Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
9 June 2019
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Last week we started a series of sermons that will extend across the five Sundays of June. During this month we are exploring the core of our mission, what I have called “Mission in a nutshell”.
There is a famous story in the Talmud about Rabbi Hillel, who lived around the time of Jesus:
A pagan came to him saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot. Rabbi Hillel replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.” (Talmud Shabbat 31a)
That Jewish story is very much like Mark’s story about Jesus being asked (this time by a Jewish religion scholar) for a brief summary of the Law:
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?”Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: 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.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘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.” When 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.” (Mark 12:28–34 NRSV)
Last week we focused on loving God with our HEARTS, but this week we focus on loving God with our SOULS.
Let me suggest that the difference between last week and this week is not very big, and yet absolutely huge.
The HEART refers to what we most value, what we most care about.
The SOUL refers to who we are, our innermost selves.
Today we observe Pentecost, the festival of the Holy Spirit.
This is the last of the Great Fifty Day of Easter. It marks both the and a fresh beginning.
It is also the perfect time to be thinking about our SOUL or our SPIRIT or our INNERMOST SELF.
Let’s go back to the ancient Eden myth in Genesis 2.
Unlike the poetic drama of chapter one, in Genesis 2 we find God rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands dirty as she fashioned the first human from the soil, from the earth. In the Hebrew text the term is ‘adamah, and the earth creature is called ‘adam (Adam).
But then notice how the story describes this clay doll becoming a living person:
“… then the LORD God formed the earthling(ha-‘adam) from the dust of the ground (ha’adamah), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the earthling became a living soul (nephesh).” (Genesis 2:7 NRSV)
In that ancient myth, it is only when the spirit of God is breathed into the nostrils of the earthling that the human becomes a living soul.
What a powerful word picture for us on Pentecost.
Here we are, seeking to love God with all our soul, with our innermost selves.
But our distinctive character as a living soul is itself the result of God’s Spirit already being at work in us, pulsing throughout our whole being.
We are who we are because of the Spirit animating us.
When we love God without innermost self, our soul, we are not only offering to God our most authentic selves, we are also returning to God the very gift of life itself.
Last week we were invited to ensure that we value God above everything and everyone else.
This week we are asked to go deep inside and check that our innermost self, our soul, is receptive and responsive to the enlivening presence of the Spirit of God.
In doing this we are embracing the true meaning of Easter.
For the earliest Christians, the Spirit was Jesus himself, alive and ever present with them and within them. Let me end with these powerful words from Paul:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17–18 NRSV)