Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jesus' Version of "Getting Things Done"

I’m going to do something stupid up here.  I’m going to start a sermon with a confession.  Which is stupid because who really cares about somebody else’s problems?  Be that as it may - here is my confession:  I struggle with organization.  Especially in my office.  I have lots of important stuff, which I half remember is there, but I can’t put my hands on it.  Like a couple of Sundays ago.  When the scripture was about the king inviting everybody to the banquet and people give all kinds of lame excuses about why they can’t come.  Carol Erb had given me a copy of a really funny old song about that.  I remember the chorus:  I can not come to the banquet, don’t bother me now, I have taken a wife I have bought me a cow, I have fields and possessions that cost a pretty sum, so don’t bother me cause I can’t come.  I thought that would be really fun for us to sing.  But I couldn’t find it. 
I looked everywhere for it.  But I didn’t find it.  What I did find was a journal that had directions for an art project that I really really really wanted to do during Lent last spring. 
I pulled that thing out of the piano bench, looked at it and just about cried. 
I struggle with organization.  So I signed up with a life coach to take a course on organization.  And I bought a books  - "Getting Things Done".  And I’m working on it.  I’m seeing some progress, but if you walked in my office right now, you’d be hard pressed to tell.  But there’s one difference now:  I have a filing cabinet.  That is the first and most important thing to do for office organization:  have a filing system that you can put things into and take things out of when the occasion arises.  Or you are sunk.  You are always looking at piles of paper and you have all this information and it is useless to you.  You have to have some organizing principle or all the paper is just . . . trash waiting to fulfill its destiny, which is to be thrown away.
OK.  Most of you don’t have disorganized offices.  Or linen closets.  Or pantries.  Or clothes closets.  OK.  Good for you. 
But what about our understanding of God and especially the handle we have on scripture - which we affirm is one of the most important ways God communicates his will for our lives.  How do you organize all the things between the covers of this book and make sense of it for your life?
Pharisees in Jesus’ day, and Pharisees in our own day (and I’m not using that term derogatorily - well, maybe I am) look at this book and pull out all the laws.  There are 10 Commandments.  Those are the law God gave through Moses.  10 is just quite a few.  OK.  Well the people in Jesus’ day had not 10, not 100 - but closer to 1000- 613 to be precise - laws that they had drawn out of God’s Word and tried to follow to the letter everyday of their lives. 
So, they come to Jesus, with a question about those 613 laws that they feel will be a stumper.  (It’s just actual fact that they were not asking out of intellectual curiosity - but malice toward our man, Jesus.)   “Which is the most important commandment?”  It’s like asking a mother, which is your favorite child.  Or an art collector, “Which is the best painting?”  or a banker, which is your favorite hundred dollar bill?  The right answer is, ‘All of them!”
But Jesus doesn’t take the easy answer.  Why are we not surprised by that?  Jesus doesn’t mouth the pious platitude.  Instead he offers an honest answer.  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Boom.  A one-two punch.  He said, Those aren’t just two of my favorites.  Those are THE two , on which hang all 611 of the others. 
In other words - he wasn’t just answering a question.  He was offering an organizing principle.  He was revealing the filing system for understanding and accessing God’s intent for our lives.  God’s intent for us is LOVE.  Love of God.  Love of humanity. 
He was saying that living a Good - God blessed - life means organizing it around these two things:  Love of God.  Love of neighbor. 
Those are the two drawers in the filing cabinet of your life.  Everything that comes into your life, and every action you take while you live each and every day should go into and come out of those two categories.  Purpose #1 - To Love God.  Purpose #2 - to Love Neighbor as Self.  And if something doesn’t belong in one of those two drawers, then it belongs in the circular file.  The trash.  Both the drawers are labeled love. 
Here I”m gonna quote a Biblical scholar, Michael Hare, (Matthew, Interpretation Commentaries) who writes:
In an age when the word 'love' is greatly abused, it is important to remember that the primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our consciousness as we consider all that God has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that Deut. 6:5 demands of us but rather stubborn, unwavering commitment. Similarly, to love our neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean that we must feel affection for them. To love the neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously. [p. 260]

Let’s take that first drawer.  Loving God with all our heart, and soul and mind:  How do we do that?  Prayer.  Worship.  Stewardship of time and talents.  Taking care of God’s gifts to us and returning a proportion of those gifts to God’s work in the world. This is how we show our commitment to God.  By putting God first.  Not money. Not family, not heritage. not country. God.  
David Foster Wallace:  Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things -- if they are where you tap real meaning in life -- then you will never have enough. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. Worship power -- and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart -- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on. On one level, we all know this stuff already -- it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.
That’s the first file drawer of life. 
And the second organizing principle, the second file drawer is love of neighbor - taking the needs  of other people (not just friends, or relations or fellow Christians, or Americans, but neighbors as Jesus defines it  - everyone who has need and who doesn’t?) as seriously as you take your own needs.
In this file drawer goes how we talk to others with whom we disagree.  How we understand our place in the community.  How we respond to power.  How we exercise the power and influence that we have.  How we treat customers in our stores, people who wait on us in restaurants, students in our classes, people on committees, migrant workers who pick our food, people who cut us off in traffic, everybody.  We pay attention to their needs and treat them as equal to our own.
This is the second drawer of life. 
Now, my two drawer analogy breaks down a little, because the Love God drawer and the  Love Others and Self drawer aren’t really two separate drawers. 
Martin Luther, I think, once said that God is perfectly sufficient unto God’s Self.  God doesn’t need anything that we have to give.  God is God.  The Creator of the Universe isn’t waiting for our prayer to act, or our worship to feel good about Himself, or our gifts to make Himself complete.  So the only way we can offer something to God is to offer it to our neighbor.  Love of God is not something apart from loving neighbor.  It is the reason for loving our neighbor.  That is what God desires from us and for us.  So the drawers get cross filled.   What belongs in one belongs in the other, too.  And what comes out of one can be found in the other. 
But rather than that making things more complicated and confused, it really makes things more simple.  Love is the only thing that matters.  All the rest of details.  Which the God of LOVE we know in Jesus Christ invites us to work out with fear and trembling in our own lives.
 I would like to invite you to briefly experiment with letting LOVE organize your thoughts.   Listen for how God is inviting us today to choose love.
Open your heart. Be attentive for any particular word or phrase that stands out to you:
Jesus said, You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

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