October 26, 2014
do you think? Think there might be a few Giants fans out
there? Jim and I enjoy baseball, and often go to watch our
minor league San Jose Giants when we can. Of course, Major
League loyalty is a different matter - but we won't go there
today. At the moment, we're rooting for the Giants, and
since we are getting to know those players better, are gradually
becoming fans (but don't tell Jim I said that; he's doing
his best not to follow his instincts and root for Dodger
fun to watch the games. And what about those players! They
are putting every fiber of their being into their game.
I love watching the slow-motion clips of the pitchers -
the wind up, the long stretch, the delivery and the follow
through. What incredible athletes they are, achieving pitches
up to 100 mph. And of course, the rest of the team (both
teams) are playing their guts out. And as I watch them,
I wonder: what it would look like to love God the way they
play baseball - with heart, soul and mind.
is Reformation Sunday, when we (particularly as Lutheran
Christians) celebrate a very important event in Christian
history - a breakthrough of the Gospel into a church that
had lost its way. The medieval Church had become rich, powerful
and corrupt, and the Gospel message had gotten trampled
in the mud. People were told they must make penance for
their sins, and even that they could buy their way into
heaven! Getting right with God was all about what you must
do; the message of what God had done for them in Christ
was lost. It created a very heavy burden for those Christians
as a young man, was also caught up in this misguided theology.
It wasn't until he was a monk, reading through the book
of Romans, that the Gospel broke through to him: Getting
right with God is not a matter of keeping a string of rules
or paying enough money. Getting right with God is all about
faith. It is simply receiving God's free gifts in Christ.
Luther was a changed man from that moment.
past 5 weeks (reading through the book of Romans) have underscored
that Reformation breakthrough. It changed Luther's life;
it changed the world. And it can change your life, too.
I hope you have heard and absorbed the incredible message
that you no longer need to be burdened by guilt, doubt and
despair. These are byproducts of a life trying to earn God's
favor. Instead grace, hope and victory are yours through
faith - simply by believing that Jesus' work on the cross
is for you. These truths must be grasped anew every day,
because we live in a do-it-yourself world. We heard this
truth again today in Romans 3: "... all are justified
freely by his grace through the redemption that came by
Christ Jesus." Those are powerful words, my friends.
Ask anyone who lives under the shadow of guilt, anyone who
fears the grave. The Gospel breaks through into your life
and mine, just as it did in Luther's, and turns you around.
Reformation breakthrough, salvation by grace through faith,
all centers on Jesus. Last week you heard about the unconditional
love of God given to us through Christ. That's the core
of everything we believe. From this hub everything else
radiates. Today Jesus addresses your response to God's great
love. What difference does it make in your life? How do
you put such a powerful drive to work? You see, the Reformation
breakthrough - God's grace - leads to new doors in your
life. Now that you have been made right with God, where
will you go with that? What is now possible, that wasn't
possible before? It can be a new breakthrough.
see, God loves you fully and completely. Such a love will
create a new kind of love in you. I have a friend, now married
for about 40 years, who says that her husband asked her
about 50 times to marry him, before she said "yes."
She's independent and stubborn; she put up all kinds of
resistance, kept turning him down. (Now, I need to tell
you he wasn't stalking her or anything like that; they were
dating and she wasn't telling him to get out of her life.)
I think what happened was this: his constancy and persistence
finally won her over. His love created in her a similar
love for him. That's how God's love works in you: God loves
you so irresistibly that finally you begin to love him back.
So what does that look like?
tells us to "love the Lord your God with all your heart,
soul and mind." Now this wasn't original with Jesus.
God's love isn't new; the response it creates isn't new,
either. Moses summed up all 613 laws in this, the greatest
of all commandments. But while Jesus quoted Moses, at the
same time, he re-shaped it in the light of his own impending
sacrifice on the cross. Jesus loved with heart, soul and
take a closer look at what it means to love the way the
Bible calls us to love. Again I think about the ballplayers
in the World Series - how they play that game with every
fiber of their being: heart, soul and mind. Jesus says,
love God that way - love him with everything you've got.
This kind of love goes beyond simply saying: "Yeah,
that makes sense. I can go along with that." Jesus
is saying, love means you are all in. Love does not settle
for less. Love goes the distance.
God with your heart, soul and mind. What does it mean to
love God with all your heart? Heart is about passion; it's
about intensity. Do you know anyone who has a passion for
Yancey says that the one thing that all great heroes of
the faith hold in common is their passion. Think of David,
who danced before the Lord with all his might. Think of
Peter, the first to confess Jesus as the Son of God. Think
of Paul and Silas, who were once beaten by a large mob of
people and then whipped by the rulers. Afterward they were
thrown into prison and the jailer put them in stocks. They
were in terrible conditions, suffering from painful wounds,
their hands and feet were locked in a very uncomfortable
position. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and
singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to
them. They were passionate about Christ, loving the others
around them, wanting them to believe too. Even when a sudden
earthquake loosed everyone's chains, they didn't run but
stayed where they were. In so doing, they saved the life
of the jailer, who came to faith along with his family.
