Tattoos of the Heart

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Mark 12:28-34

I have told you several stories
about Jesuit priest Greg Boyle
who lives in LA and employs
and rehabilitates gang members
at a place called Homeboy Industries .
One day,
at Homeboy Industries,
Greg has been dealing
with a particularly exasperating homie,
so he decides to change up his strategy
and catch the homie in the act of do something right.
Greg sees that he has been too harsh
and that the homie, in fact,
had been doing the best they could.
Greg tells the homie how heroic he is
and how the courage he exhibits now
in transforming his life
far surpasses the hollow bravery
of his gang-related past.
Greg tells him he is a giant among men.
The homie is thrown off balance by all this
and silently stares at Greg,
whom the homies call G.
Then he says,
“Wow, G … I’m gonna tattoo that on my heart.”

This story reminds me that:
there are things worth tattooing on our hearts
in permanent ink.

The Hebrew Scripture today tells us
to write the words, love God,
on our hearts,
to repeat them constantly as we wake up and sleep,
and to post the words on our doorways and houses.

For the greatest commandments on this:
love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Love God. Love neighbor.

Write this everywhere.
Scribble it on post-its
and stick it everywhere in your house.

Why do we need to this?

as the writer of Deuteronomy so well knows,
sometimes we forget.

So like a spiritual practice,
or a word repeated over and over again
during center praying,
we need to say these words
that we may remember
who we are
and what we are about.

Love God. Love neighbor.

I have been pondering those words this week.

What does this mean?
Who is my neighbor?

In the Gospels,
Jesus answers this question over and over again:
with his life, with his actions and with stories.

I find the story that he tells about the Good Samaritan
a particularly shocking response.

In this story,
Jesus tells a man is traveling on a road
on a road in Judea
and he is robbed.
When this person is robbed,
everything is taken,
and they are beaten up,
and left by the side of the road
half dead.
A priest comes by,
and when they see this suffering person,
they immediately cross
to the other side of the road
so they do not have to interact.
Another holy person comes by,
and they also crosses to the other side
so they will not be bothered.
A third person comes by, who is a Samaritan,
and they are moved by compassion.
They to where the robbed person is
and bandage their wounds
and took them to an inn
where they are healed.

In this account,
Jesus tells us that
it is the Samaritan
who is our neighbor.

This revelation is shocking
because Judeans or Jews
and Samaritans
were bitter enemies and rivals.

They disagreed about everything that matter:
Judeans worshipped in Jerusalem,
Samaritans said no,
there was another holy site to worship at,
They disagreed about how to practice their faith.
They read different versions of the scriptures
and avoided social contact with each other
whenever they could.
They were from neighboring countries,
differing cultures, and they hated each other.

In this account,
the Samaritan is the other,
the object of fear and condescension.

Yet when Jesus asks, at the end of the story,
Who is the neighbor?

The answer is the Samaritan.

This story is a scandal.
If it had really happened,
and they had newspapers
in that day and age,
I imagine headlines would read:

If they had social media,
the video footage,
of the Samaritan helping out
would have gone viral
because it was so unexpected.

It calls into question
all we think we know.

Who is our neighbor?
[I’m giving you time to name it.]

Love God. Love neighbor.

Tattoo those words upon your heart.

Jesus says that the Samaritan
is our neighbor
because the Samaritan is the one
who acted with mercy.

Love God. Love neighbor.

It is easier to do that
when we have neighbors
who act mercifully.

But what if
the priest and the holy person
are also our neighbor?
What if the reality is,
in our neighborhood
we have people
who walk on by
those who suffer?
What do we do then?

How do we love all of our neighbors?

When I contemplate that question,
I have to admit that it makes me uncomfortable,
what about
the times when I have been the one
to walk on by?

What about the times
when I too
have been the one who was reactive,
or did not think before I spoke,
or was petty or dismissive?

What if there were times when we too
do not heed the wise words of the apostle James:
be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger?

What if there are times
when we too were so goal focused
that we lost sight on the human being
in front us?

What if the neighbor
Jesus asks others to love
is in fact us?

Love God. Love neighbor.

Chalk it on your sidewalks. Post it on your lawn.
Sticky-note it to your mirror. Write it on your walls.

Love God. Love neighbor.

The words make me wonder:
Where is Jesus asking us to grow,
to be attentive to those we would otherwise walk by?

I contemplated that question
this week as I went out from my house
into the world
and back from the world in to my house.

Each time,
as I moved in and out
I would look at the door post.

One of the things I love about this church
is that,
when I moved into the parsonage
next door,
that was already a ceramic encasing
attached to the doorpost,
with a scroll that said, “Love God.”
This is because, in the Jewish tradition,
these words are always attached by the doorpost
to remind those in the household:
who they are and what they are about.

In the early nineties,
young Pastor Erica lived in the parsonage
next door with a young local rabbi,
and the rabbi had originally posted these words
on the doorpost.

Now every time I enter and exit the door,
I am reminded:
Love God. Love neighbor. Love self.
It also reminds me: Forgive neighbor. Forgive self.

These words have a way of orienting us,
even when the world
seems to be in crisis
and we don’t know what to do next.

After the horrific shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue,
I was heartbroken,
as I am at each new death that I hear about,
and I was wondering how to respond.
The local synagogue invited everyone
in the community over
for Shabbat or Sabbath service of solidarity.
When I arrived,
the traffic was backed down the street,
the parking lot was packed
and the parked cars stretched out
on the nearby street.

Hundreds had come.

As we gathered in this holy space,
the leader read the Scripture:

“You are to love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.”

There we were grieving.

What were we to do?

Love God. Love neighbor.

This is who we are.
This is what we are about.

In her meditation,
the speaker talked about how,
the people who had died at the synagogue,
were like people we all know.
They were greeters.
They were older couples who had attended
faithfully for many years.
They were people who were the pillars
of their congregation.

She said to us: We know these people.

She reminded us:
We are all neighbors.

Love God. Love neighbor as self.
Forgive neighbor. Forgive self.

In that worship service,
the synagogue taught me
what that looks like.

Toward the close of the service,
this poem was read,
which I now read to you
and offer as a prayer.

One Morning
Written by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer.

One morning
we will wake up
and forget to build
that wall we’ve been building,
the one between us
the one we’ve been building
for years, perhaps
out of some sense
of right and boundary,
perhaps out of habit.

One morning
we will wake up
and let our empty hands
hang empty at our sides.
Perhaps they will rise,
as empty things
sometimes do
when blown
by the wind.
Perhaps they simply
will not remember
how to grasp, how to rage.

We will wake up
that morning
and we will have
misplaced all our theories
about why and how
and who did what
to whom, we will have mislaid
all our timelines
of when and plans of what
and we will not scramble
to write the plans and theories anew.

On that morning,
not much else
will have changed.
Whatever is blooming
will still be in bloom.
Whatever is wilting
will wilt. There will be fields
to plow and trains
to load and children
to feed and work to do.
And in every moment,
in every action, we will
feel the urge to say thank you,
we will follow the urge to bow.

In other words:
We will remember we are neighbors.

Love God. Love neighbor.

Sticky note it to your TV and computers,
sharpie it on your cell phone cases,
for the unbreakable love of God
transforms our lives
and the world,
and we are invited to open ourselves up to it
at every moments.

The time is now:
Are you ready to collectively go
and have these words tattooed upon your heart?


Categories: Sermons, Uncategorized

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