Sunday, September 23, 2012

3 Simple Rules #3 Stay in Love with God - Sermon

John 21:15-17 & 19
3 Simple Rules
Rule #3 – Stay in Love with God

I have the pleasure of doing a wedding in a couple of weeks.  The doe-eyed couple came and sat down on my couch in the office and I asked them about what their plans were for their wedding.  I asked them the question I ask all couples when they come to me wanting to get married.  I ask them, “So why do you want to get married?”  It is a simple question but you would be surprised on how many couples stumble over it.  This maybe the first time someone has ever asked them point-blank why they want to walk down this path.  By the way the correct answer to that question is “because I love him/her and I cannot imagine my life without him/her.”

During my little homily at a wedding I will remind the couple that marriage is hard work.  Marriage is something that is worked on.  We usually have this Hollywood idea about marriage.  We don’t realize that to live with someone for the rest of your life is hard work.  If someone told you that to walk hand in hand with someone for the rest of your life would be easy and that you can boil marriage down to “happily ever after,” is a complete and utter lie.  It takes dedicated, stressful, and at moments almost impossible work to stay in love with someone.  I know a couple that when they are at the end of their rope with their spouse they will look at them and say, “I love you but I don’t like you right now.”

We laugh and we giggle.  You might have chicken winged someone sitting next to because you heard the truth.  If you understood what I was saying and you agree with me then can I get an Amen?  If we all agree that staying in love with a human being is hard work, then why do we think it is easy to stay in love with God? 

There are people in this world that think when you become a Christian life gets real easy.  There are some preachers who sell that idea too.  But the truth is it is extremely hard work.  For the last two weeks we have talked about what it would be like to walk faithfully through life as a follower of Jesus Christ.  As United Methodists we point to the General Rules as a guide on how to live out our faith.  Those rules are; Do No Harm, Do Good and today we talk about, Stay in love with God. 

The more historic way of saying rule number three is “attending upon all the ordinances of God.”[1]  We usually think of ordinances when we think of Home Owner Associations.  It reminds us of a bunch of rules that we are not allowed to do in the neighborhood we live in.  But as Bishop Job put it in his book; “Ordinance is a strange word to our ears.  But to John Wesley, it was a word that described the practices to keep the relationship between God and humanity vital, alive and growing.”[2]

Then there is a list of practices that if we do on a regular basis our relationship with God can stay vital, alive and growing.  If we do these things then we will have the strength and ability to go through life without doing harm and spend it doing good. 

Let me read you what it says in the good book, The 2008 Book of Discipline;
                Thirdly: by attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:
                                The public worship of God
                                The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded
                                The Supper of the Lord
                                Family and private prayer
                                Searching the Scriptures
                                Fasting or abstinence

There is your recipe for a healthy relationship and the ability to stay in love with God.  It is only that simple.  Like the other two rules, it sounds so simple but it will take a mature, deep and committed faith to live this out.  But these ordinances are important because as we do them we are reminded that God loves us and we fall into deeper love with God.

My youngest sister, Jodie, got involved with a group called Team in Training.  They do running and bike races all over the US to raise money for Leukemia and Lymphoma research.  My grandfather is a lymphoma survivor and Jodie decided to push herself to run a half-marathon in his honor.  She caught the running bug and soon my second youngest sister, Jean, decided to join her.  Now years later she has talked my oldest youngest sister, Julie and my mom to run a half-marathon as well.  (Yes by the way you caught that there are actually four kids in my family and my parents named us [in birth order] Jim, Julie, Jean and Jodie)  Now a half-marathon is 13.1 miles.  I know some people who if they wanted to go run a mile they could hop off the couch and do it without any problem.  But to run 13.1 miles is a little different.  That will take something called training.

We need to do spiritual training as well.  When we do these ordinances we are doing that spiritual training.  Since you are here this morning you are participating in the first way to stay in love God and that is joining in on a public act of worship.  When we gather together to worship God we are professing our love for God.  Who doesn’t want to hear they are loved?  We do this by singing to God our praises, offering up our sacrifices, i.e. money, and we have a conversation with God by going to him in prayer.  We do this in community with one another because Christianity is not a solidary religion, it is a community and so we gather as this community each week to fall in love with God and to express our love for God.

We also need to be reading God’s word.  We either need to be reading it or we need to be reading or listening to people’s opinions on it.  The Book of Discipline states that we need to read or expounded.  Expounded means to present or explain systematically and in detail.  There are these things called commentaries out there that do just that.  Commentaries go through the Bible and give you history, relevance, purpose, background and other meanings on what was written and why.  They can give you insights that you never knew and can take your understanding of scripture deeper. 

John Wesley was listening to the preface to the book of Romans that Martin Luther wrote when his heart was strangely warmed.  One of Wesley’s strongest moments of assurance and grace was felt as he was listening to someone read the Luther’s preface to the book of Romans.  [did you hear that, the PREFACE TO THE BOOK OF ROMANS, YAWN!!!]  God works in mysterious ways.  It is important to hear the opinion of scholars, theologians, church fathers and mothers talk about how they read the scripture.  It can give you insights you may never have dreamed.

