The M.A.D. House Artists (Mom And Dad)

Grand Lake Artistic Chaos Foundation

A NEW SERMON

     by Dr. Robert R. Ball

    IT'S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS, NOT RULES

July 31, 2011     


                     IT'S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS, NOT RULES 
                                            Matthew 22:34-40
               A sermon by Dr. Robert R. Ball, for Sunday July 31st, 2011

                                                 

          I thought I’d begin by saying, “As I get older;” but then I
     remembered a friend of mine whose wife told him, “You’re not
     getting older. You’re just old.” So I decided not to say that.
          From the perspective of my advanced years, it seems to me
     that one of the most unfortunate characteristics of many religious
     people is that they spend so much time talking about religious
     rules and regulations. They seem mostly concerned about who’s
     “in” and who’s “out”, who’s saved and who’s not, who’ll make it to
     heaven and who won’t. It gets very complicated and sometimes
     very nasty.
          In this afternoon’s scripture, Jesus was surrounded by exactly
     the same kind of religious arguments. The folks around him were
     arguing about whether or not it is right for religious people to pay
     taxes to the government, and who’s going to be married to whom
     in the resurrection. Then one of the religious men, in an effort to
     pin Jesus to the wall, asked him what may have been the toughest
     question of all.
          “What is the most important of all the commandments in our
     religious laws?”
          Jesus never hesitated. Perhaps he was relieved that someone
     had finally asked a question that had some substance to it. This
     was his immediate reply:
          “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with
     all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first
     commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your
     neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the
     law and the prophets.”
          According to Jesus, what’s absolutely essential is loving God,
     and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Those three
     relationships--with God, with our neighbors, and with ourselves--
     sum up everything that’s ever been said or written about God’s will
     for the world.

                                                          I.
          So what does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love
     anyone? One of the most important things I’ve learned in the many
     years I’ve lived is that love is not basically an emotion. There are,
     of course, emotions, very strong emotions, connected with loving;
     but, at its core, love is not basically an emotion. If love were based
     on emotions, what would happen when we find ourselves, as we
     often do, vexed or even angry with our husbands or wives or kids,
     the ones we have promised to love, the ones whom we keep
     saying we do love?

     * Our way of treating them would then go up and down like the
       ocean’s tides.
          * If love were primarily an emotion there would be no
            dependability to our relationships.
               * How we treat those whom we love would depend on our
                 mood at any given moment?

          But love is not primarily an emotion. Love is a decision we
     make, and have to re-make again and again. Love is a choice we
     make about whom and what we will allow to be important to us.
     Based on those decisions, our love then becomes something we
     do.
          Psychiatrist Dr. Scott Peck, author of the massively popular
     book, The Road Less Traveled, says that the first rule of love is to
     give attention. To love is to choose to pay attention to those whom
     we love, allowing who they are and what they think and say, to be
     important to us. Dr. Peck goes on to say that the most important
     part of paying attention is to listen.
          Maybe you know that. You’ve probably noticed when people
     really listen to you. They listen intently so it registers with you that
     who you are and what you think are important. You know when you
     experience it: To be paid attention to, to be listened to, is to be
     loved.
          What if we used that understanding of love to guide us in what
     it means to love God?

     * What if loving God with all our hearts and souls and minds were
       to mean giving careful and personal attention to what is important
       to God, to listen to him?
          * What if we allowed God’s thoughts to be the important truths
            as we seek to understand life and how we should live it, even
            on the days when we’re feeling lousy or sad?
               * On that foundation, our decision to love God would then
                  become an action: doing what God calls us to do. Jesus
                  says we show our love for God by loving our neighbors.

          I believe that if I did that, I’d be loving God with all my heart,
     soul, and mind—letting his revealed truth be more important to me
     than anything else, more than the latest fads or the prevailing
     political correctness or my own changing emotional dispositions.
     Loving God means choosing to listen to what he says and then
     doing it: loving my fellow human beings.
                                                  
                                                          II.
          Jesus says that the second of the greatest commandments is
     like the first. We are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
     That’s the heart of what God wants. That’s why God put his
     creation together. That’s why we’re here. God wants a world in
     which all of his human creatures receive and trust his love—and
     then share that love with each other.
          Oddly enough, I think this is a commandment which most of us
     DO obey, often unwittingly, and often destructively; and yet,
     surprising as it may seem, I think we do obey it. Most of the time
     most of us DO love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The
     problem is that much of the time we don’t love ourselves all that
     much--or as we should. Just think about it.

     * Think about those times when you’ve been ugly or unkind to the
       people around you, even people in your own family; how were
       you feeling about yourself at that moment?
          * When we’re cutting and cruel to others, we usually trying to
            prove to the world and to ourselves how smart or tough we
            are. We try to prove it because we don’t believe it.
               * The people who mistreat others may have a bold and
                  confident exterior, but they almost always have a secret
                  rage boiling on the inside—a rage against themselves.

          So we have to go back to the beginning: the first step in loving
     God is to listen to him, to trust what he says; and Jesus’ central
     message is that GOD LOVES US! And not just the religious
     people. “For God so loved the world.”
          Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says specifically that
     God causes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good and
     causes his rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. God
     doesn’t deal with us according to what we deserve but on the
     basis of who he is. God is love, and God loves us. To believe in
     Jesus of Nazareth is to trust that we are loved.
          “Faith is never a habit; faith is a decision that must be made
     again and again.”

          * Very often, certainly in every crisis, we need to make that faith
            decision again, to trust the great mystery of the Gospel: “I am
            a loved, forgiven, and precious child of God.”

