May 5, 2024, Priority 1 Learning to Love God, Eastertide 5

If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP
The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

HYMN Abide With Me
Abide With Me – Audrey Assad
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84YASWe3_2Q
or
Abide with Me – A cappella – Eclipse 6 – Official Video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IB-q8dO_svw

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − The Centering Prayer:
Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help.
I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life.
Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not.
Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature.
Help me to serve you in flow as I am gifted.
Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood.
I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus
Natalie Grant & Sandi Patty: Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QsvQVeVHTk

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Priority #1: Learning to Love God
Text: Mark 12:28-34, 1 John 4:15-19, John 6:56-58
Series: Instructions for Walking In Newness of Life

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Wesley Sermon Audio

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SERMON NOTES

Mark 12:28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; 33 and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question.

1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because he first loved us.

John 6:56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

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HYMN 348 Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling
Softly And Tenderly (Live At Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN / 2017)
Reba McIntire, Kelly Clarkson & Trisha Yearwood
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjeMu6qeV5c
or
Alan Jackson – Softly And Tenderly (Live)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkRTfrLBii0

BENEDICTION

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

These words have been on the church sign since Easter. They reflect our desire as a church, that we’re a church that prays for God’s kingdom to come. And what that means is that what Jesus said is what the king says. So when we pray, “Thy will be done,” we’re referring to what Jesus asks us to do. And not someday, but we would like to do God’s will here and now. And in these days after Easter, we’ve been talking about how the power of the resurrection helps us to walk in such a way as to do God’s will.

Last week, we talked about the second most important priority, which is that we are to love one another. We are to love our neighbors and also love ourselves. But today, we move up to the first priority, which is that all of us are still learning how to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. And so we want to say, “Lord, how do we do that? Since that’s your will, how do we fulfill that task?”

So let’s look at Mark chapter 12. There are four places where Jesus speaks of this. This is a one from Mark. And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing, debating, arguing with one another, and seeing that he, Jesus, answered them well, asked him which commandment is the first of all. And just so that you would understand, this is a normal, typical way for Jewish rabbis to debate. They would set up situations where, in order to keep one of the Ten Commandments, you had to break one of the other commandments. And the idea was to figure out which one had the greater priority. So this is a typical question, and the scribe would probably have dozens of different answers ready to argue with anything that Jesus said.

And here’s how Jesus responds. The first is, “Here, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall–” this is not a suggestion. “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,” or you could say, “With all your body.” That’s the number one priority. That’s what God wants. That’s what God wants for you and for me and for us. But how does that come about?

And so I want to suggest that we go back again to this verse that we’ve been talking about in different ways all year. Ephesians 2:10, “For we, you and I, are his workmanship… God is fashioning a people who are obedient. He is making us into the people God wants us to be. We are created in Christ Jesus for good not just for good but for good works, for good things to happen. And then here’s the verse that speaks so much to me, whatever it is that God wants for me to do today, God has prepared beforehand for me to have those opportunities. And I need to focus on what God has prepared in my life today because if I get a good grade today, if I get a strike or a home run today, then tomorrow, I can try again … because God prepares beforehand for you and I to do God’s will. God has prepared things beforehand for us to walk in them. And in learning how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, there are lessons waiting for you throughout the day today. Now, of course, the sermon is probably the longest one! It’s quite easy for you and I to miss a lesson because it might be a commercial on television. It might be someone you see standing in line at Walmart, and all of a sudden, there’s something in your heart that says, “I need to pray for them.” In all the different ways we listen to God, the lessons will come in different ways for each one of us, which … isn’t that wonderful? God is speaking to you right at the level of what you need to learn.

But because Christ Jesus goes on before us to get everything ready for us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, that means we’re people who will always be learning. We will never have learned everything there is to learn. We will be people who are always growing because we never will be fully mature. Every now and then, we’ll have that two-year-old level of understanding followed by a tantrum. It’s part of what it means to be human but also because this is God’s desire to change our hearts, to be people who love the Lord with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength at different levels and in different ways. What’s consistent is that we will always be loving— we will always be loving. But as you go through your day today, what you’re supposed to do in terms of loving God, what you’re supposed to learn in terms of loving God, it will happen in front of you because you will have an opportunity to love God at different times during the day.