The next ordinance is the Lord’s Supper.  In a couple of weeks it will be World Communion Sunday and the whole world will be coming to the Lord’s Table to feast at the heavenly banquet.  Like I have said as we have had communion here, John Wesley saw it as a means of grace.  It is a real and tangible way to come in contact with God.  There are two main ways that happens in the United Methodist Church.  It happens in our sacraments, Communion and Baptism.  If we are going to stay in love with God we need to come in contact with him…we need to feast with him.

The next is prayer, family and private prayer.  I am a firm believer that if you want your children to grow up and know how to pray then you need to mirror that in your own life.  Family prayer is important because it is time take, together as a family, to stop before a meal or before bed and to give thanks, lift up people who need prayer.  It is important because without communication any relationship will fall by the wayside.  You cannot expect to have a deep and committed marriage if you don’t talk.  You cannot raise a child if you never talk with him or her.  Communication is what prayer is all about.  It is telling God about our worries and our praises but then it is also take time to stop and listen for God’s response.  Show me someone with a strong prayer life and I will show you someone desiring what God desires and feeling close to God.

Searching the scriptures sounds a little daunting but it is getting into the word of God to find out the answers you seek.  If you are struggling with something there are pieces of the scripture that can help you out.  If you are struggling with doubt or questions about your faith, then look up the story of Thomas, some of Exodus, or read some of the Psalms.  If you have grief and worry then read Lamentations, Isaiah, the Psalms, or some parts of Matthew’s gospel.  There are ways the Bible can speak to your questions and concerns.  But one way NOT do it is simply open up the Bible and ask God to provide a message to you by stopping on a certain page and then placing a finger down on the page.  I am not saying God cannot work that way, but God gave us brains and the ability to think and so we can look up themed passage in the back of some study Bibles or in Bible Concordances.

This last ordinance is not a favorite among many Americans.  I say this only because it seems to go against our culture’s nature.  Fasting and abstinence are not really things our country was founded upon.  We are a country of plenty and the idea of doing without doesn’t gel quiet right.  How does not eating to connect deeper with God make sense in a culture that can super-size any meal we like?  How does abstaining from something make sense in a culture that says you can have it now if you want it?  They don’t but that is one reason why these can be so powerful to us. 

Let me walk you through the spiritual disciple of fasting.  Fasting is the act of giving up food for a certain period of time or on a certain day of the week or at a certain meal.  I know some people who fast every Ash Wednesday and do not eat anything until after the Ash Wednesday Service.  This gives them the right mindset as they go into the holy season of Lent.  I know others who will give up lunch on Wednesdays and the money they would usually spend on lunch they give to the church’s ministry to the hungry or to a local soup kitchen.  The key to fasting is as you feel hunger you realize how blessed by God you are and remember those who do not eat in our world.  This can give you great insight and a deep way to connect with God.

These are the ordinances, the ways, the spiritual disciplines that John Wesley encourages us to do to stay in love with God.  These are ways we can train our souls to be close to God.  Think about some things that you should have some training with before you actually do it.  Operating heavy machinery?  You need training.  Electrical work? You need training to stay alive!  Driving?  We want people trained how to do that before they get out on the road and there are some people who need to go back and get some more training.  Putting in an IV?  Anyone who has watched or experienced a nurse put in an IV knows that they need to be trained.  If not your arm will be black and blue and it will hurt like the dickens.  If all of these aspects and even more need training than our daily walk with God, the creator of the world, needs training too.

As we walk through life hand in hand with God we will need to push ourselves, train ourselves, motivate ourselves to stay in love with God.  We will have to be in love with God if we are going to be in the world and not do harm and do good.

In today’s scripture the Resurrected Jesus is on the beach and he calls out to the disciples who are fishing.  They have fished all night and didn’t catch a thing.  Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  When they do they catch more fish than they can haul in.  The disciples realize it is Jesus and are overjoyed.  So much so that Peter put on clothes and jumped into the water (we will expound on that scripture at another time).  They eat a breakfast of fish on the beach and then Jesus turns to Peter and asks him three times, “do you love me.”  After Peter answers yes three times, Jesus repeats, “Feed my sheep.”  What is interesting about this text is that it seems to be a throw back to Peter’s denials of Jesus.  How many times does Peter deny he knows Jesus on the night of his trial?  3.  How many times does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him?  3.  Jesus really wants Peter to love him.  He wants to make sure that no matter what will happen in the rest of Peter’s life that he will always love him.  Peter does but Peter also goes through some tough stuff which in the end gets him crucified upside down. 

Jesus wants you to love him as well.  He wants you to go out and feed his sheep too, by doing no harm and doing good.  To love God in a moment is easy.  To stay in love with God through a life time is hard and dedicated work.  The three rules we have gone over these last three weeks will guide us in living out our faith in our daily lives.  It takes a lot of work and a deep faith, but being a follower, believer, and lover of God is never promised as something easy.  Are you willing to abide by these rules and live them out to grow closer to God and to be God’s love for this world?

Let us pray…Teach us today to do no harm, to do good, and assist us so that we may stay in loving relationship with you and our neighbor.  Help us today to be an answer to another’s prayer so that we may be one of your signs of hope in the world you love.[3]  Amen

[1] 2008 Book of Discipline, ¶ 103, p.74.
[2] Job, Rueben, 3 Simple Rules. Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2007. P.53
[3] Prayer from the bookmark in the book Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living by Rueben P. Job.

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