Our summer theme, “ConnectAbility” – based on the Great Commandment, to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind” and to, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” – has had three major emphases…
- Connecting with God: emotionally, intellectually, and physically.
- Connecting with others: through friendship, acceptance, and courage.
- And, today, we begin the last emphasis: Connecting with ourselves. Or, in the words of the Great Commandment, “loving yourself.”
Admittedly, to “love yourself” may sound strange in a Christian context. It smacks of pop psychology, or “first world” entitlement. Magazine ads, or TV commercials, encouraging consumer self-indulgence comes to mind. “Reward yourself! You deserve it!”
- “Love yourself” with a luxury vacation to an exclusive resort.
- “Love yourself” with a pan of brownies and a gallon of your favorite ice cream.
- “Love yourself” with a fancy new watch or diamond earrings.
- “Love yourself” with that sports car you’ve been dreaming of.
Hopefully it’s obvious; that’s not the self-love Jesus talked about. Just in case you’re ever unsure, try imagining Jesus staying relaxing by the pool at a five-star resort, or indulging on treats, or wearing “bling,” or driving a Lamborghini. Hopefully it’s obvious; when Jesus commands us to love ourselves, he must mean something else.
The command to love ourselves is NOT self-centered, and it’s NOT narcissistic. The command to love ourselves is NOT self-idolatry, self-adoration, or pride. The command to love yourself is NOT egotistical, or self-aggrandizing. It isn’t putting yourself first, or on a pedestal of your own creation. It’s certainly NOT self-worship.
The command to love yourself is rooted in a simple theological concept: God made us, God loves us, God forgives us, and God has a special purpose for each of us. Biblical self-love is knowing – REALLY KNOWING – you’re loved unconditionally by the greatest love in the universe.
The difference between a self-love that’s self-centered, self-seeking, self-focused, and self-rewarding versus Jesus’ command to love ourselves, is humility. Now, humility is a tricky word. Some think humility means timidity, insecurity, or a lack of self-esteem. Some perceive humility as passivity or weakness; becoming doormats for others to stomp on. Old fashioned images of insecure wallflowers at the high school dance, or passive, scrawny weaklings bullied, with sand kicked in their faces at the beach, come to mind.
Let’s be clear: that’s not humility! That’s insecurity or weakness, and I see none of that in Jesus; the perfect model of humility. Jesus was never weak, insecure, or passive! Jesus knew who he was, whose he was, and what his purpose was. He was unwavering and unflinching in his commitment to his cause. And, he was certainly humble.
To understand humility as self-love, you must properly understand the word. The root of the word humble, or humility, is the same for the word “human,” which is similar to the word humus; another word for soil or dirt. Humble… human… humus. See the connection?
Genesis 2:7 says, “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
As God created the heavens and the earth, and all its inhabitants, God reached down into the dirt, forming the shape of a human; loving, creative hands, forming us with intent and purpose. I imagine something like a potter working with clay, or a child playing with playdough. I imagine God’s hands full of dirt, shaping and forming the first human, until it was just right.
By the way, whether or not we literally believe God formed the first human this way, the story is true on the deepest level – we really are dirt. We’re composed of the same basic elements as dirt – carbon, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, etc. When we die, if left to decompose naturally, we become dirt. All living things do.
But, the dirt we read about in Genesis was only in human shape. It wasn’t alive – not yet. It was just a human-shaped pile of dirt. Like artists make remarkable, detailed sand sculptures at the beach, sometimes in the shape of humans, the sculptures aren’t alive, no matter how life-like they appear. We became more than dirt only when God gave breath to the dirt. Only when filled with God’s breath did Adam – the first human – become alive.
Knowing this truth about ourselves is humility. I didn’t create myself. In fact, I didn’t even create the humble dirt from which I was formed. But, I AM made by a loving creator. I’m not the author of my life. God gets the credit for that. But my life does come from a holy source! Even my breath is not my own. But, it is the holy presence of God’s Spirit living inside of me. I’m dirt – nothing more and nothing less. But, I’m God’s dirt, formed and blessed with love and purpose, in God’s very own image.
