Proper 25-A; October 23, 2011
Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
We baby boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 – are used to seeing ourselves at the center of the universe – well, of the marketing universe that caters to our desires. We are the great bulge, moving from babyhood to elementary school to fast times at Ridgemont High. We went to college in a tie-dyed, denim-clad group, entered the workforce in our Oxford button-downs at the same time – and are now, in our relaxed khakis and comfy sweaters, entering our 60s. We read a passage like this one, from Deuteronomy, with new eyes – eyes perhaps not as clear as those of Moses:
Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor was not abated.
That sounds good to me. I’m not even half-way there!
Moses is astounding, not only for his long-lived clarity of vision, but for his single-mindedness. Once he took on God’s plan to move the people of Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, that was all he did. His eyes were on the prize, and he kept going, despite all the setbacks that whining people and wilderness roads put in his path.
Commendable as that is, the culture we live in seems to pull us in another direction – or rather, far too many directions at once. Have you seen that commercial about the man who has forgotten that it’s his wedding anniversary? His wife calls up, while he is focused on some project at his desk, and all of a sudden, through the magic of this particular cell phone, he can simultaneously reassure his wife that he has NOT forgotten their date, make a reservation at their favorite restaurant and have flowers delivered at their home, all at the same time. But we don’t see this couple at dinner. Is the husband frantically finishing his work project from the restaurant table, texting while his wife is looking at the menu, e-mailing a document while she goes to the ladies room, pretending to calculate the tip while he is really tweaking a spreadsheet?
I’m enough of a baby boomer to be shocked! shocked! that college students aren’t necessarily taking notes on their laptops connected to the internet in their lecture halls – but also to agree that it is kind of handy just to send that one more text from my phone while I am sitting at a red light on Genesee Street. Sitting in the driver’s seat, of course.
Multi-tasking and its discontents are in the air we breathe.
Today’s gospel is for us:
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus 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?"
That question cuts through all the noise, doesn’t it? In the face of all that is around us, Teacher, all the confusion and crashing that affects even us little people here, what does God want us to do?
The Gospels present us with the picture of a changing world. The old understanding of faith in God – follow all the many laws, listen to the authorities like scribes and Pharisees – the ones who symbolically sat in Moses’ seat – is being challenged by this one particular teacher, this Jesus, who seems to embody in his person all the hope and good news and promise of God, the God who has been made known through the law and the prophets. Whom do we follow? We can hear the concern in the voices of the people: if we follow Jesus, do we have to abandon everything we have known about God up to now?
From the midst of all these questions and confusions and options and interpretations, Jesus breaks through with remarkable simplicity:
"`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."
What Jesus is saying is, Keep your faith where it has always been: with God. As he spars with those religious leaders trying to entrap him into making some big mistake, he makes it clear that his faith is with God, and with the essentials that God has always, always, always been trying to get across to us. This is the big thing that everything hangs from. This is the start, the first, the banner headline screaming across the top of the newspaper: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Everything starts with this. Anything else is distraction, multi-tasking with no result, mere interruptions that take us away from giving ourselves fully to the God who loves us and wants us to love back, and wants us to love all these other people whom God loves, too. In this ever-widening circle of care and concern lies our treasure, our heart, our true home.
Yesterday, when we were raking the yard and cleaning up the building, we found this: a robin’s nest, a work that took extraordinary focus, determination and clarity of purpose. It is an astounding creation, hard as concrete yet light as a feather. The bird knows just what nest works for those eggs and those babies. All the grass and twigs and paper and I don’t even know what in the world comes down to just this one, perfect nest.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You, too, can learn the art of single-tasking.