Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Jesus Creed - Starting Over

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 love your neighbor as yourself.  

I hope you have been saying this, praying this and thinking about this Jesus Creed during the past week.  If you weren’t here last week, we learned that this is the creed that shaped Jesus’ heart and life and this is the creed that gave direction to Jesus’ teaching, ministry and really everything he did.  Jesus learned this creed at home where he saw it lived out in his parents but he also learned it from the scriptures through a process of daily repetition and memorization.  The Shema (the first part of this creed) was to be recited every morning and evening and written on the door posts of homes and placed in boxes that went on people’s foreheads so that the message would go with them wherever they went.  We gave out business cards last week with the Jesus Creed on it with the hope that you might place it in a location where you would see it often and that every time you see it you would say it.

As I have been thinking about this creed and saying it over and over again I have come to realize that I fall short of loving God with all I have and all I am and I fall short of really loving my neighbor as myself.  I get short tempered with God, with people I know and people I don’t know like the stranger driving too slow in front of me.  I fail to give as much as I could to those in need because I am afraid I might not have enough left over for me at the end of the day.  There are still times I don’t love God more than TV and more than my own pride and self-will, so I continue to do what I want to do in my way.  I still don’t want to let go of those who have offended me or my self-centered ways.  All week as I have been seeing and saying the Jesus Creed I have found myself falling short and missing the mark of the kind of love God wants us to have and the kind of love I want to have.  

One of the things that happens as we focus on the Jesus Creed is that it does force us to face our own sin.  The words sin literally means to miss the mark and if the mark is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as we love ourselves, then my guess is that most of us fall short.  But the good news is that God allows us to start over.

In golf it is called a mulligan.  A mulligan is getting an extra stroke after you hit a really bad shot and that stroke doesn’t count in your final score.  It’s a do over, it’s a new beginning, it’s starting over again and God is all about giving us this fresh start.  God will give us a mulligan but only if we will admit we made a really bad shot and missed the mark of love.  God will give us a new beginning if we will just be honest, tell the truth and confess that we have failed and fallen short.  The Bible says that when we confess our sin God is faithful to forgive.  When we are humble, God will lift us up.  When we repent or turn from our sin, God gives us a new beginning.  We get to start over again.

During the time of Jesus, this new beginning was the message of Jesus’ cousin – John.  John was known as a prophet and the job of a prophet was to point out the sins of the people so those sins could be confronted and confessed.  Prophets would tell people how God wanted them to live which usually made clear just how off the mark the people were.  Prophets forced people to tell the truth about their lives but then offered them a way to start over again and we see this in John.

John didn’t just point out the sin of the people, he offered them a new beginning.  John not only called people to repent and turn away from sin but he was known as John the Baptist because he baptized people and baptism was the symbol of starting over.

John preached out in the wilderness so when people went to listen to him they were taken to the banks of the Jordan River.  When they got there, John would point out the truth of peoples’ lives and force them to confront the reality of their sin.  John told people that they were not loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength and they were not loving their neighbor as themselves.  John was brutally honest.  When the religious leaders came to him he said, “Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God.”  (Matthew 3:8)

In other words, John was saying, show me!  Show me how you love God in all that you do.  Show me how you love your neighbor as yourself.  Show me that you put God first in everything.  The truth was that the people were not putting God first and loving God and others and they knew this.  John pointed out their sin and forced them to tell the truth.  While it made people uncomfortable – truth telling was important because it was the necessary step to starting over.  We can’t start over until we are able to tell the truth about how we are living and maybe how we are failing.

How many of us could prove by the way we live that we love God completely and love others fully?  Can we honestly say that every thought, word and action is an expression of our love for God and that we have done everything we can to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Are we giving all we can to those in need across the Caribbean?  Are we forgiving our spouses and friends?  Are we putting God first in all things?  The Jesus Creed forces us to take an honest look at ourselves and tell the truth and for all of us the truth is that at times we have failed and missed the mark.  It is important for us to tell this truth because it is only in being honest that we are able to start over again.  John forced people to confront their sin but then he offered them a new beginning through baptism.

