Saturday, October 25, 2014

"A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners..."

I borrowed, heavily and unapologetically, from the work of Mick Mooney for this sermon. 

If we got as upset over the nearly sixteen million children in America who cannot be certain where their next meal is coming from (or if there will be one) as we get over Ebola being present in the United States... if we were as interested in sick people on the continent of Africa as we are about the three people in the USA who have gotten Ebola, there is no end to the problems we could solve.

It's time to get serious... to really, truly do what Jesus would do.

Matthew 22:34-46
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. and a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

This is the Word of the Lord.

MedecinsSans Frontieres,” or “Doctors Without Borders,” was created in 1971 with the idea that doctors and medical professionals should go where the patients are, be it a war zone, a nation stricken by famine, or a part of a continent battling a dreaded disease. “Doctors Without Borders” has treated, in its time, over one hundred million patients, in all areas of the world… including Guinea, in west Africa, where people are dying of Ebola. Supplies are short, medicine is short, protective gear is short… these doctors and health professionals, like Craig Spencer, go anyway. “Doctors Without Borders” claims no religious affiliation, and over eighty-four percent of every dollar raised goes directly to program services.

We heard none of this on Thursday, though, did we? Not a word about the selfless work of these doctors, going into harm’s way to bring healing and hope, or at least some measure of comfort and protection, to a corner of the world most people never even think about. When Dr. Spencer checked himself into Bellvue, and tested positive for Ebola, all we heard that was Ebola has invaded New York City.

Never mind that more Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola. Never mind that, if I may paraphrase humorist Andy Borowitz, Americans are more frantic about three cases of Ebola in the US than they are about thirty-nine school shootings – one of them the day after Dr. Spencer's diagnosis was announced – if you pay attention to the media hype, we have collectively lost our minds.

The calmest headlines said, “New York Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola,” but of course there was also this jewel of a headline: “Ebola Strikes New York City!” I fully expected to see “Zombie Apocalypse in Manhattan, Panic In The Streets, Film at 11” next.

I do not know Dr. Craig Spencer’s religious affiliation, if any. I do know that he worked in Guinea for about a month, earning far less than he would have in the same period at his job with Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He didn’t go to Guinea for fame, or for the money, he went because people are dying and they need medical help. He did it in spite of the very real danger to his life.

What is the greatest commandment?” the Pharisees ask Jesus.

Now, we can talk all day about how Jesus turned the Pharisees’ attempt to discredit him on its head, we can talk about how he proved to them that their expectations of the Messiah were far too narrow. That’s the kind of stuff I like to do. I like to pull on threads of the narrative, look at the historical context behind this polite confrontation, explore the interplay between what we think we read and the intention of the original languages. It’s fun, and in far too many ways, it’s easy.

But I want to talk about those commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I know I don’t have to remind you that love, and especially the kind of love Jesus refers to here, has nothing at all to do with how we feel. This is not a romantic, emotional, felt kind of love. This is an active, expressed, lived love. It is love as a verb. It is a love that is spelled out not by our words, not by our creeds, but by our actions.

Dr. Cornell West says, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” Judging by that criteria, what can we say about the way we love? How many Americans thought that Ebola was unfortunate, but not that big a deal as long as it was “over there,” as long as it was citizens of the nations of West Africa that were dying, and not Americans… and how many are in a panic right now, spurred on by those “Ebola Strikes New York” headlines and those FaceBook posts insisting that the CDC is lying to us and that Ebola is airborne? Is it love to not really be concerned about problems on the other side of the world until the media start screaming about it being our problem?

Is that love? Is that loving God, is that loving our neighbor as ourselves?

I think Dr. Craig Spencer, and his colleagues at Doctors Without Borders, might have a different view of what love looks like.

Love is messy. Love is dangerous. Love takes us places we are not comfortable going.

Do you know why the Pharisees hated Jesus so much? Yes, partly because of his teachings – they likely were real fans of the fact that he separated the worship of God from the Temple, and emphasized the importance of worship in everyday life. That’s one of the main bones that the Pharisees picked against the Sadducees, after all. But there were a lot of other places, like healing on the Sabbath, where Jesus flew in the face of what they “knew” God wanted.

A bigger problem, though, was that the Pharisees saw how many people were looking to Jesus as the promised Messiah, but when they looked, Jesus didn’t measure up! Not as much because of what he said as what he did and who he spent time around!

Jesus did not live in a bubble of holy rollers, going through the same worship songs over and over, hiding away from society in prayer meetings and revival events. Jesus was in the midst of the party of life. He was at the center of the celebration, with people, all kinds of people, from all kinds of walks of life, with all kinds of world views and lifestyles. He went to weddings, he went to dinners. He walked and talked and laughed among those the Pharisees referred to as “people of the dirt.” He got a reputation as a “glutton and a drunkard” because of the people he enjoyed associating with.

And Jesus was in the midst of the brokenness of life. When a woman was set to be stoned for her immorality, Jesus was there to defend her from the angry religious crowd. Jesus started a conversation with the Samaritan woman by the well, a woman no one would talk to – not even her own people! And Jesus touched and healed the lepers, the ones that no one dared get close to for fear of having the sin rub off on them. He healed those who shared his religion, and those who were of other religions – the servant of the centurion comes to mind, as well as the daughter of the Syrophonecian woman.

Love is not found in demanding that there be a travel ban on the continent of Africa. Love is found, rather, in the actions of those who provide help, hope, and healing to suffering people of all races, nationalities, social castes, religions, orientations and identities. “Living Waters for the World,” Dr. Craig Spencer and Doctors Without Borders, are two very obvious examples.

In between last week's reading, where the Pharisees teamed up with the Herodians to try and discredit Jesus, and this week's reading, “Pharisees: Reloaded,” The Sadducees took their own pot shots at Jesus. And make no mistake: the whole aim of everything the Pharisees are doing here, including using an expert in the Law of Moses to test Jesus, is calculated to expose him as a heretic, a liar, a false Messiah.

The Pharisees, and for that matter their bitterest rivals, the Sadducees, saved their harshest words for those who did not practice Judaism with the fervor that they expected, who were not willing or able to attend every Temple event. They kept themselves scrupulously separate from undesirables, like Samaritans, Gentiles, lepers, prostitutes...

Jesus, to put it mildly, didn't do any of that. At all. He reserved his harshest words for the religious elite, those who used religion for financial gain, who held themselves not simply separate from, but superior to, the poor, forgotten, despised and marginalized. And he spent all of his time – all of it! - with those marginalized, despised, forgotten and poor.

To quote Mick Mooney, Jesus “doesn't just rock the boat of religion, ...he sets it on fire and then jumps into the water and swims to shore.”

I know that I don't have to spend time expounding on who our modern-day lepers and Gentiles and Samaritans are. I don't have to say that a modern-day Jesus wouldn't be in Mountain Brook very often; he'd be hanging out in Atmore or in the neighborhoods around Legion Field, the two poorest zip codes in Alabama (in order).

Jesus was a reckless lover of people, and he refused to bow down to the religious expectation of loving from a distance. He was up close, real, embracing all people, from all walks of life. He was hated by the religious elite because of his love, a love not made up of the words he spoke, but by the life he lived.

So what does all of this have to do with “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself?”

Well, let me ask: If Jesus, who the religious elite called a “...a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of... sinners” lived out these commandments in his every action, and if the ultimate goal of every citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, everyone who calls themselves by the name of Christ, is to be like Jesus...

...what should we doing? With whom should we be identified? What should they call us?

Let us pray.

No comments:

Post a Comment