So last week and this week, I used this scientific research by Psychologist John Gottman to talk about what science says about loving people in a committed relationship. In other words, these are principles to have a healthy relationship between married people, but they also work between children and parents. And if they work between children and parents, as I said last week, they probably would work between us and our neighbors. And today, I want to say most definitely, they also apply to you and I having a healthy, loving relationship with God. So let me connect each of those seven principles with scripture and how we live our lives.

The first one is, if you’re going to be in a loving relationship, you need to build love maps. You need to understand what the person you love likes, their preferences. You need to understand their dislikes. And friends, if you and I are going to please God, if you and I are going to please our Lord, we need to understand what the Lord values. We need to understand what the Lord likes and dislikes. And all too often with human beings, we kneel and we pray and we say, “Lord, please talk to me.”

But what we’re really wishing for and hoping is that when God speaks, God will say, “Dave, I agree with you about everything.” When I was younger, I would lay in bed at night waiting to go to sleep. And I would pray. I would say, “Lord, please speak to me. I want to hear your voice,” because I did have a desire for the heavens to part and for God to speak to me in an audible voice. And I would pray that, and then I would immediately turn over and go to sleep because I was afraid of what God would tell me if God did speak to me. But you see, however, you want God to speak to you, you need to watch out for that human tendency to choose the news channel that tells you what you like to hear, to choose the pages on Facebook that tell you that you’re right in every prejudice that you might have. You want to be careful of that.

But the reality is if you open the Bible and think about what Jesus is saying to you … because some things require some interpretation. Some things require some thinking. If you open the Bible, you will be learning what God loves. You will be learning what God wants. You will be learning God’s likes and dislikes. And I would like to– and by the way, these are the small New Testaments we have. If you don’t have one, you are welcome to take one with you today because it’s a good thing for us to learn what God loves. And it’s extremely helpful.

Unfortunately, there are a whole lot of people who, without studying carefully, are certain that they know what God loves and God wants. And one of the ways that you can tell that that’s possible is when, as they explained, God loves everyone they love. God likes everything they like, and God dislikes everything they dislike. You kind of have to wonder where they got that. Because I know I’m not done growing. I’m not done learning. And every time I open the scripture, I learn something new that I need to do … that I’ve not been doing that well. If we learn what God wants, what God loves, it will help us.

The second principle is in your communication. In your communication, you would want to share fondness and admiration. Now, the reason that’s important is in our relationship with God, but also in our relationship with anyone, the relationship is made out of communication, how we live with and relate to and talk to one another. So consequently, Billy Graham has said that prayer is simply a two-way conversation between you and God. And if you want to be in a loving relationship with God, you are going to have those conversations, and by the way, if you don’t hear God in an audible voice, this is how God will speak to you, through the New Testament. But communication with God, communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life. If you’re not communicating with God, it’s probably unlikely that you’re learning much. It’s probably unlikely that you are loving much.

And the quality of the relationship you have with another person is from the communication that the two of you have. So consequently, start thinking about your prayers. There are a whole lot of people who bring God their prayers the way children sit on Santa’s lap at Christmas. “This is what I want. This is what I want. This is what I want.” And they don’t say much else. But to be honest, as we go through our day, we can communicate with God about everything.

I remember driving a church van full of nuns in Louisville, Kentucky, when I was a student at the Baptist Seminary. And I don’t know how many nuns you know, but one of the interesting things about nuns is, as they’re driving down the streets of Louisville, Kentucky, I will hear them behind me as we come up to a stoplight, they will be saying, “Come on, St. Patrick. Come on, St. Patrick. Come on, St. Patrick.” Now, do you know what that means? They’re praying for a green light. But you see, here’s the point. Me, I don’t pray for lights to change. Lord, whatever it is when I get there, that’s fine with me. But these nuns were continually praying, “Lord, let it be a green light. Let the taco not be too spicy. Let the iced tea be just the right amount of sweetness.” They had a conversation with God about everything. And there’s no reason why you and I can’t have the same thing.

You see, when we have these conversations with God, in order to know what to say, we are seeking God, we are trusting God, we are loving God, we are calling out for help for ourselves or someone else, and we’re also praising God. Now, I don’t know if you’re like me, a whole lot of times, my prayers are also like this, “Phew, that was close. Thank you, Lord.”