Paul and Silas had a passion for sharing Christ, not for
saving their own necks. And as a result, many came to faith
with all your heart is passion, an intensity that doesn't
give up. What then, does it mean to love with all your soul?
The Hebrew word for "soul" does not mean some
distinct part of you, like the spiritual part. Hebrew speakers
would not divide up a person like that (body and soul).
Instead, it means the integrated "self" or "being."
Keeping your actions consistent with your faith. We might
call it character. Or integrity.
comes to my mind when I think of integrity. He was a man
of singular purpose, trying to follow Jesus while living
in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer professed faith in Christ, but
he faced great odds as he lived it out. I am impressed by
his courage - standing up to the Nazi regime when many other
Christians simply went along to get along. Bonhoeffer sacrificed
his career, his impending marriage and his health as he
went to prison for his faith. He continued to minister to
other prisoners in concentration camps, bringing them Communion,
praying with them, ministering to them. And finally he was
executed, only weeks before the Americans arrived. On a
cold April morning, he was told to strip down in preparation
for hanging. One of the guards, noticing him shiver, taunted
him: "So, Pastor, are you afraid?" And Bonhoeffer
turned to him in some surprise saying, "No; only cold."
He approached the scaffold without hesitation, confident
in God's grace. Assured of the hope of eternal life. Bonhoeffer
loved God with all his soul, with character and integrity.
and integrity. And finally, intelligence. The Bible says
to love the Lord your God with your mind. Don't check your
brains at the door when you come to Christ. Don't leave
your mind out of the equation. Bring all the intelligence
you have to the love you show for Christ.
Many people (again) come to mind when I consider those who
have brought their considerable intelligence to their faith.
Theologians, physicians and psychologists litter the pages
of Church history. A current scientist, Dr. Francis Collins,
was the head of the Human Genome Project. He is now the
director of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda,
Maryland. A brilliant man, he came to faith as a scientist
and a physician, as documented in his best-selling book,
The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
Collins sees no contradiction between faith and reason.
He says, "The God of the Bible is also the God of the
genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or the laboratory."
Collins considers himself to be a "serious Christian,"
an evangelical believer. And he loves God with all his mind.
the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind - with
intensity, integrity and intelligence. Jesus then adds,
"and your neighbor as yourself."
second commandment is important. It would be simplistic
to think you can love God without also loving his world.
Loving God with your whole being will naturally reach out
to others. How could you not? When God loves this world
as he does -- without condition and without reserve -- then
it's hard to imagine returning his love without also sharing
the object of his love.
Gospel writer Luke tells this same story we heard this morning,
but with a twist. It starts out the same: one of the teachers
of the law tested Jesus asking: What is the greatest commandment?
And Jesus gave his answer as you have already heard. But
Luke's Gospel goes a little further. The teacher, feeling
uncomfortable with Jesus' reply, pushed back. Trying to
justify himself he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
hoping for a little wiggle room. But instead, Jesus tells
the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, Jews and Samaritans
in Jesus' day shared about as much love as Israelis and
Palestinians do today. Not much wiggle room there! Loving
God naturally flows into loving your neighbor -- and like
the love of God, requires heart, soul and mind.
wasn't just answering a test question. He was turning the
tables to challenge them (and us) with Gospel love. God
has saved you from eternal death. He has forgiven you and
made your life on earth worth living. He has loved you unconditionally.
Therefore, how will you live your new life? Well, the obvious
answer is to love him back - totally and without reserve.
And that means loving your neighbor too.
with a comment found in the newspaper this week. Perhaps
you saw it in the editorial section, an article written
by secular columnist Richard Cohen. He writes of "religious"
people who have volunteered to go to West Africa to care
for Ebola patients. They know they are putting their lives
at risk. Cohen specifically mentions Kent Brantly, a missionary
who came down with Ebola in Liberia, but was then shipped
home where he recovered. Brantly testified before Congress;
the President invited him to the White House. In Cohen's
words: "[Brantly] aw-shucked his considerable courage
by invoking God. I envy his faith. I'm in awe of his courage."
I envy his faith. I'm in awe of his courage. Clearly, Brantly's
words and actions displayed an integrity of faith and love
that spoke volumes to Cohen.
went the distance in showing his love for God. He loved
with all his heart, caring for his patients with the intensity
of God's sacrificial love. He displayed integrity as he
acted in accordance with his faith. And, as a physician,
he offered to God his intelligence as a gift, rather than
letting it (logically and rationally) keep him away from
West Africa and the Ebola threat.
what about you? What would it look like, to love God: heart,
soul and mind? The Reformation breakthrough of grace changed
the world. Jesus' breakthrough of love could change your