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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

With All Our Hearts, Minds & Souls

With All Our Hearts, Minds and Souls

Sunday, October 23, 2011

 

Several years ago Joe and I and a few other adults took a youth group on a mission trip to Tennessee.  We expected the usual difficulties encountered when a group of teens spend five days together away from home and were on our toes most of the time, being the first up in the morning the last to go to bed at night.  We encountered one instance of a teen whose mother came on the trip being offended that another adult had reprimanded her for the language she had used on one occasion.  The daughter told her mother and her mother became defensive and angry at the other adult.  Things had escalated to the point of the mother being ready to find a way to take herself and her daughter home before I was told about it.  Well we got the involved parties together and talked about the situation until anger was diffused and the difficulty resolved so that we could get on with the experience.  An uneasy peace was reached, the daughter and mother stayed and the next day we were ready to begin the first full day of a mission project.  The project itself was to help paint a house that badly needed it.  The family we were helping had no money, both parents having poor health and an adult child functioning at a young child level.  The youth group wasted no time in getting to work, some taping, some painting, some willing to go up on a flatter part of the roof and painting a second story outside wall.  The trouble with that job became quickly apparent as the youth who were there found shirts, handkerchiefs, headscarves, sweat shirts to put around their noses and mouths.  They ended up painting near the vent from the bathroom and I think we can all imagine what that smell must have been like.  But a curious thing happened.  As the youth laughed and joked about that “worst” job in the world, they began to gel, to become a team.  That night as we talked about the day, it was apparent that some good bonding had taken place and even the mother and daughter were very much a part of that sense of camaraderie and sense of team.  

The Pharisees and Sadducees who had been trying their hardest to trip Jesus up, to get him to make a mistake in what he said, had been acting out of their own sense of what was right.  They wanted Jesus out of the way partly because he was growing too popular and partly because he seemed to be teaching things that went against what they felt to be right and true about their faith.  So they ask Jesus what the greatest commandment was.  In those times to say one commandment was better than another was going against the view that all commandments were of equal value and were to be observed solely for the glory of God.  It was sinful to argue that one commandment was better than another.  So when they asked Jesus which commandment was most important they were hoping to find some sin they could accuse him of.

But again Jesus finds an answer that will finally leave them speechless, unable to confront him again.  Instead of giving them one commandment he seems to give them two:  to love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself.  The curious thing about what he says is that the second commandment is like the first, almost placing it at equal value with the first.  Why would he do that?  Isn’t it enough to only mention the first, being the greatest of all the commandments?  It could be that Jesus is implying that those two commandments cannot be separated from each other.  He goes even farther to say that the law and prophets hang on both these commandments.

What is that commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul?  Could it mean that our love for God must be at the center of our very being, that our sense of God is so deep within us that we can’t help but love God with all our being.  Could it be that God’s deep love for us is so great that we are created to reflect that love back to God unconditionally?  How do we do that?  The religious leaders of Jesus’ time believed that we did that by following the laws.  If the religious leaders were the example they missed the point.  They loved to be at the center of attention, they loved the seat of honor, they wanted everybody to see how religious they were, how well they tried to follow all the laws.  They treasured their positions.  They treasured their way of life so much that they failed to see God in Jesus, the very messiah they were looking for.  What was missing in them?

That’s where the second command comes to play: love your neighbor as yourself.  The religious leaders set themselves apart from the people they served.  They, for the most part, thought they were loving God, but failed to love the people, failed to see them as loveable in many situations.  They were the fault finders, the commandment police, the ones who often held themselves higher than the common people.  What was missing was the reflection of God’s love back to the people God had lovingly created. 

Both commandments are held together by a common bond we call love.  We are called to love the One who made us and the ones who are created in God’s image.  Loving God with all our being naturally leads to loving our neighbor.  As God’s love makes a home in us, we reach out to love the people who come into our lives.  It is a contradiction to say, “I love God,” and turn away from another person.  In that kind of love, love is not a prize to be hoarded, but a gift to be given away.  If we love God it leads us to love those around us.      

Fred Craddock a theologian who wrote books on preaching told this story:  Two missionaries in China with two small children were told by the new Communist regime that they would have to leave the country and that they could only take fifty pounds between the two of them.  They surveyed the beautiful treasures they had accumulated: the hand carved breakfront, the ivory carvings, the priceless ink sketches on rice paper.  It was an agonizing process to choose only a few special items that they wished to keep.  When they arrived at the dock with their carefully packed bundle, a man with a clipboard said, “Did you weigh your children?”  Suddenly all of their possessions didn’t matter so much.

That sense of love for the couple’s children comes as close as anything to the type of love that is involved here.  Those two parents would never think of leaving their children behind.  Their love for their children supersedes love for anything else.  I would like us to take a look at a simple picture of a mother hugging a child.  Look carefully at the faces of mother and child.  I picture God’s love like the love on that woman’s face, unconditional and complete.  And then look at the love on the child’s face, returning that love unconditionally.  The child is delighted to be in the mother’s arms.  The mother is delighted to have the child in her arms. 

When we love God, delighted to be in God’s embrace, we can’t help but reflect that love to those around us.  When that youth group I mentioned at the beginning began to work together under trying conditions and began to share in humor and later in a sense of having done some of God’s work helping that family, they came close to understanding better God’s love for all God’s children, including themselves and reflecting that love back to the world.  It didn’t matter how different that family looked or how impoverished they were.  What mattered is that the youth began to relate to the family on different terms, made friends with them, and differences melted as they shared laughter and camaraderie with each other.  And I believe God smiled. 

The most important thing in the world is not who we are but how we are, and how we ought to be loving.  It is not self-love that matters most.  C.S. Lewis suggested that when we are born we love only ourselves.  As we grow up our love grows with us, so that we are able to love others who are like us.  When we grow up a little more we are able to love others who are not like us.  When love is fully grown we find ourselves capable of loving one who is radically other than we are, we find ourselves capable of loving God.  Too often we are content to love some others who are not like us because it is the right thing to do and we are interested in our own holiness or appearance of holiness.  We tend to do things for selfish reasons.  But when we can love God with our whole being and our actions reflect that love then we are living life at its highest level. 

When we know, not just feel, that we are being held like that mother by the God who created us, when we truly know that, then we are capable of loving others the way God loves them and our actions will reflect that.

 

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