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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert


Harmonies of Faith, a sermon series for the Summer on the core beliefs of harmonious faith, week 5 of 14, preached June 30, 2024



Who are you? Is that all? Who else are you? Are you sure? Is there anything about you that you don’t know?  

Here’s how to know who you are, and how to become more you…

Scripture               Acts 2:43-47

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and shared all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at homes and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.


To be human means we learn, and need community. We enjoy meals, and seek holy, awe moments. We like to share. We like to give away, and help. Doing that stuff creates happiness for each of us, and all of us.




We believe different things and differences can help us, or can create conflict inside us, in our relationships, in the church, or the wider world. Conflict is not the point of differences, nor is conflict from our differences the will of God.

Now, some believe the best way to resolve this is to make everyone believe the same thing. Those kind of churches or pastors spend a lot of time trying to convert or “save” people to an identical belief, and they usually struggle to have healthy relationships across faith differences.

I don’t think we have to save or convert anyone, nor do I believe God’s goal is for us is to all believe the same things. I do believe our goal is to all tune our difference in faith or belief to God. When we do that, our differences are like different musical notes that all harmonize with one another and with God. That’s why we are calling this summer series, Harmonies of Faith.

So far, we’ve remembered this God does not stay hidden but reveals God’s self, in creation, in Scripture, and in Jesus. This God is Triune, always one and always three... never one over the other or despite the other but in perfect unified relationship. As Creator, this God is the source of creation, and the love in and behind all created things. And last week, this God provides enough stuff and guidance for all creation to reach God’s goals.

Today’s doctrine is Humanity. Get into groups of two or three, make sure no one is left out, and let’s talk over this question with one another… 

Question of the Day

"What does it mean to be human, to be a part of humanity?” Ready? Go!


Great! For anyone wishing to share, in person or online, what did you come up with?


Prayer for Illumination

Before we read and preach from God’s word, does anyone know the term Mezuzah? It’s a Jewish symbol installed on the sides of doors in Jewish homes.  

A mezuzah serves several functions. It proudly announces, despite the risk, this is a Jewish home. It also reminds the residents they are God’s, and they are in covenant relationship with God. The scripture passage that is often on a little scroll behind them is from Deuteronomy 6.

Let’s pray… God as we open your word, may it open us. As we read your word, may it read us. Amen? Amen.

Scripture               Deuteronomy 6:1-15

6 “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you all to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life and keep all God’s decrees and commandments that I am instructing you, so that your days may be long. 3 Listen therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you and so that you all may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 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. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

10 “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that God swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, 11 houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not craft, deep wells that you did not dig, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, 12 take care that you do not forget the Lord, (the one) who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 The Lord your God, you shall fear, God you shall serve, and by God’s name alone shall you pledge. 14 Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, 15 because the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of the Lord your God would be kindled against you and God might destroy you from the face of the earth.

This too is the word of God for the people of God… (Thanks be to God)

Sermon                 Humanity

The ancient humans asked this same question, who am I, who are humans. The best answers became stories that lasted. Like the Torah, the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible… It is very old, going back thousands of years BCE. Some other writings and history books in the Hebrew bible are old, 1500 or 1000 BCE, when Humans thought we were supposed to become nations of leaders and wars and religions. Some of the prophetic books and others are pretty old too, after the kingdom split in half, going back to 800 or 700s BCE when the northern Kingdom, Israel, was losing its way and eventually conquered by Assyria in 722 BCE. Some other prophets and books are from the 600s and 500s BCE, when the southern kingdom, Judah with its capital Jerusalem, were losing their way and eventually conquered by Babylon in 586 BCE.

We believe these stories, scrolls, were all around but not yet assembled into ONE Hebrew bible until the people of Judah, the Jews, were conquered by Babylon and exiled out into the desert. When they lost everything, and were in the wilderness, they remembered and reread and assembled the old stories, because they were again in wilderness, asking this question… who am I, who are we?

Here’s some of what they found about God and humans.

Humans are made by God, each human, and all humanity. We are made special, somehow in the image of God. We were given a spark… some call it will, or spirit, or soul… from God, and the capacity for love and relationship like God. All of creation was called good by God, but we humans were called very good by God. For some reason, God wants love and relationship, wants a special relationship between humans, and with humanity, so humans have the need and hunger for community, relationship, love.

Now, if we were the leaders and people of Judah and Jerusalem, who had been forgetting to be human… if we had been running our community the wrong ways for the wrong reasons, for money, power, control, against our neighbors… instead of building and maintaining God’s type of community, one of wholeness, openness, love, justice, and peace, and then… we suddenly suffer the consequences and lose it all… imagine how big the question would be for us. Then, who are we? Who am I?

