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Simple

Reverend Philip Stringer

Mark 2:23-3:6

LET US PRAY: We ask, O Lord, that the words which we hear this morning, and the worship which we offer, may bear fruit in our hearts and be acceptable in your sight, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN


The message today is simple: Do all things with love. That’s it.


So simple.


I have had a hard time coming up with a sermon today, and think that it is because of two words in that phrase: “all things.”


When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, he said that the entirety of all of the law and the prophets can be summed up in one Law: Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul. And he added that there is another law that is at the heart of applying the first law: Love your neighbor as yourself — that is to say, when you look at another person, don’t see someone separate from yourself — see someone with whom your own existence is intimately connected. And see the image of God.


Love the Lord your God.


Love your neighbor.


Do all things with love: it is so simple.


But, “all things ...” that is where it gets complicated.


How do you see the world?


Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What do you expect to accomplish?


How many people will you see in a day? How much about them do you notice?


What do you own? How did you get it? What will you do with it?


The message is simple. But how much of a role does that message play in our lives?


God’s ways are not complicated. We are! But the good news for us today is that we really aren’t. Yes, the world can be confusing and complicated, but for us as Christians, that doesn’t really matter — because at the end of the day — at the start of the day all the way through to the end of the day — we begin and end with Jesus.


And in Jesus we see a simple message: Love wins the day.


It was a Saturday, and as Jesus walked with his disciples through a wheat field, the disciples plucked grain and ate as they went. That was work, and work was forbidden on Saturdays because it was the Sabbath, the holy day of rest.


In the New Testament, the Pharisees are often the stand-in for the bad guys — they represent all that stands in opposition to the ways of God. They are an example of what not to do; what not to be.


The Pharisees are a window into what lurks within us all — the danger that we begin to view life and the world through a lens that is fractured. Divided.


Their job was to know the rules — not the meaning behind the rules. They are like the parent who — when their child asks why they have to do something, answers, “because I said so.”


I’m curious about the toll booth operators on the West Virginia toll road. In the middle of last month I drove to Philadelphia, to Indiana, to Ohio and then home.


I drove the toll roads around DC.


I drove the Pennsylvania toll road.


I drove the Indiana toll road.


I drove the Ohio toll road.


I have driven Chicago toll roads and Florida toll roads.


I drive the West Virginia toll road every time I go back to Indiana, and I can tell you — they are the nicest toll booth operators anywhere. It is always, “Hello,” and “thank you,” and “have a nice day, sir!"


The others seem to just be working for a paycheck. But the WV toll booth operators are always polite, always engaging; always cheerful. And I think it must be because they are shown that what they do matters. What they do is important. They are shown that THEY matter and are valued. That’s what I suspect. They believe that they can impact the world for good through just a simple action of being kind.


Mark tells us that when Jesus tried to inject meaning into practice, the Pharisees just drew a blank.


“Then (Jesus) said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart ...”


Bad things usually happen when we divorce the practice of religion from deeper meaning.


I was with a group visiting the Holy Land.


Tourist sites always had a crowd of beggars waiting.


At one point a discussion arose about them — some people wondered if they were destitute or simply preying on the sympathies of tourists. Shouldn’t they be working? Or at school? It made people feel uneasy.


Our tour guide — a Muslim man from Jerusalem — told us about a group he recently had which complained to him about the number of people asking for handouts — “you would think that the government or the tourist industry would keep them away from us,” they commented.


His reply cut through the excuses and directly to the true heart of the matter:


“You western Christians!” he said. “You take the Bible literally, but you don’t take it seriously.”


How is it that what we believe about Jesus shapes what we believe about our relationship to the world?


The message is simple, but so easily forgotten.


Living our faith will always be a challenge — not because the tenets of our faith are complicated, but because sin and fear are part of our experience.


It seems to me, though, that part of us growing into a deeper expression of our faith comes from the very beginning of our faith, too. That is: that we should stop worrying about sin and fear, and instead, simply focus on Jesus — because he loves you, even as you are.


Try to be perfect — because perfect is perfect — it is great; wonderful. But don’t worry that you are not perfect because you are safe just the same.


Because you are loved, just the same.


I often share a favorite quote — Sigmund Freud said, “A man with a toothache cannot fall in love.” So true about so much in life!


When you and I stop worrying about ourselves, we are free to turn our attention to others.


When we stop worrying about ourselves, we are free to notice that God is at work in the world around us — and in the people around us.


When you and I know that we are safe — when we know that we are loved — we are free to do all things with love.


It’s just that simple.

AMEN

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