“Heart and Soul and Might”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

October 4, 2015 – The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Celebrating 325 Years of Ministry 1690-2015 (and beyond!)

Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Revelation 21:1-6

 

As they journeyed through the wilderness, as they moved away from slavery in Egypt and toward freedom in the Promised Land, the Israelites needed some direction. They needed some help to understand what it meant to be God’s people. They needed some guidance as to what they were to do, how they were to live, as the people of God, God’s chosen collaborators in the transformation of the world. After all, it is not always an easy thing to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and it is often a very difficult thing to keep ourselves focused on needs beyond our own.

So Moses said to his people, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Remember this, he said, for this is the most important thing, the heart of the very heart of everything. Love God above all others—above other gods, above your own gain, above conventional wisdom, above social norms, above all the passing fancies and temptations that cross your path. Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.

Love God with all your heart. The heart, in the understanding of the time, referred to the center of one’s consciousness, the source not only of one’s emotions, but also of one’s thoughts, ideas, opinions, priorities, and perspective. Love God, said Moses, with your thinking, with your feeling, with your brainstorming, with your responding to one another and to the needs of the world. You have hearts, said Moses, and they are holy gifts of God—so use them for God’s purposes.

Love God with all your soul. The soul, in the understanding of the time, referred to the essence of one’s very self, the center of one’s identity, the divine spark of personhood within each person. Love God, said Moses, with the core of your being, with the truest truth you possess, with the deepest depths of who you are. You have souls, said Moses, and they are holy gifts of God—so use them for God’s purposes.

Love God with all your might. The might, in the understanding of the time, referred to the resources at one’s disposal—not only one’s physical strength, but also one’s possessions, one’s background, one’s social standing. Love God, said Moses, with all you’ve got, with your relationships and your material goods and your education and your money and your time and your skill. You have might, said Moses, and it is a holy gift of God—so use it for God’s purposes.

Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. This is the most important thing there is.

 

As they journeyed into the wilderness, as they moved away from their familiar homes in Roxbury and toward a new life in New Roxbury, now called Woodstock, the Thirteen Goers, the founders of our town, needed some direction. They needed some help to understand what it meant to be God’s people. They needed some guidance as to what they were to do, how they were to live, as the people of God, God’s chosen collaborators in the transformation of the world. After all, it is not always an easy thing to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and it is often a very difficult thing to keep ourselves focused on needs beyond our own.

So those early settlers banded together and formed the First Ecclesiastical Society, the First Congregational Church. For the first few years, before they had built their meetinghouse, they gathered right here at Pulpit Rock to hear the words of scripture, to pray, to sing hymns. You can be sure that at some point, they heard the words of Moses we heard today and were reminded of God’s call. They practiced loving God with all their hearts, all their souls, and all their might, and they did it by loving their neighbors as themselves. They helped build one another’s houses and barns. They took care of one another’s children. They shared their resources with one another. And ever since those earliest days, the members and friends of the Hill Church have been practicing this three-fold love of God, dedicating heart and soul and might to living out God’s call, to living into God’s kin-dom on earth.

Erecting the first meetinghouse (and the second, and the third). Founding Woodstock Academy for the education of the town’s young people. Caring for the families of soldiers who were off fighting in the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War, and every conflict since. Supporting the cause of the abolition of slavery. Creating opportunities for women to learn and lead and serve together, long before women’s suffrage. Supporting the children, youth, and families of the town as social pressures shifted and changed. Baptizing and marrying and burying, attending to the holy moments of transition that touch all of our lives.

In recent years, since the tercentenary celebrations at this site 25 years ago, this love of God has continued to take new forms. Welcoming and supporting refugee families from Bosnia. Declaring our identity as an Open and Affirming congregation for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Helping to rebuild after tornados struck in Brimfield and Monson. Installing solar panels on our roof to decrease our contributions to climate change. Becoming a host site for the Community Kitchen’s Monday meal. And so many other ministries that bring justice and compassion to our community and to our world.

 

Friends, you are a hearty, soulful, mighty people! You have so much to offer to this world—your ideas and your questions, your care and your actions, your voices and your votes, your time, talent, and treasure. And this world needs all the heart and soul and might you can share.

You and I both know that sometime we need some direction, some help, some guidance as to what we are to do, how we are to live, as the people of God, God’s chosen collaborators in the transformation of the world. After all, it is not always an easy thing to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and it is often a very difficult thing to keep ourselves focused on needs beyond our own.

You and I both know that the world does not yet resemble the New Jerusalem, the place where God’s presence is so palpable you can’t possibly miss it, the place where mourning and crying and pain and even death are no more, the place where all thirst is quenched by living, life-giving water, the place where God’s love is alpha and omega, beginning and end, all in all.

Make no mistake, God has good things in store for this world, and they will come to fruition in the fullness of time. God has good things in store for you, for us, for our church, for our community. And here is the miracle of faith: when we join ourselves to God’s purposes, when we dedicate our hearts and souls and might to the One from whom they came, when we claim our place as co-creators with God—it is then that we find our truest selves, our fullest lives, our greatest gifts. And in realizing them for ourselves, we realize them for the world, too. And together, with the help of God, this tough old world will be transformed into the beautiful, merciful, just and joyful communion God has in store for us all.

May it be so.

 


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