After enduring Stump the Priest, a fundraiser for The Bloom House, at The Sandbar a few weeks ago, I have a new respect for the dignity and grace in which Jesus responds to the questions posed by the Pharisees. In today’s lesson, a Pharisee, who happens to be a lawyer, tries to stump Jesus and asks, “What is the greatest commandment?” And remember Jesus had 613 to choose from.
|Stump the Priest|
Bloom House Fundraiser
Based on Jesus’ answer, it is clear that Jesus isn’t simply satisfied in getting the answer right. Instead, Jesus sees this question as a teaching opportunity to explore further the implications of loving God.
The first part of his answer is, of course, correct. He quotes the Shema – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. He quotes the most recited law in the Jewish tradition. However, he doesn’t stop there. He continues.
He says, “the second is like it – love your neighbor as yourself.” In part, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees’ tendency to love religious traditions more than the people around them. Jesus challenges them to understand that love of God should also result in the love of neighbor.
How can you say you love God when you don’t love your neighbor? And neighbor in Jesus eyes means everyone even the enemy. Even more, Jesus says the love of neighbor has something to do with the love of self – love your neighbor as yourself.
Earlier this week, Mary Katherine was making a Halloween decoration. On the decoration, she wrote the names of her friends. I helped her spell the names of her friends. When she was finished, she read the names to me and then pointed to another name.
She asked, why do you think I wrote Mary Katherine on the decoration? I said, “because it is your decoration.” She replied, “No silly!” And with a big smile she said, “because I love myself too!” “I wish it were that easy,” I thought.
Even more, love of self is a tricky concept to digest in the Christian tradition. After all, we are constantly told to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Jesus. We are told to put our own needs last – to put the needs of God and the Church first. So how can we reconcile love of self with the call of discipleship?
I am not a therapist, but I am an amateur theologian. So, while I can’t give a therapeutic answer to the question (I am sure Jamie can), I can invite you to explore the question from a theological lens.
The love of self begins and ends with God’s love for you. Everything begins and ends with God’s love for you – for all of us. But how well do you know the truth of God’s love for you – for everyone? Does God’s love for you and the world translate into your love for yourself and the world?
It seems to me that the best way to figure out how well you know the truth of God’s love for you – that is – the best way to figure out how well you love yourself is to discern what you love. Who is at the center of your life? What relationships do you put first in your life? Who or what are you putting your full faith and trust in? Ultimately, where does love of God rank on your list of greatest loves?
It has been said that the human heart is an idol making factory. Writer and Pastor Tim Keller answers the question What is an Idol? well. He says, [An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
The temptation for us good church going folks is to say, “Well, of course, God is first in my life.” But I am going to invite you to dig a little deeper this morning. Worshiping idols is not just something the pagans did back in biblical times. Idol worship is just as alive today as it was back then. The problem with today’s idol worship is that it is more subversive.
While none of us worship golden calves, I presume, we do put a lot of our faith and trust in material possessions. Imagine for a minute what would happen to your spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being if one of your material possessions was destroyed.
Imagine if your smart phone or your TV or your game system was stolen. It might not be the end of the world but it would cause distress in your life. I know it would mine. Even more, take a look at how much money you spend on these kinds of things. I know I am a little disgusted at how much I spend on non-essential things especially when I see poverty all around me.
The good news during this stewardship season is that the Church is inviting you to be a little less disgusted by your spending. Through the Church, God is inviting you to give your money away as a demonstration of a faith that puts God first, a faith that believes that it is in giving that you receive. And I hope your giving to God’s work through the Church gives you the grace to not only love God more but also yourself more and ultimately love your neighbor more.
Now that the stewardship add is over – back to the even more popular subject of idol worship. While none of us lay down a mat to worship a false god at the appointed time of the week, many of us schedule our fall around college football. We schedule weddings around football. We even schedule church around football. I know I have.
Even more, think about how you are impacted when your team loses a game. When I was in college, it would take me a week to recover from a loss. And our team lost a whole bunch during my college years. But something happened when I had children. Football didn’t seem to matter as much.
So, now my life is largely centered around my children. While it is hard to call my children an idol, I am aware that many of my decisions in life are decided by what is best for my children. I know there are worse things to be controlled by, but I know that my identity is incomplete when I am only John and Mary Katherine’s dad.
I am more than that. I am more than a husband. I am more than a priest. I am more than a football fan. I am beloved child of God and this is an identity that can never be taken away from for my life is hid by Christ in God.
Ultimately, love of self must come from God alone. If love of self primarily comes from your possessions, your accomplishments, your jobs, your entertainment outlets, your football teams, from even you family, then you are begging to be disappointed.
These good things that we make idols out of, the good things we put too much of our trust in will fail us at some point or another. Even more, we will fail the good things we make idols out of. Our idols are not as forgiving as our God. And we, ourselves, are certainly not as forgiving as our God.
In the end, I want you to leave you with something I came across this week in a devotional. “Define yourself racially as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is an illusion.”
Beloved of God, remember that even when God is not at your center, even when you are not being your true self – you will always be at the center of God’s love – of God’s own self – you will always be God’s beloved child.
And if you need a reminder of your eternal belovedness, I invite you to offer something of your life to God today, something that you are offering to an idol, and I pray that your offering will help you love your neighbor as yourself. Amen.