Love your neighbor as yourself - October 29th, 2017, The Rev. Sarah Quinney
Recently a retired priest told me that he had me figured out, “All of my liturgies are like therapy sessions”. I’m not sure if this was meant as a compliment or critique. Nevertheless I have given it some thought.
I wondered why he thought this, what triggered this revelation he had about me and my sermons and liturgies.
I am a music therapist, as well as a priest. I have been trained in some approaches to cognitive and behavioral therapy.
I have a therapist myself who I see regularly and adore. One of the best decisions I ever made was to find a therapist, a safe person I can talk to and share anything with and not feel like I am burdening with my issues. Who in turn helps me continually find my center again with God at my core.
In fact, the biblical Greek root of psychotherapy is soul healer. The Greek word for psyche is ψυχή –meaning soul, life, or heart and the Greek for therapy is θεραπεία – meaning healing
So, psychotherapy is the healing of the soul.
So, yes, perhaps all of my liturgies and sermons are like therapy.
Isn’t Jesus the ultimate soul healer?
And he shows us the way to heal our souls.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.
Let’s really think about this and what this really means.
How do we love the Lord our God with all our heart? It is hard or perhaps impossible to love someone without knowing them. So how do we come to know God and love God?
Genesis says that God created male and female in God’s own image. In the likeness and fullness of God. Therefore, we are made out of God, from God’ own substance, God’s own being. God dwells in us, in our spirit, in our soul. God is the very essence of us.
When Jesus says, Love the lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as you love yourself he is quoting Leviticus 19 which begins saying: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Again, God is comparing us to Godself. I made you out of me, and I am holy therefore you must also be holy.
We are God’s dwelling place, God’s holy temple and if God is dwelling in us then we are also holy as God is holy.
We come closer to God the closer we come to our own souls and to the souls of our sisters and brothers who are also made out of God’s likeness.
How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t truly love ourselves and how then do we come to love ourselves?
We grow to love ourselves as we grow to love God, because if we love God then we will love and cherish what God has created including our own self, our body, mind and soul. Flaws and all.
When we can finally recognize God in ourselves and love ourselves as God made us, we can love our neighbor.
When we work alongside our ultimate psychotherapist, Jesus, and begin to heal our own soul we can love the souls of our neighbors, our sisters and brothers.
Now, Leviticus is known for having some passages which call many things abominations. from cutting your hair, eating shell fish, selling children into prostitution, laying with animals and laying with the same sex. Now many of these are taken out of context and used daily to offend, insult, injure and attack members of our human family especially that last one I mentioned. They are all meant to protect this new nation of Israel as they settle in a new territory. It was to keep them alive and to keep them growing and procreating. I am happy to go into more detail about Leviticus at another time and even hold a Bible Study on it if you any of you want. But for now, I am assuming you want us out of here by noon.
The bottom line is Jesus says, the greatest commandment is to Love God and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, we can judge all of these other laws against those. If the attacks some Christians make against our brothers and sisters because they are attempting to uphold these laws, inflict harm on their souls and wellbeing and are not seeing them through the loving eyes of God then we are not following the way of Jesus.
Leviticus also has some strikingly beautiful laws such as,
"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God."
"You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord."
"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
So, what does it really mean to love our neighbor as ourselves.
If we are to see our neighbors, aliens or immigrants (which is what that means) as God sees and love them, what would that mean in our life. Would we act differently?
Who is our neighbor and who do I need to learn how to love more?
This congregation does so many things for our neighbors. We had an amazing Trunk or Treat last night for families, especially those with children with special needs. It was so meaningful and love was everywhere. I had one family come and thank us because their daughter is grown with autism and still loves to trick or treat but is often ridiculed when going house to house on Halloween and this was a safe space where she could be herself and have fun!
This Thanksgiving we are giving up to 60 turkey dinners to families in our neighborhood in need. Many if not most of whom are immigrants and we will do the same at Christmas with Pork Roasts.
We have opportunities to expand the love we have for our neighbors. Those near and far off and I encourage us all to pray and ask God to help us recognize who we struggle to love. And help us to cultivate that love and hospitality for those people in our world.
It starts with us and our own heart. It starts by growing and learning how to love ourselves. Flaws and all.
There is a Japanese practice of repairing pottery called kintsugi which repairs broken pottery with gold recognizing that the flaws, history and brokenness make the pottery more beautiful because of its imperfections.
Love yourself like that. Accept that God looks on you in this way and loves you always and to end. And love your neighbor in this way, love those different, love the stranger, love the democrat, love the republican, love the immigrant, love your neighbor as yourself.