But when you think about praise, when you think about noticing what God has done to help us, when you think about praise, what is it but noticing the goodness of God and letting God know that you noticed? Thank you is a form of praise. How many times do we share our fondness and admiration for God through the day with prayers of thankfulness? So this strengthens the relationship with other people to say things that show fondness and admiration. But it also strengthens our relationship with God … because it doesn’t matter how much you admire God; God does more than you can even conceive as worthy of admiration. So when you tell God, “Thank you,” you’re letting God know what you noticed. But again, seriously, brothers and sisters, there’s even more to notice.

In your relationship between a parent and child, between a husband and wife, between you and a neighbor, there are times that there are bids for attention. And when a relationship is healthy, 86% of the time, people notice when someone’s asking for their attention. Now, what’s the biggest problem here? You and I know what it is. We get distracted.

But all throughout the day, because God has put before us lessons to help us to learn, to love, to notice, to give thanks, all throughout the day, God is bidding us for attention. And the principle that leads toward a healthier relationship is to turn towards the one you love rather than away. And so throughout the day, we can turn towards the Lord Jesus Christ and spend a large part of every day with him. And in fact, that’s what he wants.
Because what is it that Jesus asks of you and me? Follow me. And the first part of follow me is to pay attention to me. Because when Jesus says, “Follow me,” Jesus is saying, “We’re going to take a turn here, in this direction, and I don’t want you to get lost.” So throughout the day, Jesus is bidding us to pay attention to Him and to turn towards Him and follow Him. That will strengthen the loving relationship you have with God.

The next one, and this is a big one, maybe not so much for United Methodists as for others, is to assume positive intent. As you are engaged in your relationship with your child, as you are engaged in a relationship with a husband or wife, as you are engaged in a relationship with your neighbor, from time to time, it could be easy to think that your neighbor is out to get you. Why does someone drive 50 miles an hour in a 55-mile-per-hour zone? It’s because they’re out to get me. Now, friends, this is normal. That person over there looks angry. I never did nothing to him. What’s he going to do next? We look with suspicion and fear in order to protect ourselves.

If you want to have a healthy relationship with someone, you want to first give them the benefit of the– well, the phrase is the benefit of the doubt, but maybe it should be the benefit of faith, which is I’m going to believe that you don’t mean me harm. And I guarantee that will help you become, especially if you were right and they do mean you harm, might as well start out believing in the best!

But you see, we have a problem in the church. And it goes all the way back years and years and years. There was a preacher in the early United States, Jonathan Edwards, who is very famous for a sermon that is called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. So the picture on the screen that you are looking at is a father with great happiness and glee reading a book to a baby: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God for Babies. And if you look at the expression on the face of the baby, you could see the baby’s just a little bit afraid here. But, see, here’s the question: should we teach people to be afraid of God?

I want to tell you, there’s a whole– it’s not a minority. It might even be a majority. There’s a whole bunch of folks that think that until you’re afraid of God, you don’t really believe. But it’s ironic when an angel appears in the Old Testament, when Jesus appears, when God does something, frequently, the very first thing that Jesus ever says is, “Don’t be afraid.” Yet there’re people who assume that what we need to do is to make people be afraid of God because, “God is out to get you. God is watching every little thing.” And there’re some churches, and I know some people, I won’t say which denomination, but they kind of teach people, “If you trip, it’s because God’s punishing you for something you did.”If a person in front of you is driving 50 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone, people in that denomination are trained to believe, “I must have done something bad because God is out to get me.”

Now here’s what the Scripture says. Please let it sink in. 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love.” So the more you learn about how to love God, the less you will be afraid of God … I want to suggest. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear for fear has to do with punishment.” Isn’t it unfair for you to always blame God or to think that God wants to harm you? “For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.” You see, we are overcoming this. And the way we’re overcoming it, look at verse 19, “We love because God set the example. We love because He first loved us.” So I say to all the people who want to teach people to be afraid of God, I say, “Let’s you and I sit down and listen to what Jesus says in this book, the Bible.”

