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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Favourites - Loving All With All 6/7/14

This is the text from my sermon that I did recently. These are the notes that I read from, not the transcript of what I said. As such, there may be some differences between the two. There is a link to the video here, and to the audio here.

Good evening. How are we all doing? If you don't know me, my name is Brendan Raymond, and I'm one of the ministry students here. And, in fact, you'll be seeing a lot of us in the weeks to come, because Troy and Ed have given us this whole month to each talk about our favourite verse of the Bible, why it's significant to us, and how it's changed us. As Timothy writes, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true.” (2 Timothy 3:16a) Though I'm yet to hear a sermon from Numbers, I must say... 
So you're going to be hearing some great people talking about very different ideas, from quite contrasting sections of the Bible, and giving you some great insight and wisdom from their collective experience. For now, though, you've just got me. But hopefully, this series will deepen your own interest in the Bible, and get you thinking about the words and ideas that have most impacted and changed you. 

You're probably quite familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. If not, have a look, great example of how we should be as Christians, as well as an interesting example of Jesus challenging Jewish ideas and societal norms. That's not what I'll be looking at, however. I'll be looking at the conversation that led up to the telling of that story. The passage is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but we'll be looking at the one in Luke. It comes just after the seventy disciples (yes, seventy; he had twelve apostles, but seventy disciples, or at least at this time) were sent out and had come back, saying that they had even cast out demons, and Jesus rejoiced and praised the Lord. The passage we’re looking at is in Luke chapter 10, verses 27-28, but I'll read from verse 25 to give you some context.

25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: ‘Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 Jesus replied, ‘What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?’ 27 The man answered, ‘“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” And, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ 28 ‘Right!’ Jesus told him. ‘Do this and you will live!’

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and love all of mankind as you would love yourself and...
That's what we remember. A kid's song, with seemingly not much to it. Yet, in these verses, there lies a lot more than you would realise. I’m going to go through some different ideas with you; specifically, two different ideas: what loving in all these different ways actually means, and looks like; and also, giving that love to God, your neighbour, and to yourself.
Now, I just want to go into that second idea quickly before I look a bit more closely at the passage, because it’s an idea that you’ve probably heard before. And the way you’ve probably heard it is something like this; First, love God, then love others, then love yourself. However, I want to be a bit radical, and suggest something a bit different. That first, you need to figure out how to love yourself; then, in doing this, you will be able to love others; and, by doing that, you will be loving God.

I’ll expand on that a bit more later, but for now, let's focus on the bit before that. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. 
Now, I love words. So I'm going to be looking into the meaning of these words as they were written, and seeing what's there. Because the New Testament was written in Greek; and often, there can be a whole extra layer of meaning there that we miss in the English. One simple example here is the word 'all'. The Greek word actually means all parts together, and being greater than the sum of the parts. So in saying this, there is an emphasis on these four parts being used together - heart, soul, strength, and mind. Also, the word love here is talking about an active love; it's a verb - and it's agape love, which you may have heard of before. It seems to be a favourite amongst the Greek words used in sermons; and for good reason - the word agape refers to the sort of love that God has for us. And here, the passage is saying that we should have this same sort of love for God. Already, you might think that this is sounding difficult. We're just getting started.

Now, you have the four parts mentioned; heart, soul, strength, and mind. And these words can mean very different things to our own understanding, when we look back into the Greek. And I think they actually relate in really nicely with the idea of the four elements, so I’ve played with that a bit, and you can make your own judgement on that.

So, we’re going to learn a few words of Greek here. And the first one is kardia. So, I want you to think of the brand Kia, and then card; so it’s card-Kia, but then you take out the k in the middle, so it’s card-ia. Then just make it car-dia. Kardia is the word for heart. But it's actually more about your will; and about your desire, and the decisions you make based on this desire. It's about your intention. So this means, loving God through what we desire; and through the decisions we make from our desires. If we have desires that aren't Christ-like, that we're fighting against - each time we make a decision against that desire, we're loving God. But even more so, when we make decisions out of a desire to glorify God, or to know him more, or to serve his Kingdom and people; he loves and honours these desires within us. 
For this, fire was the natural choice. Because fire and desire are very similar in that they can both be very powerful; for either good or bad. A fire can bring great light and warmth in darkness; or it can bring destruction and brokenness. So too, desire.

