A moment of contemplation for yourself or on behalf of others on everything from the life-altering to the mundane.

Prayer: A conversation with The Higher Other who lives within each of us. An invitation to vent, to re-think, to ask, and to rest.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Prayers of the People: Them are Us ~ 21st Sunday after Pentecost Yr A

For Sunday, October 25, 2020, Readings: Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 90:1-6, 
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46

       Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. [Deuteronomy 34:10]

            Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another...May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us; prosper the work of our hands... Psalm 90:1, 17a]

       We had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition...We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. [1 Thessalonians 2:2b,4b]

 ...a lawyer asked [Jesus] a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment...is the greatest?" He said..."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."[Matthew 22:35b-39]

     We truly are all in "this" life on this planet together although you would think, given some of the dispiriting rhetoric here and around the world, that we can just stop interacting with others, just take care of us, and ignore them. Of course, one of the largest issues in this life today is eons old: a satisfactory definition of who us is. Another lawyer asked Jesus in Luke's parable of the Good Samaritan, Who is my neighbor? [Luke 10:25-37] We of the human variety are determined to answer this question correctly, that is, to suit our own needs and wants and keep within the rules we have set, even when they change by whim. We build walls, fences, and tall gates that are all designed to keep out the uninvited, the unacceptable, the dangerous - in other words, those people, that kind, the others, THEM. 
     But here’s a shocker, we each are the other, a member of “them” to someone else. We create and receive suspicion and fear when we step away from what we think is our special sheltered space to enter another’s. Of course, we must protect ourselves and others from those who are truly dangerous and who would do anyone true harm. But all too often we categorize someone as dangerous because of gender, color, race, language, hair styles, clothing, body art or lack of, another neighborhood, region, or country, etc. It's much easier to have a big chart of absolutes – this group BAD, this group GOOD – and that way we don't have to engage, learn more about, slip into liking, and are able to avoid knowing that skin, muscles, blood, and bones are the same in all of God's people. 
      It's difficult, uncomfortable, even distressing at times, to sift through our own prejudice, dislike, even hatred of an unknown person or group. It takes time away from the easier activities of going through life without having to think for myself because I know my group and will avoid those outside of it. It also involves looking into oneself - how do I really feel about me? Do I have trouble loving myself? Is it truly self-satisfying to dismiss or diminish another – or just an ego boost of a very false sense of superiority or, even inferiority?
      Jesus, answering this lawyer in Matthew’s Gospel, who is also a Pharisee, gets directly to the point that all the Commandments of God can be cleanly distilled into just two: 1. Love God completely, 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. This concept is no surprise to the Pharasaic lawyer. Earlier in Deuteronomy, Dt 6:4-5 specifically, is the opening to the Shema (sheh-mah), which in Judaism is a part of morning and evening prayer: Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might. Earlier still, in Leviticus 19:18b, is …you shall love your neighbor as yourself. It is Jesus, however, who combines the two as the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it… and surprises them with what we now refer to as the summary of the Law when he says to those who would trap him: On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. If you think about it, if you truly love God and love your neighbor as yourself, you will honor and you won’t covet, steal, or otherwise break any of the other commandments!
     Yet the obvious questions remain as we search for loopholes and escape from the hard work: Who is my neighbor? Answer: Any/Every human you meet. OK, I have to “love” my neighbor, but do I also have to like my neighbor? Answer: Not in a best friend sort of way, but an attempt to get to know her or him, or them, might surprise you. Putting a face on a label challenges one’s pre-conceived notions and what one has been led to believe by a group-think. Loving your neighbor is more about acceptance and tolerance of differences and discovering similarities. That instant judgement within ourselves is not easy to overcome, especially when those around us are sticking with the usual plan.
      Jesus was saying to the lawyer in this week's reading, and in the Good Samaritan parable, just following the human-made-subject-to-change-rules isn't enough. We must be intentional in our efforts. And yes, we will fail, often, but we must keep trying. If we keep repeating to ourselves, as a mantra perhaps, Help me, Jesus, to Love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might, and to love my neighbor as myself, and we are consciously and intentionally working to live and act within these two commandments, we will discover a stronger faith in God, and that on God’s Label, Them really are Us. Let’s all keep working on this, together.


Leader:  ~ Gracious Creator, quicken our desire to actively live our faith by consciously loving and serving You with our whole hearts, souls, and minds with intention. Let us dare to follow Your command to love all humankind as if they are ourselves, as we are loved by You.
                                                  Lord of All Life
                          Response:      Prosper our work in Your Name

~ Gracious Creator, guide those of us who have a choice for our political leaders, to responsibly choose as stewards of all humanity and of this entire planet, those who will lead, legislate, and personally act with sincerity and integrity. We pray especially for: add your own petitions

           Lord of All Life                                        
           Prosper our work in Your Name   

~ Gracious Creator, embrace with Your tender care all who are burdened with serious illness, addiction, or emotional distress, and refresh all who provide support. We now join our hearts together to pray for those in need… add your own petitions

           Lord of All Life                                        
           Prosper our work in Your Name 

~ Gracious Creator, receive in joy and splendor, all those we commend with thanksgiving to live again in Christ’s enduring love. We pray especially for… add your own petitions

           Lord of All Life                                        
           Prosper our work in Your Name 

~ Gracious Creator, we pause in this moment to offer You our other heartfelt thanksgivings, intercessions, petitions, and memorials… add your own petitions

           Lord of All Life                                        
           Prosper our work in Your Name 
~ Gracious Creator, we praise You and we thank you for those who answered the calling, anointing, and commitment to lead us in worship, in prayer, and companionship on our constant pilgrimage toward eternal life. We pray especially for: add your own petitions

           Lord of All Life                                        
           Prosper our work in Your Name 

The Celebrant adds: O Lord our Refuge, grant us the humility to delight in Your Law, to seek the way of the righteous in all that we do, and to be courageous in faith, sharing the Gospel in, for, and by the strength of Your Love. We ask through Jesus, our Savior Messiah; and the Holy Spirit, our Wisdom within; who together with You, live and reign as One God, every day, always, and forever. Amen.

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