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God Machine or Freedom?

Proper 25 2014 

Matthew 22:34-46

Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. These are powerful words, a prescription of how to live faithfully. How do we love God? What does loving God above all else require of us? When and how do we love our neighbors as ourselves?

Evelyn Underhill wrote: “If we love God and give ourselves to God, we must give ourselves to the whole world. Otherwise we would divide off our personal experience of God from God’s Infinite Presence and turn what ought to be dedication into private enjoyment. One of the holy miracles of love is that once it is really started on its path, it cannot stop: it spreads and spreads in ever-widening circles till it embraces all. We begin by loving those nearest to us and then those who seem farther away. .  A mystic once said, ‘God cannot lodge in a narrow heart: our hearts are as great as our love.’ . . (An Anthology of the Love of God from the writings of Evelyn Underhill edited by the Right Rev. Lumsden Barkway, Morehouse, 1976).

God spoke through the prophets, through the laws given to Moses, through the life and witness and teachings of Jesus. Jesus does not cancel the command to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, nor does he reduce in anyway the command to love your neighbor as yourself. Too often we do not look closely enough at how related these two commands are. One who loves God completely, loves what and who God loves and it is not up to us to decide who God loves. According to Jesus, to orient one’s life toward God compels us to see and love others because they are no less the beloved than we are. Bishop Tutu once said that all any of us need to know is this: God loves you (full stop, period, exclamation point, no remainder, completely and totally as you are).

To love as God loves is to do so indiscriminately. It means to prioritize our interests and priorities as God directs. In the often cited passage in Matthew 25, Jesus teaches that what we do for the least we do for him.

To love God we must know God and that is a big task. How do you explain God to yourself or to another? What do we say of a being that is transcendent, a cloud of unknowing, being itself? The vast conceptual framework ascribed to God as transcendent reality, invisible, and yet as Christians we do claim to know him through the revelation of Jesus the Christ.

There is a thought experiment in the emerging literature on human enhancement about a God Machine. The great moral project involves a construction of a self-learning, self-developing bioquantum computer called the God Machine. This God Machine is to monitor the thoughts, beliefs, and intentions of every human being. It can modify our thoughts within nanoseconds, without the conscious recognition of any human being. The God Machine is to give humans complete freedom EXCEPT when they are about to do something harmful, unjust, or immoral. For example, a person is about to kill an innocent person: they cannot because the God Machine will change their mind. The God Machine would be calibrated so as not to interfere with trivial acts, like an insult to someone so it would allow a certain degree of freedom.

Of course the God Machine is a metaphor, a rhetorical device that seeks to persuade us about what is good and true and useful. The authors of this metaphor write that the machine is no different than the rule of law in the old days when people were not free to act immorally for fear of punishment. Since the God Machine will not allow anyone to do bad things, it is just the regulator of behavior….EXCEPT….one is not really free to decide. In my opinion the God machine is not attractive as a moral enhancer nor as God.

Freedom is an essential element of moral choice and precondition of love. Moral accountability is based on the recognition that persons are able and willing to make choices. Love exists only when expressed in Freedom.

So if you could program the God Machine what would you have it do? Would it persuade you to give at least 10% of all your income to the church? Would it clamp your teeth together before you could say something in anger or that would hurt the spirit of another? Would it drive you to stay within the speed limit, even when you are late for an important event? Would it cause you to read and pray more? Would it motivate you to serve in your community, to take on a ministry within the parish?

We don’t have a God Machine, but we do have God and God’s only Son who so loved us that he gave his life for us to draw us all within his saving embrace. Isn’t that a better motivator and guide to moral accountability, to know you are the beloved of God?

Most of the time we pray for things, we ask for favors, for the healing of sickness, for removal of harmful and painful memories, for liberation from oppression at work or home, for the liberation from our burdens and for the freedom to live fully. We ask for peace in our homes, in our work place, in our congregation, in our nation and in our world. We ask for wisdom to know what to do and what not to do. We ask because we know that with God all things are possible.

But do we listen? Are we willing to sit still, be quiet and silent and listen to God? What does God say in the stillness of the night, in the early morning hours when you are not quite fully awake? Do you hear the words of love poured out on you? Do you see yourself enfolded in the eternal and loving embrace of the God who is love?

God does not love conditionally, but completely. Look at the cross, the ultimate self -gift, the gift for you whose name is love. What is your response to the call to love God first and above all else and your neighbor as yourself? How is that response reflected in your willingness to sign your pledge card as a commitment of your time and talent to the ministries God calls forth from and in this parish?

What you put on that card is not a statement about what you like or don’t like about me, or the vestry, or the various ministries of this parish: it is about how deeply you love God and respond to God’s love of you. It is about commitment to God first and above all else for we love God because God first loved us. Infected with the abundant love of God we become little by little more loving of our neighbors.

I ask that you now take 2 minutes to listen to God and hear in your heart and spirit how much God loves you.



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