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Learning to Love God

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Learning to Love God

Posted on Mon, Sep 14, 2009

Mel Williams


Mark 12:28-31, The Message

A sermon by Mel Williams

Watts Street Baptist Church

September 13, 2009 (Christian Education Sunday)


We often use images to help us say the unsayable.  When we love someone, we may say, “I love you…a bushel and a peck.”  When I go visit my 86 year old mother, I tell her, “I love you wider than my arms can reach!”  I tell my children, “I love you more than all the flowers, more than all the songs, and more than all the tomatoes in the world.” 


Last week I saw the current movie about the famous cook, Julia Child.  In the film “Julie and Julia,” Paul Child, looking down the dinner table to toast his wife, says to Julia, “You are the butter to my bread, the breath of my life.”


When we’re speaking of love, we reach for images—like butter, bread, and breath.  Likewise we speak of God as breath, light, the bread of heaven.


If the goal of our life is to love God and to love the life God has given us, how do we do it?  How do we learn to love God?  I submit that this is a worthy goal for Christian education.


Church is a school.  We come here for lifelong learning.  What if we intentionally set as our goal:  to learn to love God.


How do we learn to love God?  We spend time with God.  We relate to God by studying the Scriptures, by worshipping, by studying our own life. We learn about God’s love from each other. 


Love is a fierce and wonderful thing.  Some say that love just happens.  It’s something that comes over you.  Perhaps.  But I think love is learned.  Love is a developmental process.  We learn to love God by loving.  So the church is a laboratory, a school for learning love.


We start with the Scripture.  We start with what Jesus taught us —what we must do to love God.  A skeptical scribe comes to Jesus and asks, “What is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.  Therefore, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”  In his translation of the Bible called The Message,  Eugene Peterson offers this reading of Jesus’ words:  Listen, Israel:  The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.” I like those four words—passion, prayer, intelligence, energy.


1.  Passion: We search for God throughout our lives.  Our search may at times be serious; but it may help us to remember that God is playful.  God has a light spirit, so God hides lovingly from us.  It’s God’s game of hide-and-seek.  (from Gerald May, p. 141, The Awakened Heart)  “Where are you, God?”  And God will give us clues. When the seeker finds the hider, there is nothing but joy.  Jeremiah quotes God, saying “When you seek me, you shall find me—when you seek me with all your heart, I shall let you find me.”  (Jeremiah 29:13-14)  Did you hear that?  “When you seek me with all your heart (passion), I will let you find me.”


Look for God with all your heart, your passion.  Love God with all your heart, all your passion.  If we love God with passion, then we can approach our life and our commitments with passion.  I listened recently to a businessman talk about helping business leaders find their spiritual center—a vital relationship with God.  When that happens, he says, then their leadership in business is more than goals, objectives and strategies.  There is a vitality, a passion, that is contagious.  That’s true whatever our work, our profession, whatever our volunteer involvements.  Love the Lord your God with all your passion.  We come here to learn to love God with all our passion.


2.  Prayer:  The traditional translations say, “Love the Lord your God will all your soul.”  Eugene Peterson offers the alternate reading “with all your prayer.”  One writer said, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed.”  How do we express our sincere desires and needs to God?  We spend time with God.  We pray to God.  That prayer may take the form of silence or walking meditation or beholding the beauty of nature.  We love God by communing with God, getting on God’s wave length, allowing God’s energy to wake us up, to keep us attentive to the goodness of the world around us, and the people around us.  Love God with all your prayer.  We come here to this church/school to learn to love God with all our prayer.


3.  Intelligence:  When we come to church, we don’t check our minds at the door.  Our faith involves our emotions and passions; but it also involves our intellect—the life of the mind.  We come here bringing our questions, our doubts, our wonderments.  John Calvin, the thinker and scholar, saw the church as a school.  He wrote, “From her school there is no dismissal until we die.”  We agree.  That’s why we have a church school that provides Christian education for all ages.  Children, youth, and adults come here to study the Bible, stretch our minds, and reach for insights about God and our calling as God’s people.  Adults need to develop the life of the mind in the same way that children are learning the stories of the Bible.  Some of us may be somewhat embarrassed that we know so little about the Bible.  Fear not!  This fall we’re offering a new adult class which we’ve called “Bible 101.”  The basics!


 We come here to a school where we study the Bible.  We love our questions until we live our way into the answers.  We come here to think out loud what we’re coming to believe. Love God with all your mind.  We come here to learn to love God with all our intelligence.


4. Energy:  Finally, we come to church to love God with our strength—our energy.  I like that word “energy.”  Sometimes when we pray for each other, I say that we are sending energy to each other—God’s energy.  All we have to give each other is our attention, our energy. 


When we are learning to love God, we are learning to love God’s values and live by them.  One of God’s central values is generosity—being a generous, giving people.  We give our time, our skills, and our money.  But what is money?  Money represents our life energy.  So, will we give sparingly with our life energy?  Or will we give generously—especially in this tough economic time when needs are greater than ever? 


When I was growing up, I often heard the words “Christ has no hands but our hands to do his work today.  Christ has no feet but our feet to move us in his way.”  We love God by using our energy for God’s work—loving, caring, healing, giving, and bringing justice and peace.  Love God with all your strength.  We come here to learn to love God with all our energy.


At the beginning of this new year of Christian education at Watts Street, I hope we will consider our classes and mission groups and choirs as a place where we are learning to love God and to express that love for God. 


We learn to love God when we set Jesus’ words as our goal:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your passion, with all your prayer, with all your intelligence, and with all your energy.”


So may it be.  Amen.

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