Hear O Israel: Soul
Colossians 3:12- 17 / I Peter 2:9-12 / Matthew 10:26-33
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Shema is an ancient prayer found in the book of Deuteronomy, a petition still prayed twice a day by devout Jewish believers. In the first three parts of this six part study of the Shema, we turned to the structure of the prayer:
The Greek word of heart is cardio, and thus we can refer to our heart doctors as cardiologists. As many of you know, I have a 15 year history with my cardiologist that includes triple bypass surgery at age 48, another round of procedures and stenting at age 58, regular conversations and lectures from Dr. Houlihan, leading up to my last appointment with him a couple of years ago where he looked me in the eyes and said,
Griffin, Your problem is half genetics and (half behavior). On the one hand, I could blame my heart troubles on my father and grandfathers who seem to have passed along their heart disease to me, but on the other hand I need to recognize that there’s a war going on in my heart and body with a desire on the one hand to be healthy and fit but a desire on the other hand to eat all kinds of bacon cheeseburgers covered with pepper jack, cheddar, and American cheese.
So also do we want to recognize this morning that your spiritual problems are part genetic and part behavior. On the one hand we have inherited all kinds of fleshly desires from our parents, and on the other hand, we have been successfully tempted over the years to develop all kinds of lousy habits that sabotage our genuine desire to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts / souls / strength.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our soul? Peter answers, Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
First lesson - Our souls are (at war), says Peter. Peter knew all about falling into temptation, and he knew all about Jesus Christ having mercy on his soul, he knew all about being given all kinds of second chances. In our reading for today, Peter wants us to know three truths. First, he wants us to know who we are, to never doubt that by the grace of God we have been chosen to be a royal, a holy, and a redeemed people. Secondly, he wants us to know our purpose, to never forget that we are to spend our lives proclaiming the excellencies of Christ who has called us out of darkness into a marvelous light. And third, he wants us to never take lightly the fact that there are dark and powerful forces at war against our soul, to never take lightly that the devil’s #1 desire is for our souls to be lost forever, to never take lightly the fact that every morning we will wake up with an inclination towards selfishness, stubbornness, and worse, to never take lightly the enemies of our faith that are all around us and yes, within us.
The kingdom of God is like a man who has been in and out of treatment for alcoholism multiple times, he has been in and out of favor with his own children because of his own bad behavior, the good that he wants to do he has a hard time doing, the bad that he wants to avoid he has a dickens of a time avoiding that which he wants to avoid. As life goes on he more and more appreciates the fact that even though he stands in a great victory won by His Savior at the cross and empty tomb, it will be a daily battle to fight against the passions that are warring against his soul
There is good news, there is bad news, and there is an assignment. The Good News is that a great victory is already ours by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The bad news is that there will be a war against our souls until the moment we breathe our last. Your first assignment this week is to spend some time thinking about and naming one or two of your sinful passions that are causing trouble in your life.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our souls? And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell….Fear not, therefore you are of more value than many sparrows.
Second lesson - Our souls are (of great value), says Jesus. The kingdom of God is like a woman who is not afraid to speak truth these days. She has arrived at a point in her spiritual journey where she is more concerned with her Savior’s reputation than her own. She knows without a doubt that the devil with the help of his minions can cause all kinds of trouble in her life, but Almighty God is in fact the keeper of her soul. In those days when she is tempted to stay quiet on the social issues of the day, she remembers that the very hairs of her head are numbered by her Father in heaven, she remembers that not a single silly sparrow falls to the ground unless God gives permission, she remembers that she is so much more valuable than many sparrows, her entire being body, soul, and spirit are in the hands of the one who lived the perfect life she could never begin to live, in the hands of the one who suffered all that he was appointed to suffer, in the hands of the one who was crucified until he was dead and buried for her, in the hands of the one who rose up on the third day for her, in the hands of the one who has commissioned her to confess Him by the way that she lives, by the way that she behaves, by the way she speaks.
The Good news is that our souls are of great value, the bad news is that we are easily tempted to be afraid of what other people might be thinking, and our assignment #2 this week is to spend some time thinking about and naming one or two of your fears which are keeping you from speaking in the daylight what Jesus taught his disciples in private, name one or two of your fears which are keeping you from proclaiming from the rooftops what you have been taught in your confirmation class and beyond.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all of our souls? Colossians 3: Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…
Third lesson - Our souls are in need (of clothing or virtues from on high), says Paul. Greek philosophers named the four cardinal virtues as temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. I Corinthians 13 suggests the three virtues of faith, hope, and love or charity. In Colossians 3, Paul names virtues as compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, he talks to us about forgiving as we have been forgiven and putting on love, which binds all these virtues together in perfect harmony. He talks to us this morning about letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts and he follows it up with an encouragement to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly.
In closing today, I invite you to think in practical terms – what does it mean to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly? How does one go about letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, or to use a more literal translation, letting the peace of Christ be the umpire in your life? How does one be clothed with virtues from on high in a daily sort of a way?
Permit me to use the metaphor of getting dressed in the morning as a way of thinking about whether the Word of God is dwelling in us richly or something less than that?
A man I know very well gets dressed in the morning in three minutes or less. He grabs a pair of socks and the first shirt that he sees, and he goes from there. Usually he will ask his bride if it matches, and often there is change in plans, but it doesn’t take long and he’s on his way. His wife on the other hand engages in a thoughtful and more than three minute process, and almost always she comes out looking, as my Aunt Linny would say, as pretty as a picture.
As there are at least two attitudes one can take towards getting dressed in the morning, so also are there at least two attitudes one can take towards the precious Word of God. Dear friends in Christ, in this place we believe that the Word of God is inerrant, it is inspired, and it is inspiring. In this place we believe that the Word of God is able to make us wise unto salvation and to train us in holy living. The preaching and the teaching and the reading and the listening to and the study of and the meditation on the Word of God is essential if we are to do what we say we want to do in our life together – to love the Lord our God with all of our souls, our nephesh.
The good news is that the Word of God incarnate is Jesus Christ and He loves us through all the chapters of life with a love we cannot receive but not begin to understand. The bad news is that in every one of our days we will be tempted to chase after other words, other voices, and other gods. Your assignment, should you be in the mood to accept it, is to examine your attitude towards the Word of Christ and to choose a statement that best describes that attitude.
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