Sermon at Kinmundy United Methodist Church on 12/30/2018.
Title: The Greatest Resolution Mark 12:28-34
Audio link – Right click, open in new tab to play: [Kinmundy] [Wesley]
Right click, open in new tab to view slides as a PDF: [Slides]
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?
What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?
Emmanuel is another name for Jesus Christ that means, literally, “God with us.” That’s the meaning of Christmas. God with us. Jesus is here, and because Jesus is here, now anything is possible. Anything is possible. So, since anything is possible, what do you want? Have you been making a list? Now just to make things clear, last week, last Christmas Day, that was the list about the things that you wanted. But we’re making a different kind of list, many of us as we move toward New Year’s. It’s a list of what we want to become. Because most of us want to become a better person in the New Year. What do you want to become? That’s what our New Year’s resolutions are about. But I want to tell you something that I believe is completely true. On your list of resolutions, on the list of resolutions of millions of people all around the globe, you would not believe the most important thing that could be on your list of resolutions people never put down. The greatest resolution, the one that would most positively change your life for the better, is always forgotten. No one gets it. Because here’s the greatest resolution that you could make that would be the most lifechanging thing that you could do. And that is to resolve to love God in the coming year with all your heart and mind and soul and strength. And it’s never on the list. What is on the list? Those are good things. Get along with my brother that I don’t get along with. Lose some weight. That’s a good resolution. But to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength is the greatest resolution. What would our life be like today? What would our world or our church or our community of [inaudible] be like today if we had worked on that all through 2018? What miracles would we have seen if it had been our resolution last year? Well, if it wasn’t on your list last year I want to encourage you to have it on your list this year. Because to love God has the greatest potential to change your life for the good of anything that you can do, because of what loving God leads to. Here’s the scripture where it comes from. Mark 12:28. “One of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another.” The Jewish leaders, the rabbis, the teachers, they loved to debate and argue. And this particular scribe wants to draw Jesus into one of those fun and familiar debates. One of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another and seeing that he, Jesus, answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Remember there’s 10 commandments, and they would constantly argue about, if you had no choice but to break one in order to keep one, which one would you choose above all the rest? Very familiar argument that Jesus goes around. Jesus answered them, “Here it is. The first is this. Hear all Isreal. The Lord our God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Oh, and there’s a second part. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other Commandment greater than these. There is no other task that God could ask you to do that is greater than these. These need to be first. They need to have the high priority in our church life, in our home life, in our spiritual lives, in life. But what does it mean? Have you ever thought about that? What exactly do you do in order to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength? I do want to tell you, isn’t that a lovely picture? But I think God wants a little more than for us to put our hands over our hearts and look up to Heaven with an adoring expresion on our face. I think it might be more than that. What exactly is it that we do to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind and strength? How do we do it? Well, first we have to consider who God is. This is why there’s a lot of confusion. For a whole lot of people God is the force. If you’ve ever seen Star Wars, you all know about the force. But the force is actually taken from the concept of God and many ancient religions such as Hinduism. The force is out that and is active and is doing something, but you never can really get in touch with it. You never can really understand it, but it’s there.
The [inaudible] Kants, Schleiermacher, and other German idealists said that one of the proofs that God exists is that people have a conscience. And so they said, What God is, is God is in our world motivating everybody to do the better thing, the right thing, the kind thing. And so God was seen as our conscious telling us how to be good. They’ve kind of stopped talking about that after Nazi Germany. For a lot of people God is the one that paints sunsets and leaves beautiful things in nature. There’s a lot of wonderful people worshipping today out on the golf course where it’s warm, and to them God is the one that paints a pretty picture in the sky. There’s another theory of God that comes from Isaac Newton and others. It says that God is the creator of a clockwork univerese. God dropped in creating everything that works so beautifully and wonderfully and then left to do something else and left us to run it and make sure it kept working. Well, as we begin to worry about ecology and nuclear war we’re beginning to understand that we may not really be very good at keeping this universe operating. But all of these understandings of God are in person now. In standing to contradict them is a very simple truth. God is a person. At the heart of the meaning of Christmas is that God is a person, and that person has a name. Tell me. Who is his name?
Jesus. The doctor of the entire nation. God comes to us. God is with us. One of the disciples says on the night that Jesus was betrayed. He says, “Jesus. Just show us the Father. That’s all we need. Just show us the Father. Just show us the God.” And Jesus says, “Don’t you understand? When you’re looking at me, this is what God wants you to see.” God is a name. God is a person. God is personal because you see, you can’t love the force. You can’t love the painter of sunsets. You can’t love these impersonal gods, but you can love a person. So now we come to another confusing question. What does it mean to love a person? Well, we’re not very good at that either all the time. What does it mean to love a person? But this is something that scientists have studied and I want to raise the possibility that we can learn something about loving God from what is involved in loving a person.
