Sunday, February 18, 2018

What Matters Most (The Jesus Creed)

Love God Love Others 1

“WHAT MATTERS MOST (THE JESUS CREED)”
Mark 12:28-34


28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he 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 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 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 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,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Mark 12:28-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


What’s going on in our country?

You don’t need me to tell you that some awful things are happening. We’ve had another school shooting—17 people killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Another horrible, senseless tragedy. Meanwhile the political wrangling continues in Washington. And people in general just can’t seem to get along.

So, what’s going on?

The problems are complex and multi-layered, and there are no simple solutions, but I do see one thing that’s happening that we in this church can do something about. And this problem that I see happening is at the root of a lot of our other problems. It explains why we can’t get along. It explains why we’re so divided.  It might even be at the root of these horrible shootings that we’ve had. And it’s a problem that we in this church can do something about.

What I’m talking about is the breakdown of COMMUNITY – the deterioration of RELATIONSHIPS. We have lost the capacity to live together in community and commit to relationships. We’re becoming more and more isolated—more and more divided—less and less able to form deep relationships that give meaning to our lives.

Electronically, through computers and cell phones, we’re more connected than ever. But in terms of vital community, we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

Our vision at Main Street is to “Foster Vital Communities.”  A community is a network of relationships. It can be a town, a church, a small group, a neighborhood, a support network—any group where you can know and be known, love and be loved, serve and be served, celebrate and be celebrated.

Every human being needs that. Every human heart longs for vital community.

And so we at Main Street want to help make that happen!  And what we see in today’s Scripture is THE NUMBER ONE KEY to Fostering Vital Community! Mark 12:28-34 contains the key to vital community. If we’re going to live out our vision as a church, then we have to live out this Scripture.

SO PLEASE PRAY WITH ME: Lord, we mourn for the victims of the latest school shooting. We mourn for the general state of our country—the division, the lack of relationships, the breakdown of vital community. Today show us what we can do. Speak to us through your Word, and make us the kind of people who center our lives on What Matters Most. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Look at Mark 12, beginning in verse 28:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”

Now this scribe is one of the religious leaders—he’s part of the Jerusalem establishment. And when he says first, he doesn’t’ mean which comes first in a list. He means, Which is the greatest? Which is the most important?

In other words, he’s saying, “Jesus—What Matters Most?
o   What’s really important?

o   What’s life really about?”

And the answer Jesus gives him is the key to Fostering Vital Community – verse 29—

 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’ 

NOW, here’s the thing – this was not news! There’s nothing radical or different here. Every good Jewish person standing there knew this was the greatest commandment, because they all said it at least twice a day!

This is an ancient Jewish creed called the Sh’ma—Sh’ma being the Hebrew for “Hear” – as in “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Moses commanded the people to say this “when you lie down and when you rise up.” Every night when you go to bed. Every morning when you wake up.  At least twice a day, and preferably more, they were supposed to say out loud,

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.

And this Jewish creed, called the Sh’ma, became like a prayer – almost like a mantra. They would say it throughout the day to remind themselves that there’s only one God, and they owe him everything. So when Jesus pointed to the Sh’ma, he wasn’t saying anything new or different.

It’s the next thing he said that’s the game-changer. Jesus took the ancient Jewish creed called the Sh’ma, and he added something –

So let me ask you a question: How many of you are familiar with the Apostles’ Creed? It’s the oldest affirmation of the Christian faith that we have. A lot of you grew up saying it. We say it whenever we have a baptism.

How would you feel if I came along and added something to the Apostles’ Creed? Like maybe towards the end: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, and in pulling for the UNC Tarheels, and in giving 20% of your income to the church!”

How would you feel if I added something to the Apostles’ Creed? Well, that’s exactly what Jesus did with the Sh’ma!

Jesus quoted the Sh’ma, and then he added this– Verse 31:

The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 

Aha! This is new. This is radical. This is a game-changer.