And, by the way, I think dirt gets an unfair, bad rap. Dirt is, well, dirty. And, who wants to be dirty? We bathe, to wash the dirt off. We wash our dirty clothes. We wipe our shoes on the welcome mat. We sweep or vacuum the dirt off of the floors. We pave over dirt with streets, sidewalks, parking lots. Our houses have floors. We plant manicured lawns and flowerbeds to cover the dirt.
But, dirt has value. Dirt is a living thing; full of nutrients and micro-organisms, full of potential and possibility. Without healthy soil, we wouldn’t have the food we eat. Without soil, we wouldn’t have the minerals we depend on. Without the gifts of the soil, we wouldn’t be able to make so many of the things we use every day. We are, truly, children of dirt.
The command to love ourselves is rooted in this very simple understanding of humility – I am what I am because of God. I’m not God, no matter how much I try to be. But, I am made by God, and filled with God’s holy breath. I’m dirt – just dirt. But, I’m God’s dirt!
Let me say it again, the command to love yourself is rooted in a simple theological concept: God made us, God loves us, God forgives us, and God has a purpose for each of us. Biblical self-love is knowing – REALLY KNOWING – you’re loved unconditionally by the greatest love in the universe. The Jesus command to love ourselves is knowing who we are, because of God, and whose we are.
I like the image Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us.” Paul, of course, is referring to the creation story. Paul imagines each of us as earthen pottery, made by God, containing valuable treasure. What treasure? God. God’s Spirit living in us is the treasure in earthen vessels.
We are dirt. And, dirt is full of potential, especially when God takes hold of it. To say something or someone is humble does not mean they lack value. Just the opposite. To be truly humble is to know you have limitless worth because you’re made well, by the greatest artisan of all time, who created you with tremendous purpose and potential. To God be the credit and the glory!
As the Psalmist wrote so poetically, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-14)
The question is, what will we do with the dirt – the potential – God’s given us?
Sue Monk Kidd writes, “Over and over again God calls you and me to the gardening of our own divine depths… God calls us to tend what lies seeded in the soul… The soul is the holy soil in which the divine life of God is planted for us to cultivate and experience.”
Today is Communion Sunday, when we gather at the Lord’s Table for a sacred meal. We eat bread and drink wine, representing Jesus, who gave his life for us – holy food, for a holy purpose. Sacred bread and wine represent holy flesh and blood. This food isn’t like other food. It isn’t the bagel or juice you just had for breakfast. This is holy food, because of what it represents, and what it contains – a symbol and sign of Christ’s presence.
But, on the other hand, it is JUST food. It’s just bread and wine. It was possibly purchased at the same store you bought your breakfast foods. It was certainly grown from the same dirt from which all food is grown; and, the same dirt from which we were made.
If not for dirt, there’d be no wheat. And, just as God formed humble dirt into a human, wheat grown from the same ground is gathered, kernels are picked and crushed into flour, used to bake the communion bread, representing the Body of Jesus. Humble kernels of wheat – the body of Christ, given for us. Humble food, from a humble source, but made sacred on the Lord’s Table, for sacred purposes, making us the Lord’s sacred people.
And, if not for dirt, there wouldn’t be grapes for wine. From the ground grows a vineyard, producing fruit that’s gathered and crushed, and the liquid squeezed from the grapes becomes juice or wine, blessed to be, for us, the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Humble food, from a humble source, made sacred for God’s purpose.
And, that‘s who we are – you and me – humble, dirt. But, not just any dirt. We’re God’s dirt, lovingly shaped, and formed, and reformed throughout our lives, for a sacred purpose. We may not be much in the world’s eyes. Heck, we may not be much in our own eyes. But, we are jars of clay, made of dirt, made by a master artist, filled with an amazing treasure.
You are dirt. But, because you are God’s dirt, you are so much more.