The Rev. Rob Fisher
St. Dunstan’s, Carmel Valley
Proper 25, Year A
Pentecost 20: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; Matthew 22:34-46
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
There was a professor at my college named Vincent Scully who had been teaching for decades. He taught art history focusing on architecture, and his courses were so popular he always had a packed lecture hall.
For him architecture was not just art, but it was morality. And he made a strong case for this, which is that good architecture can build up community and improve lives, and bad architecture can crush lives!
Once in the middle of one of his lectures, while he was making a big point he kicked the podium so hard that he broke his toe. And he continued lecturing for an hour on that broken toe.
His energy was so infectious I think it made a lot of us kind of wonder if we might be able to become architects ourselves.
He himself got inspired to try his own hand at architecture once, and he actually designed and built a house for his family which was a disaster.
It happened to be inspired by Philip Johnson’s famous glass house in Connecticut.
This is a house that has nothing but glass walls, and it is a thing of beauty. It is also a feat of design, because the house of course has a bedroom and a kitchen and it all has to work with only glass separation—except for the bathroom which he cleverly hid within a round brick cylinder that also houses the chimney. The house is surrounded by nature, which makes it possible. No neighbors looking in, just the four seasons of Connecticut.
Well, Professor Scully boldly designed a glass house for his own family and built it, and it was a total disaster.
His whole poor family rebelled, especially his teenage son who went and built a cinder block wall to enclose his own bedroom out of desperation. Professor Scully showed slides of this. It was good to see that the great professor could admit his own failure and laugh at himself.
Creating good design is not as easy as it looks.
And what Professor Scully showed with his own failure was that, although he knew more about architecture than almost anyone else alive, it was a completely different thing to do architecture.
Knowing about something is not the same as having the ability to do something.
This is a liability for all of us these days. We’re in an age of information. Someone was noticing the other day about how even in watching baseball, where we used to just watch the game, now the commentators describe every nuance, and replay every action. Lucky for the players, they don’t hear all of this and so they can actually be in the moment while they play.
With social media, people are spending a lot of time posting pictures of their lives, and looking at pictures of other people’s lives. This is alright, so long as people don’t get in the habit of just watch life being lived without remembering how to really live our lives, whether or not the camera is on.
Information is one thing, but practice is another.
The great example of this in the Bible is the case of the scribes and Pharisees.
One of the Pharisees, who is also a lawyer, asks Jesus a question to test him saying, “Which of the commandments is the greatest?”
Jesus of course answers that it is to love the Lord with all your heart, with all of your soul, and all of your mind. And likewise, you are to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Remember, the scribes relished all of the many points of the law, the legal code of the people of God. They were the experts. They were loveless professors. However their intricate knowledge of the religious legal code was no substitute for love, which is really what God asks of us. All of those rules that make up the law are there to protect us from hurting ourselves or others, but if we only have love to guide us the rest takes care of itself.
Another way of looking at it is this.
Thomas Merton points out that many people think the point of a spiritual life is to do the will of God.
He says it is a far better thing to will the will of God.
Putting love in your heart is exactly this—to will the will of God.
What is love? Is it something that you or I generate? Certainly not.
Love is not something that we create, but rather it is something that we catch. We can’t hold it. We can’t collect it. We can only live it. We can practice it. And we can spread it.
And it is very good news that no matter who you are or what you believe, if you have ever truly known love in your heart you have touched the living reality of God in your life.
I saw my spiritual director last Friday. He is a monk who lives in an Episcopal monastery in Santa Barbara. And one of the wise bits of advice that he gave to me, which I think is worth sharing with many of you, is this warning: Beware of the temptation to not make a mistake.
In other words, beware of living as if grace does not exist.
Beware of thinking that to fall is the end of the world.
Also, beware of the false view that you can avoid a fall.
We will make mistakes when we leave the realm of knowledge and really practice living in the messy world. It is such a relief to be reminded that even if we fall—especially if we fall—God will be present.
The scribes and Pharisees were dead set against falling. Rather, they were into climbing, and their way of climbing upward involved stepping on the heads of others. And that is why their faith was cold.
Jesus showed that the way to really go up is to go down first. He shows us how to die to in order to really live.
The law is nothing but a set of limits that keep us mostly upright—while Christ offers love that has no limits.
That is why Christ’s message has been so misunderstood, even by the religious.
What does it look like to not merely to do the will of God, but to will the will of God?
It is not merely to imitate Christ.
It is not merely to love like Christ.
It is to let Christ’s love and our love be one and the same.