Ten Things You Gotta Love About God



Scripture
Mark 12:28-31  
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeting that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which of the commandments is the first of all?”  Jesus answered, “The first is “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” There are no greater commandments than these.”


Ten Things You Have to Love About God
Jesus was quoting  Deuteronomy 6, perhaps one of the central Biblical passages of the whole Western religious tradition. "Thou shall love the Lord Thy God, with all of your heart, your soul, your might.“  And Deuteronomy comes from a period  of time in which the ancient Israelites were bringing their religion inward, making it personal, concerning themselves less with public worship and public ceremony, but more with personal religion. Jesus was a continuation of that tradition in ancient Judaism and so, he quotes this crucial statement of the requirements of the faith:  people must LOVE the Lord, must LOVE God.  Notice what it does not say: It does not say "obey" God; doesn't say "believe in" God. It's Not "be loyal" to God. Not even is it " worship" God, but it's "Love God".  In other words, Make your religion personal and make it emotional. 
I think of this as our root in the Western biblical tradition, this injunction in Deuteronomy, quoted by Jesus, according to the gospel of Mark. 
This notion of us "loving" God is one, however, which seems to never quite take hold in the liberal religious consciousness.  We talk about people who are "god-fearing" souls.  We talk, rather endlessly in some quarters, about how God and/or Jesus loves us.  We talk about Believing in God, and occasionally Trusting God, but rarely do we reflect on this positive injunction to us that we, you and I, should love God. 
I offer up as evidence here the UUA by-laws which in section C-2.1 explains the six sources of the Unitarian Universalist tradition, one of which is, and I quote: "Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves."  Which is almost right, but misses the point, doesn't it.  
My point this morning is that loving God is not the same as believing in God, which is not an easy task in this modern age.  Nor is it the same as understanding God, a task that they tell us is impossible.  And it is not even the same as approving of what we can see about God's morality.  In a world in which we see earthquakes, like those in India, or mass murder, and, childhood cancers  in such a world, we will inevitably question  on occasions the ethics of God's actions. 
All that said, I do want to suggest that perhaps we ought to take seriously this most ancient voice of our tradition which instructs us to try to love God. In other words, that we consider what the Hindus call the Bhakti path, the path of love and devotion.  There is a story about one of the earliest proponents of the Bhakti path, a 16th century poet Tulsidas: I read the story in Huston Smith's book -- The World's Religions.  Early in his marriage, Tulsidas was inordinately fond of his wife, so attached to her that he couldn't stand for her to be away for even one day.  So one day, she went to visit her parents, but who should show up right after lunch, but Tulsidas?  His wife exclaimed, "How passionately attached to me you are!  If you could only shift your attachment to God, you would reach him in no time."  Tulsidas agreed, and he is given credit for discovering the Bhakti path, although when you look at it, it was actually his wife who had the idea. 
The principle is that all the deep love and devotion that lies within the human heart should be ultimately directed to God, and that is the way to draw closer to God, to the truth, to the ultimate reality. 
I take very seriously the equation that we make in the mission statement of my home church that equates God and the Truth and ultimate Reality.  I believe that there is a place where all three of these concepts describe the same reality -- the fundamental way that things are.  So, I do not separate things of this world from the things of God.  I am with Vincent Van Gogh on this one -- the way to love God is to love many things.  The way to love God is to open yourself to love the world, the fullness of reality. 
So to help us along the Bhakti path, the path in which we learn to love God, I offer you a small list of things to contemplate.  I call this list: Ten Things you gotta love about God.  They are in no particular order, but any one of them, I guarantee you, will, with enough contemplation, bring you closer to God, to the truth and to the ultimate reality. 
Reason Number 1: When I cut my finger, it heals.  There is a healing power that courses through all the living world that causes the cuts and the nicks of our fingers to close and heal.  Flesh knits itself back together; bones mend; antibodies grow in the bloodstream to fight off infection.  What mysterious power is this?  All of our medicines and surgical procedures are successful only to the extent that this inherent God-given healing power is activated and  
2. Because there is a healing power that courses through all the human world that allows us to recover from our grievous losses.  Our parents, our spouses, our friends, lovers and colleagues, even the children and the grandchildren we love are carted away one after the other into the land of death.  And we suffer grief and loss so devastating that we cannot stand, nor sit, nor even throw ourselves on the ground. We cannot breath without weeping.  But yet somehow, somehow, over a long passage of time, pain melts into memory and memory into song, and those who mourn today will, in their own time and in their own way, someday live again, someday live again, even with a measure of joy. 
I have to love God because battered, betrayed, and broken hearts keep on beating. 
3. And then there is the natural world itself, the planet we live on, teeming with life and bursting with beauty.  Don't just look at the world, but look along the world to what must surely lies behind it.  If you can begin to imagine the process of its creation, surely what you see there is worthy of your praise. 
Listen again to these lines by Mary Oliver: 
I went down all alone, to the black pond.
Slow summer day.
No one around.
Not even a bird singing, not a wind awake, nothing. 
Yet nothing could ever convince me
that I was alone. 
If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck-
he isn’t just the summer day the red rose, 
he’s the snake he’s the mouse,
he’s the hole in the ground, 
for which thoroughness, if anything, I would adore him,
if I could adore him. 
Adore him. 
Mary Oliver knows that we should love God because she knows that it doesn't matter what you believe -- what matters is what you love. 
You have to love a God, I have concluded, if for no other reason than all the different kinds of birds that live in Florida. Such infinite variety and each one more beautiful than it needs to be. 
And yet this is only what is spectacular and visible; there are tiny mites that live in your eyelashes that are an equally eloquent testimony to God, as they are so cunningly made and intricately designed. 
4. Reason number 4: Because wherever people have caused others to suffer, wherever there has been cruelty, wherever there is injustice, there also flashes  a spark of rebellion and resistance that cannot be extinguished in the human breast.  Human beings instinctively know in whose image they have been made.  And we live in a time in which every person, and every type of person, will demand their due as bearers of the image of God.  This great sweep of history toward justice and equality is how God is reconciling all of humanity to God’s self.    It is why Martin Luther King, Jr. can say " the arc of the Universe is long but it does bend toward justice."  Meaning this: that there is something true and real and of God in all of our imperfect and stumbling steps toward human solidarity and empathy. 
5. You gotta love God because wherever there is disaster and suffering -- whenever earthquake, or flood or tornadoes, you can count on the fact that people will come together to help each other.  I do not love God because God told one guy, Noah, to build an ark before a flood.  I love God because whenever there is a flood, lots of people go out in fishing boats and rowboats and canoes and kayaks and rescue other people off of the roofs of their houses and out of the trees.  It's in the way that we are made. 
6. And I love God because people can change their lives and start over.  When I was a chaplain in a public hospital, I would talk to people who were very sick because they drank too much.  And they would tell me from their sickbed that now they knew that they had to stop drinking and this time, they really would.  And, of course, the temptation is to be very cynical about such promises.  And I usually was.  But then I noticed that I also met patients who would tell me that 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, they had been very ill.  They realized what was happening, and they had stopped drinking back then, or they had stopped smoking back then, or or they had stopped doing other drugs.  Praise be to God's Holy Name, but some of earnest sickbed promises and resolutions do come true!  And for all of us here who have screwed up and needed a do-over at least once in their life, let us be grateful.  How can we not love this God of Second Chances? 
7. The feelings of warmth, of compassion, and of community that exist among all people, even when there is no good reason for it, no underlying principle of self-preservation that would explain it.  Make no mistake about it, the church communities from which we come to this Revival are, each one, a testament to those feelings.  Feelings of solidarity, and communal love and loyalty are in the way that we are made.  They are part of the creation that surrounds us and supports us.  Yes, those feelings are limited; each one of us cares more for the people we know than for the ones that we don't.  But what is also very clear is that each one of has the capacity for expanding the circle of our love and compassion to those who are not near us, nor are like us, nor live as we do, and whose ways seem strange.  Our capacity for compassion is in the way that we are made, glory be to that which made us. 
8. Further, we have implanted in us a moral sensibility, the ability to discern a difference between right and wrong, to reflect on the consequences of our actions and even our thoughts. Our bible class constantly comes back to the writing of Paul that the ways of God are written on every human heart. We have been blessed with the ability to imagine ourselves as better than we are. And yes, sometimes that brings us pain and regret, but who among us would have it any other way?
9. You have to love God because God did not keep himself to heaven to bask in the adoration of the angels; You have to love God because God did not wind up the Universe like some watch and leave it ticking on the top of his dresser. You have to love God because God is not some mysterious force field, buzzing and clicking in the far reaches of the cosmos.  No, God shows himself, reveals herself, here, on this planet, in this wrinkle of time.  God shows up at the flap of Abraham and Sarah’s tent.  God wrestles with Jacob in the night.  God rescues Israel and leads them out of slavery in the palm of his mighty hand.  And God, I believe, empties himself of divinity and takes on human flesh, and as Jesus of Nazareth walked and talked among us, and taught us.  And even more, you have to love God because when Jesus was killed by the Romans, God, I believe, rose him up from the dead so that we might know that Death, that implacable angel who haunts our every dream and whose cold shadow stunts our every hope – Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning so that we might know that Death has not the final word and that all of this, all of this, everything does not ultimately dissolve into nothingness and futility.  
Oh, it is hard to believe, it is so hard to believe, but before you can believe, first you must love the possibility that it could be true.    
10. And finally, I have to love God because I woke up this morning in my right mind, and not everybody did. 
It is the gift of life,
this body,
these ten fingers and ten toes and face wet with tears,
this broken and battered heart,
these people
this church
this glorious day
all of this
all of this
all of this 
So how shall we grow closer to God?
By loving the Lord God with all our hearts, by loving the world God made with all our souls, by loving the truth with all our minds, by glorying in the reality of all of this,-- all of this -- all of this --
Lead us, O lord,
make your ways known to us,
and let all who love you rejoice,
and let us ever sing for joy.
Amen. 

