by Anne Cox Bailey
Today is the Lord’s Day! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
But it is hard to rejoice, isn’t it, given all that we are going through? People are weary and wary; they’re at the end of their patience, at the end of their tolerance. The increasing tension in the nation is palpable (especially in the US, as the election approaches), tension that spills over from concern about the world and the country to the more immediate annoyances with neighbors and family. Losing loved ones to the Covid-19 virus, we identify with the grief that Israel must have felt when Moses died. In the midst of a multitude of losses, we identify with the suffering and mistreatment Paul describes in his letter to the Thessalonians.
One pastor likened the noise and confusion that vies for our attention to “being bitten to death by ducks.” I can almost hear the quacking, sense feathers flying all around. Duck bites won’t kill me, of course, but they sure hurt and annoy. They leave marks. And it’s very distracting!
Scripture comes to our aid this morning, helping us to focus our battered attention on what is essential. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has just finished sparring verbally with the Sadducees, and now a Pharisee steps up to challenge him further. Here we have it: all the law and the prophets — thousands of years of theology, argument (in the legal sense of the word) and spiritual wrestling — all summed up in the response Jesus pronounces:
“‘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.” (Mt. 37-39).
There’s that word: “all.” I remember long ago hearing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry define it in a sermon: “All means ALL!” This first and greatest commandment helps me refocus on what it “all” means. It reaches into the center of my body and squeezes my heart, jumpstarting it to beat properly once again. It lifts my eyes from the daily details that assail me like hoards of hungry ducks, giving me the jolt I need to see clearly what on earth God is doing: Loving creation back to the Life intended for it.
The second is like it: Jesus insists that I can only love my neighbors to the degree I love myself. Most of the time, if I’m honest, I don’t love myself as much as God does. I forget Whose image and heart I bear; I forget Whose hands and feet are at the end of my appendages. The things I have done and left undone I pass along to whoever happens to cross my path. Then, in the same unthinking way, they pass it along to others, like a virus… I forget that when I gaze on another I am looking in an eternal, divine mirror.
So I commend this Sunday, this Sabbath, this Lord’s Day to you as a day to re-member: to put your world- and worry-torn self back together, step away from the ducks, remember whose Image you bear; and remind yourself that your behavior in the world is a choice you make, consciously or not.
I turn in gratitude to Paul today for help in making conscious choices to behave as the Christ would in my daily life: “…we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7b-8).
When we allow our neighbors to become very dear to us, we are changed! Now, everywhere we look, we can see the care offered to neighbor and stranger alike. Once we turn away from the ducks and refocus our attention on those already offering each other tenderness, we are inspired to share that Image, too.
At last, we can declare with the Psalmist:
“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
“and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:17).
A former ballet and concert modern dancer, teacher and director, Anne Cox Bailey was ordained an Episcopal priest in 2001. While attending seminary, her mother showed signs of changes in her brain function that turned out to be Frontotemporal Dementia. Seeking help for her mother led her to Teepa Snow, world-renowned expert in Dementia. Her ministry, Ponder Anew, is dedicated to assisting all who live with dementia and those who care for them.