Sermon Text: Psalm 119: 105-112, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Hymns for the Day: Stay in Love with God
Two weeks ago, we began exploring together the three simple rules of a Wesleyan community. These were the rules that Wesley himself taught and encouraged his classes and societies to follow – rules that would help them to grow in their faith and to become stronger disciples of Jesus Christ.
When we talked about the first rule – to do no harm – we talked about the ways we are freed from our old lives and from our old ways when we begin this walk with Jesus. We held onto the passage from Matthew, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Doing no harm is not about a list of Don’ts and rules that are impossible to follow – it is about trying our best to live our lives aware of how we hurt others (knowingly or unknowingly) – and then, with the grace of God, trying to live differently. Doing no harm is about laying down the burdens of past guilt and pain and starting a new with the yoke of Christ, who promises to lead us and to teach us.
Last week, we explored the second rule – to do good – and we did so by exploring the parable of the sower. In this parable of Jesus, the sower could really be more like a foolish farmer – because he scattered his grain everywhere – on the path, in the rocks, in the weeds and finally on good soil. While it sprouted in many of those places – only in the good soil did it bear fruit. So we talked about the importance of tending our lives, of becoming the kind of people in which the word of God could not only be planted but grow. We become good soil by taking care to pull the weeds in our lives – the worldly cares that distract us, and by carefully rooting out the rocks – those people and situations which lead us to turn our backs on God’s word. And we also remembered our call to cultivate and nurture goodness in other people’s lives as well – through loving them, caring for them, and sharing our hope and joy.
This week – we listen for the last rule. In the General Rules, this third command is to “attend upon all the ordinances of God,” but in his book Three Simple Rules, Bishop Ruben Job reframes this third command as “Stay in Love with God.”
Those may sound like two very different things – but today we are going to look at how taking time to worship with a community, to pray, to study the scriptures, to fast, and to gather around the Lord’s Table – are about love – and about sustaining a relationship with the God who first loved us. Doing each of these things on a regular basis – making them habits and practices of our lives – is how we respond to God’s love for us… they are how we uphold our end of the relationship.
Now, I wouldn’t call myself a relationship expert by any means, but in just two weeks, my husband and I will celebrate one full year of marriage. One full year of living with those promises to love, honor and cherish each other. One full year of “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer.”
Now, we have learned many things over the years of our relationship, and this year of married life has been no exception. The thing is, when you are in a relationship with someone – you constantly have to work on it! There is always a give and a take, always the necessity to listen and to speak the truth of your heart, always the opportunity to grow.
A few months ago, Brandon and I finally settled into our routines around the house. And you know what – they become just that – routines. We each knew what was expected of us, and set about to do our business. But the thing was, distance started to grow between us because each of us was off in our own little world – doing our own thing.
One day, when Brandon had finished mowing the yard, I told him thank-you for his work. Thanked him for standing outside in the hot sun and getting that job done. I was kind of surprised at myself that I hadn’t thanked him any of the other times he had mowed. I started to wonder when the last time I HAD thanked him was.
And you know what… later that week, he thanked ME for putting the dishes away. And we sat down and talked about the fact that it really does make us feel loved and appreciated to hear those words… and promised to keep saying thank you for the little things. Instantly, we felt closer and more connected than we had in a long time. All because we took the time to share the love that was there.
And that’s true of any relationship. We too easily take our love for granted and forget about what our partner, our sibling, our children are doing and who they are, and we need to stop sometimes – no, we need to stop often – and take time to work on our relationships.
I believe Wesley has this third rule here because the same is true of our relationship with God. We need to work on it. We need to stop taking God’s love for granted and really explore and listen for what God has done for us… is doing for us, and then we need to share our own response of love.
In the scriptures this morning, we catch glimpses of what God’s love for us is like. Matthew shares with us five very short and very different parables about the kingdom of heaven… Or as Larry Patten rephrases it – the Realm of Love.
You see, the kingdom that Jesus is talking about isn’t some far off place, or even a heaven that awaits us after death – but about “the time when all of humanity will be governed by God’s love.” (John Shearman – www.seemslikegod.org). This Realm of Love, Jesus tells us, is like a very tiny, insignificant seed that is planted into the ground – but that springs up and grows as large as a tree! It is a seed that has already been carefully placed in our lives –love that is growing for us and in us.
