Foundry United Methodist Church

Amy-Ellen Duke, Deacon Candidate




Listening and Loving

Sunday, April 2, 2006



Amy-Ellen Duke



For a couple of years my morning commute took me past 15th and P where the day laborers congregate.I have to say that I work on low wage labor market issues.I work on immigration issues.So I am fairly sympathetic to their cause.I have heard about the organization of day labor centers around the country and had sincere hopes that the day laborers at 15th and P would have such an opportunity to get together and form a place where they could congregate and not be exploited or discriminated against.


However, as I hurried to work, I rarely acknowledged their presence.Usually Iím running a little late, as many of you know, so I rushed by experiencing a fleeting moment of sympathy and lamenting their cause while thinking about the talking heads on television and others who oppose progressive immigration policy.I have to admit I even sometimes felt a little bit of self-righteousness thinking that I was right in my attitudes toward the day laborers.If I was feeling especially generous or had extra time, Iíd actually stop and interact with them.Iíd say, ďBuenos dias,ŅComo estŠ?Ē and try to hold a little bit of a conversation in my broken Spanish.But I have to admit this was much rarer than I wanted because I was always wondering in the back of my mind how long the line for coffee would be or how many e-mails I had in my inbox.So Iíd usually hurry right on.


As we just heard in the scripture, Moses is talking to the people of Israel as they are just getting ready to enter the Promised Land.They have gone through that long wilderness period; a period of some disobedience.God has expressed deep love for Godís people.God just gave Moses the Ten Commandments and there is great hope that the people of God will adopt these commandments and restructure their lives for a just, loving, and merciful society.The law calls Israel to love its neighbor as itself, but as we all know, itís not a smooth transition.While Moses was away, the people played.They built a golden calf and decided to try worshiping that instead.They had fallen off the course a little more than Moses would have liked, as we know, when he came down the mountain the first time and broke the commandments across his knees.


As with most of the Bible, the stories of Deuteronomy were recorded years and years after the incident took place at Sinai.The writer hopes a reminder of these events will bring Israel back on course.Israel was in the midst of a religious and social crisis at the time these stories were written.Loyalty to the God of Israel was at an all-time low.People were living in the land of the Canaanite gods.Many people decided that they would worship the god of the Canaanites, Baal, alongside the Israelitesí God, Yahweh.Some had totally disregarded Yahweh and were fully worshipping Baal.


In addition, the gap between the rich and the poor was increasing as a barter economy went to the wayside and money replaced it.So the rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting poorer.To top it all off, the judicial system was corrupt, bribery was rampant, and the needs of the poor and the vulnerable were being grossly neglected by society and the government.Deuteronomy is calling the people of Israel back.They have forgotten their identity as Godís people.He wants them to form a society based on Godís justice, not on the morally bankrupt ideals of these other gods.


However, obedience does not come naturally as we all know.God imbued us with free will, and sometimes we use it a little too freely.We can all appreciate Mosesí admonition to listen.I distinctly recall my motherís voice when I failed to list and obey because I was distracted.In some cases I intentionally ignored her.ďListen, Amy,Ē she would say when she wanted me to pay attention.Usually I didnít heed her request.I was too caught up in smelling some flowers or bickering with my brother.But when she used my first and last name, I knew she was serious.She would say, ďListen here, Amy-Ellen Duke.ĒI knew this meant business.I knew she was the mom and I was the kid.Iíd better start listening and obeying or there was trouble waiting.


ďHere, O IsraelĒ functions in much the same way.God is telling the Israelites they need to listen, listen here.There is a reason things are not going your way.It has to do with the fact you have divided your loyalties amongst these various gods and failed to love your one true God completely with your entire heart, mind, soul and all of your strength, all of you.This scripture is considered part of the Shema, which is a prayer that the Jews, including Jesus, have prayed for centuries.They pray it both morning and night.


How do we illustrate our love for the one God?By obeying Godís commandments.But there are so many demands on us.In Jesusí time, there was a great debate between the Pharisees and Jesus about what obedience looked like.There were 600 laws to obey based on the Old Testament legal system.When a wise lawyer asked Jesus about what we needed to do to obey God, Jesus replied with the Shema, you should love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength and added to that what Christians and Jews acknowledge as the manifestation of love of God, the golden rule to love your neighbor as yourself.In Luke, Jesus ties this obedience to the Good Samaritan and inheriting eternal life.On paper, it sound easy enough to stop by the side of the road and help a stranger, but in actuality, in the busyness in our life when weíre running late, itís hard to stop and help the stranger.Everyday when I passed the day laborers, my attention was rarely focused on their plight or on loving my neighbor.Every day I fail in my task of worshiping and loving God as fully as I shouldóan opportunity that presents itself everywhere, every moment in my lifeóprimarily because I donít heed the call to listen.Listen to what God is telling me to do, to slow down and hear.I sometimes make it there, but not always, not even most of the time, but itís possible for all of us.What Godís telling us is in this scripture is that our loyalty to the creator, to the giver of all life, to the just ruler, cannot be divided or compartmentalized.


