I’m not sure about you, but I think we all have our favorite TV shows and movies; shows that make us think differently, maybe challenge our way of thinking, and give us a new way of looking at the world. For me, my favorite TV show of all time is a show from the early 1990’s called ‘Northern Exposure.’ The show’s basic plot is around a young doctor from New York City named Joel Fleischman, who is forced to work in small town Alaska as part of a deal he made to help pay for med school. In each and every episode Joel is surprised by the antics and daily interactions of Cicely’s local residents. In one particular episode, Joel is introduced to his assistant Marilyn’s cousin who is named Leonard; he is a Native American healer, or shaman. Leonard has come to observe Joel in order to learn about ‘conventional medicine.’
In Joel’s examining room, Shelly, one of the town’s locals, is visiting because of a mild rash she is suffering from. She attempts to make small talk with Joel, who merely responds with polite uncaring. Shelly remarks that Joel seems mad, but Joel explains that he is merely trying to distance himself from the patient so he can make a proper diagnosis. He concludes that she has contact dermatitis due to “dishpan hands”, and advises her to put some lotion on them.
But this doesn’t help Shelly. At the end of the day, Shelly finds the sheets “scratchy” as she climbs into bed, and when her husband Holling touches her even slightly, she recoils in pain. Although she is wearing mittens to protect her hands, the rash has seemed to spread to other parts of her body, and she is in pain. The next morning when she wakes up, she screams, as she sees that she is peeling all over her body.
Shelly shows up at Joel’s office and Joel has trouble making a diagnosis. However, Leonard, the healer, makes small talk with Shelly, making her more at ease. Joel is upset by Leonard’s interference and finally prescribes cortizone for Shelly. After she leaves, Leonard asks unusual questions about Shelly’s personal life, to which Joel doesn’t know the answer. Leonard says that he spends hours, even days, talking with patients and is amazed that Joel can make a diagnosis so quickly.
The next day Shelly comes in to visit Joel, but Joel is gone. However, she sees Leonard and they begin talking. She tells him a story about an egg she took care of once, and Leonard compares the hatching of the egg to Shelly’s current rash, saying that she’s shedding her skin. Shelly is cheered by this concept, and leaves in a much happier mood.
When Joel hears what Leonard has done, how he has interfered with his medical practice to form some story about Shelly ‘shedding’ new skin, he is furious. But later, when Joel goes to visit Shelly, she has mysteriously healed and attributed it to Leonard’s explanation of shedding her springtime skin.
Joel is once again confused and surprised at how life works outside of his world of New York City reason and education.
Leonard will later explain that the role of a shaman in his tradition is to learn about the patient’s entire life: how they spend their day, who they interact with, what are their habits. For him, the role of the healer is not to only look at the physical symptoms, but the patient’s entire reality. In the western world this approach to medicine, and many areas of life, is called holistic living.
The basic premise of holistic living is simply this: all of our life counts in how we experience the world around us. Our maladies have just as much to do with our surroundings and emotional state as it does our diet and genetic history. Our emotional, physical, mental, and yes, spiritual lives are all interconnected. And as Leonard reminds us, this is not a new idea!
But here’s the problem: today’s American culture is often hesitant to embrace such a reality. So often in today’s world we have trouble connecting our lives. We may be asked to wake up early each morning with too little sleep and rush everyone off to school and work, spend 8-10 hours a day at the office, then rush home to take the kids to soccer practice, then prepare a meal before 9 o’clock at night, then make sure everyone is ready for the next day ahead! For some reason (sarcasm) the majority of Americans admit to sleep deprivation, poor health, unhealthy eating habits, and stressed family relationships, and refuse to connect the dots!
How in the world are we to live a healthy, holistic life, when so much of what we experience in the world is counter to what we seek in order to live as healthy beings?
People have responded to this conflict in different ways throughout the ages and around the world. And while joining Leonard in Cicely, AK, may not be the best way to respond to our situation (it’s a made up town by the way…just in case you were looking up airline tickets), perhaps we can glean something from this morning’s scripture texts. So let’s take a look.
