This sermon was preached at Centenary UMC’s Roots Revival on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. It was the final sermon to a three-week sermon series on John Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules.
Colossians 2:16-17 (ESV): “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
John 21:15-17 (ESV): “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
This week is the last sermon of our sermon series. For those of you that haven’t been able to join us, we’ve been studying Reuben Job’s “Three Simple Rules.” A book that has been written on the three rules that John Wesley, our Methodist founder, thought that everyone should live by.
Rule #1 was Do No Harm.
Rule #2: Do good.
Now, tonight is rule #3: Stay in love with God. And, personally, I think it’s the hardest rule to implement in my own life.
This might sound strange, but something that I always pick up at the grocery store is yogurt. I became obsessed with yogurt at some point this year and was probably eating two or three yogurts a day.
However, the fad only lasted about two months and now I can’t seem to stop buying yogurt, but it just sits in my fridge until I feel like it is finally excuse enough to throw it away.
It sickens me, to spend that money on something that I don’t ever eat. I could certainly use that money in other spending areas. More importantly, there are so many people that go hungry and I just continue to throw away two or three yogurts every three weeks.
It’s awful. I make the effort to pick out this yogurt, I pay for it, I take it home and take care of it, but I am never intentional about eating it.
Unfortunately, our relationship with God can look the same. We can go to church as often as we want, tithe as much as we can, and keep many Bibles in our household, but if we are not intentional about our own spirituality, then we are not staying in love with God.
The way to keep a relationship with God vital, growing, and alive is to practice spiritual disciplines. John Wesley also called these things ordinances. Just a few of these spiritual practices include public worship of God, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, prayer, searching the Scriptures, bible study, and even fasting.
These are practices that can be involved in our daily or weekly routines. However, we have to be careful that it stays as intentional means of growing with God and doesn’t become just another thing to check off our own to-do lists.
Okay, but before we get involved in the ordinances (or spiritual disciplines), let’s talk about why it’s important to stay in love with God:
In her book, Illuminated Life, Joan Chittister says, “All we have in life is life. Things – the cars, the houses, the educations, the jobs, the money – come and go, turn to dust between our fingers, change and disappear…the secret of life is that it must be developed from the inside out.”
God is something that is so much larger than ourselves. We believe in a God that has been made known through His Son, Jesus, and “companions with us in the Holy Spirit,” writes Reuben Job.
If we are Christians, if we have accepted the mystery of faith and proclaim our title as God’s Redeemed, we have to remember that He created us and saved us, but also continues to redeem us, call us, sustain us, provide for us, and love each one of us.
That’s reason enough to attempt to stay in love with God. As our verses in Colossians says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” We know that we have received the One that was fully human yet fully divine. Now, we have to walk in him.
We have to stay in relationship with Him so that we might abound in thanksgiving just as the scripture begs of us.
One common spiritual discipline that occurs in all of our relationships with God includes worship. One thing that I love about Centenary are the multiple services they offer. On Sundays you might experience traditional worship, a simple worship service, or even a jazz service. On Wednesdays, we get to come to this atmosphere at Roots Revival and enjoy community and communion.
Worship should be a regularly practiced spiritual discipline in our relationships with God. I know, for me, it’s an even more effective discipline if I regularly attend worship services that aren’t at my home church. Getting to worship in different atmospheres with different people and different musical styles is a way to experience God in an entirely different way, while still being connected to a church.
Another common spiritual discipline to stay in love with God is prayer. There are many, many different looks to prayer. You can pray alone, in a “prayer room” or nook, or you can pray alone in your favorite spot outdoors. However, we can also pray together. We pray like we do in worship, together. We can pray together holding hands and being focused on a specific prayer request or event. We can pray as families and as couples and as friends. Prayer is our direct connection to God. Although He already knows the desires of our hearts and minds, it is important that we speak to Him directly. If we intentionally communicate with Him, we are showing that our relationship with Him is one of our priorities.
Sometimes prayer is even sitting silently in God’s presence. We have a centering prayer group here at Centenary that meets every Thursday at 11am. They meet in the youth prayer room on the fourth floor, and we sit in silence as we connect to God and each other through contemplative prayer. I highly suggest you go even once to expand the experience of your prayer life, and I’m sure that Martha would be more than happy to talk with you about it.
Likewise, Bible study is an important common spiritual discipline that we can use to stay in love with God. The Bible is the inspired word of God, therefore, when we read it, we are able to gain knowledge about who God is, who Jesus is, the importance of it all, and how we each can play a role in the Christian faith.
Even the Lord’s Supper, Communion, is a way to stay in love with God. This is one of my favorite spiritual disciplines of them all. I love to hear the preacher tell the story about Jesus, about who He is and what He did for. Us. Tonight, as we celebrate communion, listen to the words Jeremy has to say. Listen intentionally, even if you have participated in this supper thousands of times in your life. Be moved by the Spirit in the room and the Ultimate sacrifice that was made for each and every one of us.
Here’s the cool part about our relationship with God, though: everyone’s looks a little bit different.
Now, there should be a pen and a piece of paper under your chair. I’ll give you a second, but go ahead and get those out.