6 comments:

Wildrose said...

This is really beautiful, Tom. So glad I had a moment to finally look around your blog and see what you were up to. Thanks for this piece especially!

Michael Hipps said...

Wow. Just wow. Beautiful written. And, you gave me (a serious doubter) the most eloquent argument for the resurrection that I've ever read, "Oh, it is hard to believe, it is so hard to believe, but before you can believe, first you must love the possibility that it could be true." Thank you so much for this post.

RevK said...

Thank you. The right sermon at the right time...

Rev Dana Reynolds said...

This Greatest Commandment text is also contained in Matt. 22:35-40. In this version, Jesus gives two commandments as the answer, instead of the one asked for by the questioner. Yet in the Matthew version, Jesus says, "the second is like it [the first]. Jerome used the Latin word for "like" when he should have used the word, "same" as it appears in Greek.
I think saying, "the second [commandment] is the same as the first," is significant and would lend greater support to your points than how it reads now in English translations.

Lawrence Peers said...

Wonderful. My love affair with God and the Godliness splashing through each aware moment has been strengthened and inspired by these soul nurturing words. Thank you.

Norma Margaret said...

I like this but I wish it were more open-ended like "How DO I love THEE--Who can count the ways" I am thinking of Christ asking Peter three times DO YOU LOVE ME??--One time for each betrayal--how many times I would need to speak of love to balance the times I have not loved.