Scripture can be found here...
Jesus is approached by someone he has been fighting with, and suddenly, they agree on something.
This is a first. Jesus has been fighting with just about everybody, from the Pharisees to the Sadducees, to the Priests, to the Elders, to the Scribes. And it’s understandable that they’ve been fighting, really. The things they care about are just too important. They matter. They are matters of life and death.
But now, a scribe approaches Jesus. (The scribes, when last seen, had walked away and sent someone else to start fighting in their place.) And now, they agree. Completely:
“You are right, Teacher,” says the scribe, “you have truly said that ‘[the Lord 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.”
And when the scribe says this, Jesus looks at him, and says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
They agree! These two people whose orientations are so different… one, who comes at things from the angle of legal interpretation, and one who comes from the angle of… well, kingdom living, you might say. Jesus is all about the kingdom of God. It’s here. And that matters.
For anyone who is tuned into the news, or into social media of any kind, every day is a fight, these days. The big fight that is unfolding surrounds this year’s Presidential election. We are watching candidates engage in debates that seem more like schoolyard brawls. We are watching supporters of candidates get so angry that friendships are at risk, and sometimes, are lost. And I need to add that I am just as guilty of getting into political squabbles as anyone else. I find myself getting mad, really mad, at the things people say, the nastiness out there (which I have to struggle to avoid responding with even more nastiness).
And it makes sense that they (we) are fighting, all these people. The things they (we) care about are just too important. They matter. They, quite often, are matters of life and death.
Of course, people fight about all kinds of things. People fight about the color of the paint and the arrangement of the furniture. They fight about what truly was the best film performance by a man in a supporting role (not to mention who should have been nominated in the first place). They fight about who budged who in line, and about whether or not a certain look constituted throwing shade. People make obscene gestures at one another based on whether or not someone used a turn signal properly.
We fight over sports. We fight over pop culture. We fight over soda pop—Pepsi vs. Coke! Nah, just kidding, that last one was just made up by advertising executives. But we do fight over Starbucks coffee vs. Dunkin’ Donuts.
We fight about a lot of things.
And we are all, every single one of us, capable of engaging in these fights, all the way from those that are about waging righteous battles on behalf of human rights, to those that are about parking spaces, while simultaneously telling ourselves that our highest values include loving one another as we love ourselves.
Because we’re clever like that.
I don’t think the answer is to tell us not to care, or not to have strong opinions. Many important and wonderful things have happened based on strong opinions. Nine months before Rosa Parks’ famous bus ride, it was the strong opinion of fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin of Montgomery, Alabama, that she had as much right to a seat on the bus as a white rider. Later, in an interview, she said, “I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other—saying, 'Sit down girl!' I was glued to my seat.” Strong opinions helped this young girl to become a pioneer for civil rights. Strong opinions are not the problem. It is how we live between expressing them that can be problematic.
We each have strong opinions as to who is best suited to lead our country, and it is our constitutional right to express those opinions and to vote accordingly. But then what?
Glennon Doyle Melton is the author of a blog/ webpage called “Momastery.” On Thursday she shared a story about her husband’s soccer game the night before, in Naples, FL. The story starts with his words.
“The game was crazy. We were playing our league rivals and both teams were so fired up. People were playing dirty and cursing at each other and even the guys on the benches were screaming.
Then, in the middle of a play- somebody yelled onto the field: LOOKING FOR A KID!”
And everybody on the field froze and everybody on the bench shut up. And we learned that a guy from the other team couldn’t find his four year old. And without speaking- everybody just stopped the game and ran. We ran in every direction and guys from my team partnered with guys from the other team to comb the fields. One guy and I went to the parking lot and stood in the middle of the entrance and stopped any car from leaving.
For ten minutes- we became this search team. And then somebody found the little guy. He’d wandered off with another family. And one of the guys from the other team- one of the guys I’d just told to shut up ‘cause he was screaming so loud- was standing there holding the little guy- hugging him so tight and we all just stared.
And then we started the game again. Everybody played just as hard but there was less yelling. Everybody played cleaner.”
Glennon’s husband finished telling her this story, and she replied: “Oh my gosh. That’s IT. “
And then, she spoke to us, her readers:
“You guys. Right now. Everything’s loud and dirty and both benches are screaming at each other.
We’ll make it through. But I want to do better than that. I want to make it through TOGETHER.
To make it through together we gotta remember that even in the heat of the game: there are some rules of engagement. One of the rules is that every once in a while we just gotta stop yelling and take care of each other’s babies.
That’s the truest rule.
Even with so many benches and so many teams and dirty play – we still know we belong to each other. We still know there is no such thing as other people’s children.
I love you so much.
Find a moment to break the rules today, stop the game and find each other again.
The game is long and exhausting but we already know that Love Wins.”[i]
I look at this soccer game, this field full of players and families and bystanders and people driving by, and I imagine Jesus saying to them all, each and every one, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
We are in the middle of a national news blitz, which is showing us things like people getting beaten up and thrown out of presidential campaign events solely because of the color of their skin or the religion they openly practice. We are in the middle of what has started to feel like a national temper tantrum by some who want to have their racism and xenophobia affirmed, accepted, and codified into law.
We are in the middle of challenging times for people who believed Jesus when he said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” And let’s not forget that Jesus went on to tell us that our neighbor is the last person we expected.
Let’s try it. It’s a little thought experiment. Think of the literally last person on earth you would want to sit at table with, to walk down a street and see coming along behind you, or to be stuck in an elevator with. Got that person in your head?
That’s your neighbor. Love that person as you love yourself. Which doesn’t mean “change your feelings.” It means, change your actions. Love as Jesus commends it to us, is an action. Love, as Jesus tells us to practice it, is not based on feelings at all.
Love God with everything we have in us, and love that unexpected neighbor as ourselves. We have to get this right. This is just too important. This matters. This is a matter of life and death.
When we love our neighbor, even the neighbor we are more inclined to hate, loathe, despise, and abominate, we are not far from the kingdom of God.
When we live for one another and defend one another from attack and insult, even those we don’t know at all, we are not far from the kingdom of God.
When we realize, there is no such thing as other people’s babies, we are not far from the kingdom of God.
In fact, the kingdom of God is here. It is all around us. It is shining through us, through our actions, and our faces, and our lives.
It is here, because Love wins.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Glennon Doyle Melton Facebook post, Thursday March 3, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/glennondoylemelton/posts/10153948986954710