See Kim up there. That’s from our wedding. That’s when the ring slides on my finger. Okay. That’s a committed relationship. But I would like to invite you to consider that the relationship that you have with Jesus is also a committed relationship. If he was willing to die for you, he has shown you how much he cares. So to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, I think a good explanation of that is to love God in a committed relationship and it’s very possible that when people study the committed relationship of marriage or the committed relationship of being a good parent or any of those sorts of committed relationships, we might learn something that can translate over into how we love God. And that is something I could talk to you about for the next ten hours straight, but I won’t. But because I don’t have ten hours or a hundred hours or a thousand hours, we’re going to skate over the surface, sort of like flying over the Grand Canyon at 20,000 feet. We’ll be able to see a little but not the details.
One scientist that has studied human committed relationships, particularly the relationship of marriage is a man by the name of John Gottman. He started out at the University of Illinois in Champaign, went out to Washington State, University of Washington. He is the foremost psychologist to define what makes marriage work. So what helps a marriage to work might help us to understand how to be in this covenant, committed relationship with God and Jesus Christ. So what does he say? Well, he recommends that a good marriage is like a house and the walls are trust and commitment and there are seven things that are a part of a sound relationship house. So when I say to myself, “How can I take those seven things and talk about what it would be to have a sound relationship with God?”
What does a sound-relationship-with-God house look like? See here’s the first layer, the foundation. John Gottman calls it build love maps. Have you ever been lost? You need a map to find your way. Well if you’re lost in knowing how to love someone, you need a map and here’s what Gottman says is a map. Knowing little things about the person you love. Knowing little things about their life creates a strong foundation for your friendship and intimacy. Well friends, the more little things you know about Jesus’s life, can be found in here, that’s why it’s useful for you to pick it up every day and to read even one sentence in it, particularly in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, where it gives you the details of Jesus’s life. Because if you understand what makes Jesus happy, it’s going to help you. It may not help you as much immediately as understanding what makes your wife or husband happy because if you don’t know what makes them happy it’s real easy for you to stumble over something in the dark and really cause a difficult moment. You need to know what makes God happy and you’ll find all the information you need right here. A sound relationship with God includes reading the Bible to understand what makes God happy, to understand God loving you.
Here’s the next layer. Share fondness and admiration. I will tell you the truth. You never get closer to someone by yelling and criticizing them. It doesn’t happen. Even a dog is smart enough to run away from you when you do that. If you want to get closer to someone, share fondness and admiration. You remember the sunset painter. “Wow, that’s a wonderful sunset. That does good.” By the way, we call that a prayer. We call that a prayer. This particular saying has allowed John Gottman and his team, what they do is put people in the laboratory and they wire them up with all these things that sense blood pressure and pulse rate and other stuff and they watched them interact for 30 minutes. A part of that 30 minutes is they talk about the conflict they are having, and they measure all the different things that are going on in their body, and they can predict with a 90% accuracy whether a couple will still be together a couple of years later. And here’s what they say makes a difference. There’s a very specific ratio that makes love last, five to one. That means that for every negative interaction during conflict – I’ll let you imagine what that is – but that’s you losing your temper. That’s you spouting off at someone. For every negative thing you say or do during a conflict, a stable relationship will have five or more positive interactions. So here’s one mean thing. You need more than five sweet things to make up for a mean thing. Does that make sense? Now, here’s the problem. Just like eating one Lays potato chip, whether you ever only said one mean thing, but here’s the point. Whenever you say a mean thing, you’re in a hole and it takes you five nice things to get up out of that hole. Now if that’s the way it works with human beings, maybe it works the same with God.
I don’t know the last time you were upset with God, probably you didn’t get what you wanted. Maybe you felt that God failed you or let you down, brought you a red Mercedes instead of a blue Mercedes. You gained 10 pouds instead of lost 10 pounds. I’m not sure what it was, but you’re really giving God a piece of your mind. Friends, how often do you talk to God about how wonderful God is? That’s called praise. It needs to be a part of our prayer. When God does something that fills our hearts with fondness or admiration, we need to say something. Friends, that’s part of our prayer [life?]. When we pray, we can express fondness and admiration to God. Here’s the next one. God then talks about sliding door moments. These are choices that come to us, and when the choice comes to you, you get to choose how you respond, and it’s a little bit like this. Something happens or more than likely the person you love said something to get your attention. What you need to understand is that is a request , a bid – that’s the psychological word for it – for you to give them some attention. Does that make sense? Life constantly presents us with opportunities to make a choice, and the choice is very simple. We are going to turn toward God, or we are going to choose to turn away from God. And of course, when we turn toward God, we put things into words and we call those prayers. We talked earlier this fall, there’s three basic kinds of prayers – health, thanks, [inaudible]. If you don’t know what to say, just say one of those. When you are [inaudible] presented in this life with choices where you can turn toward God or you can turn away from God. Now here’s what turning toward or away does to a relationship. They did a study where they did a six year follow-up with couples based on that 30 minutes of observation in the Love Lab. Couples that had stayed married turned toward each other 86% of the time. Their default was to turn toward the person they loved and come closer. The couples that divorced averaged only 33% of the time. Now what that means is, when they had an opportunity to come closer to the one that they love, two out of three times they chose to turn and go in the other direction and abandon the one that they love. As you can imagine, that doesn’t work very well. We have hundreds of choices every day to turn toward God, if for no other reason than to say, “What a great sunset.” Do we turn toward God? Because if you do, that will strengthen your relationship and your ability to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. The next thing that [Gotwin?] identifies in a sound relationship with God [house?] is the idea of the positive perspective. Now please, I know you understand this. Some of us are grumpy. Grumpier than others. It is a fact of life. But it is a good thing for your relationship to have a lot of positive interaction, a lot of positive hopes. And whether your relationship is positive or negative, [Gotwin?] writes, determines a lot of things. