Giving Our Hearts

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Philippians 2:5-8 and Matthew 22:34-40
SMAS Family Holy Communion
(30.10.2011)

This is last of the series on giving. We’ve looked at giving Him our worship, our talents, our money. Last week we dipped out of the series for the Baptisms and Confirmation and we learnt through Ephesians chapter 2 that our salvation is not about what we do but is totally dependent upon the grace of God. We cannot save ourselves. Today as we think about giving our love to God it should reflect our gratitude for what He has done for us.

A Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) once had so many injured people they had to colour code them. Yellow tag meant your injury wasn’t serious; pain-relief was given, while you waited for treatment. Blue meant your injuries were serious, but if they operated quickly they could save you. Red tags meant there nothing could be done other than put you to sleep with morphine. It was tough business.

A doctor looking at one hopeless case told the nurse to red-tag him. The soldier knew what was happening. He tearfully told the nurse to say good-bye to his wife, children, father and mother. She couldn’t bear it and placed a blue tag on him instead.

Months later, a general came to inspect the camp. He had some serious questions as he looked over the charts and asked why was this soldier given a blue tag instead of a red one? Who switched them? Silence, until the brave nurse finally admitted she had. The general ran and hugged her saying, "thank you thank you, that was my son, and today he’s alive because of you."

Jesus took our red tags of sin, shame, disobedience, pride, selfishness, cruelty, uncaring and guilt, and carried them on His shoulders on the cross. Through His death and resurrection he placed blue tags on us, tags of life, hope, faith, newness, forgiveness, and joy. That red tag had to go somewhere. So he took it himself and paid for our blue tags.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Most of us want that promise of eternal life. We want God’s blessing on our lives and to be part of his forever family, the church. But we quite often want it on our terms. Here’s another story:
Ivan the Great was one of the great Czars of sixteenth-century Russia—best known for his erratic behaviour and brutality. Busy conquering new territory for his country his advisors were concerned that he’d had no time to find a wife and therefore wouldn’t produce an heir to the throne. So Ivan commanded his men to find him a suitable wife who was beautiful, intelligent, and the daughter of a nobleman.

They found Sophia, the king of Greece’s daughter. Ivan asked for her hand in marriage and the king agreed on condition that Ivan be baptized and join the church. Ivan agreed and set out for Greece to be married, accompanied by 500 of his best soldiers.

Discovering that Ivan was to be baptized, the solders said they wanted to be too. A requirement of baptism was to make a profession of faith and to affirm the articles of the Orthodox Church. But there was one article they couldn’t affirm: the one that prohibited them from being professional soldiers. They asked the priest if they could have some time to think things over.

They devised a plan among and announced they were ready to be baptized. All 500 marched out into the water. As the priests put the soldiers under the water, each soldier grasped his sword and lifted it high in the air. The soldiers were baptized completely, except for their swords and their fighting arms.

Witnesses said it was an amazing spectacle - 500 dry arms and swords sticking up out of the water. The soldiers had decided that they could give all of themselves to the church except for their fighting arms and swords which would remain the possession of the state.

How often do we try to come to Christ with one arm up out of the water? In our hands, we hold those things we’re unwilling to let go of — our possessions, our time, our money, our bad habits, our friends, our family. The great commandment Jesus gives in our Gospel today says we must love God with every single part of us. We must offer to God our whole selves—not just part of us.

In our reading the Pharisees, not bad people but people who live by religious laws are again trying to trick Jesus.

Jesus answers by quoting the OT law that Moses originally gave to the Israelites in response to their continually wandering off to other gods. Jesus quotes the Great Commandment as the basis of our faith. Loving God, He says, is the first thing, the most important thing. The Pharisees were Godly people but they too kept wandering off to serve another god - the god of religiosity. You might think its different today and that you/we don’t wander off to serve other gods but I’m afraid we do - our possessions, our time, our money, our bad habits, our friends, our family.

We could also well be like the Pharisees – in thinking that it is in living by religious rules and doing the right thing that shows God how much we love Him and puts us right with Him. It is a false understanding, as if He judges us on some kind of sliding scale according to our righteousness. Or, maybe we could have fallen into the trap of thinking that what Jesus said is now outdated – politically incorrect even.

