This sermon was shared on June 30, 2013 at Christ United Methodist Church in Lafayette, IN.
The next two weeks, our sermons series will be “Keep Calm and Matthew 22:34-40”. Now, I’m urging us to “keep calm” because the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40 are difficult and following his commands can be overwhelming. Let me be honest for a second…I am going to beat us up a bit this morning.
So, if you came to church seeking that warm fuzzy feeling, you’re probably going to be
disappointed. Therefore, I urge you to “keep calm” because everything’s going to be alright.
Before we read this passage of Scripture, let me give a quick summary of what has been happening up to this point. Jesus was fully into his ministry. He had been teaching the crowds through parables/stories and had entered into a series of conversations with some of the religious leaders of his day. First, the Pharisees came and asked Jesus a question about taxes. Then, the Sadducees arrived and asked Jesus a question about the resurrection. The point of the questioning was to trap Jesus, to trip him up so they could find an offense to charge him with. So, that’s where we pick up the story.
Read Matthew 22:34-40
The question posed to Jesus is about the law. Now, the rabbis had counted 613 commands that God-fearing Jews were called to follow. We’re not just talking about the 10 commandments here. Most rabbis held the view that all the commandments were equal. So, the legal expert comes to Jesus and asks which commandment is greatest. Jesus boils the law…those 613 laws…down to 2. Love God and neighbor. Jesus essentially says that loving God and loving our neighbor will sum up all the Law and Prophets. All 613 commands will be followed if we just get these two right. Two things…that’s what were called to do…to love God and love our neighbor.
This morning, we’re going to focus in on that first command of Jesus – to love God.
Now, many of us would proclaim this day that we love God. We say we love God, but, let’s be honest for a second, do our lives really reflect that? Do our lives say that we love God? Can a person tell by the way we eat, drink, walk, talk, work, play, and live out our lives that we are people who love God?
I’ll just be honest…loving God is hard. I fail to love God all the time…everyday. Jesus tried to make it simple…he takes over 600 laws, narrows them down to 2…and I can’t even get the first one right! We Christians love to point out how BAD other people are…and we’re no better…2 things. And, I get tripped up at number 1.
Loving God is hard! Why? Because loving God is more than just believing in God. It’s not just what’s in my head and my heart that matters. We talk about transforming our church, community, and world. Well, if we want to transform the world, we have to do more than believe. Our mission as United Methodist’s is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We won’t make disciples and we won’t transform the world if all we do is believe.
So, in our efforts to love God, we have to find balance between orthodoxy and orthopraxy (thanks to author and professor Charles Gutenson for inspiring this thought). Orthodoxy is right belief and orthopraxy is right practice. Many of us believe the right things…but we don’t practice them well. Others practice faith well, but have some questionable beliefs. The key will be finding that balance…where we are doing the right things for the right reasons.
Now, I’m not one for legalism, saying that you have to do a, b, c, in order to be a true Christian.
However, I will say that a little discipline goes a long way. There are some things that I believe will help us grow and stay in love with God. Prayer, studying the Bible, worship, giving, serving, sharing our faith with others are all things that will help us grow in our love of God. We have to be somewhat proactive in our journey of faith.
James 4:8 reminds us that when we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. Does God seem far off and distant in your life? Well, maybe we need to put in a bit more effort. Are we taking steps toward God in our daily lives? Are we making prayer, study, worship, giving, serving, and sharing a priority in our lives or are we making excuses?
We’re busy, I know it! And, it’s not just young people who are busy. I know people who are empty nesters and retired and they are busier today than they were when the kids were home and they were working full-time. We’re busy…and often we’re busy doing “good” things. But at what expense?
Here’s the rub. I think we’re all sick. Our American culture is sick because we celebrate our busyness. We find our importance in our busyness. The busier our kids are, the more things they are involved in, the better parents we must be and the better our children will be. We are convinced that the busier we are, the more important we must be! And, if we believe that…we’ve bought into one of the great lies of this world.
In the midst of our busy, hectic lives, God invites us to “be still & know”…(Psalm 46:10)
When was the last time you were still?
How many of us have said, “Man, I wish I had more time to pray” or “I really want to read the Bible more” or “I wish I had time to help with ______”. Now, how many of us would be honest enough to say that when we say those things it’s just lip service because we really haven’t taken any steps to block out time to pray, to read, to help??? And, we really don’t intend to either…
Now, this isn’t about making us feel guilty…well, maybe just a little…but, I’m going to be honest with you…If we truly love God, we will desire to draw near to God. If you have that desire…take steps to fulfill that desire. You see, if we truly love God, we will do whatever it takes to find the time to do the things that will help us love God. John Wesley would encourage us to sleep as little as humanly possible so we can maximize our time with God!
Do you have to pray, go to church, read the Bible, give your time/talents/treasures, and share your faith to love God? Nope. You really don’t have to do these things. Will these things help us love God? Absolutely! We get what we give…we reap what we sow…
Countless times throughout my ministry, I’ve been asked the question, “Why does God seem so
distant?” I generally answer that question with a smart-alec response of “That’s funny. I’m pretty sure God’s asking why you seem so distant.”