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have trouble. Trouble is always going to come, friends. You are always going to be in a conflict or a difficulty with someone that you love. It will happen. But how negative you are and how positive you are, it will set a tone for how you can manage that trouble together. And I would like to add this. Remember the magic ratio. One negative thing, five positive things. Now there’s probably at least one person here who says, “Now Pastor Day, why do we need that one negative thing? Why don’t we go for 100% positive? Why don’t we go for 100% negative?” And I have had people come and tell me, during premarital counseling in particular, “Oh, I love him so much. We never fight.” There is a name for these people, by the way. You know what we call them? Liars [laughter]. But sometimes they lie in very subtle ways because they may be liars because they feel the hurt and the negativity, but they’re not honest about it. I know a whole lot of people and sometimes I’m that person. The reason I turn away and move away is because I think if I stay here, I’m going to say something mean, and then I won’t be able to think that I am the better one or the perfect one. Friends, sometimes you have to be honest. But be five times as honest about how much you love someone, as you’re honest about how you don’t like the way they leave their [inaudible], whatever it is [silence] I always wash my whiskers [inaudible]. It was safe for me to say that one [laughter]. But being honest when you want everyone to like you and being honest, especially when you want the person you love, whether it’s a child or parent or a spouse to love you, being honest is sometimes hard for us. And friends, if when we pray, we never express our disappointment to God, maybe we’re not being as honest as we should. Remember what comes after negativity, five times the positive. How do we have a sound, healthy relationship with God? When there’s conflict, [Gottman] says, the main thing you need to do is let your partner influence you. If she wants the red Mercedes and you want the blue Mercedes, you [ought to] at least listen to her before you go buy what you want. If you listen well enough, you may find that you like the red Mercedes as much as you like the blue one. But you need to know how the other person feels, and you need to let how they feel influence you. And friends, I want to tell you, you are going to get into conflict with God because there’s things that God wants because God thinks it will make you happier and a better person. You need to let God influence you rather than being someone who says, “I’m going to do what I want.” [inaudible] and one way or another, we look up at God and we say, “You want me to do that? I don’t want to do that. Who do you think you are, God?” Oh, well. Yeah. God thinks that God knows better than we do. And when you get into conflict with God, it’ll be because you’ll turn to God instead of turning away with God and God will say those words that frighten husbands to death. “Honey, we need to talk.” Because there’s something that could be better, and that’s what God wants. There’s something that could be better. So you need to let God influence you, and you need to let God talk, but you need to talk too. You need to talk about how you feel. You need to listen to God, and you will find that God will listen to you. And if possible, soothe yourself. Don’t lose your temper. Be calm if it’s possible, but let God influence you. And again, how will you know what God wants? You’ll find it right here. When you’re reading along with Scripture, if there’s a verse that just bugs the living you-know-what out of you, there’s something that you need to learn from that. There’s something that God will teach you when you have conflict with something in the Bible. What if the main question in your relationship with God was, what if? What if the main question in your relationship with God was God saying to you, “What are the dreams that you want to come true?” What if the main thing you hear God saying to you when you pray is, “Let’s make that happen.” Then your relationship with God will lead to your dreams coming true in life. That will strengthen your relationship with God. Again, we are flying over at 10,000 feet. The final thing in Gottman’s Sound Relationship House is this: create shared meaning through the use of rituals, roles, goals, and symbols. I showed you the picture of when the wedding ring was put on my finger. It’s a symbol. It reminds me every time I look at it that I am in a committed relationship. There are symbols and rituals that you have in your relationship with God that will strengthen that relationship. Have you ever noticed if you forget to come to supper, the person you’re married to wants to find out why? Honey, you’ve been gone for a week now. You haven’t come to supper. You haven’t come home to sleep. Is something going on? What do you think God thinks when you don’t show up in God’s house week after week after week? Our coming together for worship is a ritual that as we go through this, it strengths our relationship with God and with each other. Things like a ring or a cross around your neck strengthen your relationship because they remind you who you belong to. Goals that we have such as praying for this or that strengthen our relationship. And we have these things or customs, like letting people have the microphone and say what they need. They make the relationship healthy. These seven things that help humans have better relationships might really help us have a better, more positive relationship with God. And until you know of a different way, I would suggest maybe you allow yourself to be influenced [by these]. Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, whether we do actual resolutions or not, all of us, as we move toward the new year, we have some goal or hope in mind for a better life. That this year would be different, that this year would be better. Lord, help that wish include the desire for a healthier, more closer relationship with you. And all of the good that flows into our life from that. Help us to love you in the new year with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. Amen. Let’s sing “Joy to the World.”
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Raod, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.