Finding Joy in Real Life: Five Habits 8-24-14

Today is the last in the sermon series, Finding Joy in Real Life, Five Habits for Living Well. As you remember, we have been reading some of the most foundational texts of our faith, the ones that many people use to guide their lives. We started with the same on which we end, focusing on loving your neighbor as yourself. Then we read Micah, and talked about the important of the habit of working for justice, while walking humbly with God. The third week, we talked about forgiveness – asking for it and giving it. And last week, we thought together in Lurwick Hall about the true source of wealth – our giving and generosity.
Today, we go back to that first text, emphasizing the first part this time. What if we made a habit of “loving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all strength?”

Mark 12: 28-31 One of the religious scholars who had listened to them debating and had observed how well Jesus had answered them, now came up and put a question to him:  “Which is the foremost of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “This is the foremost: ‘Hear, O Israel, God, our God, is one. You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is no commandment greater than these.”

August 24, 2014

Finding Joy in Real Life: Five Habits:    5. Most Important of All

This has been a gorgeous and energizing summer. I hate to feel it winding down. I have loved swimming and slowing down a bit when I could. And I have really enjoyed working with our team on the renovations of our sanctuary.  There were times this week that I was sorry I said we would worship in here this Sunday. I think Jon and his crew were even more sorry. We really had to hustle! And, of course, we are not quite done.
We got so excited about re-creating our worship space, doing what we could to make this sanctuary an even more wonderful place for worshipping God. You’ve heard (and will hear again) all the reasons for the changes we made. Today I want to talk about why Jesus says this is the most important habit of all. Why is it important to love God with all your heart, and soul, mind and strength?
Some people, after all, think it is no use at all. They believe that is folly to spend time and money worshipping something which does not, in their minds exist or effect their lives in any way. I know quite a number of people who feel like they can be quite happy without this spiritual dimension to their lives.
Jesus was a good Jew, so he proclaimed the Schema as being the most important commandment in the Bible. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and strength, and mind.” The Bible says to always keep these words close, to say them when you go out of your house and when you come in, when you wake up and when you go to bed. A good Jew hopes to have these words be the last on their mind when they die. They are that important.
Muslims, in fact, say similar words in their 5 daily prayers, prostrating themselves toward Mecca. Jews also put these words in phylacteries and bind them to their forehead or the arms when they pray to ingrain the words deep in their consciousness, to make the love of God the most important part of their lives.
I can think of a number of reasons that we Christians would find this commandment, this habit to be just as important as Muslims or Jews, why Jesus declared it to be that important and why we would do well to make loving God habitual in our lives as well.
1. Loving God with our whole heart calls us past our own self-centeredness to realize beauty, joy, and creativity beyond ourselves. The beauty of this sanctuary has been inspired by a love for God, and a desire to proclaim God as creator of all that is beautiful, and of all or creation. Loving God brings out every creative impulse of the human spirit.
2. Loving God with our whole heart puts us in touch with the ultimate values and realities of our lives. This kind of intense love for God encourages us to dig deeper, to ask questions, and to realize our commonness and differences from other people. Loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind is the right response to God’s intense love for us.
3. Loving God with our heart, soul, and mind helps us to hear God’s call to do justice, to know forgiveness, to walk humbly, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving God with our whole heart leads us to all the other habits we have been talking about all summer.
4. Loving God with all our heart is the best way I know to acknowledge and face my own limitations, my own sinfulness, my own judgments of myself and others. Loving God pulls me past myself into authentic relationship with other people.
5. Loving God with heart and soul puts us in touch with a power for healing that is much bigger than we can usually imagine, a power for healing each other and a power for healing the world.

As you know, my partner Cathy took our son Elijah out to Arizona this week and left him to go to the University of Arizona for the next four years. I posted a picture on Facebook and got more responses than almost anything I ever posted. People empathized with the pain and anxiety of letting go of a child.
The night before he left, Cathy orchestrated a lovely moment that helped me get in touch with him for a moment. She asked him to allow me to read to him from the journal I had written to him for 18 years of his life, remembering all the fun and funny times we had over the years. He grunted a consent, and I went and sat on his bed with him and read these stories, that did in fact catch his interest, if not his memory. We laughed together and it was really a blast remembering some of those loving times.
The love for that boy is as close to unconditional love as I have ever felt. I would do anything I could to make his life the best it can be. It hurts a little to have him want to get so far away and do his own thing, but I understand what he has to do to claim his independence and his own path, so I support it as best I can.
It helps me to understand how my parents loved me, and that helps me to understand how God loves me and all of humanity and all of Creation. Loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength gives back just a smidgen of that love that God has given to us, but it is what our lives are for.
Loving God with all our heart is what we are about. When we get in touch, through that love, with that deep connection to who we are, where we came from, and who we are called to be, we live into the deepest joy of our lives. That’s a deep joy beyond any joy you can name. Loving God allows God to use us to love others, to inspire others, to relate to others, to forgive others, to understand others. I invite you today to connect with God in prayer. Try out a commitment to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Let that commitment pull you past yourself, to loving the whole world.

2153  I’m Gonna Live so God Can Use Me