Crows Nest Uniting Church
Sunday 30 • 26 Oct 2014


Deuteronomy 34:1-12
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46


Rev. Chris Udy


Robert Fulghum is best known
for being the author of the book,
"Everything I Need to Know
I Learned in Kindergarten" –
and when you’re the husband
of an early childhood educator
that book title pretty much says it all.
 
Mr Fulghum says
that whenever he attends a lecture
and the presenter finishes by asking,
“Are there any questions?” 
there is a question he always asks. 
The question is, 
"What is the meaning of life?" 
He says, "You never know,
someone may have the answer
and I'd really hate to miss it
because I was too socially inhibited to ask."
He says when he asks
it is usually taken as a joke. 
People laugh and gather up their stuff
and the session ends on that ridiculous note.
 
In his second book,
"It Was on Fire When I Lay Down On It",
Fulghum tells of a time
when he got a serious answer to that question.
 
He was on the island of Crete
where he was attending a two week seminar
at an institute for peace. 
The seminar's organizer
was Alexander Papaderos. 
At the last session on the last day,
Papaderos asked, "Are there any questions?" 
The two week seminar
had generated enough questions for a lifetime,
but there was only silence.
So Mr Fulghum raised his hand and asked,
"Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?"
The usual laughter followed,
and people stirred to go. 
But Papaderos held up his hand and stilled the room. 
He looked at Robert Fulghum for a long time
to see if he was serious
and realizing that he was,
Papaderos said, "I will answer your question." 
Then taking his wallet out of his hip pocket,
he fished out a very small round mirror,
about the size of a 20 cent piece. 
And then Papaderos told this story:
 
"When I was a small child, during the war,
we were very poor
and we lived in a remote village. 
One day, on the road,
I found the broken pieces of a mirror. 
A German motorcycle
had been wrecked in that place. 
I tried to find all the pieces
and put them together,
but it was not possible,
so I kept only the largest piece. 
This one. 
And by scratching it
on a stone I made it round. 
I began to play with it as a toy
and became fascinated by the fact
that I could reflect light into dark places
where the sun would never shine -
in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. 
It became a game for me
to get light
into the most inaccessible places I could find.
 
I kept the little mirror,
and as I went about my growing up,
I would take it out in idle moments
and continue the challenge of the game. 
As I became a man,
I grew to understand
that this was not just a child's game
but a metaphor
for what I might do with my life. 
I came to understand
that I am not the light
nor the source of the light. 
But light –
truth, understanding, knowledge –
is there, and it will only shine
in many dark places
if I reflect it.
 
I am a fragment of a mirror
whose whole design and shape I do not know.
Nevertheless, with what I have
I can reflect light
into the dark places of this world -
into the black places in the human heart -
and change some things in some people. 
Perhaps others may see and do likewise. 
This is what I am about. 
This is the meaning of my life."
 
In our reading for today
the Pharisees approached Jesus,
with a question -
a bit like Robert Fulghum’s question -
and despite the fact
that the Pharisees weren’t sincere,
it’s still an excellent question.
“Teacher - which commandment in the Law
is the greatest?”
Jesus gave the Pharisees
the answer they expected -
“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.”
That was the standard answer -
it was part of Shema -
the prayer that every Jewish man
was supposed to say every morning -
“Hear O Israel,
the Lord is our God;
the Lord is one -
and you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.”
It’s worth noting
that when Jesus quotes the first commandment
he changes it -
in Deuteronomy and in the Shema
it reads “Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength” -
but when Jesus quotes it
he says “Love God with all your heart,
all your soul -
and all your mind” -
maybe first because he knew
the Pharisees were playing mind-games -
and maybe also because he understood
that while wisdom –
the search for deep truth -
brings us close to God wherever we may find it,
strength and power rarely does.
Often it’s our strength – our power -
that seduces and betrays us:
leads us away from peace and from God,
 
But that’s not the most interesting aspect
of his answer.
The Pharisees expected him
to choose the first commandment as the greatest -
almost any good teacher of the law
would do the same -
but the surprise came
when Jesus continued on,
to say - “and the second is like it -
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
That wasn’t expected -
that was something new.
 
For Jesus,
the greatest commandment -
the meaning of life -
is to love God, and to love our neighbour -
and he holds those two together – inseparably.
The meaning of life
is to love God –
and God is like the light that shines
on that little fragment of mirror.
God is the source of life and hope
and love and grace and wisdom,
and when we love God,
when our lives are fixed and focussed
on God’s life and love and wisdom
then something of God’s light
shines in us and through us.
 
But it’s not enough for us
to bask in the light –
it’s not enough for us to know
that the life and hope
and love and wisdom of God
are there for us –
God’s purpose - God’s hope and dream -
is to bring that life and love
and the search for deep truth
into the world and into the lives of all God’s children -
and it’s only when we act like mirrors,
shining God’s light of love and wisdom
into the lives of our neighbours
that we also understand God’s love for us.
 
Whenever we celebrate baptism
we not only claim the promise
that this person, this child
is loved by God,
we also give the person who’s been baptised
a candle,
and we say (or we will say)
‘Amy, may you always walk
as a child of the light;
let your light so shine before the world
that all may see your good works
and give glory to our Father who is in heaven’
 
The meaning of life
is to live in love with God
and with our neighbours.
The meaning of life is to shine that light -
to bring hope and insight and wonder and love
to people whose hearts and lives
are shadowed by grief and loneliness,
and darkened by fear and shame -
and like Dr Papaderos, who said:
“I am a fragment of a mirror
whose whole design and shape I do not know”,
we are also part of something bigger.
Amy’s flame will not burn on its own:
all of us are part of God’s purpose
and even the smallest flame
adds to the whole.
The light we shine begins in God;
it shines through all God’s daughters
and all God’s sons,
and every time we gather around the font
to celebrate baptism and remember
that we, like Amy, are loved by God,
we’re also reminded
that, again like Amy,
we are being called
to be children of the light:
to live in love
with God and with our neighbour.