Stay in Love with God

Originally preached at Alger First UMC on 10/30/2016

This is the third week of a three-week series called “Three Simple Rules.” It is based on a book by the late Rueben Job, former UMC bishop, which you can find here. Click here for Week 1. Click here for Week 2.


When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

(John 21:15-17, CEB)


This is the third week of our three-week series called “Three Simple Rules.” If you were here last week, you’ll remember that the three simple rules alluded to in the title are given to us by John Wesley – the founder of the Methodist movement in 18th century England. Mr. Wesley believed that if your soul was truly saved, if you had truly found Jesus, then your way of life should look very different from the rest of the world. So he wrote these three rules to give structure and a rough sketch of how our life in Jesus should look. So here are the three rules again – can you repeat them after me?

Do No Harm.

Do Good.

Stay in Love with God.

So for the first week, we talked about what it would look like to live a life that does no harm to yourself, to those around you, and to the world. And last week, we dived into what it really looks like to do good. So this week, we’re looking at Rule #3 – Stay in Love with God.

During my freshman year of college at ONU, my relationship with Jesus went through a dry spell. There was no passion, there wasn’t really any life in it at all. God felt very distant, and not even present in my life. Right now, one of my favorite questions to ask anybody is “How is it with your soul?” or “How are you and Jesus doing?” Many of you have been on the receiving end of those questions. And for a good part of my freshman year of college, my honest answer to those questions would’ve been “not very good at all.”

Now, that’s a normal thing to go through during your freshman year of college – everything is brand new and changing, so some things will just get lost in the shuffle. But when I was going through this dry spell, it sure didn’t feel normal!

But when I look back on that time, I realized that my spiritual life for most of that year consisted of ONU chapel on Thursdays and church on Sundays. That was it – my Bible would lay unopened for months, I hardly ever prayed on my own, and when I did, it would last for only a few minutes before I said “What’s the point? It doesn’t seem like anyone’s really listening anyway.” And I was really just going to church and chapel services because I felt like I had to, so that I wouldn’t feel guilty.

So after a while, I started wondering if those two areas were related – I felt God was very distant from me…and I wasn’t reading my Bible or praying or involving myself in church – I wondered if those two issues were related?

Now I’m sure I’m the only one who’s ever struggled with something like this, right?

Have any of us felt that? Maybe you’re feeling it right now – you and God don’t feel close anymore, you hear people talking about the love of Jesus but you’re not really sure anymore what that means. And maybe it just so happens that you haven’t been reading your Bible much, or you’ve had to miss church for a few weeks in a row.

Now I’m not throwing blame around. I’m just suggesting that maybe those two areas are related. And Rule #3 – Stay in Love with God – addresses that.

So Rule #3 – Stay in Love with God. Honestly, that’s kind of a weird thing to say. What kind of rule is that? I actually took the wording from Rueben Job in the book I mentioned earlier – his wording makes it kind of stick in your mind. But John Wesley phrased this third rule of his like this: “attend upon all the ordinances of God.”

So ordinances of God – what does that mean? There’s another phrase that United Methodists like that means basically the same thing – “means of grace.” Ordinances of God or means of grace are signs that we see, words we say, objects we touch, actions we do, all of which were established by God as the normal route or channel through which we can receive God’s grace. God wants to pour out God’s grace upon us, so God has given us these normal channels through which we can receive that grace and love and mercy which God wants to pour out on us

John Wesley listed five regular means of grace:

Corporate worship

Communion

Regular prayer

Regular study of the Scriptures

Fasting.

The idea is that if you want to experience the grace of God and grow in holiness and in your relationship with God, do those things. It’s not that we earn God’s grace by coming to worship or reading our Bibles or anything like that. But we can count on experiencing God’s grace if we do these things.

Another phrase for this that’s probably more familiar to us is “spiritual disciplines.” Simply put, they’re signs or words or actions that keep our relationship with God alive.

Another ONU story – I have a music degree from ONU in trumpet. And when I was a music major there, the expectation for all of us music majors was to practice your instrument at least two hours a day, not counting the time you spent in rehearsals. So in college, it seemed like I spent more time in the music building practicing than in my dorm room or apartment.

And there’s a quote that’s been going around for a while that was more or less accurate for me during that time: Skip one day of practicing, and you’ll know. Skip two days, and your private teacher will know. Skip three days, and everyone will know.

The idea is that if you don’t have a solid system for practicing enough every day, then your performance will suffer.

And I think there’s some truth here if we apply it to our life with God. If we don’t have a solid system of spiritual disciplines, of these actions and signs and words and practices that feed our relationship with God, then our spiritual life will suffer. Our souls will starve if these means of grace, these spiritual disciplines are not a central part of our lives.