The scripture tells us we must be fully consumed by our love of God.God demands our complete attention.There may be a multitude of other demands on our lives. Dean has spent the last couple weeks talking about those demands.However, we canít let any of them distract us from our prime task of loving God because, ultimately, that love of God is what should shape every portion, every decision, and every step that we take in our lives.The mandate to love God canít be met, though, by simply attending church on Sundays, participating in the multitude of mission activities here at Foundry, saying ďhiĒ to a homeless person on the street, or stopping to talk to a day laborer every now and again.Itís exhibited in our sincere, holistic attempts to completely restructure our lives around this notion so that they exhibit the radical love of God.We do this by loving our neighbor all of the time with all of our being.We slow down and talk to the day laborers about their situation, listen to what they need, and then work on figuring out how we can help meet their needs.We hold our coworkerís hand when they tell us about their parent who has Alzheimerís and how difficult it is to care for that parent even when the copier machine is acting up.We stop and talk to the homeless and then spend time figuring out how to promote affordable housing in the neighborhood.We do this all of the time.We love in excess of what may even feel natural. I know that I have trouble spreading love like crazy.But I think thatís what Godís asking us to do even when it makes us late sometimes.


Loving God requires us to invest in some pretty risky endeavors, as we here at Foundry know.It asks us to take time to interact with those in society who might not be deemed socially acceptable.The Minutemen might be opposed to the work that some folks at Foundry are doing with the day laborers, but thatís okay because love is what is the center of our cause.Loving God means loving neighbors like our day laborers through actions, not simply words.Thatís something that I have trouble remembering at times.It may feel uncomfortable because it draws us out of our comfort zone and our everyday routine, but itís what God asks and blessings await those who take the time to answer the call and listen.God knows itís difficult for us to put our attention on God, hence the instructions to teach, recite, and post the commandments freely everywhere and take them with you everywhere you go.


At the beginning of his large catechism, Martin Luther underscored the importance of the physical and mental reminders of the commandments, not out of self-righteousness, not like posting the Ten Commandments everywhere on the walls in courthouses and schoolhouses so we can show everyone how sanctimonious we are, but so that we can be reminded.To quote him directly, ďThat we might have our eyes constantly fixed upon them, and have them always in our memory, and that we might practice them in all of our actions and ways and every one make them our daily exercise in all cases as though they were written in every place wherever we should look, walk, or stand.ĒWhat heís saying and what God is saying is that we need reminders, things that help us to recollect our identity and the unique duties that come with it.


Last week I was looking for a new apartment.Itís never a fun process in Washington, D.C.And given the fact now that the housing market is softening, I canít say itís making the rental market a whole lot better because all those people who are trying to sell their houses now are trying to rent them for $2500 a month.In one hallway I noticed two small nail marks on a doorpost, the remnants of a Jewish mezuzah.In a mezuzah, the words of the Shema which are read today are written on a tiny scroll of parchment and then along with the words of Deuteronomy 11:13-21.On the back of the scroll the name of God is written.That scroll is rolled up and placed on a bar sometimes in a case and put on a doorpost.Every time a Jewish person passes through a doorpost with a mezuzah, they are supposed to touch it and kiss their hands as a reminder and an expression of their love for God and respect for God and Godís commandments.


Someone who lived in that apartment heeded the call in Deuteronomy and when they moved, they took that scroll with them so they could put it on the next doorway in which they lived.I like to think that every time the person who lived there left their residence, they were reminded of their duty to love God and love their neighbors.These words became a companion in her life going along with her in the journey that she walked every day.They became part of who she was.Wherever she went those words and those thoughts were with her.Whenever she forgot, she passed the mezuzah, she touched it again and felt convicted by God and reminded.At least, thatís what I hoped.I think God hopes that as well, that the Shema and the commandment that we love our neighbor as ourselves will become a radical confession, our radical confession as Christians.


With the grace of God, we can be transformed into full-time lovers, not part-time lovers, but full-time lovers.Working together with God we can spread the love of boldness and self-assurance throughout the land.If only we listen, the reign of Godís love, justice, and mercy can be made real in our lives and eternal life will be ours.


What is the Christian equivalent to the mezuzah?Do you have a mezuzah in your life?What is your touchstone and the reminder that you have that you are a Christian and that these two rulesóthat you love God and love your neighbor are ever present in your lives?Is it praying the Lordís Prayer every morning when you wake up or maybe meditating on a Bible verse before you go to bed?Maybe itís taking part in communion and doing that in the remembrance of the One, Jesus Christ.Potentially, itís wearing a cross around your neck, not only so that you can show the world, ďlook, Iím a Christian and Iím proud,Ē but so that when you touch that cross, you will be reminded of the duties and the honor that come along with that label.


Regardless of what that touchstone is, the important thing is that you have one, that you have a mezuzah, that you have these rules, these pleas, these desires of God written on your heart, written everywhere in your life, and that you adopt practices that remind you that you are a child of God and that your purpose in this world is to love.