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Second Sunday After the Epiphany – January 19, 2020
How does one love God “with all one’s mind?”
About twenty years ago, I was the board chair for an ecumenical endeavor called United Campus Ministries at Christopher Newport University. The board was comprised of clergy and laypeople from around the lower peninsula of Virginia, including some professors. Our tasks were basically to help set a course for the ministry and make sure it was funded.
One of the members of the board was a professor of psychology at the university who was also an active member of a local Presbyterian congregation. He and I became close enough friends that I could eventually ask him a question that had been on my mind since we first met: Does your being a person of faith ever cause issues for you in your professional and academic spheres?
His response was that it generally did not, but that he did have colleagues in the field of psychology who would, from time to time, say to him “I cannot believe that you believe.”
It was that comment that was the impetus for this sermon series. And to think, it only took me twenty years to get around to it.
When I preach, when I pray, when I baptize or preside at Holy Communion, I always wonder what you are thinking about the particular sermon, prayer, or sacrament of the day. Sometimes people are kind enough to pull me aside after the service or send me an email and tell me, but for the most part, I find myself wondering. I especially find this to be true when I am preaching on miracles, especially when Jesus heals someone or raises them from the dead, and especially when I know the person listening to me or coming forward to receive a piece of the Body of Christ from me is a physician. It is just the way that I am.
I don’t mean to paint an entire vocation with the same brush. I know people are unique and each brings something different to their faith. Yet, I wonder. I wonder if people in healing vocations feel a special affinity for Jesus, the Great Physician, or if you know so much, if you have seen so much that your experience of the Christ narrative is completely different from mine.
Throughout this series, and especially today, I would like for us to consider what it means for us to love God with all our minds as Jesus tells us to. It is interesting to note that we sometimes fail to realize that Jesus does not quote Deuteronomy here exactly as it is written: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” It is Jesus who adds the commandment to love God with “mind.”
Today’s text comes from towards the end of the Gospel of Matthew, at the crisis of the conflict between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees. It is the Monday of Holy Week; Jesus has already entered Jerusalem where he has come to die when he is publicly confronted by the them with a question designed to discredit him. In this morning’s text, Jesus has already been asked about controversial topics such as whether it is right to pay taxes to the emperor and whether there is a bodily resurrection, and now Jesus is asked, out of the 613 laws of the Old Testament, which is the greatest. (1)
Jesus responds with what is called the Shema, Judaism’s most frequently recited passage: Deuteronomy 6:5 which, again, reads “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” before adding a verse from Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “On these two laws,” Jesus says, “hang all the law and the prophets.”
It may be that the lawyer should have asked an additional question, once he had heard Jesus’ answer to his first, and that question should have been “And how does one love God with ‘all one’s mind?” It is an important question. In many ways the whole of Christian discipleship is learning how to answer that question, how to live it out.
So, how does one love God “with all one’s mind?”
Over the course of my time in ministry, I have been the pastor for people who read scripture quite literally on one side, and for people who read it purely as literature on the other, as well as people all along the spectrum in between. My experiences a seminarian and as a pastor has taught me that, despite what some may think, there is no perfect correlation between a person’s way of reading scripture and how obedient they are to it, and there certainly is no one-to-one correlation that I have ever seen to how a person reads scripture and how much they love the Lord.
I have simply known many, many people who love Christ and his church; people who help birth into being his mission on earth, people who labor side-by-side for the kingdom despite the fact that they read and understand God’s word quite differently. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and it is hope for the church and the world. Therefore, if you believe there is no place in the church, no place among the community of the baptized for you based purely on your particular view of the Bible, you are incorrect. Loving God and loving neighbor as the underpinning of orthopraxis is a tent broad and wide, with room for you, for me, and for our neighbors.
How do we love God with “all our mind?”
I believe that where science and faith both get it wrong is when we try to exist on the same plane, or to put it another way, when either attempts to do the work of the other. I also believe that we get into trouble when either side claims a monopoly on truth. I believe truth is what exists at the intersection of the questions “How?” and “Why?” Science is a gift from God that is uniquely qualified to pursue questions of “How?” Conversely, religion is uniquely qualified to pursue the question “Why?”
Science can and should be for all of us what, say, taking my computer apart is for me. I can get inside of the designers’ mind; I can learn how my laptop was designed to dissipate heat or whether or not my battery is really not user replaceable like the manual says, or if I could do it myself. I look at the computer’s motherboard and it looks like a tiny city, with little circuits and resistors and transistors, each painstakingly held in place with a perfectly placed drop of solder. I think about the mind of the person who figured out how electricity must run through each tiny part so that I would have a device that allows me to create and communicate with people around the world.
Likewise, this is what science does for us, it gives us not only a glimpse into the mind of our Creator, it can reaffirm our belief that we live in a complex, brilliantly designed world. What is more, because we believe in the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, we can believe that we worship and follow a God who wants to be known, who wants to be discovered so badly that God, rather than situate Godself on some distant mountain, instead was born and lived locally, amongst us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our God deeply desires to be discovered, and as such, God rejoices with every discovery we make.