Jesus says, Loving God is the most important thing, but it’s not enough!  If you’re going to love God, then you also have to love people.

Jesus takes this ancient Jewish statement called the Sh’ma, and he agrees with it, but then he adds to it. And by doing this, he creates a new creed that author Scot McKnight calls

“The Jesus Creed”

The Jesus Creed says that God cares a lot about your relationship with him, but God also cares a lot about your relationships with others.

The Jesus Creed says that Loving God and Loving Others are the most important things in life.

What matters most? Loving God, Loving Others.

And this is the key to vital community. To be in vital community, we have to love others. But to love others well, we have to love God. It’s our relationship with God that gives us the strength to love others. 

Love God, Love Others. That’s what matters most. And that’s the key to vital community.

So how do you make that happen? How do you become the kind of person who loves God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loves your neighbor as much as you love yourself?

Well, here’s what Scot McKnight says: Scot McKnight says that we Christians should use the Jesus Creed the same way Jewish people use the Sh’ma. Jesus was Jewish; the first Christians were Jewish; and as good Jewish people, they would have recited the Sh’ma at least twice a day, probably  more.

And it’s very possible that when Jesus took the Sh’ma and turned it into the Jesus Creed, he meant for us to do the exact same thing: Memorize it, and recite it at least twice a day—“When you lie down, and when you rise up”—and then any time throughout the day that it comes to your mind.

Scot McKnight says that he’s been saying the Jesus Creed between 30 and 50 times a day for over ten years, and he says this has changed his life. It’s changed his character. It’s impacted his decisions. It’s helped him grow spiritually.

So let me ask you a strange question. When it comes to spiritual growth, are you more like a lion, or a hummingbird?

When it comes to your spiritual formation habits, the practices you pursue to grow spiritually, are you like a big, burly, majestic lion, or a tiny little hummingbird flitting from here to there?

Here’s the thing: A lion eats one big meal—and then he goes off and sleeps for days. A hummingbird eats throughout the day—and he keeps moving—pollinating plants, making a difference, changing the world around him.

When it comes to spiritual growth, some of us are like a lion. Why? Because we have one meal a week, and then the spiritual part of us sleeps for days.

Some of us do a little better—we have devotions in the morning, or we’re in a Bible study during the week—but we’re still lions – we feast, and then we sleep.

We want to be like hummingbirds. Hummingbirds eat throughout the day. They feed themselves all day long. They come back to the feeder 30, 40, 50 times a day.

That’s what we want to do. We don’t want to just hear the Word on Sunday, and we don’t want to just read the Bible in the morning and forget about it. We want to feed ourselves throughout the day—all day, every day—constantly reminding ourselves of what matters most.

And a way to do this is to recite The Jesus Creed—when you lie down, when you rise up, and throughout the day whenever it comes to mind.  

And this isn’t just a memory exercise. The idea is to turn this into a prayer. And if you keep saying this prayer constantly throughout the day, it’s going to sink in. It’s going shape you. It’s going to impact your decision. It’s going to transform who you are.

So let’s try this: Throughout the season of Lent – which is basically the next six weeks try saying the Jesus Creed, on a regular basis throughout the day—when you go to bed, when you get up, and throughout the day whenever it comes to your mind.

Consider this an experiment in Spiritual Formation.

To start with, you’ll probably need to get your Bible out this afternoon and write it down on an index card—or maybe print it out from a Bible website—and carry that around with you and read it until you’ve got it memorized. Then once you’ve got it memorized, let it become your constant prayer throughout the day.

Let’s try this and see what happens! Let’s see if we grow spiritually. Let’s see if we become more loving and more Christ-like.  Let’s see if this increases our capacity to “Foster Vital Communities.”

And let’s start right now by saying the Jesus Creed together:

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.”
The second is this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is no other commandment greater than these.