This Realm of Love, this time of living according to God’s love, is like a small measure of yeast that is hidden inside the flour for the daily bread – yeast that will miraculously transform that loaf from a flat, lifeless lump into fluffy, fresh, abundant bread. The yeast too is like the love of God, hidden within us, growing and transforming our lives and the whole world.
Jesus goes on to say the Realm of Love, is like a man who sees something shining in the midst of the muddy field. And so he makes his way to that small glimmer of light, only to find a precious treasure buried there in the ground. And he covers that precious treasure back up and goes to sell everything that he has – all of his possessions, all that is nearest and dearest to his heart, so that he can buy that field and obtain that treasure for himself. That’s what God’s love is like…
This Realm of Love, this time when all of us will live according to God’s love, is also like a business man, a seller of fine jewels, who finds the one perfect pearl, and sells all that he has – ships, stores, buys out his employees, even sells his own house in order to have this one precious pearl.
These are just glimpses of God’s end of the relationship. The lengths that God goes to – the care with which God plants the seeds of love within us and waits patiently for them to grow.
Paul makes it all very clear in the book of Romans – “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And Paul says so with utmost confidence, because he knows the lengths that God has gone to in order to reach out to his children. He testifies that God the Father is so on our side, so willing to do anything for a relationship with us, that he did not even spare his own Son – gave even a part of God’s-self up, in order that we might be a part of the family of God. God sees all of us, sees each and every single one of you as a precious treasure hidden away or as that precious pearl that is without cost – and is willing to give up everything in order to show you how much you are loved.
This third rule – to stay in love with God – is about how we respond to that love. And this third rule is what really separates us as followers of Christ from the rest of the world.
Because, you know there are many good and honest, hard-working people out there who try their best to do good and who avoid the temptation to do evil. And I have known enough of these good and honest and loving people to know that they can do so without acknowledging God, without the church, and in many cases denying that either of those things are needed.
And there are many people in this room right now, and I would be the first to admit that at times I have been one of them, who are just trying their best to lead a good and faithful life, and they know what God asks of them, but can’t seem to find the time (or make the time) for all of these things God calls us to do.
Perhaps the prime example is a phrase we have all heard – and probably even said ourselves at some point in our life: I don’t need to go to church on Sunday – I can worship God in my own way. I pray, I read the Bible, what do I need the church for?
I’ll admit, I have said those words myself, and there are some things true about those statements. Yes, we can worship God outside of the church and outside of Sunday mornings. Yes, we can worship and praise God on our own. But – God also calls us to a public – a corporate – relationship with him.
In his book, “Being Methodist in the Bible Belt (A Theological Survival Guide for Youth, Parents, and other Confused Methodists),” F. Belton Joyner shares why we need to worship with others. Not only does it provide accountability in our journey of faith – helps to keep us on track… but it is how we acknowledge that we are a part of the Body of Christ – that we need others and that this journey is not just our own. Public worship reminds us that we follow a God who has called a people into being – not just individuals. Public worship is also a time to confess that we have done things that break the unity God desires for us –that we are not yet living in that time when God’s love rules all of our lives. (55-56)
Not only do we need each other to worship God fully, but, in all honesty – those times when I fell out of the habit of attending church regularly… I also tended to fall out of the habit of praying and studying the scriptures. It is hard to maintain those practices and disciplines when others aren’t there to sustain you in that journey. And when we let go of things like fasting and reading the bible, gathering together at the Lord’s Supper – they we also tend to take our relationship with God for granted.
Bishop Job reminds us about how Christ modeled how we should live, writing:
We can accuse Jesus of many things, but we cannot accuse him of neglecting his relationship with God. He must have learned early how important it was to stay close to God if he was to fulfill his mission in the world. He must have learned early that there was a power available to live the faithful, the fruitful, the good life and that this power involved staying connected, staying in touch, staying in love with his trusted Abba. He found not only his strength and guidance but his greatest joy in communion, companionship with his loving Abba.(56)
God was willing to give up everything to have a relationship with you. God has been reaching out, yearning for you to not only stay in love with him, but to deepen your relationship with him. Henri Nouwen writes “[Jesus] whose only concern had been to announce the unconditional love of God had only one question to ask, ‘Do you love me?’” (In the Name of Jesus, pg 36-37).
Do you love God? And if you do, are you willing to do what it takes to sustain the relationship? Are you ready to choose today to say yes and to faithfully open yourself up to God’s love? He is waiting with opens arms… Do you love me? Do you?