This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat, St. Luke’s in the Meadow, Fort Worth, preached at the diocesan worship service for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, October 25, 2020.
Sermon Proper 25A
October 25, 2020
I watched a documentary a few days ago that has stayed with me. It was visually stunning – beautiful beyond words. Not only has it caused me to give up calamari forever, but also to consider love in a broader way. Craig Foster, documentarian, had lost hope and felt disconnected from his surroundings, unable to feel and express care for others. All he could think to do was to reconnect with what had been important earlier in his life – the ocean. In My Octopus Teacher, he engaged daily in his environment, intentionally noticing what was around him in the watery landscape, and in the process developed a rather unusual relationship with an octopus that connected with him, one small tentacle at a time.
This documentary has been on my mind for a few reasons. Primarily because it was a hauntingly beautiful and unusual story. But also because many of us are feeling hope diminish as we are disconnected from our surroundings and routines for the majority of 2020.
Worldwide we are in conflict about how to best care for God’s creation and about whether climate change is real. This documentary was a powerful reminder of the beauty and complexity of creation and the importance of caring for our surroundings – whatever they may be. Care of Creation is one way we can express love for our Creator.
That is the foundation of our faith – Love God. In both our Old Testament and Gospel readings today, we hear that the most important thing we do is “Love God” and out of that love comes “Love Neighbor and Love Self.”
We can distract ourselves by asking “Who is my Neighbor?” or we can grab onto the definition that ‘neighbor’ has to do with proximity. Yes, your neighbor is the person living next door to you, but your neighbor is also the one in close proximity to you – at the post office, in the park, or at the polling place. Your neighbor is the one who looks like you, but also the one who looks different than you. If a man can learn to love again because he cared for an octopus, surely we can learn to love our neighbors who are human beings in a vast array of colors.
The whole of the Book of Leviticus is about Godly living – a code for holiness. Some people refer to one or two verses of the entire book to take a stand on issues of human sexuality, but those same people conveniently ignore the rest of the book, saying it is outdated or no longer applies.
We only get a few verses today, but there are other interesting things about Leviticus:
- In chapters 18-20 the phrase “I am the Lord” is used 24 times. 24 times in 3 chapters. I think we are supposed to get the point that “God is God” and we are not.
- Also in Chapter 19, we are instructed:
- You shall not round off your hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. (Sorry guys, but a goatee simply doesn’t cut it!)
- You shall not … tattoo any marks upon you. (Now, I don’t know what those of you sporting this new cultural phenomenon of tattoos are supposed to do, but I do know God still adores you.)
- Okay younger people, this one’s for you: You shall rise before the aged and defer to the old. (That calls out our cultural prejudice against the elderly – and believe me, I have experienced it simply by letting my natural hair color shine through.)
- Oh, and this one is good: When a foreigner lives with you in your land, do not take advantage of the foreigner. Treat the foreigner the same as a citizen. Love the foreigner like one of your own. Love the foreigner as yourself…. (That’s a step even further than loving neighbor as self. We are called to love foreigners as well as ourselves. I think we may have some room to grow in the category – especially considering the 500+ children still separated from their families at our southern borders since 2017. Mothers separated from their babies for 3 years. That is not loving foreigners.)
The Book of Leviticus doesn’t leave much room for finger pointing. We all fall short of living perfectly, but if we keep love as our guiding force, we will create a better world. Today’s Gospel “reminds us that love of neighbor is the way true justice is made known on the plane of history.” (Tom Tate)
That is really what the entire Bible is about – loving God with all we are and all we have; and loving each other; loving ourselves.
That is what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees, the Sadducees and anyone else who would listen. “Love God. Then love your neighbor like you love yourself.”
It was and is a life-long endeavor, even going back to the infamous Rabbi Hillel of the 1st Century BCE who had an interesting exchange with a young gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism and stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot.
Although it was a peculiar request, this gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:
“What is despicable to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary — go and study it!”
You likely recognize that as the “Golden Rule” in reverse – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What is despicable to you, do not do to others.
Imagine how you would feel if someone tormented you because of how you trim your beard, or how you tattoo your body, or because of who you love, or because you’ve been blessed with being on this planet long enough to earn a head of silver hair. Just pause for a moment to imagine.
Oh, I almost forgot this verse: “you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.” In other words, if we see something, we need to say something. If we see something and fail to say something, we are as guilty as the perpetrator. If I see someone harassing a foreigner and ignore it, I am as guilty as the harasser. If I see someone taunting a person in the LGBTQ family and fail to say something, I am guilty. If I hear a racial slur or observe an injustice, but keep silent, I am equally to blame.
This is a tall order! We must be rooted in our Love of Creator, in Love for God in order to love our neighbors enough to stand up for them, in order to love ourselves enough to be God’s presence, peace and mercy for each other.
Dare to reach out – even one small tentacle at a time, like the Octopus teacher. Dare to learn to love a neighbor you have not loved before. Dare to speak up for injustices you have ignored. Dare to be part of the Revolution of Love that will change our world for good.