Amen.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Our Vision and Why it Matters (Preparation for Tomorrow's Sermon)

Tomorrow we begin a new sermon series that looks at how "The Jesus Creed"--Love God, Love Others--is the key to achieving our Vision at Main Street. In preparation, please read this sermon from last year that introduces our Vision Statement and WHY IT MATTERS:

Many of you know that we’ve had a Vision Team working to discern God’s future for Main Street. And as a result of their work we’ve got a new vision statement.

But first let’s talk about a statement we already had, that’s actually more important than the Vision Statement. Look at your bulletin and you’ll see our mission statement. This is what we’re doing. This is why we exist.

Our Mission:
To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

And we didn’t choose that. These are marching orders from Jesus himself, based on Matthew 28:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

So, the mission is what we’re doing. The VISION is our dream for what’s going to happen as we carry out the mission.

The mission is the same for every church: “Go therefore and make disciples” – that’s what Jesus said.

The mission is the same, for every church in every place, in every time. But our vision is the unique way that God is calling this church to carry out the mission in this place, at this time.

So how did we discern that? Well, first, the church council appointed a vision team with balanced representation by gender and age. And then, the Vision Team used a two-handed process:

On one hand, they got a grip on who we are as a church. They did a survey, they did focus groups, and they figured out this church’s gifts, strengths, passions. 

On the other hand, the team got a grip on the needs of the world around us. They did demographic studies. They talked to community leaders. And they figured out what’s happening out there and how it impacts the church.

And then, they brought their hands together in prayer, and they looked for the intersections between who we are and the needs of the world. And they learned A LOT, but here’s how they summed it up in a statement:

Our Vision
Fostering vital communities through love and life-changing experiences

Today we’re going to focus on the first three words of that statement:

“Fostering vital communities”

Pastor Craig Groeschel tells the story of the time when he was eating in a restaurant with his family. He noticed another family, a family of four, who all had their heads bowed. Craig thought, “Now, that’s something you don’t see much anymore.  A family praying in public.  Saying grace before they eat. That’s really wonderful.”

Then Craig looked again, and he realized that the family wasn’t praying—no, they were all four sitting at the table and staring at their smart phones!

That story is a symptom of something that’s happening in our society that’s hurting all of us. Electronically, in terms of computers and cell phones, we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. But when it comes to face-to-face relationships, we’re more isolated than ever. We can connect instantly through our phones, through our computers. We can put something on Facebook, and 500 people will see it. But studies are showing that our face-to-face relationships are deteriorating. We’re losing the ability to truly communicate. We can’t seem to understand each other on a deep level. Our relationship skills are going down, not up.

Vision Statement in MSUMC Narthex
I heard a story on the radio just this week that said that researchers have found that the more people use social media like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest – the more isolated they feel. We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

And you see the evidence of this in society:
-          We volunteer less
-          We give less
-          We join service organizations less
-          We go to church less
-          We have guests over for dinner less
-          We get married less
-          We have fewer children
-          We have fewer close friends.

Studies show that for most Americans, our circle of close friends is getting smaller. And those same studies show that our level our levels of happiness have gone down -- and depression and suicide have gone way up. We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

And this trend towards isolation is literally killing us:

-          Studies of elderly people showed that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die early.
-          Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease.
-          The increased mortality risk [from loneliness] is comparable to that of smoking and twice as dangerous as obesity.
We need relationships! It’s a life-or-death deal:
-          A study of 3,000 women with breast cancer found that those with a large network of friends were four times more likely to survive as women with fewer social connections.

-           A study that monitored nearly 17,000 utility workers revealed the degree of their social interactions was a predictor who would still be alive by the end of the decade.

-          A study involving almost 3,000 Americans found that people with close friendships are far less likely to die young.

-          And another study found that fifty-year-old men with active friendships are less likely to have heart attacks than solitary men.

We need relationships! But today relationships are breaking down:

-          Marriages are falling apart

-          Families are breaking apart

-          Cities and neighborhoods are rife with violence and division

-          Our country is tearing itself apart.

