Sunday, November 1, 2015

Not Far

Buntyn Presbyterian Church
November 1, 2015
Psalm 146
Mark 12:28-34 

One day this week I had a plan. I had a deadline looming and a plan for getting my work done on time. It was raining. I took something up to the attic, just putting something away, and I heard a drip, drip, drip. I tried, for a split second, not to hear it. But it was real. I came downstairs and found the number to call our roofers. They came over and went up in the attic. They looked around and we put a container under the drip. They said they would come back when the rain stopped.
Time was ticking away when I got a call from my credit card company. They wanted to know if I was in Oregon and had I just charged $1334.00 at a place called Must Be. Anxiety was flowering full-bloom within me as I cut my credit card into pieces and dropped it in the trash. What else could go wrong?!
That's when I noticed that none of my texts that I had sent out were sent. Upon further investigation, I learned that my cell phone was no longer able to send or receive texts. I took it to the A T & T store where I sat at a table with a nice young woman who was not able to do a thing about my phone not texting. She gave me a number to call for A T & T Technical support. I called the number and talked with a nice young man for a little over an hour. He was kind but not able to help me. By that time it was evening and I had not accomplished anything on my work list. But I had grown a great garden of anxiety. The sky seemed to be falling on my life!
Not for one minute do I think that this series of events is exclusively my own. Not for one minute do I think that this series of events tops your most distressing day this past week. What I do think is this: We all know how easily we are disturbed, how quickly we can lose sight of our priorities. If a day starts going smoothly and in order, it sometimes feels like forty roaring thieves come charging in to steal my peace, to rob me of any connection with God and my awareness of the goodness of life itself.
Praising God gets left in the dust behind our well-rehearsed worries. We know how to worry and complain. Praising, trusting and loving God…Is that even something we need to do? We know how to value and trust the things of this world. But have we even put praising God on our to-do list?
I think it is something important for us to do. According to the Psalmist, we are to praise God as long as we live; we are to sing songs of praise our whole life long.
As a child, I thought that being Christian was defined by going to church on Sunday. What we did or what we left undone on the other days of the week were insignificant in terms of being identified as Christian. It was all decided on that one day of the week when we got together with other Christians, prayed, sang songs, and listened to a sermon. That was it. We were in the club. As an adult I have grown to the place where I see that being Christian is an everyday practice or it is not much at all. I live and breathe Monday through Saturday, same as I do on Sunday. And I need to feel a real connection to something greater than myself all week long. I need to know that there is something more important than the roof over my head, the credit card in my purse and the cell phone in my hand. I need to know how to trust that "something more" and I need to learn how to love that "something more" …more than I love anything else in my life.
How do we learn how to love God more than anything else? It’s a challenge. We don’t call God on the phone, meet God for dinner downtown and then take in a movie with God, holding hands in the darkness and anticipating intense intimacy later. No. We don’t interact with God in any way that resembles the ways we interact with our earthly beloveds. Not really. Because God is something more.
God keeps faith in us. God executes justice for the oppressed, provides food for the hungry, sets the prisoner free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, loves the righteous, watches over strangers and upholds the orphan and the widow. God is love and justice rolled into one. God is more than anything we could ever be. God is more than anything else we can know in this life. And that’s what makes it so challenging for us to praise and love God all day long. God is beyond our comprehension and easily set aside while we focus on that annoying driver ahead of us who is slowing us down and keeping us from meeting our pals for a drink after work. We tend to focus on anything and everything but God.
Helen Keller was both blind and deaf. She said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” A blind woman was able to see what is really beautiful in this world, what is truly worthy of our praise.
A few years ago I was talking with the warden out at our county jail. We were reflecting on the problems of the world and the troubles related to mass incarceration. Warden Coleman said, “I think we have raised up a generation and taught them that what really matters in life are things. If you have enough things, you are a success in life and it doesn’t matter how you get your things. Just having them means you are a success.”
It’s too easy for us to worship our possessions, our conveniences, our security systems, investments and our privileges. We put our trust in them. We are blinded by the temporary razzle-dazzle and unable to stay connected to what is eternal.
The chief priests, scribes and elders questioned the authority that Jesus claimed. They were asking him questions, hoping to trick him into exposing himself as a fraud. And then one man, a scribe, steps closer to Jesus, obviously impressed by the responses that Jesus was giving to his antagonists. He asks, “What is the most important commandment?” The scribe isn’t interested in arguing. He sees that Jesus values something basic and is making connections that could unite all human beings. Jesus confesses the oneness of God. There is one God and we are called upon to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
And what comes next? What would the second most important commandment be? To love our neighbor as ourselves.
The scribe received these responses from Jesus and he was impressed, touched deeply. And so are we today. Like the scribe, we recognize how improved our daily lives would be if we made loving and praising God our top priority and if that was followed by loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, our car, our privacy fence and our insurance policies. What if our to-do list had only one item on it, LOVE, every day of the week?
Life would be different, of course. I urge you now NOT to feel guilty if love has not been on the top of your list lately. I beg you not to feel badly toward yourself, to blame yourself if you have been concentrating on everything else other than love. Guilt and self-blame will only widen the gap between you and the eternal love that God is faithfully extending to you.
The scribe was impressed by Jesus and his answers, his presence, his power, his love. That love reached the scribe and opened his heart, his soul, mind and strength. The scribe became a man who could make love a priority every day of the week—not because the scribe was so smart or special. But because he spent time with the love that is eternal.  “You are not far from the Kingdom,” Jesus said to him. And the scribe was moved; he became something more.
It is the love of God that has the power to change us, to teach us to praise and worship that which really matters in life. It is the love of God that gives us eyes to see what is truly beautiful in this world. It is the love of God that can unite us as one human family and set us free to praise what is good and eternal in one hopeful voice together. We are not far from the Kingdom of God any time we choose to put love on the top of our priority list.








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