The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


by Fr. Peter
Cathedral of the Annunciation

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.

The writers of the synoptic gospels all include this summary of the law, as we know it. There is a slight difference between them, in that Matthew and Mark attribute the words directly to Jesus, while Luke, whose version we read today, reports them as coming from the lawyer.

This apparent discrepancy was tackled by Joseph Dillersberger, a German theologian, in his 1939 commentary on St. Luke. The clue, Dillersberger explained, is in Mark 12:32-33, in which verses the lawyer repeats what Jesus had just said. In addition, St. Luke wrote from a different perspective. He was not so much concerned with which commandment was greatest, but more with Christ’s teaching on the love of our neighbour. So, Luke alone goes on to relate the great parable of the good Samaritan.

It was, of course, Jesus, in His infinite wisdom and compassion who linked the two, widely separated, Old Testament passages in the summary of the law. The first, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, etc. is written in Deuteronomy 6:5, while the second, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, is found in Leviticus 19:18.

The wording used by our Lord, as recorded in Matthew and Mark, suggests at least a difference in the quality of love we are commanded to show God, on the one hand and our neighbour on the other. In particular, He distinguishes the commandment to love God as, the first and great commandment.

St. Luke records Jesus specifically addressing the issue of who our neighbour is and how we are to love that neighbour. Jesus was attacking the deeply entrenched position of the Jews that only a fellow countryman was a neighbour and that it was acceptable to neglect and even to hate all others. One topic which this could lead us into is the vast gulf between Christianity and Mohammedanism, but I am not going there today.

I suspect that most of you know and understand the parable of the good Samaritan very well, so I am going to focus more today on the first of these commandments, which, on the face of it is much more demanding of us.

In fact, it is much more demanding, because it really requires us to love God in a manner approaching as closely as possible the way in which He loves us and that is a very different kind of love from the love we have for ourselves and for our neighbour. If we do truly love God, as instructed by Jesus in the great commandment, we inevitably fall into obedience with respect to the second commandment. We simply cannot love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength without loving our neighbour, or indeed, all of God’s creation.

I have a card at home on which an anonymous author wrote,

I asked Jesus, “How much do you love me”
“This much”, He replied,
and He stretched out His arms
and He died.

Jesus died on the cross for our redemption. His incarnation, His life and His death are the ultimate expression of Divine Love; of God’s Love for us. The Cross is at the centre of that Love. The Cross is at the centre of the Gospel. Redemption is the essential Gospel message.

It should be obvious then, that a Cross centred love is very special indeed, and it must be encountered in the humble acknowledgement that we can never fully comprehend it. The very nature of the redemptive act upon the cross is way too far outside our comfort zone for that. It places this love we are discussing a vast distance from modern ideas of a warm and fuzzy love.

Jesus said, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. John 12:32. He spoke of the death He would die and His words are a constant reminder that the Cross is always there before us. We cannot ignore it and we cannot ignore the Love which radiates from it. It is the Cross and that incandescent Love which empowers us to Love God. The love we return to the Almighty is a flickering candle in comparison, but we can at least mean it wholeheartedly by earnestly desiring and striving to obey Christ’s commandment.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.

Empowerment begins with the grace of humility. Jesus went to the Cross in utter submission to the will of the Father. We can only love God with all our heart when we have cried to Him to erase all traces of pride from our heart. We are born to glorify God, which is what gives meaning to our lives, but we cannot live to His glory when we are in the way. God must be in charge of our lives in order for His glory to shine through in them.

The more we can give our hearts to Him, the more we will feel His Love and the more we will be enabled to love Him. This alone takes us out of warm and fuzzy love land, but the rest of the commandment takes us even further.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul.

We are created in God’s image and whilst it is wrong to dismiss the body in this, it is most true in the soul. On this subject, I spent some time with Dr. Francis Hall’s Dogmatic Theology, Vol. V, Creation and Man.

Now, understanding Dr. Hall can be a little like trying to comprehend the very origins of the universe. It can make your eyes water and produce a serious headache, especially if you are not blessed with a Churchillian vocabulary and a thoroughly disciplined logical thought process.

However, I believe the good doctor comes down on the side of creationism in the matter of the soul, that is, a belief that God places the soul in each new human life at the moment of conception. No other attempt to deal with the soul actually works.

That being so, the soul is a very distinct element of the Divine residing within each of us. It is that part of us which grows more God like in the lifelong, Holy Spirit led, process of sanctification. That we are participants in that process is quite a responsibility and one which is discharged by obedience to this commandment. In growing more God like, we become by definition more united with and filled with the Love of God.

Filling us, the Love of God must necessarily flow from us because it cannot be contained in a human vessel. Then we can indeed obey the second great commandment and love our neighbour as Jesus wants us to.

Once again, we are liberated and empowered in this matter by the Cross.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind.

Upon the Cross, Jesus Christ’s will was truly united with the will of God the Father. There is our example and there is our goal. Such unity comes through the Grace of God, but we have to desire it with every fibre of our being. We must fill our minds with the Gospel and glory of Jesus, striving to keep them focused upon God. Satan can never reach us through our souls, but he can and does assault us through our minds, sometimes gaining enough control to swamp, but never extinguish, the divine spark of the soul.

In loving God with all our minds, we keep our minds as safe as possible from satan. We know the redemption Jesus provided on the Cross and we glorify Jesus by turning our thoughts to the Cross when temptation strikes.

Our mind is the most wayward part of our fabric and it is there, on that battleground that we most need God, in His mercy, to grant us strength. It is there that we seek the help of the Holy Spirit to sustain us. The beauty of what Jesus teaches is that obedience to Him creates a real barrier against sin.

So it is, that in our minds we make our conscious effort to love God, returning the Love he shows us upon the Cross and given the power to do so by our Lord’s perfect sacrifice upon that Cross.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy strength.

This makes it physical. This destroys any possibility of being a couch potato when it comes to loving God. Christianity is not a spectator sport, but the very definition of participation.

God wants our bodies and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a call to action. This component of His commandment makes clear the extent to which we are called upon to act.

The Cross states in stark terms the outer limits of where we may be called upon to go. Just as the Cross glorifies Jesus Christ, it summons us to be ready to glorify God also.

The day I set about preparing this sermon, I opened up my email and there was a message from David Kilgour, MP for Edmonton. David forwarded to me a report of an interview with Chinese Christians. I want to read you the first few paragraphs. They speak volumes to me and I hope they do to you as well.

The interview was wrapping up when a reporter with the International Mission Board asked a prominent leader in the rapidly expanding Chinese house church movement how American Christians could pray for house churches in China. “Stop praying for persecution in China to end,” he responded, “for it is through persecution that the church has grown.”

“What astounding faith!” I thought when I heard the story. However, my admiration of his faith was quickly tempered by what he said next.

“We, in fact, are praying that the American church might taste the same persecution,” he said, “so revival would come to the American church like we have seen in China.”

Suffering, pain, the Cross.

That is where loving God with all our strength leads us.

That is where living our lives to the glory of God takes us.

If we are not prepared to go there, we do not love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength.

And the Cross is reduced in our lives to a mere shape.

Two pieces of wood nailed together, bereft of Redemption’s glory.

But if we are prepared to go there, with God’s help, we will come to glorify God and to love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. And we will become a blessing to our neighbour, loving him as we are commanded by Jesus Christ to do. We may even show a little of Jesus to our neighbour and, with God’s help, lead him into the body of Christ.

Peter Jardine+
Trinity 13, 2005