Second word, psuche. Here, I want you to think soup-okay. Then take off the p on the end of soup, and the o on the beginning of okay; sou-kay. Psuche is the word for soul. And here, it means who you individually are. Your personality. Your self, your identity. So it's important to God that we love him with who we uniquely are - with the gifts, talents and passions that he has given to you. 
Here, I have chosen air, or wind. And I chose this because it is so changeable; always so different. And each of us have a personality that is very different from each other. We have similarities - thankfully, because then we can relate to each other - but there are so many differences. But it’s in those differences, with those differences, through those differences that we can love and serve God. God doesn’t want you to try and become the perfect Sunday School Christian. He wants you to love him with who you are. Nobody else can do that.

Our third word is ischus. Here, I want you to think miss and couscous. Now, just one cous, and take off the m of miss; iss-cous. Ischus is the word for strength. But specifically to overcome resistance. Strength when you're opposed, when you're persecuted. This is perhaps closer to our word perseverance. Showing strength when it's hardest to - and this is one way to love God. 
For this, I couldn’t go past water. Water is the strongest thing on this planet. If the ocean is in a bad mood, nothing can stop it. The oceans, rivers and seas have formed the earth; they’ve worn away cliffs into beaches. And yet, there is nothing smoother or softer than water. It just gently wears away things over time. And that seems very similar to the idea of perseverance. It may seem to take ages, particularly when you are in the moment. And you can feel like you are getting absolutely nowhere. But later on, looking back, it can be quite incredible how much has been worn away, how much difference has been made, how much has changed. Now, that isn’t the case for all things, and there are some situations that you need to remove yourself from, rather than try to weather; but I think it’s an interesting analogy. 

Now, we have a trickier one, dianoia. I want you to imagine that you know someone who is really annoying. I’m sure many of you aren’t imagining right now, but never mind. They’re so annoying, that you call them ‘The Annoyer”. But for some reason, you’re doing a Dracula impression, so it becomes “De Annoyer”. Dianoia is the word for mind. The word means thorough - literally, from side to side, using all the brain - reasoning. It's about understanding the other side of the argument; critical thinking, thinking from someone else's point of view. So this means that by knowing God more - and not just knowing, but understanding - we are loving him. Too often, we can downplay or even degrade a questioning mind, when it comes to faith; however, this passage encourages us to use thorough reasoning, to question, to doubt, to wonder - because then, we can draw closer to the truth, and understand better who God is. But also when we take time to understand other people, and where they are coming from, we are loving God - because we are loving his people. 
In this case, I used the earth. Because, even though the waters are deep - beneath them is always the earth. And I specifically chose a picture of a cave here; because caves can be so winding, and intricate, and deep, and you get wide open areas, and small nooks and crannies; and to me, it brings to mind this sort of thorough reasoning that I was talking about. There’s no area that’s unexplored; no place that you haven’t looked at. And from that there comes a depth of understanding as complex and deep as the biggest cave system you can imagine.

Interesting aside here - in Greek, they had masculine and feminine nouns. Each one of these is feminine. Just thought I’d throw that in there; masculinity and femininity in the Bible is a very interesting topic, but much too lengthy to go into here.
Notice - there is nothing there about loving God with your emotions. With your feelings. Because the love that is meant here, is something a lot deeper than that. Now, you may be thinking - that all sounds amazing (or maybe you're not, but I'd like you to be) - but what does that look like? Well, thankfully, that comes straight afterwards. 

"Love your neighbour as yourself." Where this story is recorded in Matthew, Jesus actually says these lines, saying that these are the greatest two commandments. The two are separated by the words, "And the second is like it…”. The word for ‘like’ here means that they’re not just sort of similar-ish; but that they could even be so alike as to be the same.  
As I mentioned before, this comes straight before the story of the Good Samaritan, which is brought on by this same man asking, "Who is my neighbour?" Hopefully, you’re not just thinking about these guys, or these guys. Now, the original meaning from the Greek essentially says that your neighbour is anyone; but I think it's important to look at the context here. Jesus specifically talks about a Samaritan loving a Jew through what he does; two people that would not typically be seen together. As such, perhaps a better way to define it would be to say that your neighbour is anybody and everybody, but particularly the people who are hard to love, or you don't want to love. And the idea is that you are again loving these people with all of you; heart, soul, strength, mind.

