To love with the word all, Pentecost 24, Proper 25 – 2008

[RCL]Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; or Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

“All.” It is such a little word, only three letters: “all.” Not some, not a portion, not a little bit, not most of, but all. It encompasses everything, everyone, no exceptions, no limits.
All.

We call it the Great Commandment or the Summary of the Law: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind and thy neighbor as thyself.

In the Rite One Eucharist prayer, this summary of the law was recited together every Sunday. It can be beautiful to profess together our call to total love. Yet often it is a rattle prayer. We all stand there and rattle it off together without letting it permeate, challenge, or transform. Then we go through the rest of the service and out the door to our nice cars, our modern, beautiful homes, and our comfortable American lifestyles.

Notice the word used for this text is “commandment”: an imperative, not a choice. Thou shalt. Commandments are marching orders, requirements.

Around much of the country there is a movement to put a plethora of signs with the Ten Commandments along our streets on private property in reaction to the banning of the Ten Commandment signs in public places. Many of us drive past these signs every day. There it is again: “all.” Love with all. Love God with all. Love one’s neighbor with all.

What would it mean if we really tried to do that? How can we manifest that little word into our real lives? What changes would we have to make? How would we live our lives differently?

Frankly, it is a test we fail miserably. We are the Lukewarm People.

“All” means with every ounce of our being: our hearts, our minds, our souls. Let’s break that down see what it entails.

Heart. Heart is the way we love. Scripture says, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart.” So what are your treasures? Here is a definition of “treasure”: when your mind is empty, daydreaming, when you are sitting at a stoplight, standing before the kitchen sink, the last thing before falling asleep, where does your mind go? That is your treasure. It is the thing or things that fill up your heart with worry, concern, joy, and satisfaction. It is your first priority, your interest, the center of your energy and attention. Would love of God and the strangers called “neighbors” be on top of your list? Where does your heart turn most of the time?

Soul. Psyche. Spirit. 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 human being. 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, but 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. Mind is our rational, logical self, the key to understanding, reason. It is the way we think things through, the science of our hearts, 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 our minds is not to see the world around us with the eyes of culture but the eyes of God. Mind is not faith, but mind seeks to grasp our faith with understanding. If we love God with all our minds, 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.” It is a forsaking of power, possession, and popularity. The mind of God places its treasures in the Kingdom of God.

And, oh, yes: the neighbor. To love our neighbor as ourselves. “Who is your neighbor?” asks Jesus. Our neighbor is anyone who stands beside us on this small planet, our island home. Distance is no obstacle to neighbors. A neighbor is any other human being with whom we share the image of God, which is to say, all human beings. A neighbor is not based on worth, on quality of life, on intelligence or beauty, on health or sickness, on moral development or religion, on color or sexuality or geography. We are all neighbors to one another.

So what does it mean to love your neighbor 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 neighbor as ourselves usually requires two things in our culture: a pocketbook and a suspension of judgment.

If you own a house much larger than you need, and you know there are people being evicted in your hometown, what does that mean in terms of loving your neighbor as yourself?

If your closet is full of new or adequate coats, hats, and shoes, and you know there are children in town 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 others can’t even buy gas, what does that mean in terms of your total love of God?

If you eat steak and or dine out in restaurants, and you know a third of the world is starving to death, what does that mean in terms of loving your neighbor as yourself?

The list can go on and on. And we fall short.

The two great commandments are simple, but they have teeth: they are tough and costly. Basically, we don’t comply and perhaps we can’t. That is one of the beauties of God’s call; it always stretches us, pulls us from wherever we are to be more. It is like the horizon, always beckoning, never reachable.

The secret is to want to live out the commandments, no matter how poorly we actually do it. The secret is in our heart’s desiring. Do we really desire to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds and to love our neighbor as ourselves? Truth be known, many say no. We don’t mind loving God or our neighbor, but forget that little word “all.” If we, in our own lives, want to make a choice, a decision, to love God and our neighbor as God asks us, what changes would that require of us?

The answer may lie the word “hang.” “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” This word usually gets overlooked in the text. “Hang” can mean the way we put up our clothes in the closet, or it can mean what we do with the birdfeeder or the peg we put our hat upon. But in this text, the word “hang” is the same one used for “Jesus, whom you slew and hanged upon the cross.” That shifts the entire meaning of the Great Commandment, doesn’t it? To love the Lord with all our hearts and souls and minds, and to love our neighbor as ourselves is a crucifixion. It means to die to ourselves. No wonder there are so few volunteers.

To love with that little word “all” costs everything. Everything. It is the Great Kenosis: a total emptying. God asks no less. God asks everything. God asks all.

Do we dare? Can you believe there is a resurrection in our own life on the other side of that void of death, that emptying, giving, surrendering love?

All. Only “All.”

Written by the Rev. Sister Judith Schenck
The Rev. Sister Judith Schenck is a retired priest and a Franciscan Poor Clare solitary in the Episcopal Diocese of Montana. Email: sistermonk@bresnan.net.

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