               * Trusting that we are loved, forgiven, and precious, we are
                  much more likely to treat others as loved, forgiven, and
                  precious children of God also. That’s how it works.

          When we trust that we are loved, then it follows that loving our
     neighbors as we love ourselves will create the kind of world God
     wants. When that happens, we have a glimpse of what it means for
     God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is the basic
     message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: what God wants is a
     world in which the people he loves go on to love each other, living
     together in communities of love.

                                                        III.
          We are to love our neighbors as ourselves; but, you might ask,
     “Just who is my neighbor?” Well, on another occasion, in the
     midst of another series of religious debates in which Jesus’
     adversaries were trying to trap him, that very question was asked;
     and Jesus answered it by telling the parable of the Good
     Samaritan. The conclusion of that parable is that the “neighbor” is,
     by definition, the one who shows mercy. Being a neighbor has
     nothing to do with nationality, religion, color, or class. Being a
     neighbor means sharing the mercy God gives to us with
     whomever we happen to encounter who needs mercy.
          The question rages today within the denomination of which I’ve
     been a part all my life as to whether or not lesbians and gays
     should be ordained for ministry in Christ’s Church. Many devoutly
     religious people within that denomination are adamant in their
     conviction that the Bible expressly condemns homosexuality as a
     sin; and, therefore, gays and lesbians must not be ordained for
     Christian ministry. I have a different view of the biblical message.
          In the biblical days there was no word for homosexuality. They
     didn’t know it even existed. They knew about sexual perversion, of
     course, but sexual perversion happens more often between
     heterosexuals than it does between homosexuals. Using other
     people for our own personal gratification is a sin; but it is not a sin
     that belongs only to homosexuals.
          Even more importantly, in today’s scripture, Jesus says clearly
     that “all the law and the prophets,” everything that has ever been
     thought, written, or said about God’s purposes, is enclosed within
     these two greatest commandments: choosing to love God with all
     our hearts, souls, and minds, and to love our neighbors as we love
     ourselves, showing mercy.

     * If God commands me to be a neighbor, to be merciful, to
       whomever is in need of mercy, surely that includes, among many
       others, the lesbians and gays in our society.
          * Today's medical community is quite clear that homosexual
             people have not chosen their sexual orientation any more
             than I have chosen mine. That’s just how they are made.
               * If I dare to believe that God has given gifts for ministry to
                 me, how can I deny that God has given gifts of ministry to
                 lesbians and gays? They’re God’s creations as much as I
                 am.

          Jesus does not give us the option of choosing whom we will
     treat with mercy and compassion or whom we should love. God’s
     purposes depend on my loving my neighbors, whomever those
     neighbors may be, as I love myself, in the same way that God
     loves me.

                                             C O N C L U S I O N

          One time Jesus said,
     “He who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise
     man who built his house upon a rock.”
          Throughout his ministry Jesus consistently put his emphasis on
     listening to what God says and then DOING it.
          It’s not, finally, a question of who repeats the most religious
     clichés or recites the most correct creeds. We’re not called to
     spend our time arguing about who’s going to heaven and who isn’t.
     All that strikes me as mostly a lot of rationalization to allow us to
     feel secure that we’ve got life’s mysteries all figured out and
     wrapped up in a neat little religious package, a package that
     proves that I and my beliefs are “in” and whoever disagrees with
     me is “out.”
          I will never, in this world, understand all the mysteries of life.
     But what God calls me to do is very simple to understand, not at
     all simple to do, but simple to understand. What matters, finally, is
     that we hear what God is saying to us in Jesus Christ and DO it.
     We are called to DO something: to love God and to love our
     neighbors as we love ourselves.
          That’s it. Jesus says that life’s not about rules; it’s about loving
     relationships.

--Dr. Robert R. Ball,   July 31, 2011



LINKS TO OTHER SERMONS

YOU ARE MY CENTERFIELDER

January 26, 1969

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN?

Sermon from January 25, 1970

FOLK WORSHIP SERVICE

 from April 5, 1970

WHAT SALT IS FOR

Sermon from June 21, 1970

BOLD ENOUGH TO FAIL

Sermon from September 6, 1970

DON'T PUT ME DOWN

Sermon from September 13, 1970

I BELIEVE THAT GOD BELIEVES IN CLAUDE

Sermon from September 27, 1970

WHERE AUTHENTIC PEOPLE MEET

Sermon from December 13, 1970

 T H E    S E R P E N T    D I D    I T

Sermon from February 14, 1971

FROM: M O N O T O N Y

TO: M E A N I N G

Sermon from February 28, 1971

                    FROM ANXIETY

                                                TO FAITH

                                               Sermon from March 7, 1971

                         

                          Y E S,

                                      N O,

                                                and

                                                         W O W!

Sermon by Dr. Robert R. Ball

May 23, 1971                          CLICK HERE

                         

Sermon by Dr. Robert R. Ball

July 11, 1971   

Here Come De Judge

Sermon from August 1, 1971

        BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER

Sermon by

The VERY young seminary intern minister

Mr. William J. Carl III

(Now president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

presented at

MEMORIAL DRIVE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Houston, Texas                          August 8, 1971


>SMILE GOD LOVES YOU

Dr. Robert R. Ball, Sermon presented September 12, 1971

>Seriously But Not Literally

DDr. Robert R. Ball, Sermon presented September 19, 1971

>AUTHORITY FIGURES I HAVE KNOWN

DDr. Robert R. Ball, Sermon presented September 26, 1971

>I Give You Permission

DDr. Robert R. Ball, Sermon presented October 10, 1971

>IT'S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS,

NOT RULES

DDr. Robert R. Ball, Sermon presented JULY 31, 2011


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