Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Love With Our Whole Heart
The Greatest Commandment, Week 2 of 7 in a sermon series on the Greatest Commandment, preached January 15, 2023 at the 9:30am Worship service
Today is the second week in a 7-week sermon series we are calling “The Greatest Commandment.” Over these seven weeks, we are reading and studying the response to the question, what is the greatest commandment?… to love the Lord, to love with Heart, with Soul, with Mind, and with Strength, to love neighbor, and to love self.
Last week, we read Deuteronomy 6 and heard Moses implore the people to love the Lord, and to teach every generation to do so. We learned… To love the Lord means to think, feel, and believe the Lord is God, and is good. And, to love the Lord is more than a thought, feeling, or belief. Loving the Lord means we embody that love in spirit, word, and deed into our beautiful but broken world.
That’s the what… Love the Lord. Today, we study the first of four HOWS, how to love, with our whole Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.
Jesus has just finished the sermon on the mount, saying “any who hear these words and do them are wise, like a person who builds on rock, and any who hear but does NOT do are foolish, like a person who builds on sand.”
Let’s pray, and listen for how to love with our whole heart from…
Scripture Matthew 8:1-10
1 When Jesus[a] had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him, 2 and there was a man with a skin disease who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 3 Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be made clean!” Immediately the man’s skin disease was cleansed. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, just go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
5 When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my slave is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” 7 And Jesus replied to him, “I will come and cure him.” 8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only speak the word and my slave will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under my authority, and (if) I say to one, ‘Go,’ he goes, or to another, ‘Come,’ he comes, or to my slave, ‘Do this,’ the slave does it.” 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who were following him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faithfulness. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the citiznes of the kingdom will be thrown out, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)
Sermon Love with Heart
For whatever reason, the first way to love mentioned in the Greatest Commandment is… with our whole heart. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, our whole heart.
Now, for the Hebrew people, heart meant something different than what we assume. Let’s see, what does heart mean when we use it, in our time and culture?
Good, yes… The center of our feelings and emotions. The other side of our thoughts or mind. The thing that breaks in us when we are betrayed or lose or grieve. The home of sadness but also giddiness. The engine behind our laughter and our tears. Not logic and reason, but passion and mood.
In our culture, an American extension of Western culture, the heart is those things, while the Mind is the other stuff. Heart is feeling, mind is thought. Heart is emotion, mind is reason.
Today’s text is from the Greek, but Jesus and Moses were Hebrews and the command to love came from the Hebrew we read last week. The Hebrew word typically translated as “heart” in that command is LaV, and we know, from its many uses in the context of the Bible and other places, it had more of an Eastern cultural meaning. The “heart” for them was not differentiated from the mind. Feelings were not differentiated from thoughts, as least not in the same way we tend to try to keep them cleanly separated.
The Heart, in the Hebrew, meant the center, the consciousness, the core of our human self. One online resource said, in Hebrew, the heart is “the place where you think and make sense of the world—where you feel emotions and make choices.” See the difference? When we hear love with our whole heart, we might exclude much of what they included.
For the Hebrew meaning behind heart, let’s imagine each human is uniquely and divinely created by God, and given a spark of God’s own self. That God spark is the same in all of us. Our heart is the unique human expression of that God spark in each of us. God is the source of all our lives, but our heart is the unique humanity with which each of us think, feel, and embody God’s spark of life. Our heart is our humanity.
Now, Jesus was fully human, and we trust he, better than any of us, loved with his whole heart, his full humanity. In this story, Jesus is walking into a crowd of people and his attention is given to two in particular. If we go into a crowd, it's probably the fanciest dressed, or most famous, or most gregarious, or the prettiest or handsomest that gets our attention.
For Jesus, who loved with his whole heart, he gives his time and attention first to the one with the skin disease. That person made sure Jesus notices him, by approaching Jesus. I’m guessing he had approached many other humans in his life, desperate for help and healing. Some were probably nice but not that helpful. I’d guess plenty were dismissive, avoidant, or even judgmental. But in Jesus, the man sees someone practicing the fullness of humanity.
Jesus sees him, pauses everything, listens to him, and responds to him with all he can give. Jesus can give a lot, so it's healing. We may not be able to give healing like Jesus, but if we loved with our whole heart, how would we respond? What could we give? Loving with our whole heart means we don’t hold back this or that corner of ourselves to keep it safe from the ones before us. Jesus doesn’t hold anything back, just loves with his whole heart, and the man is healed.
The Centurion's encounter with Jesus shows the same whole-hearted love but from a different angle. The centurion has a slave at home who is sick. The centurion wants the slave healed, perhaps out of convenience so the work will get done, or let’s hope out of compassion, so the slave will not suffer or die too early. The officer of Rome sees in Jesus someone practicing full humanity. He too approaches Jesus and asks for Jesus’ help. Jesus again pauses, listens, and responds with his whole heart. Yes, I will come with you.
Then the centurion does something odd. He says I’m not worthy to have that much of you. But I understand and respect your authority. Just say the word, and I believe my slave will be healed. Jesus calls this Roman police office the most faithful he’s seen in all Jerusalem, and the slave is healed.
The command to love with our whole heart, our whole human self means we humans are capable of being more human than we believe. We were created to be and do that, to love with our whole heart, and if we tap into that, really love with our whole heart, and full, true selves, what in the world would be the outcome?
In the Pastor’s Book Club (1st and 3rd Tuesdays, 600-730pm, in different homes) we are studying a book called Original Blessing. The book is making the point that we humans were created very good, blessed by God, and given the innate ability to do God-like love. The book is asking, So why do so many Christian churches spend so much time talking about the sinfulness of humanity. Humanity, when we become more like our true self, our heart, we are good and loving. The origin of sin is not us. We were created by God very good. But sin does seem to inevitably result whenever humans get involved. Perhaps, the sin in the world is a consequence of us failing to be fully human, not because we are human, but because we are not yet fully human, not yet fully living loving with our whole heart, our whole human self.
See the difference? I think that’s why Moses and Jesus teach us to love with our WHOLE heart. We already know what it means to be half-hearted about something. Imagine if your loved one said to you, I love you with some of my heart, most of my heart, just not all of it. Do you feel the pain of that, in your heart? We want those who love US to love us with their whole heart, and our hearts would break if we discovered someone loved us with only a percentage of their heart.
Sometimes, people will hurt one another, fail one another, and the excuse will be, “Well, I’m only human.” This commandment to love with our whole heart suggests something different. We were given a spark from God’s own self, and then breathed and formed into our unique human life. those moments when we fail to love, those are not because we are only human. Those are because we are not human enough. Let’s love God, our neighbor, the stranger, the immigrant, our enemy, even our selves with our whole humanity, with our whole heart.
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.