All Your Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
September 13, 2020 Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 1; Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 10:25-37
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here. This is the third in a series of three teachings on this topic in the August 2nd service.]
How can we get out of the nightmarish situation our society and earth are in now? Jesus showed us the way, but as Albert Einstein said, we cannot move to new ways of living unless we change our way of thinking. Humanity needs to gain the heart and mind of Christ in order to follow the way he shows.
This may sound impossible, but remember that people hailed Jesus as the Christ because they recognized his way as the way of God, the way of the Creator and Spirit of nature. The Spirit that was in Jesus is in us. We are meant to evolve, to be transformed and transform the world into the realm of God on earth.
Today’s two gospel passages teach us the new way we need to think.
In the Matthew passage Jesus says that we need to practice infinite forgiveness, but there is something else that most people miss in the story Jesus tells.
A slave owes his master more than he could ever earn and begs for mercy, and the master forgives the debt. Then the slave refuses to forgive the debt of a fellow slave and has him thrown in prison. The master is outraged and revokes his forgiveness and asks, “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?”
This principle of reciprocity is as important as forgiveness, paying forward to others what we have received. God has given us gifts, and our duty is to share them with those who lack them.
This is about reparations. For instance, white people have easy access to the ballot box. Many other groups are the target of voter suppression. Therefore it is the duty of white people to help empower oppressed people to vote.
Jesus often talks about God’s care for all creation. Our lives have been blessed by the earth’s gifts, and our ethical duty is to bless the ecosystems of earth by caring for their health in return.
Humanity inflicts torture on itself when it fails to follow this sacred way of forgiveness and reciprocity. We know the self-inflicted torture of failing to forgive, and we have failed to give our loving care to this earth resulting in 120 degree heat in Los Angeles and five hundred thousand climate refugees fleeing from wildfires in a pandemic.
The passage from Luke gives the highest ethical laws. We are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor as our self, but who is the God we are to love, and who is the neighbor?
God is the giver and Spirit of life, the creator of the universe and the earth, the source of the sacred way that flows through all nature. That is what we are called to love with every ounce of our being and moment of our life.
Jesus answers the question “who is my neighbor” by telling the story of the good Samaritan who takes risks and gives generously to help a stranger who is his enemy.
The neighbor we are to love as an extension of our own self is everyone. We are to love and lay down our lives for all on earth. This is the society God calls us to establish.
Imagine if the highest goal of every government, corporation and person was to follow the Golden Rule of loving and treating all people and creatures and the earth as one with us. Imagine what that world would be like. All our crises would disappear.
We urgently need to make the evolutionary leap to have the heart and mind of Christ, to create a society that follows the sacred way and Spirit of life, and yet, to be honest, it looks impossible.
An article in the New Yorker recently observed that in America “We are tribes with at least two or more sources of information, facts, narratives, and stories we live in.” How can we love our neighbor as our self when leaders and media networks propagate division and hostility?
Another article said, “Some of America’s powerful people have championed a version of capitalism that liberates wealth from responsibility…. In the long battle between the self and service, we have, for the moment, settled firmly on the self…. We stopped worrying about [the moral issues].”
How can we transform society into the realm of God on earth if powerful people take no moral responsibility for the corporations they direct or the politicians they elect or the government they control?
Leaving society aside, how can even one typically stressed, distracted person grow to have the heart and mind of Christ?
The answer to this seemingly impossible dilemma is found in the juxtaposition of self versus service. We have indeed settled firmly on the self. We idolize the self in our culture.
That needs to change, but to think of it as a battle between the self and service or the self and the ideals of Christ is not helpful. Battling the self only increases its hold on us.
Jesus showed the way to move from the self to the ability to forgive infinitely, to give freely to others what we have received, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, to see at last that every person and every creature and the earth itself are the neighbors we are to love as our own self.
The way Jesus teaches is not to battle the self, but to empty it, to let go attachment to it, to humble it. Not a battle, but a surrender of who we thought we were, of who our culture taught us we needed to be. A surrender of any group identity or any allegiance smaller than God and all the earth. A surrender to oneness, and to the Spirit of life that wants to flow through us.
Remember the words of Gandhi, who came as close as anyone to having the heart and mind of Christ: “There comes a time when an individual becomes irresistible and his action becomes all-pervasive in its effect. This comes when he reduces himself to zero.”
This is the goal, and it is also the way to reach the goal because people who have reduced themselves to zero can forgive and self-give and love as Jesus did.
It seems impossible, but remember, Jesus is teaching us the way of the Spirit of life. This is humanity’s path of evolution. Each step on that path increases our ability to follow it. Take enough steps and you will discover that Gandhi was right. The humble love of people who in this moment have reduced their ego to zero is irresistible and their actions are all-pervasive in their effect.
Let’s try letting go of our self right now. We do it by simply, gently letting go of each thought as we become aware of it and returning to the love of God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Let go each thought, returning to your silent heart, and each time you will be taking another step toward transforming yourself and transforming the world. Let us pray in silence…