We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

Here’s the Good News: WE AT MAIN STREET CAN BUCK THAT TREND! We can reverse the trend towards isolation, and move people towards vital relationships. OUR VISION is to make disciples of Jesus Christ in such a way that we foster vital communities--vital communities where people come together and truly communicate with each other, understand each other, and form relationships with each other. Vital communities where people are connected face-to-face, and isolation becomes a thing of the past.

Right now you might be asking a question: In our Vision Statement, when we say, “Communities,” do we mean…

o   Towns, like Kernersville?

o   Churches, like ours (our website says, “We are a Christ-centered community where disciples are made…”)?

o   Small groups, like Disciple Bible studies, where people form a community as they study and pray together?

o   Communities based on common interests and needs, like the business community, the arts community, the recovery community, the MS community?

THE ANSWER IS YES. We mean all those things. We want to “foster” vital communities of every type and description:

-          We want to help Kernersville be a community that’s just and fair,
o   where the hungry are fed,
o   where the schools are healthy and vibrant
o   where everyone has equal opportunity

-          We want to foster communities based on interest and need,
o   by loaning them space,
o   by helping them succeed,
o   by encouraging our members to participate

-          We want to develop communities within the church—
o   small groups where people form deep relationships

And most of all, we want to continue making Main Street itself a Christ-centered community that makes disciples.

And we believe that as we make disciples of Jesus Christ in this time and place, we will foster vital communities where people can…
-          Know and be known
-          Love and be loved
-          Serve and be served
-          Celebrate and be celebrated

Those are 4 of the most basic longings of the human heart--and those are the 4 marks of vital community. Let me say that again: A vital community is a group where people can…
-          Know and be known
-          Love and be loved
-          Serve and be served
-          Celebrate and be celebrated

In today’s Scripture we see a beautiful model of a vital community. Please open your Bible and look at Acts 2:41-47. It starts with Peter doing what Jesus said—he goes out into the world and makes disciples. He stands up in Jerusalem in the middle of a big festival (sort of like Spring Folly). And he preaches a powerful sermon. And look at what happens in v. 41:

41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 

So Peter has made disciples, like Jesus said. He’s baptized them like Jesus said. And as soon as he does that, what happens? THEY FORM A VITAL COMMUNITY. Look at verse 42:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
And look at the things that happen in this vital community. Number one: God is at work among them – verse 43:

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 

Number two:  They meet each other’s needs – verse 44:

44    All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 

 Number three: They spend time together, building relationships – verse 46:

46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts

And number four: Because this was such a vital community, people wanted to be a part of it! –verse 47:

47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

The bad news is that the trend in our society is towards isolation and away from community.

The good news is that we can buck that trend--not only by being a vital community as a church--but also by fostering vital communities of every type and description.

And listen— God is all about community. Some theologians have said that all God has ever been doing since the beginning of time is forming a community:

-        Starting in the Garden of Eden when God looked at Adam and said, “It is not good for this human being to be alone.”

-          And then continuing with Abraham and Sarah, who became the ancestors of God’s people

-          And then the nation of Israel

-          And then the church

And finally the community of people who will live together forever in the new heaven and the new earth.

God is all about community. In fact, GOD IS a community: Father, Son, Holy Spirit – one God, three persons, existing together forever in community.

Today we celebrate the Sacrament that shows how much God wants community.  Did you realize that the word, “communion” comes from the same root word as community? It means oneness. The death and resurrection of Christ makes us one. As we come to the table, we put all our differences aside. Whatever else we are, when we come to communion, we’re all just hungry sinners.

As long as we stay focused on Christ, we as a church will be a vital community. And as long as we follow Christ in mission, we as a church will foster vital communities.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sermon Preview: "What Matters Most (The Jesus Creed)"

Our world is starving for Vital Community.

