How to Love God:
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Mark 12: 28-31
In Mark 12, a religious scholar asks Jesus what the first commandment is. The question is: What is the most important thing we can learn from all the teaching and wisdom of the centuries of our religion?
Jesus quoted to the scholar from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 says:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
It is a
passage of the Old Testament called the Sh’ma. It is a pivotal scripture that
the religious scholar and most all the people of
So Jesus told the religious scholar something he would have surely already known, except Jesus added two emphases…some say two innovations.
One emphasis or innovation he added was that he coupled Deuteronomy 6 with Leviticus 19: 18 which says:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
Jesus connects love of God and the love of others. They are the first and second commandments.
There is another innovation in Jesus’ teaching of the Sh’ma from Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 6 said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
Jesus added another word. He said: “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
Jesus added to the command: You shall love the Lord with all your mind. No other rabbi taught that so far as we know.
So between the end of October and Thanksgiving we’ve been focusing on the four words – heart, soul, mind and strength, except we’ve been using Eugene Peterson’s translation of the passage which you will find on the front of our bulletin, because our leaders have chosen it as Foundry’s key Scripture.
Eugene Peterson translates the four Greek words from Mark: passion, prayer, intelligence and energy. You shall love the Lord with all of your passion, all of your prayer, all of your intelligence and all of your energy, and others as yourself.
The Greek word diavnoia [dee-an'-oy-ah], sometimes translated “mind,” Peterson translates intelligence, which is actually, I think, a more accurate translation.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your diavnoia [dee-an'-oy-ah], all your mental powers, all your understanding, all your intelligence.
This is Foundry’s key scripture. We are saying we want to be a community who love God with all of our passion, prayer, intelligence and energy, and who love our neighbor as ourselves.
We want to be a community who love God with all our intelligence.
So what is intelligence? I like Wikipedia’s definition: “Intelligence (also called intellect) is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn.”
Intelligence is our capacity to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn.
So there are a couple of things I want to say about Jesus’ teaching that we shall love God with all of our intelligence.
Here’s the first:
Jesus’ teaching presumes that intelligence is something we can love with. We tend to think of loving as something we do with our heart or passion. We tend to assume that our heart is where love resides, but Jesus suggests here that we have the capacity to love with our minds and intelligence. We can love through reason, planning, problem-solving, abstract thinking, ideas, and learning. Our mental abilities can be expressions of love.
One of the implications of Jesus’ teachings about the first commandment is that both feeling and thinking can be expressions of love. Love expresses itself through both emotion and reason. Love can be both an emotional passion and an intelligent decision and discipline.
So we love God with both our emotion and our intelligence.
I don’t think Jesus was suggesting that love ought to be merely a matter of intelligence – reason, planning, abstract thinking…I assume that love that is merely an intelligent love would be pretty sterile, pretty aloof. This is why the Sh’ma says to love God with all of our passion.
But love that is merely emotional and not intelligent can be frivolous or silly or merely sentimental.
I know a person who got involved with a church’s mission activities. The mission folk were very passionate and compassionate. He spent a day working with them to paint a house. The only problem was that the roof had not yet been repaired, so the next time it rained all their work would be ruined. He didn’t go back to that church.
been impressed that when our mission leaders plan our Volunteer in
We sort of need to love with our intellect as well as our emotions. During our Pre-Cana weekends one of the tools we use is the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. One of the polarities in the MBTI is T and F – thinking and feeling. How we prefer to make decisions – based either on our emotions or our reason. I especially want to say something to folks who have a preference for thinking in Meyers-Briggs terms. Sometime Ts don’t feel very adequate in the world of love and romance. Here’s my advice – when you love, love with all your intelligence. Love with all your capacity to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn.
Use your intelligence to love your partner well. Think about him or her and what makes them feel loved. Figure it out. It is your great strength.
Love God, too, with all of your intelligence.
