Bible Readings: Psalm 119:113-120 & Mark 12:28-34

Mind

Who can tell me what Gillette’s strapline is? “The best a man can get”. Traditionally this has led to TV adverts with male sports stars, shaving with the latest incarnation of Gillette’s products, implying that this is what it means to be the best – handsome, popular, good at sports, driving off in a nice car with a beautiful woman – this is the best a man can get and you’re more likely to get it if you shave with a Gillette razor.

Until this week.

This week Gillette published a short film on Youtube, which questioned its own heritage. Is this really the best a man can get? It goes on to show men calling out their friends when they are casually sexist, encouraging their daughters, intervening in situations where a youngster is being bullied. It argues that there has been a toxicity about some expressions of masculinity in our culture, which its own marketing has contributed to, and suggests that there might be a better way for men to be men, to really be the best a man can get.

Now lets put aside any cynicism about a multinational corporate marketing department jumping on the #metoo band wagon, and lets make a generous assumption and take them at their word, that they really mean this.

I wonder what word you might use to describe somebody who shows these characteristics – someone who sees what’s really going on, who takes the time to understand, who has the wisdom and courage to intervene when it’s needed. We might use words like “thoughtful” or “considerate”. Both have that double meaning of someone who thinks things through and thinks about people, who considers the situation and the feelings of the people involved in it.

With that in mind, let’s look at what Jesus says to us in Mark’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life. When we join the conversation, Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem debating with the religious leaders. They’ve tried two difficult questions, and he’s answered them both in a way which has put them back in their boxes. Another teacher, drawn to the debate is listening in and is impressed with Jesus’ answers, so he joins in. “Which is the most important commandment”?

Jesus answers him, “Love God and love your neighbour”

Where did Jesus get this answer from? Did he make it up on the spot? Was it just what seemed like the best thing to him?

No, it was rooted in the Scripture. He brings together two different bits of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18

It is from Jesus’ answers to this question that we have drawn two of the key values that underpin how we are as a church. We seek to be obedient to these commands, to love God and to love our neighbours. Over these first months of the year we are exploring all of these values more deeply, and thinking about how we can really embed them in our life together. If you haven’t picked up a copy, then please take one at the end of the service.

Today we’re thinking particularly about loving God with all our mind.

This might be slightly alien concept for us. We usually talk about loving someone with our hearts. It seems to me that before we can work out what it means to love God with all our mind, then we have to understand what it means to love anybody with our mind.

I wonder if you noticed that when the teacher of the law repeated Jesus’ answer to him, he didn’t use the word, “mind”. He said “with all your understanding”.

It seems to me that one of the deepest needs we have is to feel like some one gets us, that we are understood. When we feel like no-one understands us, how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, why we do what we do, then we feel lonely and unloved. When we feel like somebody does understand us, our feelings, our thoughts, our actions, then we know ourselves to be loved, to be in relationship.

So, this is one way we use our minds to show that we love someone. We take the time to understand them. We spend time with them, we listen to them, we study them. We then use what we’ve learnt to express our love for that person. Over the years I’ve learnt many things about Liz, about what she likes and doesn’t like, what she finds difficult and what encourages her. I have the head knowledge about Liz. I then have a choice. How am I going to use that head knowledge? To build up or to tear down, to encourage or to discourage, to love or to hate?

In human relationships, loving with our minds is about studying the person, understanding them, and then using that head knowledge in a thoughtful and considerate way that expresses love.

So, how does this map over to loving God with all our minds?

It seems to me that it begins with doing all that we can to understand God. There is a sense in which this is an impossible task. God, by definition, is beyond our understanding – it is not possible to fully comprehend everything that there is to know about God. But, I’m not sure that is much different to other people. We never know everything about someone else, and they usually retain the capacity to surprise us. So, this shouldn’t put us off doing all we can to understand all that we can about God.

The good news is that God is on our side in this. God reveals himself to us. From the very first, God has spoken to people, shown us God’s character, been part of human history – even become human. As Jesus said, “those who have seen me have seen the Father.” All of this is recorded for us in the Bible. That is why we value being rooted in the Bible. Being rooted in the Bible helps us to understand who God is, and so enables us to love God with all of our minds.

Not only does God speak to us through the Bible, but God continues to speak to us now, through that guidance of the Holy Spirit. God continues to reveal himself to us, as we spend time with God, listening to God. There’s quite a thing about mindfulness at the moment – lots of books and blogs about taking time to be deliberately aware of who we are, what our minds are doing and what’s going on around us. I’d like to suggest that most important thing that we can be mindful of is God’s presence, activity, and instructions to us. Self-awareness is important, but it is meaningless with God awareness, largely because without listening to God, we cannot know ourselves as we were created to be. This is why we value prayerfulness. Listening to God, speaking with God, spending time with God, deepens our understanding of who God is, and so enables us to love God with all of our minds.

These are some of the ways that we get to understand God, to know who God is, to get the knowledge. But how do we use that knowledge? This is where it is a bit different to our relationships with human beings, because it’s not as if God needs encouraging or building up. What does it mean to be thoughtful towards God?

One of the astonishing things about God is that God created human beings with the capacity to bring God pleasure and the capacity to cause God pain.

I believe that we see this all the way through the Bible, in the accounts of God’s relationship with God’s people, but perhaps we see it most clearly in Jesus. We see him enjoying his friendship with his disciples, and we see him on the cross, subject to the deepest physical, spiritual, and psychological pain.

As we read the Bible, as we spend time with God, so we discover more and more what pleases God and what causes God pain. We gain this knowledge. That knowledge puts us in the position to make a choice, what are we going to do? How are we going to use this knowledge – to bring God pleasure, or to cause God pain? Are we going to love God with all mind – with our choices as well as our knowledge?

In the last verse that we read in Mark we heard this, “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God.’” Here is someone that Jesus is commending, someone who knows the Scripture, who is rooted in the Bible, someone who has the insight to see how these commandments relate to the worshipping life of the community, to the sacrifices and all of the temple services. But that is not enough. He is close to the Kingdom of God, but he is not in it. What is missing? We don’t know for certain, we’re not told, but we can, perhaps make an educated guess. Perhaps his head knowledge about what God desires was not being consistently reflected in the choices he was making.

Loving God with all our minds means getting to know God and making choices that please God. This is a life long pursuit – we will never know God fully until we see God face to face in glory, but we can be intentional about investing in getting to know God as well as we can know, by being rooted in the word and by listening to God. We are human, and fail, we don’t always make the right choices, but God forgives us when we don’t, and with the help of the Holy Spirit we are able to make the choices that express our love for God.

So, let’s love God with all our minds, all our understanding, all our wisdom, and let’s show God how much we love by choosing to do the things that please him.

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