The other essential part, however, is the self. And this is where I think that little song we all know is very unhelpful. And love all of mankind as you would love yourself... Because I don't think that's what the passage is saying at all. I think that The Message version of the Bible says it a little better here; “Love your neighbour as well as you do yourself.” But I think there’s still a bit more to it. Perhaps I'm going a step too far in my interpretation here, but I think a better way to put it would be, "You need to love yourself as God loves you. Then, give this love to your neighbour." But hang on, you're saying - we're supposed to put others first, and self last, right? Well yes, we are. But I think part of what this verse is saying is that you can only truly love your neighbour with a Godly love, when we also love ourselves this way.

I don't know about you, but I find that idea really hard. When I was looking into this verse, I was getting really excited about the first bit, and then I looked at this bit, and I was like - Oh. Right. Okay then. Because I can say that it's certainly not something I've been good at. A lot of the time, I barely even trust myself, never mind love myself. And God has really been showing me, through this verse as well as other things, that I really need to work on that. And that loving myself - loving this person that God created - is actually really important. Now, does that mean that you get bigheaded and egotistical? No! But so often, with Christianity, we talk about self-denial, and putting others first. And that is something that we need to do, that's so important. But if we're not careful, that can turn into a degrading of self; a self-shame; and at times, even a self-hatred, or a self-loathing. And if you are in that place right now, I just want you to know that God loves you, so much. So much. Don't even worry about anything else I've said, just remember that. You are precious to God; you matter so much to him. He created you, and he is calling you as his sons and daughters. I have been in that place, and I know how dark it is. But I also know that, with God - and some incredible, amazing friends and family - that place is not the end. You can get out of that place. 

But what happens then? What is the result of doing these things? Well, Jesus spells it out quite clearly in the next line. "Do this, and you will live." And the word he uses here for live is zōē; which is the sort of life that God wants us to live, a life to the full, as it talks about in John 10:10. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Do these things, and you will live life to the full.
Now, I want to put an important aside in here; Jesus does not say, “Do this, and you are saved.” Or, “Do this, and you are forgiven.” Or, “Do this, and you are loved.” You are already saved; you are already forgiven; you are already loved. But God also wants us to live out the best life we can on this earth, to best use the time that we’ve been given. And that’s what Jesus is talking about here.

I've only discovered this verse and its significance quite recently; but God has been bringing me some of these ideas for a while. Over the course of this year, God has been showing me - through the Bible and through people - that there's a lot more to loving God than being passionate. Loving God with what you do; loving God with who you are; loving God with how you think; loving God with how you give; loving God with the decisions you make; loving God with what you choose not to do, not just what you choose to do; loving God by persevering through it all. And he's also been showing me that loving other people is awesome, and he wants me to do that - but I won't be able to love them fully if I can't love myself; if I don't trust myself, if I don't care about myself. That second one was particularly hard for me to realise, but both of them are hard to do. And I'm still working at them, and I'm going to be working for a while. Because it is really, really hard. I'm not sugarcoating it guys, there's nothing about this that's easy. 

But I do it because I know it's worth it. "Do this, and you will live." You will live a new life. The old has gone, the new has come. And even now, I'm starting to see this new life. I've got a long way to go - I'm still learning, I'm still growing - but the glimpses that God has given me have spurred me on to really put some effort into this, some time, some thought, some heart, some of myself. And I hope that I've spurred you as well - to dig deeper into what it means to love God with all that you are, your heart, your soul, your strength, your mind; and what it means to love your neighbour as yourself; and to live a new life - but also I hope I've renewed your interest in the Bible, I hope that you just want to go home and grab out your Bible and start digging deeper into it, use that thorough reasoning, because there's so much there. So much truth, so much life, so much love. 

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