Not lately, but there was a time in my life when I stayed up all night reading theology. I remember not being able to put Paul Tillich’s Systematics down. My heart raced at the ideas I was reading. When I was reading Tillich, I was loving God with all my intelligence. And for me there maybe is not more powerful love than to come to a place of comprehension and understanding. For me, you can’t beat it.
Loving God with all our intelligence means, I think, that even exploring our intellectual doubts is an act of love. Thomas, in his own way, loved Jesus as much as Peter and John, maybe more, because he loved Jesus to the depths of his intellectual doubts and through them.
They tell me that when I go to the gym, I am not really building muscles effectively unless I exercise them to the point of exhaustion…until my muscles are broken down so that they can rebuild themselves thicker and stronger.
I suspect loving God with all of our intelligence may mean loving God to the point of mental exhaustion…until our intelligence is broken down and can rebuild itself thicker and stronger.
Next Sunday is Stewardship Sunday at Foundry and I want to say just a word about intelligence and giving. Lots of times our giving is motivated by our passion and compassion. Something touches our heart and we give to help.
But I appreciate the church’s stewardship season because it helps me give with my intelligence as well as my passion.
Jane and I are fortunate. We have enough money to go out to eat when we want to. We don’t have to scrimp at the grocery store. We can afford to shop at Whole Foods. We can afford to do some traveling.
But the last thing in the world we’d want is for all the money that passes through our hands to be spent on ourselves. In the world we live in that would be awful. But we could end up spending much more on ourselves than we really want to if we didn’t stop to think about it.
So stewardship season helps us sit down and say, we don’t want to spend all the money we get on ourselves. We want to make sure we give a generous portion away to God and others. So our annual pledge to Foundry helps us think about that. Jane and I want to give at least 10 percent of our income away to God and others, so we pledge 10 percent of our income to Foundry and then try to give when our hearts move us as well.
Stewardship season helps us to give with our intelligence as well as our passion. I’d encourage you to use this season to think with your intelligence about what portion of your income you want to give away, and how you want to give it away. I’m not saying everyone should do what Jane and I do but I am encouraging you to be thoughtful and intentional about your giving, because if we don’t stop to think about it, we can end up just spending way more on our selves and our pleasures and desires that we really want to.
So this is the first thing I want to say about the word intelligence – Jesus’ teaching assumes that we can love with our intelligence as well as our passions. We can love with our rationality as well as our emotions.
The other thing I want to add this morning about Jesus’ answer to the religious scholar is this. When Jesus says you shall love the Lord with all your passion, all your prayer, all your intelligence, and all your energy, the second-person possessive pronouns he uses are singular.
In English our second person pronoun is the same for both singular and plural usage. The word you can mean either you individually or you as a group. The word your can mean either yours individually or yours as a group.
makes it hard sometimes to understand a speaker’s or writer’s exact meaning.
This is why those of us from
It is why southerners invented “y’all”…to have a word that made it clear when they were using the second person pronoun in the plural.
The Greek language that the New Testament was written in had different words for second person singular and second person plural.
When Jesus said “You shall the Lord with all your passion, prayer, intelligence and energy,” the “your” is singular. We are not asked to love the Lord with somebody else’s passion, prayer, intelligence and energy. Just our own.
There are different kinds of intelligence. Daniel Goleman helped us understand this. He has written about emotional intelligence. We can be very smart in one thing but not in another. This is true for most of us.
Jesus didn’t say that we should love God with somebody else’s intelligence, only our own. So whatever intelligence we have been given, that’s how we love God.
Our new statement of call is part of a reorganizing of our congregation that puts the emphasis on every one of us using our particular gifts – I’d say, our particular intelligence – to love God and others. If intelligent in study, that’s how we love God. If we have leadership intelligence, that’s how we love God. If we are intelligent in service to others, that’s how we love God. If we have emotional intelligence, we love God by caring.
We’ve so often been told that all of us should somehow fit the same mold. But your heart and soul and mind and energy are God’s unique gift to you. That’s the heart, soul, mind and energy God wants you to love with. You shouldn’t try to be someone else, even if that someone else is or was a great person.
The intelligence that is ours…this is how we love God.