On this sheet of paper, I want you to write your absolute favorite activity. Whatever it is. Maybe it’s shopping, or fishing, or knitting. Maybe you love to garden or cook or bake. Go ahead, write it down. What is your favorite thing to do?
Okay, so I wrote “asking questions” on my paper.
What did you write? And no, this isn’t a rhetorical question…
Every person’s answer probably looks a little bit different. And I just love that. None of our lives look the same, even though we may have things in common. Just like we may have commonalities in our relationship with God, but each day looks a little bit different for every single one of us.
Because of this, the cool part about staying in love with God is that you can use your favorite activity to stay in love with God.
Asking questions may seem like a little bit of a strange activity, but really it’s a big way where I see God. Sometimes my questions lead me to multiple internet searches about Methodism and John Wesley. Other times, my questions are in a face-to-face conversation when I really get to learn about the friend in front of me.
If your favorite activity is baking, staying in love with God can look like baking cakes for your neighbors and loved ones. You could donate baked goods to food pantries if they need them, or you could even sell baked goods to donate to your favorite cause. One thing that is exceptionally helpful is to help provide healthy baked goods to the HOPE Truck that first started right here at Centenary. They love to include sweets in the lunches kids receive, and you could help by giving of your favorite talent.
Likewise, if you love to fish, maybe you can see God in whatever body of water you’re fishing in. Maybe you see God in the comradery between you and your friends when you’re on fishing excursions. Or seeing God can even just be as minimal as enjoying the silence or sounds of nature while you’re waiting for that catch. Duke Ison spoke during the Sunday School hour about fly fishing and living out his faith on the river. So if you don’t think fishing can be a component in staying in love with God, I hate to tell you that you might be a little bit wrong.
So, with what you’ve written down, how can you stay in love with God?
(Again, this is not a rhetorical question…)
So while things should be pretty different between each of us and our personal connection with God, there should also be some commonalities that may not be the exact same, but the practice is similar.
These things that I have mentioned tonight are just a few ways that we can stay in love with God. If we choose to do these things intentionally, if we are seeking God and His peace, we will find that it’s just like the first time we fell in love with God. It’s harder to stay in love with God if we make Him a part of our to-do lists, if we forget the glory and power and sheer size of Him.
In John 21, Jesus asks Simon Peter if he really loves him. Three times. I can only imagine Peter’s frustration after the first two questions. “Yes, I love you, Lord, of course I love you” he says. And in his mind, “What the heck do you want me to do?” But Jesus answers that: “Feed my sheep.”
In many sermons, I’ve heard the sheep being referred to as other people: it is our job to feed the sheep that are lost and broken, house the sheep that are homeless, and love the sheep that are unloved. But I can’t help but think that we forget to include ourselves in that “sheep” category. Even though, that’s what we are, isn’t it?
We have the Ultimate Shepherd, God. He guides us, comforts us, provides for us, and calls us. We are each just one of many sheep. “Feed my sheep,” the Lord tells Simon Peter. We need to make sure we’re fed.
We have to feed ourselves spiritually to make sure that we stay in love and stay connected to God. These spiritual disciplines are ways to do just that. But, don’t be discouraged if you set time out of your day tomorrow to pray and you don’t feel God move.
I was at New Story UMC last week, and the preacher, Keith, there was telling a story about his childhood. He was picking blackberries for his grandmother at her home in the mountains when he was about ten or so.
He was picking blackberries on a summer day, and of course, he was picking five at a time. He ate four and put one in the bucket. This happens again and again and again. He’s eating four blackberries and then dropping one in the bucket. After what feels like hours, he looked down and noticed that only the bottom of the bucket is covered.
Keith got frustrated because it was hot outside and he thought that he had done enough work to have the bucket filled already. He ran back to his grandmother, “Grandmother, I am just so mad. I’ve been outside all this time and I can’t seem to fill this bucket up!” Of course, being the grandmother that she was, went and brought back a dixie cup to her grandson.
“Keith, take this cup and fill it up.” So Keith ran back to the blackberry bushes and picked really quick. He filled up the cup and ran back to his grandmother. “Dump it in the bucket,” she told him. He dumped the blackberries into the bucket from the Dixie cup.
“Now look at the bucket. What do you see?” Keith looked down and said, “it looks more full!” “That’s right,” his grandmother told him, “now keep doing that until you fill the bucket.”
Keith got really excited because he could see the difference of adding a little bit of blackberries at a time could make in the bucket.
Just like Keith, if we look at our relationships with God, it’s not going to be easy to stay in love with Him in just one go-round. Instead, if we pursue even our smallest efforts to stay in love with God, it will make a big difference in our relationship.
Don’t focus on your bucket as a whole. Instead, remember to fill up your small cup to dump in the big bucket. Practicing different spiritual disciplines can make more of a difference in your relationship with God than you think.
Stay rooted with God.
Feed his sheep, whether it’s you or the friends that surround you.
And remember that staying in love with God takes intentional practice.
O God, You are the One who comforts us, loves us, redeems us, and saves us. You deserve all of the glory and attention we can give you. Help us to stay in love with you, God. Help us to know what practices work in our lives better than others. Encourage us when we feel frustrated. Give us eyes to see you moving even when we don’t feel it. May we find spiritual practices that help us to stay in love with you. Amen.