Great Love

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Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 20, 2022

3rd Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:4b-9; Matthew 22:34-40

 

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens…a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…What a beautiful picture of God the Creator breathing life into creation. What a moment of joy and bliss. I wonder if God watched with abandon as his human creation inhaled and exhaled the very breath that had originated in God. Maybe God laughed when the human stood and yawned and stretched. Imagine the relationship that was soon forged between God and the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden—afternoon walks and long talks into the night.

Without a doubt, God found great joy in the first human beings God created just as God continues to find joy in each one of us. And it is because of God the Creator that humans can be creative, too, and the act of creating brings us joy as well. I relish being around creative people—writers, artists, musicians, singers—they help me see the world and my place in it a little differently. They make me want to be more creative. The truth is we are all creative in our own way. As I thought of you this week, I was reminded of the deep well of creativity that exists here at FPC. You sing, you teach, you write, you garden, you paint, you play instruments, you knit, you crochet, you do woodworking, you repair what is broken, you bake, you cook, you organize—and if that isn’t enough, you can create joy in a room just by entering it.

God created…God created humans…and God saw that it was good. God took pleasure in creating the human body—even going so far as to enter the world in human form. But when it comes to our bodies made of flesh and bone, we live in a world better at exploiting the body than caring for it as a gift from God. We are better at working too hard, sleeping and exercising too little, drinking excessively to mask our pain, and feeding our bodies in ways that leave us malnourished and unsatisfied. Hardly a joy-filled scene. Yet, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

Glorify God in your body. Even though Jesus’ words about love might inspire us to evaluate how we take care of our body—how we glorify God in our body—I have never heard a sermon on the topic. But the invitation of Lent is to examine life—all of it—not just our spiritual life. As Pierre Tielhard de Chardin put it, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” With this in mind, let us take a closer look at Jesus’ instructions.

When we happen upon Jesus, he is being tested—first by the Sadducees—and now the Pharisees. They are eager to see if the Savior can pass their little pop-quiz,

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to them, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Did you hear that, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Most of what we hear in church on any given Sunday is an admonition to love God and love neighbor—and for good reason. But what about the “as yourself” part? Does the church have anything to say about that? Is it a given, or do we believe self-care is selfish? Moreover, how can we have the creativity and the energy to care for our neighbor if we don’t care for ourselves? Maybe it is time for the church to chime in on the matter.

Anna Fitch Courie has some insights that might help us. She writes:

Just as there are different types of exercise and different types of athleticism, there are different types of bodies. We are all different types of bodies. The point is to take care of our bodies. We are all made in the image of God—ALL of us—not just the athletes, or the models, or the actors. God made the moms, the dads, the teenagers, the babies, the workers, the handicapped—all of us. That means we need to take care of how God made us. Sometimes that means moving more. Sometimes that means not filling the hole in our hearts with unnecessary food. Sometimes that means doing for others…[i]

As I reflected on these words, one thing that resonated is the need to move more—to get in my 10,000 steps with my dogs, Moses and Miriam, yes, but also throughout the day. I have a terrible habit of getting so immersed in something; writing a sermon, for example, that I can sit at my computer for hours without getting up. So as one attempt at self-care, I set a timer to remind me to get up and walk around every 20 minutes. Often, I use a stand-up desk so that I am not sitting so much since experts say that “sitting is the new smoking.” Most recently, I invested in a rowing machine and my arthritic knees give thanks for it has made a real difference in my range of motion. While these steps may seem small, they are steps in the direction I want to go—toward better health.

While our bad habits and issues differ, there is one area that impacts everyone and that is how stressed we are. Proverbs 12:25 tells us, “Anxiety weighs down the human heart.” Isn’t it ironic that with all of our modern-day conveniences, we work harder and are more stressed than ever?  Courie notes,

Instead of clearing time in our lives for family and prayer, technology has created a heightened level of stress and need for more work. We no longer work in tune with the changing of the seasons. Instead we force our bodies to work against our normal circadian rhythms and at longer hours than ever before. The standard “forty-hour work week” really is not so. The hours of overtime and stress associated with our jobs have come at the expense of our health. Compounded with that, the very technology that makes some parts of our lives easier is bad for our health. We move less now because so many machines do the physical labor for us.”[ii]

We may be able to reduce stress in our lives by rearranging our priorities, but for some of us, it will take more than that to manage our out-of-control anxiety. If so, 1 Peter 5:7 may offer just the word we need: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” God cares about the stress and anxiety in our lives and God can help us if we will only practice giving it to God again and again. We can ask God to help us pray and meditate more; exercise more; get adequate sleep; make healthier food choices; and worry less.

Perhaps you are thinking: “Wait a minute. I go to church; I share my time and talents and resources and now the preacher wants me to take better care of my body. Seriously?” But rest assured, my brothers and sisters in Christ, your pastor is not pointing a finger at you. I have my own poor health habits to overcome. We are in this together. We are all human—fragile in one way or another. So, if our plan is to reach our health goals through our own strength—we will likely fail. The good news is that our Lord does not expect us to become champions overnight. Being a Christian means trying and trying again—in all areas of life.  Sometimes we miss the mark, but sometimes, with God’s help, we succeed and the true image of God living within us breaks forth. In those moments, we gain strength and courage for the journey.

To love God is to love neighbor. To love neighbor is to love God. And to love self is to love both God and neighbor. They are intertwined and mutually interdependent loves. One of my favorite stories about Thomas Merton involves this deep interconnection of love. It happened one day when he was standing on a street corner in downtown Louisville, and he suddenly had an epiphany.  Merton writes:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  It was like waking from a dream of separateness…This sense of liberation [from the illusion of being different] was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others…I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate.  As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we are.  And if only everybody could realize this!  But it cannot be explained.  There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”[iii]

Indeed, it is true. Body, mind, and soul—you are all walking around shining like the sun. Amen.

 

 

 

*Cover photo by Glenda Hollingshead

[i] Anna Fitch Courie, A 40-Day Spiritual Fitness Program: Christ Walk, 17-18.

[ii] Ibid, 30.

[iii] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 156-157.