scribe drawn to Jesus’ knowledge of scripture questions him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”
Jesus responds “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.
Jesus then takes the teaching further saying, “Love God with all your mind.” And “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus responds to the scribe by pronouncing love of God and neighbor as “not far from the Kingdom of God.”
His response doesn’t take all that much time to give. The scribe easily had time to stand on one leg as he listened. Jesus is unguarded and direct. And like Hillel, He uses few words to explain the very heart of God’s redemptive love.
In His Gospel encounter with the Scribe, Jesus draws upon their shared Jewish heritage to explain the very foundation, the very purpose of His own life, teaching and ministry.
In doing so, Jesus provides us with the foundation of our own faith. Love of God and neighbor expresses the heart, the soul and the spirit of Christianity.
Jesus reveals a world where we love our neighbor as much as we love God, as much as God loves us.
Recently Andrea Dedmon and I attended a Forward Movement Conference on Discipleship. The speakers, panelists, and prayers were all directed to have us reflect on what it means to live out our Baptismal Promises, our discipleship in today’s world.
My role as a deacon is to support you as you live into your Baptismal Covenant, your discipleship, so here’s where it gets even more important!
At the conference, Bishop Robert Wright of Atlanta used the term “Preferred Vision” to focus the work of discipleship within our parishes and beyond our church walls.
“Preferred Vision” is used synonymously with building God’s Reign. It’s used to prompt us to envision what the fruits of our discipleship would be if we were to to achieve a world where “we are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
A “Preferred Vision,” a world not far from the God’s reign, where we love our neighbor, even when our neighbor may not love us.
A world not far from the Kingdom of God where love is offered to those whom others undervalue, those others fail to understand, those others find difficult to accept.
A “ Preferred Vision,” not far from God’s reign, where we offer love to our neighbors, when they don’t look like us, worship like us, or live like us.
This is divine love, the love of discipleship.
The Gospels abound with this Divine Love, Jesus’ own redemptive love for God’s People.
Jesus provides many examples of how we should love our neighbors.
He reaches out to those marginalized by others, those set apart because they are different, those who have little clout and power within an oppressive society.
Jesus incarnates divine love with all His heart, His soul, and His very last strength.
Actively living this divine ideal, Jesus reveals the very essence of Christian discipleship.
Yet all wasn’t ideal in Jesus’ time.
They were “far from the Kingdom of God in so many ways.” There was political domination, violence, people treated indifferently, socio – economic inequities, and plenty of people in authority spreading fear of “the other.”
This was Jesus’ chaotic world.
Yet Jesus had held tightly to his “preferred vision.” He saw God’s alternative world of love.
And on this day, we can almost hear Jesus saying, “Hear O Israel, how very much my heart is broken.”
We seem so very far from the Kingdom of God.
Bomb packages have been mailed to political opponents.
Our heated disagreements are growing across political and theological divides.
Hate rhetoric continues to spew from many quarters.
We have a generation of kids known as the massacre generation because of their exposure to school gun violence.
Black lives, refugee lives, women’s lives, children’s lives, transgender lives appear not to matter very much at all.
We continue to redefine the definition of neighbor paring the list down each and every day.
People we refuse to see, prefer to silence, intentionally exclude from our lives based on politics, color, status, and belief.
And on this day, we sadly mourn the deaths of Maurice and Vickie Lee, both targeted because they were African Americans.
Maurice and Vickie are our neighbors.
We mourn the deaths of Daniel, David, Cecil, Richard, Jerry, Irving, Joyce, Melvin, Bernice, Sylvan, Rose who were killed during worship in their Synagogue, targeted because they were Jewish.
These 11 are our neighbors.
When we use Christ’s measure for achieving God’s reign, love of neighbor, we can’t help but lament that we are so very far from the Kingdom of God, the “preferred vision.”
Jesus knows what this is like. In this Gospel, He and the Scribe had their exchange “far from the Kingdom of God.”
The Saduccees, the wealthy upper class, were protecting Roman authority and disputing Christ’s teaching. The Scribes were in conflict with Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus knew that the Temple culture had lost its soul and purpose. He knew there was an absence of moral leadership.
It seems to me that we are in the same predicament today.
Our culture appears to have misplaced its soul and purpose.
At the very least, we seem ill at ease at coming to some agreement on who is our neighbor.
In failing to speak “truth to power,” to confront an absence of moral leadership, we are letting others define who our neighbor is for us.
If you, like me, are feeling enveloped by clouds of sadness, racism, division and hate, if you have had enough, let’s embrace discipleship and act to incarnate Divine Love.
Let’s raise our voices and live our discipleship more openly. Don’t be reluctant to speak your faith.
True discipleship means this, that wherever we find ourselves on our journey, (in our homes, our faith institutions, our workplaces, our social gatherings,) we should respond in ways that let others know our “Preferred Vision,” God’s reign.
Discipleship means giving voice to the foundation of our faith, that loving our neighbor becomes the litmus test for all right action.
Discipleship means calling out sin, righting moral wrongs, and incarnating God’s love of God’s People to all our neighbors, without reserve.
Discipleship means accepting that every life matters, that we love God and neighbor with all our hearts, souls and minds, with our very last breadth.
It means when we become comfortable enough, courageous enough, to live our discipleship beyond the walls of the Church, will we truly build God’s reign, draw nearer to the “Preferred Vision,” “The Kingdom of God.”
And if someone approaches and asks you to explain the essence of all Scripture while they stand on one foot, you can say, “ I Got this!”
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.