A Sermon from Sherborne
A sermon for Bible Sunday, preached at the Parish Eucharist at Sherborne Abbey on 29 October 2017 by the Archdeacon of Wiltshire, The Venerable Dr Sue Groom
‘ALL’. It’s such a little word, isn’t it? Only three letters: ALL: ‘all.’ Not some, not a portion, not a little bit, not most of, but ‘all.’ It encompasses everything, everyone; no exceptions, no limit. ‘All.’ We call it the Summary of the Law: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ and ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
Notice that these laws are called ‘commandments.’ They are an imperative, not a choice. ‘You shall,’ not ‘you may’, or even ‘you will.’ Commandments are marching orders, basic requirements, they are not optional extras for the really keen.
So what would it mean if we really tried to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind? What would it mean to love God with every fibre of our being? With every breath that we take? How can we express that little three-letter word in our lives? What changes would we have to make? How would we live our lives differently?
To be honest, it is a standard we fail miserably to attain. We are lukewarm people. So what does loving God with all of our heart and all of our soul and all of our mind entail?
‘Heart’ is the way we love. Scripture says, ‘Where your treasure is, there is your heart.’ So what are your treasures? When your mind is empty, daydreaming, when you’re sitting at a red light, when you’re standing before the kitchen sink, the last moment before falling asleep, where does your mind go? That is your treasure. Your treasure is whatever fills your heart with worry, concern, joy, and satisfaction. Your treasure is your first priority, your keenest interest, the centre of your energy and attention. Would love of God and the strangers called ‘neighbours’ be at the top of your list? Where does your heart turn to most of the time?
The soul is difficult to define, but it can be seen as the deepest part of a human being – the core, the intangible, eternal essence of a person. Some say that the soul of a person cannot truly be known by another, it is always in a state of being discovered. What is at the deepest core of your being, the part no one else really knows about, the part that holds your most profound, and sacred, and valued essence? Is that God within you? Does that very, very deep core essence of yourself love God beyond all things, totally, insatiably, constantly, fully?
‘Mind’ is our rational, logical self, the key to understanding and reason. It is the way we think things through, our external value system, the scale upon which we weigh life. Saint Paul speaks of ‘putting on the mind of Christ.’ To love God with all of our minds is to see the world around us not with the eyes of our culture but with the eyes of God. It is about perspective. Mind is not faith, but mind seeks to grasp our faith with understanding. If we love God with all of our minds, then our value system is not based on materialism and the things that, as Jesus reminds us, ‘moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal.’ To love God with all of our minds is to forsake power, possession, and popularity. The mind of Christ places its treasures in the Kingdom of God.
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ and ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The ‘and’ is very important here: the two commandments go hand in hand, they go together. So, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ you might ask. When Jesus was asked that question, he replied by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Our neighbour is anyone who stands beside us on this small planet, our island home. Distance is no obstacle to neighbours. A neighbour is any other human being with whom we share the image of God, that is to say, the whole of humanity, every person. A neighbour is not based on worth, on quality of life, on intelligence or beauty, on health or sickness, on moral development or religion, on colour or sexuality or geography. We are all neighbours to one another.
So what does it mean to love your neighbour as yourself? Do we want to have enough food and shelter for basic human survival? Do we want medical care? Do we want an education? Do we want our children to flourish safely and develop into all they can be?
To love our neighbour as ourselves usually requires two things in our culture: a bank account and a suspension of judgment.
If you own a house much larger than you need, and you know that there are people with nowhere to live, what does that mean in terms of loving your neighbour as yourself? If your wardrobe is full of new, or adequate coats, hats, and shoes, and you know there are children in Poole, or Weymouth, or Trowbridge, or overseas, without warm clothing, what does that mean in terms of the gospel? If you buy a new car when the old one still works and other people cannot afford to buy fuel, or even a bus ticket, what does that mean in terms of your total love of God? If you eat steak and dine out in restaurants, and you know that a third of the world is starving to death, what does that mean in terms of loving your neighbour as yourself?
I could go on and on. And we all fall short.
The two greatest commandments are quite simple really, but they have sharp teeth: they are tough and they are costly. Basically, we don’t comply with them. Perhaps we can’t.
That is one of the wonders of God’s call; God’s call always stretches us, pulls us from wherever we are to be more. It is like the horizon, always beckoning but never quite reachable.
The solution is to want to live out the commandments, no matter how poorly we succeed in doing so. The key is in our heart’s desiring. Do we really desire to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds, and to love our neighbours as ourselves? If we were to tell the truth, I suspect that many of us would say, ‘no.’ We don’t mind loving God, or our neighbour, but we’d rather forget that little word ‘all.’ If we did want to make a choice, a decision, to love God and our neighbour as God asks us, what changes would that require of us?
The answer may lie in the word ‘hang.’ Jesus said, ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ This word ‘hang’ usually gets overlooked. ‘Hang’ can mean the way we place our clothes in the wardrobe, or it can mean what we do with the birdfeeder, or the peg we put our coat on. But in the gospel, the word ‘hang’ is the same one used for ‘Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.’ That shifts the entire meaning of the Summary of the Law, doesn’t it? To love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds, and to love our neighbour as ourselves is to be crucified. It is to die to ourselves. No wonder there are so few volunteers!
To love with that little word ‘all’ costs everything. Absolutely everything. It is a total self-emptying. God asks no less. God asks for everything. God asks for all.
Do we dare? Can you believe that there is a resurrection in your own life on the other side of that void of death, that emptying, giving, surrendering love?
All. Simply ‘All.’ In the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.