So, I look through my daughter Ellen’s microscope at the slide of the tiny yet intricately designed insect that is preserved in a drop of amber, or I see the complex system of capillaries which distribute water through a leaf, and I feel like I am disassembling one of God’s devices and literally seeing how the “heavens are telling of the glory of God.”
From the time of Aristotle, 2,300 years ago, scientific theory held that the universe was eternal. Even Einstein believed it. Even into the 1960s, two-thirds of scientists who were surveyed affirmed this, even though more and more evidence to the contrary was becoming available. Yet, the Bible claimed that, in fact, the universe had a beginning. Whether or not, you believe in creationism or evolution, and I maintain that you can be a Christian and be on either side of that debate, the Bible is clear: both Genesis and the Gospel John begin with the words “In the beginning.”
As the Big Bang Theory has gained more and more traction, we realize that, as it turns out, the Bible was right all along on this one. The scientist and believer Gerald L. Schroeder writes in his book The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom that science’s acceptance of this reality of a shift in thinking about the origins of the universe, especially after millennia of opposition is so monumental that modern arguments regarding evolution, dinosaurs and the like are minuscule when compared to the shift in thinking required for science to accept the notion of a universe with a beginning. (2)
Yet science, with new telescopes, new computational powers, new discoveries, and all that they provide as new understandings about the amazing complexity of life, cannot and should not, explain why life exists at all. This is religion’s area of expertise, and it is essential that people of faith learn how to think about and seek to understand how the “Why?” question informs how we understand how we can apply the “How?” questions that science answers.
Let me be clear: when the church tries to do science, we not only do so poorly, we can humiliate ourselves, as we did when we punished Galileo for insisting (and proving) that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and not the other way around. Yet, when the church fails to speak on truths that we know well and are commanded to teach, things like care for creation, all humans being made in the image of God, love for even our enemies, and peace and justice for all of humankind, we can find ourselves standing by silently when science unleashes ways to kill the ancients could never have imagined. In this regard, thinking people of faith can challenge science to act for the benefit of humankind, and in doing so, be a voice for the powerless, and a witness to a God who self-discloses through science but who also demands an accounting for how we treat our neighbors.
Gregor Mendel is known today as the “Father of Genetics.” He was a respected as a scientist, performing experiments not only in the passing of traits in the peas in his garden, but studying the genetics of honeybees. He was a teacher of physics, a student of astronomy, and the founder of the Austrian Meteorological Society, meteorology being the topic on which he published the most.
Yet his greatest influence was in the study of hybridization and variations in plants, and for this he is remembered today. Although his contributions to science were not fully appreciated during his lifetime (he died in 1884), by the turn of the twentieth century, the significance of his work began to be realized.
And the garden in which Mendel performed his experiments was at the Augustinian Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno, in what is now the Czech Republic. Why? Because he was an Augustinian Monk, one who found his vocation in the search for truth, at the intersection of science and faith.
Copernicus was quite possibly ordained as a Catholic priest. Louis Pasteur was also Catholic. Johannes Kepler was a Christian, as was Tycho Brahe, Enrico Fermi, Alexander Fleming, and Lord Kelvin. Sir Isaac Newton wrote more biblical criticism than he did on math and physics. Francis Collins, the director of the human genome project is a Christian. Therefore, when Christians reject or at least act unintelligently towards science, we reject not only a gift God has given us to understand the created order, we reject our own sisters and brothers in the wider Christian community.
Likewise, when people in the scientific community remember the contributions, of our forefathers and foremothers in science, may they remember the whole person, remembering that these persons were not great scientists in spite of their faith, but that their faith helped to shape them into the kind of persons whose contributions to their respective fields made the world better for everyone.
How does one love God “with all one’s mind?” Does it mean we only think about God in one way? Does it mean we suppress our doubts and questions? Does it mean we only read scripture in one, proscribed way? Does it mean that we lose our sense of wonderment at the marvel of creation, or does it mean something else?
As Jesus answered a somewhat hostile question about the greatest law of the 613 in the book on the Monday five days before he was crucified, he quoted two books of the Torah and left his own imprint on each: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” As Rabbi Hillel said, “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.”
To love God with “all one’s mind” gives us freedom to find wonderment and awe in creation. It gives us freedom to ask hard questions of timeless texts, knowing that because they hold within those words God’s truth, they have nothing to fear from our inquiry. Loving God “with all one’s mind” means that we strive and struggle and wrestle to have in us “the same mind that was in Christ Jesus,” and to have the mind of Christ is to fill our thoughts with the life, peace, and wellbeing of our neighbors, whoever they are.
Love God with all your mind and you will love your neighbor. It is truth for today and everyday, for all God’s people. Love God and love your neighbor because doing so reveals God to the world. Love God, and love your neighbor with everything you have, as if everything in the universe depends upon it.
Because it does.
Gloria In Excelsis Deo.