31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 6:2-6 | Hebrews 7:23-28 | Mark 12:28b-34
Almighty and merciful God by whose gift your faithful offer you right and praise-worthy service, grant, we pray, that we may hasten without stumbling to receive the things you have promised. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
When we opened this liturgy, we prayed that we would receive the promises that God has made to us, and as you look at salvation history and you understand the full breadth of what God has done for us from the beginning, when he entered our lives, he’s wanted to bring us to a place, a new place, a place we have never been before. And the place is rich and full, milk and honey and all good things, and one of the things about it is it’s a place of freedom — freedom. Throughout the Old Testament, it’s a movement of God leading people from slavery to freedom, and one of the things that we look at, when we look carefully at the whole story, we see that the biggest issue is sin. And the biggest problem with sin is not hearing, not seeing, not knowing the truth — the truth. So this land that we’re going to is the land of the truth, the land of enlightenment, the land of consciousness. If you look carefully at the evolution of human beings from lower forms to where we are now to where we are going, it’s clear. We are a work in progress. We’re in this movement toward fullness, becoming free, living forever, somehow becoming more like the God who created us. It’s a beautiful, beautiful process, and you and I are engaged in it.
We know how the story of sin began, with a command, a rule, a law that was broken by our first parents, Adam and Eve, and they broke it, because they believed that the thing that was being promised, if they broke it, was they could live forever, and they could be like God. So they wanted the right thing. Their heart, in a sense, intention, was in the right thing, but the temptation was do it on your own. You don’t need God to do this for you. It’s your job. Your work, and all you need to do is have a mind that understands right from wrong, good from evil. Make it all simple, black and white, and you can do it. It is. If you want to go into a situation, there are rules, and you know that this is what you can do, this is what you can’t do, and then you just live by that, you are living the life of a slave. You are simply following what your mind is telling you to do, and you might say, “Well, that’s wonderful.” Well, if it weren’t for the fact that we’re evolving into a higher level of consciousness, growing more and more close to the Father who created us in terms of our nature, then you have to understand that the mind is a very dangerous thing to lean on for the truth, because it can come up with all kinds of images of who we are and who God is and what the world is about. Going into your mind is no guarantee that you’re going to find the truth there.
The truth is not in the mind. It’s not in the will that has this strong, forceful energy. No, the truth is in the heart. It’s in the heart, the core of us, and if you look up heart in the concordance, where it shows how many times something is used, it is amazing how many times the word heart comes up in the Old and New Testament, because it’s the place of connection. It’s the place of contact with God. God’s most amazing promise is, if you want the truth, if you want to find it, if you want to live by it, which is the only thing that is going to bring you the fullness and the happiness that you long for, know that it is being given to you on a regular basis by a mysterious power that God has to dwell within you. And rather than overwhelm you with all of the truth at one time, which would just disintegrate us, we get glimpses of it, as Linda Poston was singing, glimpses, a seed here, a seed there, and we begin to understand something that we’ve never seen before. We understand the truth, who God is, who we are, why we’re here, what we’re doing. That’s the truth.
Now, what I love about these set of readings is it talks about all the rules and all the laws that have ever come across the imaginations of human beings, whether they come from God or they come from some organization, some business, some government. All those things that come need to be discerned, need to be pondered and wondered about, and what we need to do is say, “All right, there is something about all these rules and laws that are controlling us.” But there’s also a law, a truth that frees us. So what would that be? It’s discovering who we really are, who we are meant to be. It’s like living according to our nature. The Ten Commandments are the most beautiful gift from God, because they’re filled with the wisdom of what human beings are made for, what we need. We need a higher power. We need someone we can turn to that’s going to give us the things that we cannot get on our own. We need wisdom from him. We need the ability to understand our nature so that we know that, when we go against one another, when we lie, when we steal, when we cheat, when we kill, all that never works for us. It never creates the peace we long for. So this Decalogue is the most beautiful statement from God, saying, “This is who you are. This is who I’ve made you to be, and I’m in you to enable you to be that, to become that. That’s what I want for you to do.” But the most interesting thing about God’s plan is it’s a plan of cooperation. We don’t sit back and receive it and do nothing, and we don’t create our own world out of our own egos and our own minds. No, it’s a very tricky, tricky thing. We’re there to listen, to receive, and what we’re being given on a consistent basis is a thing called love, connection, union, communion. So what the essence of the laws that have been a part of the whole salvation history story, the essence is always in the Ten Commandments, not in the other 613 rules and laws, and at the heart of those Ten Commandments is the challenge to live your life as you’ve been called to live it, to live according to your nature. And what God wants you to know and realize is that this is not something you can do. God never intended to ask you to do it on your own. He gave us a task that needs his support, his wisdom, his presence inside of us, and we call that presence love, affirmation, confirmation, acceptance, support, forgiveness.
