LOVING THE LORD: Part 1, with all your heart
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian church by George R. Pasley
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-40
You shall love the Lord
With all your heart
And with all your soul
And with all your mind.
And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
If we know anything about Jesus, we know those words. But what do they mean?
They sound prudent, they sound reasonable, and we want to do them-
But if we say them slow, and think about what they mean, they can sound overwhelming.
Let’s say them, putting the emphasis on ALL
Say them after me:
You shall love the Lord
With ALL your heart
And with ALL your soul
And with ALL your mind.
And you shall love your NEIGHBOR as yourself.
Now, maybe, as we said them, you thought of someone who did them or is doing them.
But maybe, too, you thought about ways that you’re NOT doing them.
Because ALL is terribly inclusive.
So for the next few weeks I want to talk about what hose commandments mean, and how we might be able to live in a manner that obeys them. We’ll start today, with ALL OF OUR HEART.
So let’s start, and let me start by asking- how many remember the country-western song, “I don’t want your body if your heart’s not in it”?
When the Bible uses the word heart (and most often when WE use the word heart) we’re talking about the emotional, affective center of our being.
We’re talking about the part of us that desires, and chooses, and pursues.
Consider these phrases and questions:
What’s on your heart?
She has an undivided heart.
That’s a long way from my heart.
So to love God- or anybody else- with our heart
Means that’s who we really want to be with
It’s who we really want to serve
Jesus told a parable- a mini-parable- about just this issue. It’s in Matthew 21, and it goes like this: There were two sons, and their father asked them each to do a certain chore. The first said, “I will,” but he didn’t. The second said, “I won’t,” but later he changed his mind and did it.
What was going on in that parable? The first son, the one who said he would- was he lying?
Well, sort of. He probably had an INTENTION of doing it.
He probably knew it needed to be done.
He probably knew that good things would result from doing it.
But it wasn’t on his heart. He was interested in other things, and he gave his heart to those other things.
So his answer- “I will” was not in sync with his heart.
And the second son? When he answered, “I will not,” he was telling the truth. He was saying, it’s not on my heart, I have something else I WANT to do, and I’m choosing not to do this.
But later, something changed his mind. You might say a burden was discovered on his heart- for some reason he decided that he COULD do the chore, that he WANTED to do the chore, and he went and DID the chore.
His heart and his actions were in sync.
So, does that mean you can’t also love your wife, your family, your boat and your job?
Does it mean you have to love them in proper order?
A student, preparing to give a sermon on Youth Sunday, told his pastor he was going to tell people to love God 80%, so they could have room in their life for the other important things like family and school.
This is what she did- and I want you to imagine doing it: she tore a piece of paper into ten pieces, and had him write on each piece of paper one of the ten important things in his life.
Then she said, “Now choose- which two are you NOT going to give to God?”
What it means, if we love God with all of our heart, is that the love we give to everything else in life is GUIDED and NURTURED and SHAPED by our love for God.
How would GOD love your spouse?
How would God love your job?
What is God saying to you in your free time?
Okay then does it mean that we jump into church whole hog?
I knew a woman in Kansas, she went to church three times on Sunday morning and once or twice on Sunday night- three DIFFERENT churches in the morning and often a different one on Sunday night- and she went to several different bible studies during the week, and she went to every Bible School that every church in town scheduled all summer long.
I’m just glad it didn’t occur to her to sing in the choir, because she really couldn’t sing.
Some of us do that, because we think loving God means we sell our soul to the church. But listen: God’s even busier outside of church than inside the church.
Church is the place God brings us because two hearts are better than one, and two minds are better than one, and two stories are better than one, and two voices are better than one.
Church is the people that are committed to praising God together and serving God together and learning together how to better love God. But if it becomes a substitute for God, it becomes a dead God, an idol, just another thing that’s easy to give up.
So loving God will involve church but it’s not the same as church.
Loving God with all of our heart will look different for each one of us, because God made us different.
But let me tell you a story, a true story, about someone who discovered his love for God.
This someone went to church every Sunday, and chances are that he didn’t really know why he was going to church. But he went, and he probably went to his particular church because he liked the sermons or he liked the music or because it was easy to get to or because of some other reason that he couldn’t identify-it just felt right.
But he went, and he sat in almost the same pew almost every Sunday, and he put a check in the offering plate twice month.
And that was it. He never did anything else. For years, that was the way it was.
And then one day they made an appeal. That church- on Bellevue Washington- had a school associated with the church, a charter school, and the school needed a basketball coach.
The man raised his hand. “I can do that,” he said.
And he did. He probably didn’t even know why, but he did it.
It was a thing he did that became his passion, it became his way of loving God AND his neighbor with all of his heart.
First, he noticed that his kids had no uniforms- they were poor kids, mostly, from working families who were doing their best to give their kids an education first.
So he ordered uniforms for his team.
Then he discovered they couldn’t play if their grades weren’t good, so he recruited other church people to tutor them after school.
And the program grew and grew and grew because he loved God with all his heart, and because he loved the ting that god had given him to do.
He recruited other coaches for other teams, and then he recruited other coaches for other teams at other schools in the district.
And today there are kids all over Belleview who are not just playing games. They are learning real lessons about sportsmanship, and generosity, and kindness and friendship.
That’s just one story about loving God, but it’s a story very similar to the one that Paul told about loving God and his neighbor when he visited Thessalonica.
“We never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others…But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.”
Because really, Jesus loves us with all his heart, and gave himself for us. So loving God means simply and only that: we give ourselves to God.
We give ourselves to God, and then we see
What sort of fulfilling, exciting life God gives back to us.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.