Loving Our Neighbors: A Duet

duet

This sermon was preached at Kirk of Our Savior Presbyterian Church in Westland, Michigan and was focused upon the story that is told in Mark 12:28-34. An audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

It was a good question: Which commandment is the first of all?

That question might have been breath of fresh air. It was voiced in a context where religious leaders were asking Jesus challenging questions in attempts to entrap him. I wonder if this question then became an occasion to center themselves once more in what was most important.

We are invited — we are called — to love God fully with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength.

And we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

These two are the greatest commandments, and they go hand in hand. They cannot be separated. After all, we cannot love God fully with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength, without loving our neighbors as ourselves.

These two commandments are at the heart of what it means to follow God and live together as the people of God.

Now in our own times of collective conflict, times in which some seek to belittle others, entrap others, and worse of all, dehumanize and harm others, it is important to come back to this center — to return here and once more proclaim that the God who loves us calls forth our own love. We demonstrate our love for God by loving our neighbors. We fall short of this all the time, but all the time, we are called to it anew.

This morning, you may have come to worship with a heavy heart. I know that is something I am feeling this morning. This has been a remarkably painful week in our collective, national life.

This week, as we have heard in the news, a man sent at at least eleven pipe bombs to national political leaders and media outlets. On Wednesday, a man entered a Kroger in Louisville, Kentucky and shot two Black residents after saying racist comments. Before this, he attempted to enter a church predominately attended by Black residents. I’m from the Louisville area so this, of course, hits close to home. And then, just yesterday, a man entered The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and shot and killed eleven people — a number of Jewish people who were there for worship, and soon after, police officers who arrived on the scene. He was shouting anti-Semitic epithets.

All three of these news stories involve the lives of our neighbors, and all three are taking place in a time of great national turmoil and conflict as neighbors turn against neighbors and are so quick to dehumanize one another.

I will say this today because we need to say it in the Church, and we need to say it out of love for our neighbors:

White supremacy and anti-Semitism are sin.

They produce violence in us — the kinds of swift, tumultuous violence we hear in the news, violent rhetoric and words, and systemic forms of violence that take place over great periods of time.

We are called to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. And the second commandment is always like the first. It is always intimately connected to the first: We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

So today, we lift up the neighbors who have experienced these forms of trauma; we think about our neighbors who live in fear, worried about being attacked simply for who they are; and we lift up our own hearts in this place, turning toward one another in love, turning toward one another in neighborliness, because if we feel heavy today, if we feel hopeless, if we feel fear, if we feel powerlessness, we need the love of one another. And in that love, God calls us through the presence of one another toward a different way, a way of loving our neighbors by proclaiming their worth, upholding their dignity, and serving alongside them protectively in solidarity and care.

This summer, I had the great occasion to see the film, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the recent documentary about the life and ministry of Fred Rogers. I loved it so much, in fact, I saw it twice, and I’d be happy to see it again. It is a powerful film.

Of course, when we think about what it means to be a neighbor and uplift the worth and dignity of our neighbors, it is easy to think about Fred Rogers and his show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. He invited us so often into that way of being and proclaimed to each of us that we are special and worth loving.

So many moments in this film impacted me deeply, but today, I think about one in particular. In the Land of Make Believe, there is a moment when Daniel Tiger is very vulnerable and shares something painful with Lady Aberlin. He says that he’s been wondering something about mistakes. “I’ve been wondering… if I was a mistake.” He says that he’s never seen a tiger who looks and talks like him, and he feels alone, wondering if he is so different that he might be a mistake. He begins to sing,

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m a mistake,
I’m not like anyone else I know.
When I’m asleep or even awake,
Sometimes I get to dreaming that I’m just a fake.
I’m not like anyone else.

Often I wonder if I’m a mistake,

I’m not supposed to be scared, am I?
Sometimes I cry and sometimes I shake, 

wondering isn’t it true that the strong never break?

I’m not like anyone else I know.
I’m not like anyone else.

Then Lady Aberlin chimes in, also singing,

I think you are just fine as you are,

I really must tell you, I do like the person that you are becoming,
When you are sleeping,
when you are waking,

you are my friend.

It’s really true.

I like you,

crying or shaking, 

or dreaming or breaking,
there’s no one mistaking it:
You’re my best friend!

I think you are just fine as you are,

I really must tell you, I do like the person that you are becoming,

when you are sleeping,
when you are waking,

you’re not a fake,

you’re no mistake,
You are my friend!

In the documentary, one of the people who worked on the show is interviewed, and paraphrasing her, she said, “This is the moment when you expect Daniel Tiger to say, ‘Oh, I guess I was wrong,’” but instead, the song becomes a duet, and they both sing their portions at the same time toward one another. It’s a reminder that this duet needs to go on and on. We and our neighbors need occasions to internalize that our humanity is loved and cherished by God and by our larger community.

It makes me wonder what would be possible if more and more, the Church became that duet partner? In a context where many are dehumanized and rightfully fearful, what would be possible if the church stood strongly alongside those who are marginalized and stigmatized and proclaimed the sacred worth that is true? What would happen? What could be possible?

These are good questions. And so, friends, wherever we are today, we are no mistake either. We are called again to a great commandment as simple and as challenging as this:

We are to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Renee Roederer

And here is an invitation to watch the duet in action. Take this in! 🙂

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