September 18, 2016 / The Look of Love / Sara Wolbrecht / Mark 12:28-34
Today is an exciting day for many reasons – including, that we are beginning our fall journey together TODAY. At Salt House, we like to spend a few weeks in a particular theme to focus our learning and our experience of worship on Sundays.
And when we start something, we like to work up some good visual content – a logo, maybe a video trailer of sorts to capture what we’re doing, in order to engage our community, and even to put out there on social media to spread the word and get folks excited about what we’re doing and invite them into it. And also to give framework to what we’re doing – so that even if you miss a Sunday you know the larger mission and focus and message that we’re carrying for a few weeks – and it can stick with us.
Well, Jason puts together the visual imagery of the logo and video work we do – I write the words, he makes it awesome. And so he’s finishing up his work on the video and logo for this next series, and has worked up a few possibilities for what this might look like – and we wanted to share some of the ideas, before we go public – maybe get some feedback.
Our series, if you haven’t heard, is called: Becoming We. Which we realized might sound a little confusing at first, so Jason is attempting to work out some of the confusion. I’m excited for us to see some of these options…
Jason, why don’t you show us what you’ve come up with…
Friends, a somewhat abstract question I’d like us to ask ourselves: What does your love look like? How is it observable? How would you answer that? What would you say? We’ll come back to that in a few minutes…
Today at noon, 95 or so folks will fill these seats. An hour of conversation and instruction and reflection will commence – an hour that has been repeated this past week four other times, to numbers reaching over 300 people. A training, to equip and prepare folks to do what? To serve as volunteers in the New Bethlehem Day Center. Welcome to folks who may be here because of this training event today – anyone here going?
The New Bethlehem Day Center will be a place where families experiencing homelessness will have a place to be, that is safe, where they can receive services and assistance to help them through the time of urgent transition they face. A place that will open in a few short weeks in our basement!
It has been 10 months since November 22nd, when we gathered as a community to decide whether to say YES to this opportunity to partner with Holy Family Catholic Church, Catholic Community Services, and many others to make this happen. A YES we did say unanimously – we went around the room and asked everyone to respond and every person said YES, as we realized that though we had no money to spare, and though we are a new, forming, intimate community, that though in many regards we do not have a lot of extra resources, that we absolutely had this resource of space, an unfinished basement – a basement built in the mid-1980s and never finished – (that basement is older than some of us in this room, right!). A basement that is big enough for a day center, that is centrally located on multiple bus lines and close to 405 and Taco Time, that we could say YES to this incredible opportunity to be generous with what we have for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Because the kingdom of God – where God’s vision for the world is becoming a reality – is absolutely in places where those of great need are met with food, shelter, safety, and a good ol’ loving welcome. My friends, I am so proud of y’all that we have made this decision, together. As has been said of this basement built in the 1980s this is what it was made for.
And today, I want us to name that our unanimous YES is not done. We continue to have the opportunity to say yes to what God is doing in our building – and additionally, to hopefully let this be about something God is actually doing in US, too.
This is a significant moment for us at Salt House, a defining moment. Defining moments like this one, we use the language of “kairos moments,” these moments when God gets our attention and there is incredible opportunity – if we take it – we could just let it roll by, or we could step into what’s happening, to ask questions, to notice and to let God use these defining moments of our lives as an invitation to live more fully into the life of God.
Friends, our journey this fall on Sunday mornings is one where we are attempting to walk directly into the center of this kairos moment – at least one piece of this massively significant moment for our community.
Here’s the piece we’re going to run toward and how it came to our attention: you see, in the months since November, we have had formal and informal conversations about how we might find ways to connect with folks who are benefiting from the day center. For each of us to be trained as a volunteer and serve there – that is absolutely one way to be involved. But how else might we structure our community life here at Salt House to make room for folks, to rub elbows with them, even eat with these folks? One way - we requested and are thrilled that the day center will be open on Sundays (it’d be amazing to have folks be a part of our community life together on Sundays). Also, we’ve had conversations about hosting yoga classes where ANYONE can come and to have a good ol’ mix of people here. And other possibilities, too.
Yet one of the dynamics we began to notice in the midst of these good, beautiful conversations, is our language. That, we talk about THEM, the folks experiencing homelessness in the day center. Yes, about them joining US. Them. And us. And we began to wonder if the language (of us and them) was doing something to create even more of sense of separation, distance between US and THEM.