These things, prayer, worship, reading, giving, serving, sharing, it’s not about legalism, but relationship. We all know that relationships take effort. Think about marriages and friendship…they take effort and hard work. If we are going to be in a loving relationship with God…we need to make an effort. We can’t just say, “I believe in you” and then expect to have a perfect life because we sporadically come to church, pray, give, etc…Even if we do these things, we won’t have a perfect life. But, we will have a fuller life!
I guess the question is, do we love God or do we just kinda/sorta like God? Do we follow God on Twitter and like Jesus’ facebook page or do we really love God?
We say we love God, but do our lives reflect that? I’ve been thinking about this question all week during VBS. We had a fantastic week. An incredible number of children, parents, grandparents, and other volunteers were here…learning about God’s great love for us and the importance of prayer, study,worship, giving, serving, and sharing. Look at the food they brought in and the money they raised…they were learning and putting it into practice. But, VBS is over…now what happens? Are we reinforcing these lessons through our daily lives or are we teaching our kids that kind of commitment is reserved for one week out of the year?
If we love God the way Jesus calls us to love God, God will be our top priority…our first and greatest love…all the time!
Here are some ways to gauge if God is number one in our lives?
Is God number one on our calendar – or does something else win out? Do we spend as much time with God as we do at the gym, at the pool, at the ball diamond, at our favorite coffeeshop/bar/restaurant?
Is God number one on our bank statement – now, let me say this, I know people get irritated that we talk about money in church…it’s a touchy subject, I know. But, Jesus talked about money more than he did about heaven or hell…indicating our use and abuse of money says a lot about our relationship with god. So, is God number one on our bank statement or do we find ourselves giving more to our car payments, starbucks, barberry, apple store, Verizon, or whatever. Maybe it’s not the amount that indicates whether or not God is number one…after all, God only asks us to give 10%. But, is it first or does our giving to God come out of what’s leftover? Obviously, your rent or mortgage payment will probably be larger than your tithe. But, do you give to God first or is it an afterthought? I will say this, if our wireless plans and cable bills are larger than our giving – it might indicate a problem with our priorities. Okay…I’m just jealous because I’m still using a flip phone.
But, that leads us to our stuff. Is God number one with our stuff? How do we view our possessions. Are the blessings from God, meant to be used as a blessing to others? Or are they simply ours? (Stories about a family welcoming us to use their “stuff” – aka pool – whenever. Offer to help someone use their Harley).
Is God number one in all areas of our lives? All of this leads us to this question…How do we grow in our love for God?
1. Pray- set aside time each day to pray…get up early, stay up late, block out time at lunch
2. Study- set aside time each day to read the Bible (or blogs/websites/books)
3. Worship- make church attendance a priority. Worship on your own (sing, listen, etc)
4. Give- Your time/talents/treasures. If you tithe, step beyond a tithe. If you don’t tithe, step
towards tithing. No matter how large or small, make regular giving a priority.
5. Serve- We’ll talk about this more next week…but find ways to use your time/talents/treasures to bless others…
6. Share- Your faith…invite someone to church. Do your co-workers, neighbors, family members know you go to church? Do they know where you go to church? Have you invited them to church? Well, what are you waiting for?
Let’s be honest…The 4th of July is Thursday. How many of us are more excited about maybe taking the day off, firing up the grill, lighting our citronella candles, and blowing stuff up than we are about these 6 things? I love fireworks too! But, am I as excited about God as I am about blowing stuff up on Thursday?
If we don’t get serious about these 6 things, we have no shot at transforming the world for the glory of God. We might as well not even talk about buildings and fruitful congregations if we aren’t ready to get serious about prayer, study, worship, giving, serving, and sharing.
Listen, I know we’re all busy and it’s not that we don’t want to do these things…we just struggle to figure out how to fit it into our already busy lives.Here’s a simple way to stay in love and grow in love with God- challenge150.com. We’ve set up a website that you can visit every day, starting tomorrow morning, where we will take a 150 day journey through the psalms. The site will guide you through a time of prayer, reading a Psalm, and provide some reflection questions. You will be invited to comment, creating an online dialogue. Now, some of you may not be web surfers. So, start tomorrow by reading Psalm 1…and continuing reading a psalm a day until
you’re done with the book of Psalms. It’s easy…it’s right there for you…you can do it anytime…late at night, early in the morning, on your lunch break, at the ball diamond (if you have one of those fancy, non-flip phones) There should be a bookmark in every worship guide- that is so you have one to remind you to join us on the journey…and on your way out, grab a second so you have a tool to invite a friend to join us on this journey!
As we grow in our love for God through prayer, study, worship, giving, serving, and sharing, we will find it easier to follow the second command of Jesus…loving our neighbor. Next week we will explore how we express our love for God by loving our neighbor.