So the rule is not really “Stay in Love with God.” That’s just a catchy way to remember it. Stay in love with God – how do you do that? You do that by making the means of grace a part of your life. This rule is really calling us to say “I want to stay in love with God. So I will commit to these practices.”

Now, if you were here last week, we talked about Rule #2 – Do Good, and I said that the idea of Doing Good is SOOOO basic. And it’s the same thing with this rule – Stay in Love with God.

I feel like some of us are probably hearing this as “Read your Bible more, pray more, come to church more.” And I feel like some of us are thinking “Well, I’ve heard that one before.” This is nothing new. I know that.

But maybe some of us are thinking “But pastor, you don’t understand – I don’t have time. I have a job, I have kids, I have a spouse or other family, I’m involved in all these other things. I don’t have time to add these spiritual disciplines to my life!” I understand that. But hold on a minute – that passage from John I read earlier gives us a different way to look at this.

We want to remember the context of the passage. This story happened after the resurrection, after Jesus’ tomb was found empty. Simon Peter and some of Jesus’ other disciples go fishing. And as morning is breaking, they see a man on the shore who they discover is Jesus! So Simon Peter is so excited, he jumps out of the boat and swims ashore. When they all get ashore, they find Jesus next to a fire ready to cook breakfast.

When they’re finished eating, Jesus takes Simon Peter aside, and he asks “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asks him that question 3 times. Now if I was Peter, I’d be getting more annoyed each time, when Jesus just kept asking this same question. And by the third time asking the question “Do you love me,” we read that Simon Peter is sad. What’s going on here?

We have to realize the importance of this question. If we remember how Jesus’ crucifixion went down, we might remember that it wasn’t so long ago, just a few days before this, that Peter denied Jesus 3 times on the eve of Jesus’ death. So Peter is ashamed, and probably feeling pretty worthless. The resurrection and the empty tomb and seeing Jesus probably helped him to push that shame back down, away from consciousness, but it’s still there, this hot ball of shame deep in his gut

And now, Jesus keeps asking “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And the shame is brought back to the surface, especially by the third time, as if Peter’s denial of Jesus has already answered that question for him.

But realize what’s really happening here. In asking that question, “Do you love me?” three times, Jesus is giving Peter the chance to reverse his mistake. And by doing that, I can hear Jesus tell Peter “I know you love me, but I also know your tendencies Peter. I know how you forget and get caught up in your fear and you forget your love. So here’s a chance, three chances, to remind yourself that you love me and you want to follow me. Here’s a way for you to stay in love with me.”

I wonder, church, if you can imagine this text as if Jesus was addressing each us by name?

“Andy, do you love me?”

“[insert name here], do you love me?”

“[insert name here], will you stay in love with me?”

I wonder, what if we were confronted with that question each day? What if Jesus asked us each day “Do you love me?” and we had the opportunity to answer “yes” to that question, each day?

That’s really what the means of grace or spiritual disciplines do for us. When we pray, when we study Scripture, when we come to worship, when we celebrate Communion, when we fast, we put ourselves in a place where Jesus can address us and ask “[insert name here], do you love me?” And each time, we have the opportunity to answer “yes.”

If we want to follow Christ faithfully, we must commit to practices that will keep us in love with God. And in the means of grace, the spiritual disciplines, Jesus gives us the opportunity to answer “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Because when you decide to take time out of your day to spend with Jesus, you are saying with your very life, “I love you, Jesus. You are important. And I want our relationship to grow. I want to experience your grace. I want to grow in holiness. So I will read my Bible every day. I’ll spend time in prayer every day. I’ll try to come to worship each week. Because you, Jesus, are the most important thing in my life. Because I want to follow you, Jesus, more faithfully. Because I want to be more like you, Jesus.”

So the next step for this week should be pretty easy to figure out. To follow Jesus faithfully, we must commit to practices that will keep us in love with God. So this week, figure out a way to do that.

[Online-only readers: I made the specific suggestion of following the Daily Scripture Readings the congregation had in their bulletins. If you would like to follow something like that, the folks who created the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday also created a Daily Lectionary, with Scripture readings for each day. You can find it here]

Whatever you do, remember that to follow Christ faithfully, we must stay in love with God. And to do that, we’ve got to make the means of grace a significant part of our lives. Because there are so many things in our world that would challenge our love of God. There are so many ways for our love Jesus to be smothered and stamped out. But God has given us these means of grace so we may stay in love with God. So let us be about this work.

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