One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you 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.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
We're coming into the home stretch of a year in the life of FBCM focused on building and growing relationships in our backyard. And it's been a journey. We've been through Backyard Basics, Blessings, Blooms, Breezes, Bodybuilding, and Blocks! As we enter this next to last piece of the series, Backyard Bounty, it's time to harvest what we've sown and grown in our community.
Now, before anyone gets too comfortable, you should know that bringing in the harvest, though rewarding, is a lot of work. Our crops are delicate; even the sturdiest looking plants, if not harvested with care, can be broken or bruised. And so we enter this series knowing that what we've sown and grown are actually quite fragile; gifts of the spirit; delicate flowers and fruits that we can only thank God for and then cherish. Of course, if you ask any old school farmer the best way to go about harvesting, they will no doubt tell you to remember the basics, and get plenty of help- What are the basics? Remember what's important- in our case, the same thing Jesus told the sadducee about the most important commandment: 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.’ And- what do we mean by, get plenty of help? You guessed it- community.
So we enter this series with God first, with every part of us engaged in God's work, and with great care for the community, gently holding the hands and hearts of those next to us. Ready?
I've been thinking a lot about the sadducee in the scripture we read this morning . He has seen Jesus in the midst of crowd of learned, religious leaders; they were testing him on his knowledge and interpretation of scripture., trying to trap him into saying something against the law- asking him questions on things like taxes and marriage- And as they are "disputing with one another" one of the sadducees the texts says, 'likes what he hears from Jesus.' And he decides to ask Jesus his 'really big question of faith' in his case, what's really important Jesus? And Ive been thinking about him, not so much in his question, but about what it took for him to ask that question. What did he hear from Jesus that helped him feel confident enough to trust Jesus with his "big question." It's a rabbit hole, for sure, but its worth mentioning as a take home kind of question: What is it that we wait to hear from Jesus before we approach the Christ with our big questions?
For the sadducee, as for all of us, the answer to his question is one that is simple- so simple in fact that we know it by heart, in our hearts. Jesus quotes an ancient passage of scripture, one that jews (including this sadducee) we required to say twice a day, every day of their lives. God is God. Love God. Love your Neighbor as you love yourself. This verse from Deuteronomy was so important to the Jewish people that they would tie it around their foreheads- and place it in a little box by their front door. It served to remind them both that they are loved by God and required to love others, and love themselves. And when you think about it, that's really all their is. Love. Every scripture is about love. Every commandment from the original 10 to the 613 that the scriptures contain, is based on and about loving.
And for the past year in our backyard we've talked about doing just that. Loving God, and loving each other. But the one area we haven't touched on so much, is loving the self. Unless we first love ourselves, we can't love our neighbor- we can't even really love our family, our spouse, our children, our friends... we can't care for another human being unless we practice self love and care for ourselves.
Now, if you were raised in a church like i was, loving the self was kind of frowned upon. We got the message "don't think of yourself higher than you ought" or "It's all about self denial, self emptying, and recognizing you are not worthy- you need to see yourself as undeserving of God's mercy, but that God is so good, he loves you despite yourself. Self love, and especially self care, fell into the category of things you do out of necessity, and even then, it's somehow your fault for not 'doing it right'. So- the harried mom with 4 kids who struggles to make it through a day of carpools, work, cooking, cleaning, and getting her kids to choir practice on time should practice self care- she can climb into a Calgon take me away at the end of the night when she's exhausted... in order to rejuvenate her to do it ll over the next day. And the second part of that message usually sounds like, 'you know, young mom, if you added a devotional and prayer time to your day before everyone gets up in the morning, you wouldn't feel so stressed out You can't let others draw from the well unless you take the time to fill it.' Well thanks for that.
Self love, for many of us, and to much of our society, looks a lot like escape. We take a break from real life; we take vacations, ingest alcohol or other substances to take the edge off, help us relax- play a round of golf, eat a box of chocolate, take a spa day. We may come back feeling refreshed, but our lives, and our problems, are still there. Our exhaustion is sure to come back.
But what is self love was more than just refreshment? What if self care was more than a bubble bath and a glass of wine- or scheduling some me time into an already packed day? So what does God's self love look like?
It begins with identity- and really figuring this out... Who are we? God's creation, God's image- in fact we have God's spirit inside of us. We are the handiwork of God- Who am I? in the words of Richard Rohr, "Paul answers the questions directly: “You are hidden with Christ in God, and Christ is your life” (Colossians 3:3-4). Every time you start (beating yourself up for one thing of another), ask, “Who am I?” The answer will come: “I am hidden with Christ in God” in every part of my life. (Heart, soul, Mind, strength!) So even when you feel like you are unlovable, God still looks at you and sees Christ- totally lovable! Recognizing who you are is the first step to lvoing oneself as God loves us.
Next, self love means being "kinder" to oneself. Don't talk down to yourself. Don't allow negative thoughts or words to infiltrate your being- it's not Godly. Some of us offer grace to everyone we care about but ourselves. We would never speak to a friend the way our inner monologue beats ourselves up for falling short. And I don't think I need to expound on that.
But listen, not all self love is pretty. Brianna Weist wrote a wonderful article recently and she says ""Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing. It is making a spreadsheet of your debt and enforcing a morning routine and cooking yourself healthy meals and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution. It is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic friend you don’t want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you’re not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time and then needing to take deliberate, mandated breaks from livingto do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Marie Claire and turn your phone off for the day."
To me, this means- It's taking a long hard look at your gifts, and figuring out which ones God might be calling you to use at any given time. It's recognizing the areas where you fall short and finding the courage to ask someone for help. Self care might feel like walking away from something and leaving people seemingly in the lurch- or, as I've come to realize, leaving God to care for God's people. Self love is recognizing that though we are hidden with Christ, we are not the savior- of anyone of anything. It's learning that we are masterfully crafted and holy vessels of God's love and righteousness making activity in the world. A creation so cherished by God and entrusted to us for care that we need to treat ourselves as the valuable creation of God that we are.
What a magnificent God we serve! What a gift to this earth you are! And all you need is to do, is accept the love that is offered to you- this moment and every moment... All you need is love...
So now, my big question to you. Have you heard what you need to hear- Now that we know what's important, and that all we need is love- have you heard enough to put your trust in Jesus enough to ask him your big question... to share you heart's desire,