The Greatest Commandment
Well, today I am going to start off my homily with a little bit of show and tell. (Pastor Sal shows framed sign.) This sign hangs across the street in the living room of our church's Retreat House. It was gifted to us several years ago by one of our church members, Barb Lucier. This beautiful sign tells us the golden rule in all of the world's major faith traditions.
Interestingly enough, all of the world's major faith traditions say the same thing, that we should treat others the way we wish to be treated. Now, I share this with you today, because the Gospel reading from today's lectionary is the one in which Jesus gives us the golden rule to love our neighbor as ourselves.
So if all of the world's major faith traditions say this same thing, did they all steal it from Jesus? Well, I've shared with you before how Christianity is a baby religion. It is much younger than most of the world's major faith traditions. And I absolutely love that spiritual teachers, centuries before Jesus of Nazareth was even born -- teachers from different countries and cultures and languages and faith traditions -- all said the same thing. That there is just one truth. There is just one God, there is just one love.
We practice our love of God by practicing our love of neighbor. Now, our congregation for the past few years has been involved in the United Church of Christ's Three Great Loves campaign. This campaign is focused on Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation. And I'm so proud of all the good work our congregation has been doing in these three areas.
We have been practicing our love of neighbor through our church's Steven Ministry program, our Steven Ministers meet one-on-one each week with people in our congregation who are in need. We have also been practicing our Love of Neighbor through our work with Christian Neighbors food pantry right here in Douglas, which was founded many years ago by two women from our church. And we've been helping the hungry here in Allegan County and around the world each year through our work with the Crop Hunger Walk. We've also been demonstrating our love of neighbor through our church's Congregational Care Team, which provides meals and rides to people in need, and through our church's Social Justice Team, which has organized local marches for women's rights and Black Lives Matter. And we've also been showing Love of Neighbor through our grant proposal program, by which we've gifted tens of thousands of dollars to local charities.
Although we don't have many children in our congregation, we have been practicing our Love of Children through the Douglas Elementary School's tutoring program, and through the annual clothing drives and drives for backpacks and school supplies, and Christmas gifts for children in need in our community.
We have been doing a great job of demonstrating our Love of Creation, through our beach cleanups, recycling events, and educational nights hosted by our church's Creation Justice Team. I am so very proud of all of you at our church, who have been serving our church and our community through these spiritually active groups. Thank you so much for demonstrating your Love of Neighbor.
Now, who exactly is our neighbor? Well, our neighbor is the person who doesn't always look like us or pray like us, or think like us. And during this very divisive time in our country, our neighbor is also the person who doesn't vote like us. And so yes, we are called to demonstrate love to the neighbor who hoards toilet paper, and who refuses to wear a mask and who steals political yard signs from our front lawn. It is difficult, but we as people of faith are called to love our neighbor and to treat them as we wish to be treated. That said, I love this quote from the writer James Baldwin. He says, we can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression, and denial of my humanity and right to exist.
Jesus's commandment in today's Gospel is twofold. We are called to love God, and we're called to love our neighbor. Now, some would say that when we demonstrate our love for our neighbor, we're demonstrating our love for God. And that is true. But maybe Jesus with this commandment is letting us know that we need to be people of both action and contemplation.
Some of you remember that a few years ago, 20 of us from Douglas UCC took a trip to New Mexico, where we visited the Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Father Richard Rohr. And one of their core principles is that we need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action. Our denomination, the United Church of Christ, like most mainline Protestant denominations in America today, has been really good at doing compassionate action. We have been marching on the front lines for social justice causes. We have been helping refugees, building schools and shelters, such wonderful work in the world.
But the Christian Church in America, including our very own UCC denomination, has not always been very good with teaching us to be contemplative. The church in America has put much of its focus on doing rather than being, but with his commandment to love God and love our neighbor, Jesus is letting us know that both are important, that they work hand in hand, that we need to have them in balance. Jesus was a man of action. He was out there in the world teaching and healing and working miracles. But Jesus also found times to be contemplative. In the Gospels, we see him often going out into the wilderness, into the desert, up to the mountaintop out to the sea, so that he could spend some alone time with God.
So how do we become more contemplative? Well, we have to attune ourselves more to the voice of the master. Those of you with dogs know that dogs can be trained to become attuned to their master's commands to their master's commandments, to their master's voice. Now, Jesus never used the dog analogy. But he used the sheep analogy, that the sheep follow the shepherd's voice. Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me." Being a contemplative requires us to take time out from our good works in the world, so that we can attune ourselves more fully to the Master's voice, for God is still speaking. We attune ourselves to the Master's voice in the silence of prayer and meditation.
Father Thomas Keating says that "Silence is God's first language, everything else is a poor translation." In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and rest in God. And so my friends, on this Sabbath day, I hope that you will find some time to take a break from all of the good work you're doing in the world, and just rest in God. Be still and know. Become more fully present in the present so that you can attune yourselves more fully to the Master's voice, which is always calling us to more and more love.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
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