Our text this morning is shared between the words of Moses in Deuteronomy, and those of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. Both texts bring up what is now known as the ‘shema’ or the prayer that begins with the words, ‘Hear, O Israel…’. This is the second time that we read of the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Scripture, and so it is important to note just how central these laws were to not only the religious life of the Jewish people, but to the community life of the people of Israel. These rules were communicated not only to worship properly before our Creator, but to live alongside others in community.
Jesus, in his own way, continues to creatively remind the people of God’s word as he is often asked rather pointed religious questions, and is able to re-frame the conversations to point to the Kingdom of God; this passage in Mark is no exception. At this point in the Gospel of Mark Jesus is being tested by those religious authorities in Jerusalem who want to find a reason to arrest Jesus. Their plan is simply to trick him into saying something that would be outrageous enough to warrant such an arrest, but Jesus is a wise man.
The religious authorities continue to ask him about the laws of God. For Jesus, the entirety of the mitzvot , or the 613 commandments of Jewish law, is summed up in two commandments. Let me repeat that, Jesus sums the entirety of God’s Law for the people from 613, into just 2 laws: love God, and love your neighbor.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, the scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” I wonder about this scribe. Is he the type of person who wants to trip up Jesus; for him to make a mistake? Is the scribe trying to stump him? Or maybe he really is seeking guidance, and wants to know where to start. It’s like when you ask someone for directions, and they spend five minutes telling you every detail of every turn. All great information, but I really need to know first which way to turn out of this parking lot. Is this what the scribe was getting at?
Now Jesus’ response is pretty creative. He could have chosen a variety of topics to share when it comes to the law, but Jesus chooses to emphasize the importance of a holistic life, 1) in the presence of God, and 2) in the presence of our neighbors.
Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
And the answer from the questioner? ‘You are right, Teacher.’ In some way I wonder if he silently said to himself, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’.
So what do these teachings have to do with our lives today here in the year 2015? Are we expecting to be challenged by the local religious authorities in speaking about the law of God? Perhaps. But what I really want us to think about this morning is how God is moving within the teachings of Moses and Jesus.
How are we to live our entire lives for God, with our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength? And what does this have to do with how we love our neighbors?
In a nation that celebrates specialized…everything, Jesus reminds us that our entire lives are holistically embraced in God’s love. This is the Good News this morning. No matter how hard we try to break everything up into our segmented lives with sports, work, school, family, church, etc., God calls us to love our One Creator as God loves us…all of us.
And it’s in response to this love for ourselves that we are, in turn, called to love others with that same Godly love. We are called to love unconditionally, holistically.
So what does it look like to live holistically with God’s love? I think it starts with acceptance and acknowledgment that God has been, is, and will be, loving all of our lives, no matter how hard we may try to hide, demarcate, or segment. When we accept God’s presence and love in all facets of our daily lives, we are able to gain a larger perspective of how this crazy world works. No longer does the success or failure of our days or lives depend on how much money we make, or how well our kids do in school, or how our family looks or acts. When we allow God’s presence in each facet of our lives, then we move from segmented living to holistic living; to holy living for God.
I’m not sure about you, but this is a relief to me. Yes, life will continue to be filled with struggles and frustrations, disappointments and failures. But when we are able to acknowledge God’s presence in the midst of all that life throws at us, then we are able to recognize God’s grace and love in all aspects of our lives as well.
This is not just a lesson for our church lives, or our Sunday School lives, or our Christian lives. This is holistic. This is about the entirety of our lives. God is not just on Sunday mornings, or part of our calendars, or part of our morning reading schedules. God is moving in all of our lives! And what good news this is; that we worship a God who loves all of us.
This is a message worth sharing with the world, and it begins with our neighbors. We share this message not by only our words, but by the entirety of our lives: our actions, our communication, and our acceptance: ‘…the Lord our God, the Lord is one…’.