I don't have $30 to shell out for "Holy Women, Holy Men" so I will continue to celebrate whatever feast day the Lectionary Page tells me to celebrate.
The Great Summary of the Law is given to us in Luke's Gospel not by Jesus, but by a lawyer who was trying to test Jesus. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus smells the trap and gives him a simple instruction, “do this and you will live.”
No problem, right? Love God? I can do that. Love God with all my heart? Hmmm. With all my soul... how? With all my strength... what does that even look like? With all my mind... maybe. Love my neighbor as myself? DANG!
If we are really honest with ourselves, the Great Commandment is really hard to live up to all the time, and in all phases of our lives. Still, the commandment remains, and so I am thankful for examples in the life of the Church who have excelled at one or more of the avenues of love of God: heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Today the Church remembers Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, who died in 1752 and was once called “the greatest of all the thinkers of the English Church.” He grew up a Presbyterian, but in his early twenties joined the Church of England and was ordained in 1718. Butler served during a particularly high time for British philosophy. It was a time when the greatness of humanity knew no limits, the push towards enlightenment was moving steadily forward and the sciences, natural and social, would soon explain everything. Of particular obsession in England was human nature; especially as it pertained to that great unknown, the mind. Folks like John Locke were running around saying that the mind was an empty vessel that could take a man only as far as the physical body can take it. Butler, himself a brilliant thinker, loved God with all his mind and set out to create rational arguments for the Christian faith especially as it spoke to ethics and life beyond the self. His book “The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature” was published in 1736 and offered a careful, rational argument for the reasonable probability of Christianity. Butler called for action upon that probability as the basis for faith. If it makes rational sense then believe it.
As I look back on Butler today, I can't help but think he went about it backwards. His was an understanding faith, while mine is a faith seeking understanding. Belief to me is not about rational arguments but about trust, but in his context his work was vitally important. Rationalism reigned supreme and Butler took it and made it a tool for evangelism, and today we thank God for that.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” As one who tends toward the analytical I'm grateful that the mind got at least a nod in the Great Commandment, and strive to work harder to grow in heart, soul, and strength. I'm certain that each of us tends to be stronger in one of the phases of love. Where are you gifted? Do you find it easiest to love God with your strength through service to others or through working around the grounds? Are you one who loves God with all your heart and can offers God's compassion to those who suffer and grieve? Maybe you are best at loving God with all your soul; a pray-er extraordinaire who can spend hours in silence just basking in the overwhelming presence of God while offering praise and thanksgiving and intercession. All of you, I'm certain, are good at loving your neighbor – I've seen it – and I pray that you are able to love yourself as well.
Today, as we remember Joseph Butler and his great mind, I hope that you will take some time to look at yourself and take honest stock of how you are living into the Great Commandment. Jesus told the lawyer, "do this and you will live" and that statement is as true today as it was when Jesus said it. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Do this and live. Amen.