Isn’t this fun!
Two weeks ago I “retired” and celebrated 50 years of ordination. I did not put myself on the supply list and all I wanted was to take a few months off before deciding what else to do with my life.
But then Edwin emailed me, and this is St. Mary’s, and my son David does go to church here, and I do know many of you, so how could I say; “No?”
Which brings me back to my priesthood and us to the question of the day; Eternal Life? I was confronted with that question early on in life because my dad died when I was eight years old. The whole question of life and death and what happens when a loved one dies was front and center even before I knew how to fully comprehend or process the enormity of that kind of loss or those kinds of questions.
Eventually, after more than a year of sadness and bewilderment I came to understand that the Silence I poured out my heart to in the night season was actually God, and Jesus and that that most beautiful Hagia Sophia; or the Holy Spirit as we call her liturgically.
Then I read the Gospel and I discovered that Eternal Life has more to do with the here and now than the bye and bye. To be sure it involves both but Jesus consistently redirects us to the more immediate concerns of life and the living.
When the lawyer in today’s Gospel questions Jesus about “eternal life” it is easy to think that he is talking about what he needs to do to make his way toward heaven.
Jesus’ answer is the first and great commandment; The Shema:
Hear O Israel “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” In traditional Judaica that’s the sum and total of it.
But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. He adds “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He lifts those words from Leviticus 19:18b. One half of one verse of all the hundreds of rules in the Levitical law code, but Jesus homes in on only one.
Jesus puts our social responsibility on a par with our responsibility to God. We are not required to love one or the other. Jesus says we are required to love both.
At the end of his life we face another shift in teaching. So important is our social responsibility that when he faced the final conflict, he make this law the New Commandment.
Remember? At the Last Supper, after the foot washing, Jesus leaves them these words; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~John 13:34,35.
Eternal Life then is; first and foremost about the here and now. Don’t wait until you’re dead to live the Way of Jesus. It won’t do you much good then. No, let’s get on with it and live it now!
Sacramentally, eternal life begins in our Baptism and we feed on it in the Eucharist. You may have heard a priest or two say; “The Body of Christ keep you in Eternal Life.” Or “The Body of Christ; the Bread of Heaven”. Biblically in the Gospel and Sacramentally in the Eucharist Jesus teaches us Eternal Life begins now.
Secondly, Eternal Life is relational. The lawyer wanted to justify himself, which is to say that he wanted to establish his righteousness, and so pressed the question with Jesus; “And who is my neighbor?” In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus holds up a mirror to the soul of the lawyer to demonstrate how far from righteousness he was. On that treacherous road from Jerusalem down to Jericho a certain man fell into the hands of robbers, leaving him half dead. The story strikes close to home. The ones we’d expect to be righteous, the priest and the levite, passed by on the other side. But it was the theologically, politically, and socially marginalized Samaritan who stopped and ministered to the victim of violence.
Jesus seems to be saying that this is Eternal Life; when you see someone suffering, in sorrow, in pain or in any other kind of need; stop what you were doing and tend to that first. If you claim to love God then show it by loving your neighbor. God does not measure righteousness by the labels we wear, God measures us by how we treat one another.
Eternal Life is about our relationships to God and to one another.
Thirdly, Eternal Life is prophetic. It is about Justice. What did Amos see in today’s first lesson? He saw God “setting a plumb line in the midst of the people.” In this particular historic context, God was measuring the household of Jeroboam, and found it wanting. In those days, the power brokers were eager to get past the Holy Day observances so that the fraudsters could get back to business. Corporate greed is nothing new. I love reading Amos. It has such a contemporary sound to it.
From ancient times our faith tradition requires us to look out for the poor and the vulnerable. This fragment from the Psalmist today is a case in point.
“Save the weak and the orphan; *
defend the humble and needy;
Rescue the weak and the poor; *
deliver them from the power of the wicked.”
This is how we are to organize our lives; around the the needs of the poor and the marginalized. Jesus goes even further than biblical norms to be inclusive of tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers and sinners of all sorts.
Where do we draw the line? You know the answer to that question. We draw it over our hearts and souls (making the sign of the cross)
Which brings me back to my initial point; isn’t this fun! To live in Eternal Life is to live inside the Joy of Jesus. It is here and now. It is about our living relationships with God and each other and becoming be agents of God’s Justice.
Jesus said; “I have come to bring you life in all of its abundance.” ~John 10:10. And “I have told you these things that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” ~John 15:11. “Go and do likewise”.
Thank you for embracing me on such short notice today. I pray the church in Baltimore and Fr Edwin and all the rest are having a grand time of it living inside Eternal Life. Knowing Edwin and the Episcopal Church as I do, I have every confidence they’e having a wonderful time sharing all that life has to offer! Let us do likewise this day in Eternal Life!
In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.
Below, the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost and highlights of those words and phrases that speak to my hearts and soul.
The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
First Lesson: Amos 7:7-17
This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ “Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”
God takes his stand in the council of heaven; *
he gives judgment in the midst of the gods:
“How long will you judge unjustly, *
and show favor to the wicked?
Save the weak and the orphan; *
defend the humble and needy;
Rescue the weak and the poor; *
deliver them from the power of the wicked.
They do not know, neither do they understand;
they go about in darkness; *
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
Now I say to you, ‘You are gods, *
and all of you children of the Most High;
Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, *
and fall like any prince.’”
Arise, O God, and rule the earth, *
for you shall take all nations for your own.
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”