A recent blog from the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden announced on October 19th this event: “Today, the Cincinnati Zoo’s baby giraffe is one week old and she now has a new name. After an exciting week of seeing name suggestions on the Zoo’s Facebook page, the Zoo left the final decision to the public and more than 5,400 people answered the call by voting online. “Lulu” has been selected the official name of the baby giraffe, receiving over half of the total votes cast with over 2,800 votes.”
Okay…for most of us, this isn’t really big news even though the events of birth and later naming were widely broadcast both in the Cincinnati area and sparingly announced on a few nationally based television newscasts. Compared to the other situations that daily seem to rock our world, this is the kind of event that can slip by unnoticed. I bet a few of you didn’t notice it at all. I know I didn’t. But it’s kind of nice to have this little reminder of pastoral blessing when the world around us seems to be continually subject to the whims of water, wind, weather and war.
“Lulu” It’s a great name, isn’t it? For me, it conjures up a pleasant childhood memory of Little Lulu that cartoon character of my past whose friends and foes always brought a smile to my lips. It’s a world where something or someone was always in charge and, it wasn’t me.
That’s a world we all search to recover. That’s a world we understand and of which we long to hear more. I think whenever our world gets chaotic we tend to lean toward the places and people that bring us a measure of stability. We search for these stabilizing forces because they give us some sense of direction. At least, in the past, they seemingly have offered us a clearer path to follow.
So it would seem for the Pharisees. Their world hardly feels stable or free from fear. True, they are in the driver’s seat now, but one slip up, one misguided step and their tenuous fortunes might bring them into conflict with Roman rule. Jesus could be their stumbling block, but not if they get him first.
Mark’s gospel harps on this ongoing interchange between Christ and the Pharisees; and between Christ and the learned scribes. This morning’s reading follows another exchange, this one between the Sadducees who try to trip Jesus up regarding his thinking on resurrection and Christ who quickly sees through their feeble attempts to derail him. But there’s an interesting twist here. Christ may not have convinced his opponents that their thinking is a bit off base, but his thoughts do seem to tweak the interest of an eavesdropping scribe.
It’s possible that this scribe, at other times, might have joined ranks with the Pharisees. The Scribe might have been as determined to trap Jesus into convicting himself in the presence of the Jewish crowds but not this time. This time, Jesus has the scribe thinking because, as Mark puts it, “he has answered them well”; high praise from one teacher of another. So the scribe asks the question, “Which commandment is first of all?” to which Christ gives two, “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and love your neighbor as yourself.” How do you argue with that brilliant synthesis of the Ten Commandments? As it turns out, none could. In a matter of just a few words Christ explains what we all strive to have…relationship, first with God than with others.
In his book “Lessons from a Sheepdog,” Phillip Keller tells of a border collie he bought to herd sheep on his ranch in Canada. “The collie was inexpensive because it was ill-tempered and unpredictable, but Keller was short on funds and hoped the animal would work out until he could afford a better one.
When Keller got the dog back to his ranch, it quickly became clear that the animal had been beaten, starved, and neglected. It was wild and nervous, filled with fear and suspicion. Keller spent several days just trying to win the dog’s trust. He spoke repeatedly and gently to the animal, never moved quickly, tried cautiously to pet it. Nothing worked. The dog remained suspicious and unpredictable and refused to eat.
“After nearly a week of this, Keller realized that the dog was going to starve to death unless he let it go free. So he released the collie and watched it disappear over the hill into the brush-dotted pastureland. Although he figured he would never see the animal again, he continued to put out food and water and frequently let his eyes roam the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of it.
“One day Keller spotted the dog watching him from the distance. He spoke to the animal softly. It disappeared. The next day the dog appeared again, and that evening some of the food was gone. For several days this pattern was repeated as a distant bond of trust began forming.
“Then the impossible happened. One morning as Keller sat on a large rock overlooking his grazing sheep, he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, a black-and-white form coming up behind him. The man sat motionless, his hands braced behind his back. Suddenly he felt a cold, wet nose on his hand.
“After a moment, Keller turned slightly. The dog stayed. The man put his hand on the dog’s head. The hint of a wag stirred the end of the dog’s tail. And at that moment the bond was sealed between man and dog. A relationship built on love and trust was created.
God created us to be in relationship. The glue, if you will, to hold those relationships together is “love.” Through love God created us and through love God sustains us. Over the last year, we have had many opportunities to explore the satisfactions of relationship. We have learned how to give to others well beyond what we may have thought we could give. And, with the latest destructive storm, we will be asked to step up and give again because the needs are there and our nation, our world is filled with neighbors that need our love. Both great commandments lay a burden on our hearts to give when we can and to receive when we must.
The last few years have been a test to our resolve to live, as Christ would have us live. The needs multiply: the winter of the big snow, August 2011, Storm Irene, the October Halloween Nor’easter of 2011, and now, of course, Sandy and that is just here in the U.S. Around the world, weather related disasters increase and war related needs multiply.
I’ve often heard people complain that institutional religion has lost its edge, has become somewhat irrelevant in the world. But it is through our faith in God we learn God’s love comes without restriction but with some opportunities and challenges to reach out in love to others. Faith teaches us this truth and institutional religion is one avenue through which, together, we can express our love of God and love of neighbor. As the bioethicist Stephen Post, founder and director of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love wrote, “All the great religions teach love for humanity. If religions didn’t do this, they probably wouldn’t survive. Religion is, at its best, love for common humanity, so I think insofar as we live in a fragmented, divided, violent world, people recognize that religion at its best can be a powerful and positive force.”
In Jesus, we find the basis for our faith…an unswerving love for God and for humanity that brought Christ to the cross to give up his life in love for others. To follow Christ is to give our own lives for one another, first because we are loved by God and secondly, because we can do nothing less. God calls us, claims us, and then sends us forth to do what can only be done through our hands and our hearts. It’s a grand adventure for which we can truly be grateful for the purpose of life is to be life for others in Christ’ name. Amen.