If you died tonight and God said why should I let you into my heaven, what would you say?

Maybe that you’re not perfect but have tried to live a good life? Maybe that you’ve gone to church and said your prayers?

Perhaps that you’re not under Old Testament law but under New Testament terms of grace and free to come to God on your own terms, in your own way.

Sadly none of these things give anyone eternal life. Accepting what Christ has done for us on the cross and being thankful enough to love Him with our whole life is what’s required. And make no mistake: it is too important an issue to get it wrong! Those who are truly in Christ, love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.

There is though, one really big difference between us and those hearing Jesus’ words then. We no longer have a Biblical understanding of the word ‘love’ as used by Jesus and so don’t fully understand what Jesus meant by this commandment.

Today we equate love with emotion. To love is a stronger feeling than to like but both are measures of a passive response to something outside us.

We love chocolate; we like a song: we love a boy/girlfriend. These things make us happy. But; biblical love is neither passive nor emotional. Both Old and New Testaments refer to many kinds of love, Jesus is referring the love of God. To love God with all one's heart, and soul, and mind, is to choose to respond to God as God chooses to love us. The active response of the faithful person to the love of God is far from passive. Feelings and emotions don’t come into what could be called loving-kindness. Not a passive emotion, but active mercy, marked by patience and generosity. Actions instigated by the person doing the loving and meaning that loving is a choice we make, a duty even and NOT a feeling.

To love God with all our heart, mind, and soul seems nearly impossible if we think of love as an emotion. It would be difficult to have ‘feelings’ for someone we can’t see. We can’t gaze into God's eyes or throw our arms around Him. We are commanded to love Him as our duty as Christians. Just as God loves us with His whole being, we are to return His love with our whole being. To Love God with all Your Heart is an action we must do.

We shouldn’t wait till we feel all holy before we pray, read the Bible or come and worship God. Emotion is not commanded. Only the action of love is commanded. In Christ, this we can do, even when we don't feel like it, but often the action of doing these things is what God uses to show His love to us. And believe me it is a truly amazing love that can turn our lives around.

Another time the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus by asking Him if it was right to pay tax to Caesar. He told them to look at a coin with Caesar’s head on it and said ‘render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s’. The image on the coin shows it is owing to Caesar. The Bible tells us we are made in the image of God and we must render ourselves to him.  God requires more than bare belief. The distinguishing mark of saving belief is love of God. Faith in Christ that’s not characterized by active love for Him is not saving faith but simply acknowledgement of His divinity such as even the demons make (James 2:19).

St Paul said he did not always do what was right but he always loved what was right and longed to do what was honouring to God.

That was the opposite attitude of the scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus repeatedly condemned for making great pretence of love for God on the outside while having no inward love for Him at all. They were interested only in the outward religious ceremonies and actions that fed their self-righteousness, self-satisfaction, and hypocrisy. Idolatry is preferring something above God. God doesn’t just want to be added to our list of preferences and activities. He demands that He is our love, our greatest desire, the one who occupies our thoughts and the one we seek to please above all others. Do we desire to do the will of God? Sometimes we might need a reminder?

A friend of Alfred Schweitzer, Emil Mettler, worshipped at London’s City Temple. He owned a restaurant and would never allow a Christian worker to pay for a meal in it. On one occasion he happened to open his cash register in the presence of a Secretary of London Missionary Society. The Secretary was astonished to see among the bills and coins a six-inch nail and asked what it was doing there? Mettler explained, "I keep this nail with my money to remind me of the price that Christ paid for my salvation and of what I owe Him in return."

As you came in this morning you should have been given a paper heart. During the next song there will an opportunity, if you want to, to bring up the paper heart as a symbol of you giving your heart to God. In return you might like to take away one of these six-inch nails, which I also find helpful to keep next to my prayer chair. It helps me remember how much I owe to Christ and His death on the cross. We will sing now ‘All I am’, which is about giving ourselves to God. The choice now, is yours, as to whether you are ready and wanting to do that today. Amen