And we realized that we don’t want to feel that way about our folks at the day center, to see them that way. We don’t want to use that language. Because we are a little too familiar with this language. In the political and cultural climate we find ourselves in right now, the language of US and THEM is overwhelmingly present – the labels that are used, and in all honesty, the labels we use. And even the blame that is thrown at certain kinds of people. And as we were having conversations over the course of these ten months, as well as noticing the conversations and trauma and racial injustice of our culture, it became a kairos moment for us. Not just about our building. We hear it as an invitation from God to pay attention, God is pointing us toward big, beautiful questions about how we see ourselves, how we see each other, how we see the world – and especially how we see people who at first glance seem quite different than us.
My friends – I want to address folks, for a moment, who have been around Salt House, with any kind of regularity ever since we started over a year ago. Even folks on the periphery, who are checking it out. I want to say a few things: first, to name that most of us have not attended a meeting about the New Bethlehem Project. Most of us have not been very hands on and involved in the process – which is ok (and we’re overwhelmingly grateful for the folks from Salt House who HAVE, who represent us, who are the liaisons for Salt House on this project – for Kristin Trace and Tim Clemensen and Kim Saunders). But most of us have only heard about it through updates.
For Salt House folks on every level, this is for you: even if you’re not sitting in the meetings, and maybe you’re not even staying for the volunteer training today – which is absolutely ok. Even so, listen up: this is your day center. You are a part of this. We are all a part of the New Bethlehem Day Center, because this is your home. Salt House, even a little bit, is home for you. We are your people. So New Bethlehem people are your people, too. Whether you were there to say yes on November 22nd or not, no matter when you started becoming a part of this place – this is your day center – you are so very much a part of this.
Which also means that this is your kairos moment – God is trying to get your attention. This is your, all of our, invitation to spend this fall taking an honest look at ourselves and our world – at this propensity to draw lines between us and those who seem not as much like us – to judge who is in and who is out about all kinds of things, and to say, we don’t want to live like that. Yes, we absolutely want to see people uniquely in the differences we have. Yet to ask how we overcome the lines that separate us. That’s why we’re calling our journey: (Logo) Becoming We: The Radical Act of Loving Our Neighbor. And, yes there is a real video to go with it, that will go live this week.
And if you don’t consider yourself “from Salt House”, maybe this is even your first time here – guess what? You are absolutely included for this ride, that begins today. And this can be your day center, too.
And so for all y’all, I want to know: are you in? Are you ready? Are you willing to explore this landscape of loving our neighbor, together?
Then let’s dive in. I’ll ask it again: my friends, what does your love look like? Because the conversation we need to have this fall, this is all about love. And not just love in the sense of feeling warm and fuzzy about something – not just unicorns and fluffy pink hearts, my friends, but the hard, sacrificial, action-oriented, generous, vulnerable kind of love that Jesus lived and spoke of and embodied in everything he did.
And today as we begin this journey, we turn to one place in scripture where Jesus confirms that love is in fact the very most important thing.
It is in one of Jesus’ biographies, one of the gospels. This conversation is in three of the four gospels, and we’re listening to Mark’s version of it. To give us some context, this happens close to Jesus’ crucifixion. After Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem (think palm branches and Hosannas!), he says and does a few things. Including this, perhaps the most important words he ever speaks, words that define the most important task of our lives. This passage is usually referred to as the Greatest Commandment. And here it is for us:
Mark 12:28-34. One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Let’s unpack what’s happening in this scene. A man, a teacher of the law, overhears Jesus debating and is impressed with his answers. Earlier in Mark’s gospels, others have asked Jesus questions to (and it says) “put Jesus to the test.” To trick him. To see if he’ll say something to incriminate himself – so they can bust him. But this time the question is different. This is a sincere question, a man asking wholeheartedly: what matters the most? Is this ever your question?
It’s kind of like the question that we ask ourselves sometimes: if you woke up in the middle of the night and your house was on fire, and if everyone got out safely but you had time to grab one thing, what would you grab? Our answer certainly says something about our priorities, about what matters the most, right?
This man is a teacher of the Law. The Law (which good Jews were expected to follow) consisted of some 600 rules to follow, and this man is asking, of this house full of things (the Law), what is the one thing he should grab hold of?
And Jesus says: LOVE! Love God with everything you have. And notice, the man doesn’t ask for the runner-up, item number two on the list, but Jesus, in the same breath says: and love your neighbor as yourself. We get that feeling that Jesus can’t just say “love God” as a singular focus, but that loving God is so significantly partnered with loving others, that it is BOTH that become the one thing that is the most important thing. Love God and love neighbor as ourselves.
At the heart of scripture and the heart of the life of Jesus, it can all be boiled down into this one thing – love. Love God and love others. It is as simple and complicated as that. And we spend our whole lives trying to figure out what that looks like – for you in your own skin with your gifts to love God and love others. And for me, for us together as families, as community together. And there are so many layers of questions and beauty and challenge to actually loving God and others.
