Loving God with All Our Parts
By The Rev. John Bedingfield
In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
The Very Rev. Sam Candler, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, tells the story of a man who knew that he needed help with his life. He was out of control and he had heard that the Bible had all the answers in it. So he decided that he would open the Bible to a random page and whatever his eye fell to, that’s what he would do. The first verse he saw when he opened the book was, “Judas went out and hanged himself.”
“Wait a minute!” “That’s not right,” He thought. So he decided to try again. He let the pages fall open and looked down. This time he read, “Go and do likewise.” “No way,” he cried! I’ll give it one more try. So he repeated the process a third time and the verse he saw was, “What you must do, do it quickly.”
As Sam Candler points out, Holy Scripture is not meant to be read this way. “The Bible does not come out well when it’s interpreted by people who don’t use their heads. … The Bible is something like a mirror. If an ass looks in, you cannot expect an apostle to look out.”
That is the argument against reading Scripture literally. If we do, we will ultimately run into problems. However, I learned a long time ago that a rule is not truly a rule unless there is an exception to it. And Jesus’ answer to the question of the Pharisee from this morning’s Gospel reading is that exception which proves the rule.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees had been trying to trap Jesus for a while. They had asked him questions of legality and morality. They had asked him about the lawfulness of paying taxes, and now they asked about scriptural interpretation. Although He had proved to be a more than worthy adversary for them, this time they thought they had him. They were on what they considered to be their home turf – the Scriptures. It was the Pharisees and their forebears who, through the study of Scripture, had taken the 12 original commandments and turned them into 613 different rules, or commandments of their own making. They knew that whatever Jesus said in response to the question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” would have to run afoul of one or more of the 612 remaining commandments. But Jesus not only knew the only way to avoid their trap, He also knew exactly what they needed to hear.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” This is that exception to the rule about literal reading. There is nothing about Jesus’ statement that can be read any way other than literally.
I’ve said from this pulpit many times that I believe the entirety of the Bible can be summed up in Jesus’ two commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. And Love your neighbor as yourself. If we can really do those two things, Jesus says we will fulfill all the law and the prophets – in other words, the entirety of Scripture.
The big trick is to find what it looks like – in our day and in our situation – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. Look at what those three things represent: the heart is the flesh. It is literally the flesh that is the center of human life. Without the heart’s activity nothing else in the body works. So it is the central building block of the body – the ultimate necessity of flesh.
The soul references our spirit, that Godly wind that was blown into humanity when God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and made him live. The spirit is what animates us. It is what makes us living creatures. And finally, the mind.
The mind, the intellect, the ability to reason is what separates us from the other life forms on the planet. While it has been proved that other species have some capacity for reason and problem solving, we are the only one of God’s creatures that has the capacity to consider our own mortality – that is, to think about what will happen after we die. No other creature has the mind to allow it to do that. So the mind is what makes us the human creatures we are.
Put that all together and we have a commandment that we love God with everything we have – our flesh, our spirit and our conscious thought. But it is the mind I want to talk about this morning.
We have all known people in our lives whom we believed to be especially Godly. These are the people who make you a better person by being in your life. Or at least they’re the ones who make your day better, simply by talking to you. Truly Godly people are the ones who make a difference everywhere they go. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time and doing the very thing that is most needed at any given time. And the difference between such Godly folks and everyone else, I submit to you, is that Godly people love God with all their minds.
Søren Kierkegaard was one of the great Christian writers – because he was also one of the great Christian thinkers. Kierkegaard was a philosopher – a deep thinker – and he thought about God, and specifically about Jesus – and that was the central thing that animated his life. The same is true of CS Lewis. Clive Staples Lewis – he who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia – was an agnostic, if not an atheist until well into adulthood when he was converted through his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis became one of the great Anglican theologians and authors because he loved the Lord his God with all his mind.
Your mind controls your body and can motivate your spirit. If you love the Lord your God with all your mind, you can will the other parts to act in love. Godly people decide to be Godly people. They think it; they decide it, and therefore it is so.
You can choose to be a Godly person by making the choice that would please God in every situation. When you have a choice between helping someone and ignoring them, help them. When you have a choice between doing something that benefits only you and doing something that benefits the greater society, choose to benefit your fellow man – and woman. When you have the choice between keeping all that you have and sharing with others, choose the others. And when you have the choice between coming to church and doing otherwise, come here.
Surrounding yourself with other Christians, with other people who are struggling on the same journey you are, can not only be a comfort to you, but can bring comfort to others, even when you have no idea that you’ve had an effect on another person.
This week, while I was going to and from the hospital, caring for Kay Moore in her last days and hours, and trying to do what I could for her children, I was trying to be Godly – trying to walk the way I knew God would want me to. But while all that was going on, I received an email from a friend I worked with almost 25 years ago. He told me that something I had said to him had had such an impact on him that it had changed the course of his life. It wasn’t anything Godly that I said to him. It wasn’t even anything particularly deep. We were just two nighttime janitors who talked during our breaks. But his life was changed in a very fundamental way by something I didn’t recognize as particularly important.
The point of that story is that in small ways and in huge ways, we affect other people’s lives. If we love the Lord with our whole minds – if we consciously try to make the right choices in every situation – we are much more likely to have the effect on others that Jesus did; to lead them toward the Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This week, try loving the Lord your God with all your mind. If you set your mind on God, hopefully your heart and soul will follow. And when they do, loving your neighbor will come naturally. At every decision point this week, practice loving the Lord with all your mind. I bet it makes a difference. And I bet those around you will notice too.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2009, John Bedingfield. Used by permission.