It wasn’t just the people of Israel asking these questions… who are humans? Why are humans? Not long after the Hebrew bible was assembled, the great philosophers were tackling the human question. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all were 400s and 300s. (A little trick, I use the mnemonic “SPA” to remember what order they came in… Socrates and Plato, then Aristotle)

First, Socrates and Plato, when contemplating humans, humanity, they imagined we humans were unique and different from the rest of creation and other creatures in that we have a soul in us that is really us. The uniqueness of our humanity is there, in our soul, our ability to reason and think, to imagine. That soul, spirit, intellect is temporarily embodied. Some might even suggest our soul is trapped in a body. But one day, our body decays, and our soul or spirit would be set free. Socrates once suggested it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit an injustice. When evil is done to us, to our bodies, that doesn’t change or affect who we really are, our souls. It only hurts our bodies which don’t really matter. But when we want or devise with our mind, heart, intellect, soul an evil and do it with our bodies to someone else, we harm our true selves, our humanity, our soul. You with me? That’s Socrates and Plato.

Then, Aristotle. Aristotle disagreed with these two. He thought of humans, humanity as a whole. He did not imagine our soul was different than our body. He imagined we as humans are both embodied souls and ensouled bodies. Our soul is us but so is our body, and they aren’t really different. We are always both, and the two cannot be separated. Like the body, it can grow or fade. The soul is the potential of us to become even more fully human. Like a seed is not yet a tree, but has the full potential of tree in it, a soul is humanity in potential, and the goal is to actualize that potential, to become more and more human, to have the knowledge of being fully human, and actually put that knowledge into practice as fully human with our bodies.

Those philosophies were in the Greek and Roman cultures when Jesus comes along. Some still believed the soul was our true humanity, the center of our feelings and thoughts, our intellect and ability to reason, and our bodies didn’t matter. Others believed our soul and body together were what makes us human, and therefore both always matter.

In Matthew 22, a professional in Jewish scriptures and philosophy asks Jesus, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 Jesus says to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6, but with one little difference. Our translation a moment ago said to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and MIGHT, sometimes translated as strength meaning body. In Matthew, Jesus says to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and MIND. Hmmm.

Then in Mark, Jesus’ answer is remembered differently. From Mark 12, 28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, the scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Aha, the mind gets in there, but so does the strength or body.

In Luke 10, Jesus’ answer is also four but a different order, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (might) and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke matches the order of Deuteronomy, but then adds MIND at the end, like an extra.

Matthew was the most Hebrew of the gospels so stayed with three, but misquoted Deuteronomy by dropping Might, body, strength, and replacing it with mind, as if the body didn’t matter. Luke was the most Greek of the gospels, and is includes the body, but has to add in the mind, since in their time and culture the mind was so central to their understanding of humanity.

If you think on Jesus, what do you think? Did Jesus only care about souls as the real us, our heart and mind, our beliefs, feelings and thoughts…. OR did Jesus also care about BODIES?

In a way, Jesus might agree with Socrates… it IS better to suffer and injustice than to do an injustice. After all, Jesus allowed his body to suffer great things, even death on a cross, rather than betray his principles of what is loving and just relationships, even with his enemies.

But then again, Jesus spends so much time caring for peoples bodies. He healed, and comforted, and fed, and cured. Jesus often interrupted teaching the minds of his disciples or the crowd to give attention to the body of one woman, one child, one leper, or one lame person.

And then, the big kicker, when Jesus died, and rose again, did he come with a body or not? If the body wasn’t important, only the soul, then Jesus might have appeared only as a spirit. But we believe in the resurrection of the Body, meaning we remember, in Jesus, his body was not just a temporary house of his true humanity, his soul… but his body, his broken, crucified, nailed, pierced, dead, and buried body was ALSO Jesus, and everything about Jesus died, and descended into hell, and everything about Jesus rose again, his thoughts, feelings, his will, and yes, his body too.

So what is humanity? What does it mean to be human? We may have some different beliefs. But can we harmonize our differences so they resonate with what we know from God? God created humans, and called us not just good, but Very good. God created humanity, each of us, all of us, in God’s image, whatever that means. Maybe it means consciousness, self-awareness. Maybe it means a soul. Maybe it means the capacity for love and relationship. Whatever it means, this isn’t just a privilege. It’s a responsibility. We are very good and loved, all of us, AND at the same time, we are called to live into the fullness of our humanity.

Whatever humanity is, we know it best in Jesus. He is the fully actualized human. The rest of us have the potential to become more fully human. But Jesus is the one and only to ever BE fully human. His thoughts and feelings, his words and actions, his mind, heart, spirit, and body all harmonized with God, with no dissonace or discord.

We might say, when we make a mistake, we are ONLY human. Well, in a way, our humanity IS only human, but is not yet fully human. We shouldn’t use “only human” as an excuse to continue the same mistakes our ancestors made before us. Instead, if we say, well, I’m only human, let’s add, “but because of this mistake, I’ll be more human tomorrow, and I’ll never stop learning, growing, trying, until everything in my life looks like Jesus,” because if we really want to know humanity, look at Jesus.


Amen? Amen.



Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you this day, this night, this moment, and forever more. Amen? Amen.

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