Date: November 6, 2016
Title: “Loving God With All of Your Mind”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Colossians 1:9-14, 28-29
When I was preparing to preach this sermon this morning, I came across a great little comic. In it there are two small figures in one corner looking up at a large billboard. Written across the billboard are these words: We don’t examine our beliefs – We don’t admit to error – And, we don’t care what you think! And one of the figures turns to the other and remarks, “Well, at least it is truth in advertising!”
Truth in advertising, indeed… we don’t examine our beliefs, we don’t admit to error, and we don’t care what you think! Tell me, how many people do you know who seem to live by this creed? How much of the debate surrounding this election cycle felt like it was undergirded by just such audacious claims? And how often is this the way that people of faith are portrayed?
And yet, when Jesus is asked to name the greatest commandment, he immediately responds, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind…and then, love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus makes it plain that loving God and loving our neighbors requires much more than the comic strip billboard would imply.
Now, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had derived 613 commandments from God out of the Pentateuch – the five books of the Law. 248 of these laws were prescriptive – things that God told us to do; 365 of them were prohibitive – things that God told us never to do. 613 laws in all, each one carrying the power of a divine imperative, each one with the historic sanction of religious tradition and the buy-in of the faith community.
But Jesus puts them all into perspective when he says, simply, “Love God with all or your heart, soul and mind”. According to Jesus, loving God is a rational, intellectual act as much as it is an emotional act of a spiritual reality. This means you do not need to check your brain at the door – in fact, you must not abdicate your own intelligence, when it comes to your relationship with God.
When I was in seminary at the Iliff School of Theology, one of the classes every senior had to take was a small colloquy of fifteen students led by two professors. In that class we read a lot of theology, and we reviewed much of what we had learned over the past three years of schooling. And then, we had to write – and defend, for about three hours – our own systematic statement of theology, everything we believed about God and humanity.
Wouldn’t you know it – by the luck of the draw, one of the two professors leading my class was the head of the Theology Department, Dr. Sheila Davaney. I’ll never forget the experience of defending my statements of belief, and my frustration with Sheila’s unrelenting challenges. Finally, I could take no more, and I blurted out, “For God’s sake, Sheila! Don’t you believe in the Mystery of God?!” To which she calmly replied,”Donna, the Mystery of God is no excuse for intellectual laziness!”
It is a good thing to look critically at what we believe and why we believe it. Dr. Brett Younger, a former professor of preaching and now senior pastor of a large church in New York City, tells about his own personal experience loving God with his mind. He writes:
I grew up in churches that had all the answers. Heaven was up, hell was down, and we knew who was going in which direction. We reduced the mystery of the Unknowable God to 4 Spiritual Laws that would fit on a post card and still leave room for “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” There was no room for questions, because we were certain of everything.
My first semester in college I took a class on the Bible and my world began to fall apart with the first reading assignment. I underlined the offensive passage, made several exclamation points in the margin and marched out of the library to begin the crusade of straightening out the heretical professor who had assigned the profane textbook.
“Dr So-and-So”, I began, “You may not realize the textbook you assigned questions the Word of God. Here on page 98 it says that in Genesis, which was written by Moses, I hope you know, when we read that God closed the door of the ark, this textbook says that is ‘a naïve anthropomorphic touch.’ I’m not positive what that means, but it doesn’t sound like a compliment. I don’t think we should question the Bible… do you?”
The professor responded patiently and gently by asking, “Brett, what if God wants us to ask questions about the Bible? Maybe faith should take a little intellectual effort after all.” Dr. Younger says that was the day he transferred his membership from the church of the certain to the church of the questioning.
I have been lucky in my life, in so many ways. Not the least of which was to have been born into United Methodism, and its Wesleyan insistence on taking the Bible contextually, practically, and intellectually – not just literally. Did you know, my friends, that the title most often given to Jesus in the New Testament is not “Master” or “Lord” as you might assume, but “Teacher”? And did you know that the Greek word used for “disciple” in the New Testament is mathetes, and its root, math, means “the mental effort needed to think something through”! To be a disciples means you have to make the mental effort needed to think faith through.
Apparently John Wesley was not the first to link discipleship with learning and to recognize the importance of coming to faith and living in fait using our inherent ability to think, using reason along with Scripture, tradition and personal experience. Again, in Younger’s words:
Just before I left home for college, a man in our church who was disappointed that I wasn’t going to Bob Jones University took me aside and said, “Brett, you’re about to go to college. They will try to teach you things that you’ve never heard before. Promise me that you won’t let them change your mind about anything.”
I wondered if he would give the same speech to a 6 year old: “Brett, you’re about to go to first grade. They will try to teach you things you’ve never heard before, but don’t let them change your mind about anything.”
Of course not. How ridiculous to think that we should be threatened by knowledge. And yet, apparently we are. Just this week someone told me a story about a woman in eastern Montana. Asked by her pastor if she was planning to attend the “get acquainted” event at their church with Bishop Karen Oliveto, the first openly gay United Methodist bishop, this woman said should would not be coming. When asked why not, the woman replied, “I’m afraid I might find out that I like her.”
Loving God with all your mind can be a dangerous thing. It means you need to expend the mental effort needed to think faith through. Loving God with your mind means there can be no church of certainty without the church of the questioning. And it means that faith was never meant to be a static, unchanging thing. When you love God with your mind, you just might find out that you appreciate your neighbor, and you even like your enemy. You might find out that God’s love cannot be limited and God’s presence cannot be restrained, when you love God with all your heart, with all your soul… and even, with all of your mind. Thanks be to God! And oh – by the way – I got an “A” in that Theology class after all!