By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton

October 26, 2008

Read: Matthew 22:34-36

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” And Jesus answers with this: “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 the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. In other words, these two are at the heart, they are the essence, of all other laws and words of the prophets. It is because of following these two, that we are able to live a life pleasing to God.

Sounds simple and easy, doesn’t it? But we know…oh, yes we know…that it really isn’t. We spend our life striving for this kind of existence; but we sometimes wonder how in the world we really love some of our neighbors. They it make it so darn difficult sometimes, don’t they? And, isn’t usually them, not us? You know what I mean. The us vs. them mentality.

A friend sent me a tape recently of George Berdes’ talk show on WXPR out of Wisconsin. He tells this great parable that I will attempt to share with you about the us and them tendency. The tendency to want to be “right” and not truly listen, or discuss with those “other” people. And trust me, there is truth in this story.
George Berdes speaks of his time in first grade with Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith would slap their hands, break pencils, ridicule them in class. She would literally scream the word ‘right’ really loud. At recess they would cry and run and hide when the other kids made fun of them. George counted two of them as friends and they still are friends today. And, in spite of Mrs. Smith they still do it their way, the way they were born, the only way they can. The two moved down South and became special friends, partners. George was proud of them. They overcame the challenges of being different; they were successful in their careers as teacher; they were good citizens. But then that old hurt came back. All they wanted to do was get married, like other people. That’s when their whole world came crashing down. All of this because they were both left handed.

Made no difference that they were excellent teachers, popular with the kids, volunteered as coaches and were involved in all sorts of other good activities. The minute they announced their plans to get married, all of that went out the window, just because they were left-handed. Sad and confusing as it may be it was the religious folk who led the assault. They would starts whispers and rumors that his two Southpaw friends were turning kids into lefties, as though being left-handed was something kids just decided to do on a Wednesday morning for no reason at all. The whispers went on, becoming a chant. When our innocent children end up lefties parents would have to disown them, breaking up whole families, soiling the communities. In got worse of course. All kinds of so-called experts showed up in town claiming that lefties wound up being child molesters and led low lives. And from the pulpits the thundering condemnation continued. Leftism is a sin. That became a kind of battle-cry.

All this time George’s two friends proudly kept reminding themselves that being left-handed was a part of their identity; integral to who they were. They didn’t choose to be lefties, it was just the way God made them. But that wasn’t the way the local preachers saw it. They would cite the bible as proof that the Almighty saw left-handedness as an abomination. They’d solemnly intone that the right inherit the kingdom of God, but those on the left will be thrown into the everlasting fire.
But true to themselves, and just like they did back in first grade, George’s two friends would not be broken, or intimidated.

Seems crazy now doesn’t it? But it is true that left-handed people were looked at as different; other; those people. Why do we do that to our neighbors when the greatest commandments involve loving God and loving neighbor as ourself?
It’s not simple and it’s not easy. But we are called, as Christians, to keep on working toward fulfilling those two great commandments. The cross becomes a symbol for remembering those commandments. The cross literally has a cross point where the vertical line and the horizontal line connect. This cross point is where our relationship with God, the vertical, and our relationships with other people, the horizontal, intersect. We are bound together in this way, by the cross, by the love of God in and through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our neighbor is just as much a child of God as you or I. Our neighbor is any other human being on the face of this earth. Our neighbor is, more than likely, a little different; uniquely made. Let’s try not to fall into us vs. them because of that. We are all on this great earth together.

There is a story of shipwrecked survivors on a long, narrow life boat together. In fact, it is so long that the front people begin to think of themselves as the front people and the back people see themselves as the back people. For endless days they drift in the merciless sun and churning seas. And then one day the front of boat develops an uncontrollable leak. One of the people in the back gloats to his fellow back people….thank God that leak is in the front, if it were here in the back, we’d be doomed. The boat story illustrates we are all in this together. We are all in this together and whether we’d like to admit it or not, what we say and do has effect on other people’s lives. The cross point.

There is an interesting story about Soul Songs in Africa. Something to think about when we consider our relationship with God and each other – the power of a relationship bound in respect for others and love for fellow human beings. Soul Songs.

“When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few women friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child. They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.

When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song.

Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth, and
they sing the person to the next life.

In the African tribe, there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is LOVE, and the remembrance of identity. When you
recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.

A friend is someone who knows our song and sings it to us when we have forgotten it. Those who love us are not fooled by mistakes we have made or dark images we hold about ourselves. They remember our beauty when we feel ugly; our wholeness when we are broken; our innocence when we feel guilty; and our purpose when we are confused.” [1]

May God grant us the grace to hear our own soul song and to hear and love the soul songs of others. Amen.

[1] Author unknown – received second-hand

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