October 25, 2020 “Always Aim for the Center”

“Always Aim For the Center”

Matthew 22:34-46

A seminary professor, Audrey West, shared the story of a video about archery recently that I found spot on for our Gospel message today. It began with a young man tossing a six-inch wooden disk into the air above his head. Seconds later an arrow sped its way into the face of the disk, fracturing it into pieces that fell to the ground near his feet. A high-speed camera that was replayed in slow motion showed that the arrow hit this disk nearly dead center.

The next target was a 2 ½  inch plastic ball. Again, the young man tossed it into the air. Again, the arrow sped toward its target and hit it nearly on center. Whether viewed in real time or in slow motion, the evidence was clear.

The archer’s arrow flew 3 more times, each time into an even smaller target: a golf ball, a life saver, and finally an aspirin tablet. In each case the arrow went straight to the mark, even when the target was no bigger than the diameter of the arrow itself. To be honest, I found this hard to believe. You see, I tried my hand at bow hunting years ago. I even was able to bugle in a couple bull elk, but never felt confident enough to take a shot. I simply wasn’t that good of a shot. The hundred some hours I had spent practicing wasn’t near enough – I needed thousands of hours. Yet this young man was shooting life savers out of the sky like it was no big deal. Maybe someday I’ll be able to see this video for myself and then I will be thoroughly amazed, I’m sure, but the incredible skill of this archer is not what made me think of our Lord in the temple being asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” No, the “aha” moment came when the host of the show asked this young archer how it was possible to shoot an arrow so accurately using a handmade bow, especially when the target was so incredibly small. His answer really got me to thinking when he said, “The center of an aspirin is the same size as the center of a beach ball. Always aim for the center.” Always aim for the center.

And so it was that when Jesus responded to the lawyers question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” that is exactly what he did: he aimed for the center. He shot straight to the heart of the ancient scriptures that they all held dear. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. If we continue reading from Deuteronomy 6:5, we can understand why this verse ranks as a daily prayer in the Jewish faith even today. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

                                                                                          

 

This is wisdom literature that tops everything – to love God with everything you’ve got. There is no commandment greater than this and the lawyers and religious leaders and probably all the others in the temple that day knew this as well. But knowing it and doing it are often times two different things. Jesus wasn’t done answering their question, however. He quotes next from the book of Leviticus saying, And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. (Lev. 19:18) I don’t know if I’m out of line here or not, but it has always struck me funny that in a world of rules and regulations and statutes and legislation and mandates and decrees, the greatest commandment would be the one that orders me – that commands me – to love our God and at the same time have genuine empathy and compassion and yes, even love for a world full of people some of whom, let’s face it, simply get on your nerves. People can be bossy and they can be brassy, they can be mopey or they can be just plain ornery. Love them anyway and if that gets to be a little tough, then all that means is that we’re out of practice. Love them anyway. Always aim for the center.

Love your neighbor as yourselves. You know, the way we love ourselves is pretty much a personal matter, I’m guessing. I’m reminded of a job interview where the interviewer asks, “So tell me about yourself,” and the person applying answers, “I’d rather not. I really want this job.” So yes, the way that we love ourselves is a relative term. But one thing is for sure, and I’ll speak for myself here: if anyone knows my flaws and my foibles, it is me. And because I’m aware of my shortcomings, by the grace of God, I’m going to work on making me better. I’m going to work on making me more lovable. I’m going to work on making me acceptable in the eyes of God. There’s no way this will happen overnight. It takes practice – lots of practice. But it seems to me that the more we learn to love ourselves, the easier it will be to love our neighbors.

Always aim for the center; that’s what Jesus did. When he spotted the downtrodden, he zeroed in on them. When he saw suffering or abuse or justice gone bad, he was there in the heart of it. As we approach the winter season in our communities and in our world, there will be moments when our “neighbors” are not going to be on their best behavior. The stress and uncertainty of our times are already taking their toll. Our faith and our love of God will be strained as well. Aim for the center. Aim for the heart of God from whom all blessings flow. Let Paul’s words to the Thessalonians rule your hearts when he said, (1 Thess 2:4) We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.

I’ll close with some final thoughts from Audrey West, who writes, “Do you want to know how to love God with your whole self? Practice loving your neighbor. Do you want to know how to love your neighbor? Practice loving God. Repeat. Then do it again.”  Always aim for the center, and the center is and will always be Christ.

Amen & Shalom

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