One more scripture. Can’t help it. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” And there was a meme that was going around a lot just before Christmas. If God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, I don’t think He sent you or me. The more we understand about how God loves us, the more we will be talking about God’s love and the less we will be talking about how we should fear God. Because, you see, people go away from what they’re afraid of, and they go toward those who love them. And we want others to go toward God rather than away.

And that leads right into the next principle. The next principle is this one: Let your Lord influence you. Now, when you’re a parent and you have a child, you can’t always let the child make the decisions. But you want to let the child influence you. You want to hear from them. You want to understand them. And it’s the same way in the relationship with God. You and I want to let God influence us.

“Judge not,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:1, “that you may not be judged.” How can anything be more clear than that? And the explanation for why this is important, Jesus goes on to say — by the way, Jesus said this — “For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” And so we’re reminded of the parable of the tax collector and the sinner, how the tax collector is kneeling in the shadows, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And the Pharisees praying out loud, “Lord, thank you for how wonderful I am because I do this and this and this and this. And thank you that I’m not like that tax collector.” Someone who prays like that just doesn’t understand. We do not do God’s will when we are unloving to others. And so Jesus says in Luke 6:46, “Let your Lord influence you,” although Jesus says it this way, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?” Because what Jesus tells us to do in this book will tell us how to love God and to love each other, in great detail.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be conflict. There’s going to be conflict between what I think God wants me to do and what I want to do. That’s pretty hard to deal with. There’s going to be conflict between what I think God wants me to do and what you think God wants me to do. That’s not so hard for us to deal with, because we know the other person is just wrong, right? But whenever there’s conflict about what the right thing is, what we want to do is let our Lord Jesus Christ influence us. We we want to dialogue about the problems we’re having. And that means we want to dialogue first with Jesus because this is the priority: to learn how to love God first. And when we understand how to love God, then we can love our neighbor. Then we can love the person we’re married to. Then we can love our parent or child. But understanding what God wants needs to come first because if it doesn’t, then what we’re doing is forcing our opinion on others.

And then finally, because none of us ever get everything we want, we also have to practice self-soothing. We have to say, “Lord, instead of punishing that person who’s driving 50 in a 55 zone, please help them to learn the truth about how to drive.” We have to soothe ourselves. Calm down. It’s not that important. We’re not in that much of a hurry because, friends, we’re never going to always get our way.

And a lot of times, letting the Lord influence us means that you and I will be asked by God to change our minds. If you think you’re perfect, you don’t believe that. But if we know ourselves better, we know that God will want us to change our minds. But when we do, God begins to work to help our dreams come true. Because you see, in a loving relationship that is healthy, people help the other person that they love. They help the dreams that they share to come true. And friends, God and Jesus have dreams for you. Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans for welfare and not for evil. To give you a future and a hope.” John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, not punishment, not judgment, and have it abundantly.” Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” So you see, a loving relationship with God will help your dreams and wishes to come true. Oh, and they’ll also help what God wishes to come true. .

Finally, when you have a relationship with someone that’s loving, you will spend the time in ways that create shared meaning. You’ll use rituals, roles, goals, and symbols to create shared meaning. You will use a sermon to deepen the meaning of what it means to love God. You will use the singing of hymns to deepen the relationship and what it means to love God. And you will also do things like take holy communion because it deepens the relationship with God. And there’s a quote there on the screen from John 6, which is also in your bulletin, that literally says that taking communion deepens our relationship with God. And that’s why we do it. That’s why we come together here on Sunday mornings.

But friends, here’s the reality. As we learn to love our Lord, the best days are ahead of us. No matter what happens, as we learn to love our Lord, the best days are ahead of us. Whether it’s the best days of the Kinmundy United Methodist Church or the best days of the Wesley United Methodist Church, which you see on the screen across the cornfield. Right after Jesus said that God wants us to love our Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, the scribe says to Jesus, “You are right, teacher. You’ve truly said that he is one and there’s no other but he. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with the strength and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifice everything that’s happening in the temple.”

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, thank You for walking with us through each day, from here to there. And as we go through the day, Lord, providing us with opportunities to learn what it means to love, to learn what it means to love our neighbor. Opportunities, Lord, to learn what it means to love You. And so may we be good disciples, good students, and may we grow every day in our ability not only to love our neighbor, but Lord Jesus, to love You with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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?

Additional Resources

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 Road, 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.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )
 

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