This is the text of my sermon at St Margaret of Antioch in Hinton Waldrist on Sunday 25th October 2020
Love the Lord your God with all of your being, and love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus’ summary of what it takes to live God’s way is deceptively simple.
And we’ve spent two millennia arguing about the first two parts of this triad, most of the time not even realising it IS a triad.
What’s the third bit, you may ask. After all, this very passage is framed as TWO commandments.
The third bit is about loving and respecting and valuing ourselves.
Why on earth does this matter in traditional Christian theology, you may ask. Well…
What’s your theology of Creation? No, this is not a tangent.
At the end of the 6th day, God looked at the world and saw that it was “very good”. That included humans and all the material physical world. God thinks it’s great!
And John’s gospel tells us that God so loved the world – all of it, from the beetles and bugs to the humans and back to the grass and everything in between – that he sent Jesus to show us how to live and really appreciate it all.
So God looked and saw it was very good – do we do that?
What do we really think of ourselves, others, and the world?
Why does this matter? Because simply put, if we don’t love and respect and appreciate ourselves, we’re not really all that likely to be able to extend those things to other people and creatures.
And despite what we may say, what do our ACTIONS say about what we REALLY think? After all, actions are louder than words!
What are the classic actions these days? What do we all complain of? Stress, overwork, tiredness, exhaustion, can’t sleep. Can’t eat, or overeating to help us cope. Not enough exercise. The list goes on. And I’m as guilty as the rest. That’s why I’m sharing this with you!
So what might loving ourselves look like?
What are the priorities in life? What are yours?
What’s our real feeling and attitude when the alarm goes off in the morning? Nowadays, I find myself genuinely able to be grateful for each new day. I am genuinely joyful inside. Still haven’t cracked the stress thing though – but I’ve identified my greatest stress point. I’ll share that later.
What do we begin by filling our time with?
In my sermon on Sunday, I took a large empty glass jar, to symbolise my time or energy. I’m sure many of you have seen this kind of thing before.
Next came several giant cooking apples. They were the BIG THINGS – what are those for you? What is essential?
Then came some carrots, stuffed down the sides between the apples, where there was space. They were the next on the list: the things that we want, which make life good. What are those for you?
Then the small things, that are always there, that have to be done. I had raided my fridge – they were the brussels sprouts (a much undervalued vegetable in my opinion!).
Then the things that are daily tasks, which are actually endless. That was about 2 kg of rice. As I poured it in, it filtered down and around the apples and carrots and sprouts…. And there was STILL room for more.
But if I had started filling the jar with the rice? There would have been no space for the apples, let alone everything else.
I love my job, I love being a vicar. It can be endlessly creative and joyful and fulfilling… But it can also be an unremitting grind with a totally never ending list of jobs and things to do that actually never ever have an end point where you can sit back and say, “there, job done!”
It all depends on what you start with.
My personal bugbear is email. It is a rabbit hole from hell. It begins, you fall into it, and you NEVER GET OUT!!!! It will eat your entire day if you let it. And all of those wonderful creative and joyful things like writing, and prayer, and schools work, and phoning people, and pastoral care – the things that bring me joy and make other people’s lives better – don’t get done. Or not until the end of the day when I’m running out of time and have almost no energy.
So from now on, my email is 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes before I pick up Miranda from nursery. Well, that’s the plan!
And then, I will fill my day with the big things, the creative and joyful parts of my job. And I am so very grateful I can do this, because I know that so very many people can’t, and they are just doing what they can, getting by, struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their families heads.
And so I’ll add one last thing – gratitude. Because for me that transforms every single day and every single action.
And so I come back to the Great Commandment that I began with.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.
If we begin by loving ourselves and realising how amazing we are, then we will feel huge gratitude to God for making us, and making this world, and keeping it all going. We will love and acknowledge Him with every fibre of our being. And when we realise how amazing we are – I am, You are – then we realise how amazing every single one of us is. And that – THAT – is what allows us to truly love our neighbours and seek the best for them, doing them no harm, and ideally doing a lot of good.
With peace and blessings,