This is our church’s identity statement. It’s who we are. We are Disciples of Christ. We are a movement for wholeness. We do not claim to be the entire body of Christ, or that we are the only true Christians, but rather that we are just one part of it; Christ’s body exists in many forms. And we do welcome ALL to the Lord’s Table, unconditionally, just as God has welcomed us.
Every sermon I preach has these ideas in the background. Every sermon I write is an attempt to figure out how we can bring wholeness to our city and our world. And because it is a world that has been fragmented by things such as racism, homophobia, economic inequality, the destruction of the environment, and other social sins, these are frequent topics in my sermons.
But wholeness is also something we need to find in our own lives. Many of us live lives that are broken, fragmented, less-than-whole. We feel stuck or trapped. We feel a longing for something more, but we don’t know what. We think we can satisfy that longing by working harder, earning more money, buying more things,…
Yet that longing is still there. Everything we’ve tried still leaves us feeling less-than-whole. We feel restless. Incomplete. Unsatisfied.
It is God’s desire that you be whole. It is God’s desire that you find peace and satisfaction. It is God’s desire that your anxiety and restlessness is replaced with peace and calm in your heart, in your soul, in your body and in your mind.
Then he said, “Why do you labor for that which does not satisfy?”
If only Isaiah could see us now. How much of what we chase after fails to satisfy? How much of what we pursue really, truly brings us deep down satisfaction? How many of our busy days do we run around, to and fro, and collapse into bed, exhausted, yet unable to sleep, having done little that truly brought us satisfaction?
A lawyer once asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That eternal life he’s referring to can also be translated as the “life of the ages.” It’s a life of wholeness, a life of deep-down satisfaction, a life of crawling into bed each night with a smile on your face.
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?”
It’s a good answer. But of course, every six year-old Jewish child in the first century could have given that same answer. Every Jewish child would have heard repeatedly – and would have memorized – this command.
In Deuteronomy chapter six, we read: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The only difference is that in Luke’s gospel, one more phrase is added: “with all your strength.”
This is the beginning of the Shema. It’s called the Shema because Shema is the Hebrew word for “hear,” and the passage begins, “Hear, O Israel…”
It goes on to say this: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
And many Jews did just that, to make sure that they and their children knew these words and never forgot them.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.”
In his encounter with Jesus, the lawyer also added that you should love your neighbor as yourself. So his full answer to Jesus is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.”
This echoes what we heard last week, about loving God and loving our neighbor, the two hinges on which everything else hangs.
And Jesus replied to the lawyer: “You have given the right answer. Do this, and you will live.”
Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself…
With all your heart.
All month, this is going to be my focus. We’ll take one of these each week, starting today with heart.
To find that deep-down satisfaction that allows you to fall into bed at night with a smile on your face, you need to focus on your heart. (You need to focus on your soul, your strength, and your mind, too, but today’s topic is the heart.)
So what does it mean to love with all one’s heart?
The Bible refers to the heart the same way we often do, as a center of emotion. So focusing on the heart involves love. It involves friendship. It involves strengthening the ties that bind us to one another and to God.
I’ve mentioned before that the word religion literally means “re-connect.” It comes from the word “re-ligio,” and “ligio” is the same root from which we get the word “ligament.” And what do ligaments do? They connect.
Likewise, religion is meant to connect. True religion connects us to God, and it also connects us to one another.
And when we fail to focus on the heart-aspect of wholeness, it’s no wonder we end each day feeling isolated and broken and less-than-satisfied. By ignoring our connections with others, we’ve ignored a part of ourselves.
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. You see the connection in that.
Barack Obama once said, back before he ever became president, that “We are connected as one people.” He said: “If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – that makes this country work.”
Now, as we prepare to elect a new president to lead this country, it seems this idea of connection has been cast aside. Listen to today’s presidential candidates: most of what they say is designed to appeal to voters who care only about themselves; voters who see no connection between their own welfare and the welfare of their neighbor.
Because many voters don’t want a candidate who will help the homeless, or who will help immigrants, or who will help strengthen the economies of countries other than our own. They see no connection. They fail to understand that their own welfare is directly connected to the welfare of others.
You know, he was doing so well until he said that. But in asking “Who is my neighbor?” he showed his ignorance.
The law that he, as a lawyer, should have known so well answers this question. Leviticus 19:18 says “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This, the lawyer quoted. But Leviticus 19 goes on to say: “Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.”
Here and elsewhere, it’s clear that the ancient law clearly works to expand the definition of who one’s neighbor is. The ancient law demonstrates that the circle which defines who is a neighbor is to be an ever-expanding circle, drawing more and more people into the circle of inclusion. The lawyer either didn’t know this (in which case he wasn’t a very good lawyer); OR he did know this but was looking for a loophole.
And Jesus called him out on it.
Unfortunately today, that lawyer is everywhere. People are always looking for a way to draw a line that separates “us” from “them.” People are always looking for a way to limit love.
And at night, when they crawl into bed, their hearts are filled with fear. They are always worried that people are out to get them. Their sleep is restless, as their fear turns into anger and then into hatred.
And there is no wholeness, no peace, for people caught in that type of thinking.
Love is what makes me feel alive. I’ll be talking about body in a few weeks, because body and strength are important, but body and strength won’t last forever. Only love lasts forever.
To find wholeness, I need to find, every day, a way to love. I need to find a way to love my family. I need to find a way to love my neighbor. I need to find a way to love my community, my nation and my world.
Love takes away the fear.
Love let’s a person sleep well at night.
Love. Everyday. That’s the first, and probably most important, component to a life of wholeness.