A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 22:34-40
Last week, when we talked about loving God with ALL of our heart, we said we weren’t really talking about that organ inside our chest that pumps blood though our body. Instead, we were talking about We’re talking about the part of us that desires, and chooses, and pursues. So to love God- or anybody else- with our heart means, “that’s who we really want to be with.”
But this week we are talking about loving God with all of our Soul, and I have to admit, I knew from the beginning that I had my work cut out for me because, well, what exactly IS a soul?
You see, as near as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t offer a definition. Souls are a given- like base paths in a ballgame, or a 36 degree angle in a geometry problem.
Often times, in the Old Testament, heart and soul are yoked words.
Sometimes they are interchangeable words and concepts.
But almost every time, the word that we translate SOUL is Neh-phesh, a noun that is based on the verb that mean’s “catch your breath.”
And in the New Testament, SOUL is our English translation of the Greek word psyche.
The philosophers of ancient and medieval times said that a person’s soul was their essence. It’s what makes a person THAT person.
So when we look into a casket, we can see that the soul is gone. We recognize the body, but it’s not THE person we knew, because their essence is missing.
So the question is, how do we love God with all of our soul?
To begin with, we are talking heart AND soul here, so we are also talking body AND spirit. We’re talking about loving God with everything we have. But there’s more.
That first breath that humanity took, in Genesis- it came from God. Our Soul, our essence, is a gift from God, in God’s image. But so much inside of us and so much around us in the world scars that image and distorts that image and muddies that image so that there is hardly any resemblance left of God.
It’s no longer the real thing. It’s a lie.
But listen- there is something left, something that often can’t remember what it was SUPPOSED to look like, but it can still remember that there’s something it’s supposed to be and do.
To that something- let’s call it instinct- we human beings respond in a vast number of ways, and not all of them are healthy. In fact, an awfully lot of them are destructive, either of ourselves or to the people around us.
So let me tell you a story. It’s not a story about our soul, but it’s just a simple love story, about a boy I’ll call Jeff.
Some people, from the age of puberty, are looking for love from the very beginning. But not everybody, and not Jeff.
Not that Jeff had something AGAINST love, it just wasn’t in his nature to seek it out.
Jeff had plenty of goals, and they were worthy goals. He wanted a college degree, and he wanted a job as a geologist, and he wanted adventure and he wanted good friends. After that, he was open for anything else that came along.
Well Jeff was likeable and Jeff was thoughtful and Jeff was funny and Jeff had lots of friends, and lots of them were girls.
Jeff studied with some of the girls, and Jeff partied with some of the girls, and Jeff dated some of the girls, and Jeff even dated some of them for several months. But Jeff never fell in love with any of them- not that he was looking.
Jeff was just being who Jeff was.
But then Jeff met Sylvia, and, well, Jeff didn’t know what to think of Sylvia.
It was NOT love at first sight. Sylvia was different.
Sylvia didn’t CHASE Jeff, but she was different enough that Jeff couldn’t shake her from his mind. So he asked her out, and he felt different when he asked.
He felt nervous.
Their relationship was off again and on again, but about the third time it was off Jeff realized, this was something he wanted. His heart was in the game.
The thing was, Jeff had to work at this one. It wasn’t like anything he’d known before.
Jeff had to look deep inside and think about what he really wanted, and what he could really offer, and what he would have to leave behind. And even when they finally got married, Jeff had to keep working at it- and so did Sylvia.
Sometimes they thought love was more like scrubbing potatoes, or peeling onions, or cleaning a fish, than it was like anything that happens in the movies. But in truth, it was more like restoring an old house or refinishing some old furniture that had 20 coats of paint on it.
Every act of love was in part a search for their own essence, and in part a search for their beloved’s essence. And every act of love required a willingness to be vulnerable, a willingness to leave something behind, and courage to face whatever came next.
But they worked at it and they played at it and they prayed at it, and their souls prospered. Because you see, when something really touches your soul and nurtures it, the body is blessed.
So on their fifth anniversary, Jeff wrote Sylvia a special note, and the last line was “I love you with all of my soul.”
Our soul- our essence- is the part of us that knows we need God.
We may not know it, but out soul knows it.
We may not CALL it God, but we need what God offers,
Which is restoration. Renewal. Redemption. Resurrection.
So loving God with all of our Soul- that’s engaging our very essence, without reservation, in what God is doing.
That’s what the Thessalonians did. They accepted the Gospel, and joined in God’s work. Not just intellectually, but with courage and perseverance.
They worked at it, and played at it, and prayed at it and sometimes they took a deep breath and waited for a shoe to drop, and sometimes they closed their eyes and held on tight and shouted WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
And sometimes they cried.
And sometimes they shouted.
And sometimes they didn’t know what to do,
So they just waited.
But they loved God with all their soul- nothing held back,
Because God was at work in them
And just every so often, they could see- they could really see- what God was up to-
And it was beautiful, it took their breath away
And gave it back to them,
Like Oxygen to the sick.
Like life to the dead and dying.
Like love, to someone who had no idea what love was.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.