Homily from service on March 6, 2022 – First Sunday in Lent
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“Hear, [O] Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your might.” [Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Alter, Five Books, p.912].
This verse from the Book of Deuteronomy is the beginning of the important Jewish prayer, the Shema. Which we are familiar with because Jesus declares this to be the first of all the commandments. To which he adds another line from Leviticus, “And you shall, love your neighbor—your fellow [human]—as yourself,” [Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:29-31]. From these commandments flow all of the others, or as Hillel—who died when Jesus was a child—put it, “the rest is commentary”.
When Jesus so deftly deflects the Accuser’s temptations in the wilderness today, he does so by quoting this section of Deuteronomy, which begins with the Shema and which is essentially a sermon on this first commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your being, and with all your might.”
We don’t face the same temptations that Jesus does…of course we don’t…Temptations are always custom-made to expose our unique and particular areas of growth, but at root, they all have to do with not living into this first commandment.
Deflecting temptations looks easy for Jesus, but that is not so with us. We seem to often fall short, and go astray from the path of loving God and loving our neighbors…and since Lent is a time to reflect on this and on how we can…(with God’s help)…make our way back…return to this path, I offer some reflections that continue to help me in my frequent struggles with temptations.
Let’s start with the first line: “The Lord your God is one.” The Rev. Martin Smith, in his book on reconciliation says, “The oneness of God means that all reality is caught up in God and nothing is outside the scope of the divine will and power.” [Reconciliation, p. 79]. Nothing is outside of God’s will and power. Yet everyday, we are tempted to think, and feel, and behave otherwise…”acting,” he says, “as if other forces in the world were actually more powerful than the creative love of God,” [p. 80]. I’m admit, I am tempted by this every morning when I open the news. It takes practice…daily practice to remember that God’s way of love, and peace, and justice is more powerful than anything in the headlines.
Another form this temptation can take is believing that God’s sphere of influence can be confined to Sunday morning, or certain times of prayer, or personal piety, and that God has no influence, bearing, or status in the realms of politics, economics, business, etc. We are often tempted, especially in this culture, to compartmentalize God…to box in our faith. Have you done that? I know I have. Tried to limit or diminish God’s reach or power? Or have you felt that Christ’s way of love is unreliable?…Unrealistic?…Futile?…Not relevant? If you’ve ever felt that way…you’re not alone…AND that would be something to work on this Lent. How could you become more aware of God’s presence and activity in every aspect of life?
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your being.” This is a little odd…commanding someone to love…don’t you think? Especially, if we think that this means, “you must experience the emotion of love.” But if we remember that, love is a verb, it makes sense…Loving God is not really about fuzzy feelings…it’s about “loyalty of action,” [JSB. p.361]…It’s about being faithful. At the end of the sermon we always say the Nicene Creed which begins, “We believe.” New Testament scholar Marcus Borg liked to remind people that this does not mean “I hereby agree to the literal-factual truth of the following statements.” Creed, which comes from the Latin credo has at its core the word for heart, so instead of being something I give my assent to…that I think is true…the description of the Trinity in the creed is more someone or something “I give my heart to,” something “we commit our loyalty to,” a course of action we pledge our allegiance to.” Borg also pointed out that the words believe and belove are related…so when we talk about believing in God it might help to remember that what we’re really talking about is “beloving God,” [Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 40].
How do temptations related to this show up? Have you ever thought of God as an intellectual problem to be solved, rather than a living presence to be in relationship with? Or have you resisted questions that challenge your faith, your image of God, or your closely held intellectual beliefs? Are you open to having God change your mind? Perhaps you can find ways of experiencing God in more relational ways this Lent.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your being, and with all your might.” Might, here, could mean with all your whole physical self…including your ”might” and “strength”, that is the basic meaning, but, when Deuteronomy was written and into the time that Jesus was alive, it was also understood to mean wealth or property…your “might” was all of the resources you have, which loops back to everything being under God’s purview. We are often tempted to separate God from our material well being. Just as we are often tempted to use money to make things happen quickly, and to our benefit, without necessarily being concerned about whether we’re upholding the values of Christian love in the process.
I recently finished a book called Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villaneueva. He’s a Native American author who advocates for using “money as medicine,” and using wealth as a “tool of love that facilitates relationships and helps us thrive, rather than something that hurts and divides us.” [Villenueva]. Speed, efficiency, instant gratification, higher, quicker returns on investments are often things that tempt us to use our material resources in ways that hurt and divide people rather than furthering God’s mission of reconciliation? Maybe Lent could be a time for you to consider how money might be medicine…how you might use your resources to heal and prevent further harm. [from Villanueva’s 7 Steps to Healing].
We face thousands of temptations every day. We deflect many of them, and fall into many of them. Perfection is not the goal. Awareness, and growth, and our capacity to spread the light and love of God…that’s the goal. May we emerge from the season of Lent, more able to love God with all our hearts, all our being, and all of our might. Amen.