This fall, this day center, this is absolutely an invitation for us to wrestle through the landscape of how we love our neighbor – including the people in this building, including everyone we bump into during the week – to love them as we love ourselves.
I want to ask this question again: What does your love look like? Do you love with all you’ve got?
I invite you to close your eyes and actually reflect on this question by reflecting on the relationships you have. What does it look like – love is not just warm fuzzy feelings, but love takes action. So another way to reflect on this is perhaps to ask: What are recent moments, conversations, interactions you can recall where your love, your care for someone was expressed and experienced by the other?
Think first about your family: how do you love your family (your parents, your kids if you have them, your partner if you’ve got one, your siblings)? When have been those expressed moments recently? Spend a moment reflecting.
How do you love your friends? The folks who know you best? The folks you spend the most time with – what does that love look like? How do you show up with them? Recent interactions. Spend a moment reflecting.
What does your love look like for your coworkers? The people who live in your building or on your street? Your classmates? The folks in the checkout line at Safeway, Trader Joes, your bank, your favorite restaurant or coffee shop? What does your love look like for all the folks who cross your path everyday?
And what about folks who are different than you? Who look different, whose beliefs and values are different than yours? Who live in a different place, who have a different financial reality than you? First, do you have folks like that in your life? What does it look like to love those folks? Spend a moment reflecting.
And also, we have to ask: what does your love for yourself look like? How do you love yourself well? You heard that in there, right? In what Jesus said? To love our neighbor as ourselves. Spend a moment reflecting.
Friends, are you getting a picture, a feel for what your love looks like? What came up for you? What do you celebrate? Where do you see room for growth?
In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to ask what does our love look like? And to do the honest, vulnerable, authentic work of looking at the way we love, through a series of incredibly rich and challenging themes. Here is a taste of what’s to come in this series: we’ll talk about Privilege (recognizing how Jesus used his privilege, owning our own privilege, and how to live faithfully with the privilege we have – whether we want that privilege or not).
Compassion. Shame (particularly online shaming that happens, and what it means, and what we can do about it). We are going to talk about Intimacy (how we see our own bodies and how our bodies and spirits long for intimacy with a partner – how do we become we with our partner? And all the complicated layers involved). Family systems – (how do we understand the dynamics at work in our own families – family life can be messy, how do “become we” with our families). Grief (how we all carry unprocessed, unexpressed grief, and how it can get in the way of loving ourselves and our neighbor well – and how to live through it). Racial Injustice (loving neighbor well absolutely requires us, as Jesus-followers to step into this arena and have a voice for the injustice we see).
You know, just some light content for the fall. But here’s the thing, in true Salt House style, we’ll have fun and laugh, too. But we’ll also do what we always do: we’ll tend to the stuff that matters. This matters. You can’t scroll through Facebook, watch the news without language of US and THEM and labeling and hatred and bigotry as a part of it. This conversation is vital and urgent for us to live and love faithfully as Jesus-followers in our current reality. And at no time in history, perhaps, has it been harder to love ourselves, too. We’ll make space for people to come as they are, to ask questions, to be as involved in the conversation as they want to be. It will be a safe space – a fun space, a real space for us this fall.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that we’ll have all of these things figured out on the other side of our journey. I will be first to name that I don’t know what I’m doing. I do not have the answers to how we become we. I do love nice, clean answers, packages wrapped up neatly for us. But the gospel of Jesus does not actually point us to having easy, clear answers. If anything, the gospel invites us to reach more deeply into mystery. I am not the authority.
Which is why I’m excited for what God will do in me – and all of us. I do know, that Jesus holds authority on this, and so we will (as honestly as we can) hold our lives and our very selves up to the kind of loving example Jesus shows us, and look for the ways where we can be changed. To name where we struggle to love ourselves, our families and friends, and those who are not as much like us – to let the grace and transformation of God begin to work in those very real places of struggle, for the sake of becoming people who love well, or at least who love a little bit better than when we started this – for the sake of ourselves, and the sake of our world.
And to do all this, we will also pull in a few guest preachers (who I am stoked about), a few TED talks, a few other videos and sources, so that voices beyond my own, can bring insight and wisdom and perspective. But we will also need your voice in the conversation for this to be the journey we need it to be.
Which is why I ask one final time, my friends: what does your love look like? And I’ll also ask again: are you in? Are you willing to take a step into this landscape of loving neighbor as we love ourselves, for the weeks to come, together?
Let’s pray –