How to Love God:
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Mark 12: 28-31
The clerk in the movie is very earnest (almost painfully earnest), very sincere, and perhaps a little naïve. Bill Maher talks to him about religion and then brings up Santa Claus.
The clerk says very earnestly. “I don’t believe in Santa Claus.”
Bill Maher says, “Of course, the idea of one man dropping presents down chimneys all over the world in one day is ridiculous.” The clerk nods his head in agreement.
Then Maher adds sarcastically: “Now one man listening to people all over the earth murmuring at the same time, that I get.”
The clerk opens his mouth as if to speak, closes it again, and just stands there.
Well, it is the way we tend to think of prayer. We think of prayer as talking to God.
And prayer can be talking to God, but of course it can also be more. I want to suggest this morning that fundamentally prayer is an attitude. It is a quality of living. It is a way of being.
Jim Castelli has put together a wonderful little book called How I Pray: People of Different Religions Share with Us that Most Sacred and Intimate Act of Faith.[i] There are Christian and Jews and Mormons, Hindu and Moslem and Baha’i and Buddhist and some people who might not considered themselves theists who write about how they pray. In the introduction to the book, Castelli says that no matter the length, language, complexity or faith of our prayers, there is a common purpose to the prayers in all of those who contributed to his book. There is a common spirit and a common affirmation that you can see emerging in the writings, no matter how different the religion.
It is this attitude and affirmation which is behind prayer that I want to explore with you this morning…not so much praying as living a life in the attitude of prayer.
We are focusing on four words between now and Thanksgiving. The four words come from Foundry’s key scripture, which is Mark 12: 28-31 – the first and greatest commandment. Our vision and call planning team selected this passage of scripture to ground our new statement of call – what we believe God is calling Foundry church to be and do.
We are going to have a church-wide Bible study the last weekend of February – mark it in your Outlook now – on this passage and the other passages about the great commandment in Matthew and Luke. One of the finest Bible teachers I know of, Rev. Donald Morris, will spend the weekend with us February 20-22 and will teach us about every word in these passages.
But for now we are concentrating on four words. The words are commonly translated heart, soul, mind and strength. When Jesus was asked what the first commandment was, he answered that the first and greatest commandment, the most important thing we can learn from our religion, is that we should love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second is that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.
But when our planning team selected this passage as our key scripture, they selected it in a translation written by Eugene Peterson, called The Message. In Peterson’s translation, he translates the Greek words commonly translated as heart, soul, mind and strength this way. He translates it: You shall love God with all your passion, prayer, intelligence and energy.
So the four words we are focusing on are passion, prayer, intelligence and energy.
You shall love Gods with all your soul – with all your prayer, Jesus says.
The Greek word is yuchv [psoo-khay']. It comes from the verb to breathe. It means the life force inside us. It means that which makes us fully human. The disadvantage of translating it soul is that most of us misunderstand the word soul and think of it as some shallow or phantom self that lives on after our bodies die, but yuchv is us at our most real, our most substantial, our most fully human.
When I read Peterson’s translation I understood immediately why he translated yuchv as prayer, although I am not sure I am going to be able to adequately explain it. Yuchv is us as creatures who have the capacity for great nobility and for great sin. It is us as beings who live not only as animals who eat, and drink, and sleep but as beings who participate in eternity. Yuchv is the image of God, not just in us, but the image of God that we are…that you are. You are the image of God.
All this is what I think Peterson is trying to communicate when he translates yuchv as prayer. That we are beings who at our fullest live in relationship with God. We participate in eternity.
And Jesus says that part of the greatest commandment is to love God with all our capacity for nobility and goodness and sacrifice and all of our capacity for sin, and betrayal, and disappointment…with our full humanity…with everything that makes us fully human.
I want to say a word about the election. I mentioned before that my father was a Republican. He had little formal education. He was born in 1904, the second oldest of 13 children, and it was the custom where and when he grew up that the older children dropped out of school and helped farm so that the younger ones could complete school. So my father dropped out of school after 4th grade.
He took three things in life very seriously – church, baseball, and politics. He read two newspapers every day – the Morning Call and the Evening Call. He read every word of both newspapers – first thing in the morning and first thing after dinner.
There was someone my father always felt should
have been president. It was a Republican senator from
My father used to say that
I think we made some progress on that this past week. To exclude anybody from consideration for office because of their identity rather than their gifts and abilities is to say something about where we think the image of God resides. It is a statement about what it means to be fully human and suggests some of us are more fully human than others. Right?
And this is what I really want to say about this
– to present yourself for public office whether you are running for president
To offer yourself for public office is one example of what I think it means to love God with all your prayer because it affirms the image of God you are, your participation in eternity, your full humanity.
I want also to say a word about Proposition 8 and
the similar propositions in
I am so proud of Tim and Ed and their family and friends. I think what they did yesterday in this sanctuary is an example of loving God with all your prayer. It is to affirm and be affirmed as the image of God, as fully human, as participants in eternity.
What does it mean to love God with all your soul…all your prayer?
Our Foundry statement of call outlines six ways of loving God with all our prayer: transcendent worship that moves us out of our daily concerns into the presence of God, challenging study that keeps us growing and vital, inclusive community that moves us outside our tribes and clans into reconciling community, caring community that keeps our hearts tender, active service, and prophetic leadership that brings change in our world.
This is loving God as fully human people – with all our soul, with all our prayer.
This week I was talking to a Methodist minister who worships at Foundry when he can. He said Foundry has an energy about it. The music is great, he said, but it is more than the music. The preaching is okay, he said, a little too heady maybe but pretty good. But – he said – it is more than the preaching. There is an energy about Foundry, he said, that he thinks comes from the people’s engagement in the world, engagement in mission, engagement in change.
Maybe this is the best way to say what loving God with all of our prayer means – it means to be engaged in life, engaged in the world, engaged in change, engaged in what God is doing in the world. Engaged in the most noble and compelling movements of our time. Engaged even in the risky things – even risking sin. Sin boldly, Martin Luther used to say. It is better to risk sin, better to risk being on the wrong side, than to not be engaged.
is the equivalent in your life of being an African-American and risking
running for president of the
What is the equivalent of being a gay man and standing with your partner at this altar to pronounce your love and commitment to your partner, something no gay person has ever done before? What is the equivalent in your life for you?
How do you love God with all you are and all you have? With all your potential? With all your courage?
The Sunday before Thanksgiving is Stewardship Sunday when we will make our financial commitments to God and to Foundry’s mission and ministry. I’d like to challenge all of us to think about what other commitments we might want to make to God this Stewardship Sunday, because stewardship is really about what we do with our humanity, isn’t it?
What we do about the image of God we are; what we do about eternity; what we do about the potential we are; what we do with all of our soul and all of our prayer.
What is the commitment we want to make to God? What is all our prayer? Others might not see it as very dramatic but we’ll know it is. It might be doing our job with a greater commitment than we need to do to get by. It might be asking somebody out on a date. It might be joining a study group or giving a morning to be with the day-laborers up the street, or deciding to do a VIM trip or who knows.
O God, our creator. You have made us to reflect your glory, but we let the world convince us we are less than you have made us to be. Help us all to claim your image and to live with passion, prayer, intelligence and energy. Amen.
[i] Jim Castelli, Editor, How I Pray: People of Different Religions Share with Us that Most Sacred and Intimate Act of Faith (Ny: Ballentine Books, 1994.