Homily for All Saints and a Celebration of Baptism, November 4, 2012
IT’S ABOUT LOVE. PASS IT ON!
The ancient Jewish people seem to have had the great wisdom to know that there are certain things you MUST pass on to your children, with the understanding that they in turn must pass the message on to their children, and so on. They had the wisdom to know that there are many negative influences in the world, and that certain things are too important to be left to chance. They knew that you have to be quite intentional about sharing your faith.
The Ten Commandments was one means they used, and their scriptures guided them with words like these: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.”
We can only speculate about the mind of God, but it’s as if God decided: “OK, let’s make this really simple. What do people need most in the world? Love. What will be the most effective way to connect them with each other? Love. What will motivate them to care for the health of the planet? Love. What will enable them to relate to me? Love. It’s not that complicated, folks!”
Hillel was a famous rabbi, who lived in the same era as Jesus. When he was told by a non-Jew that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could relate all that the Torah had to say while the man stood there on one foot, Hillel replied, “Do not do to your neighbor what you would not have him do to you. This is the whole Law; the rest is commentary.”
Jesus’ summary of the Law draws on his own Jewish roots and binds devotion to God together with care for those around us. He said: “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.”
Too often, single-minded devotion to our idea of God ends up in disrespectful and destructive behavior toward others who don’t agree with us.Often, religious people become fanatic, self-righteous, and oppressive to others. But when you have to balance your zeal for “God” with treating your neighbour at least as well as you treat yourself, it brings a whole other dimension into effect (read 1John 4: 7–21 for a good meditation on the importance of this balance in Christian life).
St. Paul took the same approach in his teaching. He said: “Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
Love God. Love your neighbour. Sounds like a pretty simple formula.
Teach your children; indeed, teach anyone who will listen. Teach them not to hate people; teach them to seek to understand and to take the trouble to educate themselves about people they think of as strange; teach them to trust that there is room for everyone on this planet and that everyone has a right to a place to live and enough to eat, freedom to think and safety from violence. Teach them to overcome barriers instead of creating them and hiding behind them.
I love the approach of Jesus – as the Gospel of Mark tells it, even though he is being confronted and even threatened by Jews, he does not allow their opposition to become a barrier or to undermine his love for them or for Jews in general. Approached by another Jew, this one a scribe, Jesus willingly engages in dialogue with him and pronounces that he is “not far from the kingdom of God.” Even as his life moved toward its violent end, Jesus did not allow fear or resentment or anger to distort the gracious way he dealt with other people. Jesus had gone way past loving neighbour; he was able to love his enemies as well.
Love God; love your neighbour as yourself. It is SO simple and yet it’s amazing how difficult we seem to make that. God’s Word taught the ancient Jewish people to “bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,” and that is what they did, and many of them still do, just as many Christians wear little reminder bracelets with What Would Jesus Do? on them, or crosses or crucifixes, as a reminder to bring the love of Christ to bear in every situation, every place. Always remember, you are the real symbol of God’s love, not the tattoo of the cross on your forehead or the bumper sticker that says “I love Jesus.”
Love God; love your neighbour as yourself. So simple, but how does that work in practice rather than theory? So the Church in her great wisdom comes up with a bit of an elaboration of the law of love. We call it the baptismal covenant, and we renew that covenant every Easter, and every time we celebrate Baptism. Baptism is always an opportunity for the whole community to start afresh and get re-oriented.
So the questioning goes like this (see p. 159 Book of Alternative Services):
Celebrant: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People: I will, with God’s help.
In the beginning (and this question is lifted from the second chapter of the book of The Acts of the Apostles), being part of the church meant that they were in it together; the first disciples agreed to support each other without reservation and the New Testament is largely about the process of embracing that discipline of what it means to live together in the love of Christ.
“Will you continue . . .?” Continuity is about finding that same spirit which motivated the first disciples to become such an amazing community that an outside commentator, reporting on Christianity to others, said, “You’ve got to see how these Christians love each other.” In other words, you’ve got to see it to believe it — it’s so distinctive. This is a way of saying, YOU HAVE TO BE THERE – you have to gather and celebrate and explore the life of Jesus TOGETHER. Otherwise, it’s just an abstract ideal, or a hobby, not a legitimate Christian spirituality. No matter how badly the local church exercises its discipleship, it’s always better than not doing it at all.
Celebrant: Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.
The devil is simply a personification or even a projection of our own fears and darkness, but only an idiot would choose to believe there are no evil or mailicious influences in our world, and only a really careless or naïve person would pay no attention to what influences their child was absorbing, as if to say “It’s all good.” The philosopher Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” Would you let your child eat garbage? Then why would you let your child feed on the rage, violence, abuse, prejudice, revenge and fear that are standard fare on TV, video games and movies aimed at young people?
We also believe God is gracious and forgiving; we don’t believe we’re doomed if we make one mistake. But mature accountability means we take responsibility for our own actions, and don’t persist in attitudes and behaviours we know are destructive to ourselves or others. To repent means to recognize when we are off course and change direction.
And Christianity is not about quick fixes or “instant karma.” It is about persevering in the right direction; it takes time and effort to become better at it, which is why we call our disciplines spiritual “practices.” Albert Einstein said: “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
People I will, with God’s help.
Here I’ll simply offer you a story:
A wise woman who was travelling in the mountains found a precious stone in a creek. The next day she met another traveller who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.
The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.
But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope you can give me something even more precious.
“Please give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone in the first place.”
As St Francis of Assisi said, “Preach everywhere you go. When necessary, use words.”
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
People: I will, with God’s help.
“Who is my neighbour?” That’s a famous question – one that Jesus answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.
The Gospel simply asks us to think about that question, and to recognize that “neighbours” can be found in the most unusual and unexpected places, whereas the person next door can actually be your worst nightmare. (see Luke 10: 25—37). Always be alert for the people God is placing in your path, beside you, etc.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Mother Teresa put it quite well: Always conscious of Jesus’ words: “whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me,” she said her ministry was about “Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and God’s hand in every happening; this is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
“I will, with God’s help.” You need God’s help to be loving like a Mother Teresa, but let’s not mince words here: every person who stands up and makes these promises takes on the challenge and commitment of being an ambassador for Christ; each of you is asked to believe that you have it in you to make a difference for good in the world. If you are saying Yes to that, then let your Yes mean something.
Jesus of course takes this a lot further. Teachings like “Love your enemies” take a little more practice (you don’t learn nuclear physics in kindergarten, either), yet it’s amazing that these seemingly impossible things do, with time and with practice and with God’s grace, become possible.
At Mother Teresa’s funeral, people of all faiths were mourning, crying, and paying tribute, because love like hers is a universal language – everyone recognizes its goodness and its value and its impact.
In a very real way the Church, and this parish, is the sum total of our individual willingness to commit to these simple principles of living, based on the even simpler commandment to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we can’t call the church to that basic and simple discipline, we really can’t be much of a church — certainly not the sort that makes any real difference. But each renewal of vows gives us an opportunity to say Yes! Let’s be that church — let’s be that community!
At a funeral I conducted yesterday there was a very touching moment when the woman’s husband and her two young daughters lit a candle. It reminded me of something St Francis of Assisi said: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” All the world needs, often as not, is just that one person who is prepared to shine with the light of Christ. As we pass the candle to the newly-baptized this morning, let us think about what it really means.
The Reverend Grant Rodgers+
RCL appointed readings:
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 Now this is the commandment–the statutes and the ordinances–that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children, may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Hebrews 9:11-14 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
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.