Electronically, in terms of computers and cell phones, we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. But when it comes to face-to-face relationships, we’re more isolated than ever. We can connect instantly through our phones and through our computers. We can put something on Facebook, and 500 people will see it. But our face-to-face relationships are deteriorating. We’re losing the ability to truly communicate. We can’t seem to understand each other on a deep level. Our relationship skills are going down, not up.

We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

Just look around you. We volunteer less. We give less. We go to church less. We have guests over for dinner less. We join clubs, interest groups, and service organizations less. Our circles of close friends are growing smaller.

We’re more connected than ever, but we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been.

Our Vision at Main Street is to buck that trend by “Fostering Vital Communities.” Real communities of life-changing, difference-making relationships.

And so our sermon series for Lent has something of a dual purpose. We’re looking at “The Jesus Creed”the two greatest commandments—Love God, Love Others. We’re also looking at how the Jesus Creed is the key to achieving our vision of “Fostering Vital Communities.”


I look forward to seeing you Sunday as we kick off this important series that has the potential to change your life and the lives of those around you. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Daily Scriptures for Lent

At our Ash Wednesday service last night, we gave out a list of Daily Scripture Readings for Lent. If you were not able to be present, you’ll find the readings below. These readings will help you delve deeper and reflect further on each message in our series, entitled “Love God, Love Others.”

There are several ways you could use these readings. One way would be to read them several times throughout the day. Most of them are fairly short and you could easily print them out from a website like Bible Gateway and then carry that sheet of paper with you, or post it where you’ll see it, and read the passage throughout the day. You could also do this on your phone by downloading a Bible App like YouVersion.

If you want to really spend time in prayerful reflection, you could use the ancient method of Lectio Divina, or the more modern SOAP method made famous by Pastor Wayne Cordiero.


However you choose to use these readings, please—USE THEM. This year for Lent, don’t just give up chocolate or soda or some other indulgence. Give up some TIME to pursue disciplines of study, reflection, and prayer. 

LOVE GOD, LOVE OTHERS
Daily Scripture Readings for Lent 2018

Ash Wednesday: The Most Important Thing
2.15 – 1 Corinthians 13
2.16 – Matthew 22:34-40
2.17 – Mark 12:28-34

Week 1: What Matters Most
2.19 – Deuteronomy 6:1-9
2.20 – Luke 10:25-37
2.21 – Romans 12:9-21
2.22 – Galatians 5:2-15
2.23 – James 2:1-13
2.24 – Matthew 6:9-15

Week 2: The Community’s Prayer
2.26 – Luke 11:1-13
2.27 – Luke 18:1-8
2.28 – Luke 18:9-14
3.1 – Luke 22:39-46
3.2 – 1 Thessalonians 5:15-25
3.3 – Matthew 26:26-29


Week 3: The Community’s Table
3.5 – 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
3.6 – 1 Corinthians 11:17-22
3.7 – 1 Corinthians 11:23-34
3.8 – Acts 2:41-47
3.9 – Luke 24:13-35
3.10 – Exodus 20:1-17

Week 4: The Community’s Standards
3.12 – Matthew 5:17-20
3.13 – Matthew 7:12
3.14 – Romans 13:8-10
3.15 – Mark 10:17-27
3.16 – 1 John 2:7-11, 3:11-17
3.17 – Matthew 5:1-12

Week 5: The Community’s Values
3.19 – Matthew 5:21-48
3.20 – Matthew 6:1-4, 16-18
3.21 – Matthew 6:19-34
3.22 – Matthew 7:1-14
3.23 – Matthew 7:15-29
3.24 – Mark 11:1-11

Week 7: Holy Week
3.26—Mark 11:12-19
3.27—Mark 11:20-13:37
3.28—Mark 14:1-10
3.29—Mark 14:12-72
3.30—Mark 15:1-39
3.31—Mark 15:40-47
4.1—John 20:1-18