The location John chose for his preaching and baptisms was significant.  John didn’t pick just any river or body of water to baptize people, John called people to the Jordan River because it was at the Jordan that God gave his people a new beginning.  After God led his people out of slavery in Egypt they had a 40 year trip through the wilderness into the Promised Land.  It was a long a difficult journey that led the people all the way to the east side of the Jordan River and then at the right moment, God led the people across the Jordan.  This was Israel’s new beginning.  They were starting over in the land God was giving them.

The journey Israel made to the Jordan River was filled with failure and people missing the mark.  They didn’t live out their love for God because they were constantly wanting to go back to Egypt or worshipping the idols they saw in the people around them.  They also weren’t loving each other the way God wanted them to, but at the Jordan, God let the people start over as they crossed through the waters.  So when John the Baptist called people to a new beginning, it wasn’t just to be washed clean of their sin, it was to start life and faith over again.  Many people believe that John preached on the east side of the Jordan where people would go to listen and repent and then John would baptized them in the river and then send them across the Jordan to live their new life.  While we aren’t being called out to the Jordan or literally being baptized or going through a river, God still offers us a new beginning

When we get honest about our lives and our sin and tell the truth to God and at times to others – God helps us start over.  Jesus offered this new beginning to several people when they were willing to get honest about their own lives.  One man was Zacchaeus who had spent his life cheating people at work.  Zacchaeus was a tax collector who had collected more than he should so he could gain wealth.  Zacchaeus used his position and power to promote himself and didn’t have much love for God or anyone else, but then he met Jesus who said, Zacchaeus I want to eat at your house.  At lunch, Zacchaeus was confronted by the love of God and told the truth about his life.  He confessed his sin and made a new beginning.  Luke 19:8-9

Zacchaeus got to start over and when we tell the truth about our finances or our greed or our misuse of position and power, we get a new beginning too.    All of us.  Jesus gave everyone who was willing to be honest about their lives the ability to start over again.  That Jesus offers this new beginning to all people is made clear to us from the day that Jesus asked a lone Samaritan woman, at a well during the heat of the day, if he could have some water.

That Jesus even spoke to this woman was a shock because a man wouldn’t ask a woman for help and a Jew would never speak to a Samaritan and yet here was a Jewish man asking a Samaritan woman for help.  Jesus was at work extending love with the hope of helping this woman be honest and start over.  John 4:16-19.

God’s love leads to us to the truth about ourselves and forces us to see that we miss the mark.  But once there, once we confess our sin, God always offers us a new beginning, forgiveness.  This woman was offered living water, she was one of the first people given the news that Jesus was the Messiah and he offered her grace and forgiveness which allowed her to begin a new life.  She was starting over.

As the Jesus Creed begins to shape our hearts and minds it points out our failures – but then it offers us a new beginning.  If like Zacchaeus our finances haven’t lined up with the will of God and we have been constantly seeking more for ourselves at the expense of others – God offers us a new beginning.  If like the Samaritan woman we have been living a life where all we care about his own pleasure and having all of our own personal needs met – God meets us and says, let’s start over.

While the Jesus Creed might shine a light into our lives and reveal all the ways that we fail to love God and others, it is God’s love that lets us start over again.  God’s love forgives us. God’s love wipes the slate clean and then gives us the strength and peace we need to live life according to God’s call to love.  If we confess our sin – God is faithful to forgive.  If we tell the truth about ourselves – God says to us, come with me and together let’s start over.

Next Steps
The Jesus Creed – Starting Over

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 love your neighbor as yourself.  ~The Jesus Creed

1. Where have you missed the mark in loving God this week?  Where have you missed the mark in loving others this week?

2. The love of God calls us to tell the truth about ourselves.  What truth do you need to tell about your
Use of Power and Position
Use of Time

3. Be honest and pray this prayer of confession this week.
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart and I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I are truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy and forgive me so that I might be able to start over again in love today. It is in your name I pray.  Amen

4. How can you start over this week and
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.

5.  How can you love God and others with your finances, possessions, power, position and time?