Pentecost 24A
Matthew 22: 34-40

A Liturgy is also available


It matters if someone loves us.
It matters that we love ourselves.

No human experience is more fundamental
than the transforming ‘event of grace’ of being loved.
Indeed, there is a considerable body of theological opinion which claims
the very heart of the Christian message is that
Jesus of Nazareth shows the unconditional and gracious love of God.


When searching through some of my old files I found a printed copy
of a sermon I preached nearly 25 years ago.
        Which in itself is a little unusual as I don’t keep many ‘old’ sermons.
        They are usually too embarrassing to keep!

Anyway, this sermon, influenced greatly by Eric Fromm (Fromm 1957),
centred on the theme of love, especially the value of self love and self acceptance
as part of the traditional bit expressed in the biblical:
                        ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’.

Now my memory of that sermon is, it had some 'fur' around the edges
for some of the folk back then in Colac.
        So let me now be brave and share with you
        some of the things I said way back then.

Because this theme is one stream in today’s story by Matthew.

Firstly, I said it is OK to love others
“as well as OK, and not a problem or ‘sin’, to love yourself”.

Second, I said:
“love of others and self love are not mutually exclusive of each other.  If it is a virtue to love my neighbour as a human being of worth, then it must be a virtue, and not a vice, to love myself, since I too am a human being of worth”.

I then went on to suggest that a clue to understanding what love is,
is expressed in the saying of Matthew’s Jesus: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.
       Or in what I now reckon is a better translation:
       ‘love your neighbour, just as you are to love yourself’.

And that:
“respect and acceptance of our own integrity and uniqueness, love for and understanding of our own self first, can not be separated from  respect and love and understanding for another person”.

Despite people like John Calvin and his fundamentalist followers today
who claim that self love is selfish love,
the radicalness of Jesus’ statement is that
self love is not the same as selfishness.

A selfish person is interested only in himself
wants everything for herself;
can see nothing but her or himself.

A selfish person does not love herself too much, but too little.
For selfish persons are incapable of loving others
as well as incapable of loving themselves.

One thing we do know: no human alone can create community.
“Interactions among humans and between humans and the natural world creates communities.”
(Peters 2002:36)

Twenty-five years ago I concluded my sermon with these words:
“Self love, the love referred to by Jesus when he said ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ - requires the affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth and freedom, because all are rooted in our capacity to love.  Then, and only then, can we go on to love our neighbour”.


So much for the first stream in this gospel story.  Now… a question.
What is your image of the god G-o-d?  What is ‘G-o-d’ like for you?
What picture, if any, do you have when you hear
“one of the most complex and difficult [words] in the English language, a word rich with many layers and dimensions of meaning”
(Kaufman 2004:1) the word ‘G-o-d’?

Why?  Because this is another stream in today’s story by Matthew.

Generally speaking, there are at least three different strands
to the way the word G-o-d has been used in English-speaking societies:
(i) the biblical strand
(ii) the philosophical strand
(iii) the popular strand.

So how do we speak about the god G-o-d in a way that communicates in our culture?

For me, certainly over the past five to 10 years or so,
I have noticed my G-o-d-thinking and G-o-d-language has been changing
        as my experiences have changed.

Going back more years than 10, I probably tended to think of the god G-o-d
as ‘anam cara’ or soul friend as modern Celtic spirituality says.  
(O’Donohue 1997)
        Indeed, as ‘Caring Friend’, as some Process theologians suggest,
        who nudges, calls, lures, pokes us onward.

The traditional church or biblical language for ‘anam cara’ is the word ‘love’.

In more recent years, I have intentionally added to my thinking.
Away from using human-like metaphors in addressing G-o-d, to using
more neutral language, such as ‘creativity’.
        Creativity in cosmic evolution.
        Creativity in biological evolution.
        Creativity in cultural/symbolic evolution.

An understanding and language which can enable us to explore
what it means to be religious using insights from Darwinian thought.
        As well as being more appropriate to our newer worldviews and ecological thinking.

Thus I tend to agree with former theologian Gordon Kaufman when he suggested
that our G-o-d language and G-o-d thinking, our ‘theo-ology’
“must take into account what we have learned about the evolutionary character of our world and ourselves…”. 
(Kaufman 2004:123)

So now, both ‘process’ and ‘creativity’ are the metaphors I often use
when I want to speak about or address, G-o-d.
And with that change in language has come a host of other changes,
all away from the traditional G-o-d language
of both my, and most probably, your, upbringing.

But both life and religious issues are not only answered intellectually.
They are also answered
“with our whole being, with the way we live our lives”.  
(Peters 2002:92)

So I also find myself agreeing with another when he says
many people today are asking: What kind of person do I want to be?
“Reflecting on this question, I find I want to be friendly, loving, caring, compassionate, curious, open to new possibilities, intelligent, and, in so far as is possible, wise.  What has [now] become good for me is not so much what I can acquire.  It has become what I can be”.  
(Peters 2002:92)

What I reckon Karl Peters is suggesting is, we can become
‘events of grace’ when things come together in unexpected ways
“and give rise to new relations of mutual support.” (Peters 2007. Unitarian Society of Hartford web site)

And that, I reckon, is pretty close to the self-love
and love of others – those ‘events of grace’ - expressed in the saying:
‘love your neighbour, just as you are to love yourself’.

Because it matters if someone loves us.
        It matters that we love ourselves.
        It matters that we live in a web of relationships with others and with nature.

Fromm, E. The Art of Loving. London. George Allen & Unwin, 1957.
Kaufman, G. In The Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2004.
O’Donohue, J. Anam Cara. London. Bantam Books, 1997.
Peters, K. E. Dancing With The Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity Press, 2005.