So when we’re asked to respond to the rules of the religion that we belong to, we’re asked to believe one core thing. All these rules, all these laws that are there have one design, to put us in a disposition where we are in relationship with God, where we are moving in a direction of fullness and wholeness, and we’re going to find this awesome thing called the truth — the truth. So that means we have to know we’re loved. That’s the key. You’re loved. What does that mean? When God looks at you, he sees something that he created, something beautiful, and how can he do that without also remembering or looking at all the mistakes you made in the past and maybe worried about all the stupid things you might do in the future? That’s the way we look at each other. You look at somebody, and you say, “I see you. I love you, but God, you were so bad to me back then, and I don’t know what you’re going to do in the future.” We live in that time thing, that future, past, now. That’s not the way God works. God doesn’t work in time like that. There is no time in heaven. All there is is the present moment, the present moment, and so I think about God loving me in the way that he describes it, that he looks at me, and he sees beauty that he created. He sees it mostly in potential, and he smiles, because he can see the beauty that is there. The effectiveness of it is in the life of others. How wonderful it is, because it’s connected to something that is more than just ourselves, and when we increase our ability to be who we are and live in the truth, the whole world is lifted up. Those are simple truths of how the universe works, and so imagine God looking at you and looking at me without judgment, with only forgiveness. And how does he do it? How does he overlook the fact that perhaps we’ve done something horrible to somebody somewhere in our life? How does he not pay attention to that? How does he drop it? He doesn’t drop it in the sense of not knowing it, but he has this power, this God power that is in Jesus. And this God power in Jesus does this thing. He’s a priest who reconciles us with God. He’s the one who forgives our sins. He’s the one who makes up for all the stupid things we do. All these words don’t even come close to what the essence of it is, but it means that the God living in us, because you’re the image of God as Jesus, as the man, the priest who came to solve all of our struggles by forgiveness and help us face all of our future difficulties with grace and strength and wisdom, that’s the one we need to know. That’s the God we need to know.
If you’re like me, if you’re like most people, we get caught up in a God of judgment. We get caught up in a God that has put pressure on us, that we fear we’ll never be able to fulfill what he asks of us. How can you fall in love with a God that creates that kind of pressure, shame and guilt about the past, fear about the future? You can’t. So how do we train ourselves to sit in that quiet place and let the face of God look at us and simply say, “All I see is beauty. All I see is goodness, and I love it. I love it, and I just want you to know, right at this moment, because that’s all there is, this moment, you are loved absolutely.” Anytime I have a moment like that — and it’s not been as often as I wish it was, because I’ve spent most of my life like most of us do, in a disposition of worrying about my past and afraid of the future, and so I have this voice inside of me. You have one too. It’s the critic. It’s always coming up there saying, “How could you be so stupid? That was so dumb. You’re not going to be able to make it. You’re not going to be able to do what you set out to do. You won’t be able to give a homily that has any value. You’re not going to be able to give a lecture that’s going to change people’s lives.” No, no, you don’t have any of that. All that self-doubt, all that stuff is so perfectly designed to rob you of that moment, that present moment when you’re sitting there in God, and God is in you, and there’s nothing but this love flowing into you, this energy, this strength. And what do we call it? The truth. The truth.
Nothing has been more explosive in my spiritual life than to realize that, when we’re talking about God, we’re talking about the truth. What is the truth? It’s reality. It’s what’s real. It’s who we are. It’s who he is. It’s what the plan is. We do not have the capacity with our minds to grasp the fullness of the plan of God. You just can’t. We use simple phrases. You’re going to be saved. You’re forgiven. You’re not judged. You’ll live forever. You’ll make up for your sins later. All those things are just very weak and very ineffective tools to get us through the confusion of it all, because our mind needs to know how it all works. Well, you can’t know how God’s love works, and certainly if you don’t allow God’s love to work within you, you will be a slave to your past and the fear of the future. You will not be able to live in the present moment, and when you’re not living there, you’re not resonating the presence of the God in you, that that’s who you’re called to be. If you don’t have this conviction of being loved like that, you can’t love God back. How can you love somebody that’s set up something that you probably won’t be able to achieve and somebody who can’t ever forget a sin that you committed? How can you love somebody like that? You can’t. That’s why we don’t love God enough, because we don’t know him enough. We don’t know the truth of how he works with us.
I remember a time when, I guess — I don't know when it was, maybe the ‘80s. It seemed like there was [sic] a lot of self-help books out there and things. They were saying things like you should get up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, “I’m beautiful. I’m wonderful. I’m loving.” And that’s probably good, but when God isn’t asking you to tell yourself you’re good, when you’ve done lousy things in the past or tell yourself you’re strong, when you know, if you got hit with something really, really difficult, you’d probably fail, no. No, what you’ve got to say, when you look in the mirror, is not, “I’m beautiful. I’m strong. I’m going to make it.” It’s more like, “I am. I just am. I am. I’m exactly, right in this moment, who God has created me, and he lives inside of me, and he tells me that he loves absolutely unconditionally everything he sees, my essence. I am. I’m also someone who’s done some of the dumbest and maybe super-painful things to people, and I own it. And I know in the future, I’ll probably fail again, and I own it. But that’s not me. That’s not who I am. Those are my actions. Those are my worries. Those are my fears. Those are my shame and guilt. So unless those things move out of the way, when you’re asked to look into the face of God, you can’t fall in love with him. He’s just not that lovable, but the truth is, he really is that lovable.
Father, you are so bigger than we imagine. You are so much more than our mind can comprehend. So bless us with a childlike trust in your goodness that we can’t fully grasp or understand but know that, when we allow you to be who you are, when we allow that love to penetrate us, it is so sweet, so life-giving, so healing. You are a generous lover. Thank you for the gift of love. Help us to grow in our understanding of how exciting it is to be a person in the world that brings that love to the world and to the people around us, and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.