The Art of Love: Relationships Are Matters of the Heart

November 10, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Extravagant Generosity: The Heart of Giving

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

The Art of Love: Relationships Are Matters of the Heart

Deuteronomy 6:4-6; John 13:34-35

            Do you like Country and Western songs? Sometimes these are called “somebody-done-somebody-wrong songs.” You might have heard the joke that if you play a country song backwards you get back your truck, your dog, your job, and your wife or husband.

         Perhaps these lyrics are popular in our culture because they acknowledge our difficulties with relationships, but they also speak from the cynical or negative aspects of our culture. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul encouraged the church to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). But our cynical culture makes it hard to focus on these things, doesn’t it? Sometimes even the church struggles to shift focus from the cynical and negative. That’s why we began a journey last week to consider matters of the heart. And relationships, especially marriages and the love between a husband and wife are matters of the heart, but so is our love for one another.

         In the local Hy-Vee supermarket in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Kurtis, the stock guy, was busily working when a new voice came over the intercom asking for a carry out at checkout register four. Kurtis was almost finished, and wanted to get some fresh air, and decided to answer the call. As he approached the check-out stand a distant smile caught his eye, the new check out girl was beautiful. She was about four years older than he was, but he fell in love.

         Later that day, after his shift was over, he waited by the punch clock to find out her name. She came into the break room, smiled softly at him, took her card and punched out, then left. He looked at her card, Brenda. He walked out only to see her start walking up the road.

         The next day, he waited outside as she left the supermarket and offered her a ride home. He looked harmless enough, and she accepted. When he dropped her off, he asked if maybe he could see her again, outside of work. She simply said it wasn’t possible. He pressed and she explained she had two children and she couldn’t afford a baby-sitter, so he offered to pay for the baby-sitter. Reluctantly, she accepted his offer for a date for the following Saturday.

         That Saturday night he arrived at her door only to have her tell him that she was unable to go with him. The baby-sitter had called and canceled, to which Kurtis simply said, “Well, let’s take the kids with us.” She tried to explain that taking the children was not an option, but again not taking no for an answer, he pressed.

         Finally, Brenda, a United States Marine Corps veteran, brought him inside to meet her children. She had an older daughter who was just as cute as a bug, Kurtis thought, and then Brenda brought out her son in a wheelchair. He had suffered brain damage and was blind after Brenda’s former husband had accidently dropped him as a baby. Kurtis asked Brenda, “I still don’t understand why the kids can’t come with us?” Brenda was amazed. Most men would run away from a woman with two kids, especially if one had disabilities, just like her first husband had.

         Kurtis and Brenda loaded up the kids, went to dinner and the movies. When her son needed anything Kurtis would take care of him. When he needed to use the rest room, he picked him up out of his chair, took him, and brought him back. The kids loved Kurtis. At the end of the evening, Brenda knew this was the man she was going to marry and spend the rest of her life with. They were married on October 11, 1997. A year later Kurtis adopted both of her children. Since then, they have added five more children of their own.

         So what happened to the stock guy and the checkout girl? Well, Mr. & Mrs. Kurt Warner, both devout evangelical Christians, have lived in St. Louis, New York, and lately in Arizona. Kurt was an NFL Quarterback who retired in January 2010, after playing for the St. Louis Rams and leading them to a Super Bowl XXXIV win during the 1999 season, playing for the New York Giants in 2004, and ending his career with the Arizona Cardinals, whom he took to two Super Bowls. Mr. & Mrs. Warner currently oversee their foundation, “First Things First,” serving children’s hospitals, people with developmental disabilities, and assisting single parents. This stock boy and checkout clerk know all too well that relationships, strong families, and love are matters of the heart.

         Let’s focus this week on celebrating those we love and their positive influence in our lives. From the great Shema of the Torah in Deuteronomy to the teaching of Jesus found in John 13, this focus on loving relationships is at the root of the scriptural values of our faith. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

         Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart (Deut. 6:4-6, NRSV). This great scripture is called the Shema, which is Hebrew for “hear” or “listen.” In the Christian faith, we attend to the teaching of the Shema in the context of the teaching of Jesus. One of the ways we express our love for God is through our love for one another. This is a clear expectation of our faith. You may or may not be like me, but sometimes I find this difficult.

         I think all of us, at some time or another, who are married or have been married, have had a time when loving our spouse was difficult. However, as Kurt and Brenda Warner have demonstrated for us over the years, love for one another and especially the building of a strong family relationship is important and essential to the survival of any society in any age! God knew this and Jesus did too. Certainly, as Christians, we should be devoted to building strong families and strong marriages and also in building loving relationships with those in our communities.

         In 1947, Dr. Carl Zimmerman wrote a very important book called, “Family and Civilization.” The book was a result of research he had done on 3,000 years of family life. This Harvard Professor made a powerful case for traditional family structure. The conclusion of his book could be summed up like this: As go the children so goes the culture; as goes the family, so goes society!

         Dr. Zimmerman gave seven indicators that a culture is in decline. See if this rings true even today:

         -An increase in the rate of divorce.

         -Lack of commitment to the permanence of marriage.

         -Redefining the meaning of family as a solution to social problems.

         -Lack of respect for parental authority.

         -Promotion of co-habitation over marriage.

         -Lack of inhibition concerning adultery.

         -Acceptance of all forms of sexuality.

Does any of that sound familiar? Unfortunately today, too many Christians have little, if any, idea about how to build a strong marriage or family. Consequently, rather than being a positive influence on our culture, our culture is being a negative influence on us. Instead of Christians leading our culture toward righteousness, we are letting our culture lead us toward ruin!

         Hear, [O Norwalk First]: The Lord our God, the Lord alone. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. And the Shema continues in verse 7: Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  The Israelites and later the Hebrew people were taught through the Shema to keep God foremost in their minds, hearts, and souls. It is his love that allows us to love our spouse, our significant other, and our children. It is our love for God that allows us to pass on the faith we have in him.

         That command of God’s carried the Hebrew nation for over 3,000 years. But when Jesus came on the scene, he expanded God’s love to include our neighbor as well. John 13:34-35: I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.

         Those words were spoken by Jesus on the night he was to be betrayed. They were the words of a man who knew that his time was at hand, there was no time to lose, every word he uttered that night carried extreme weight. In these words, Christ gives us a new command which, when obeyed, will make us into the most effective witnesses to the truth of Christianity that we can possibly be. The key is love. Love is a matter of the heart. The key to reaching our community and our world for Christ is found in this three-word command, “Love one another.”

         The command to love one another is repeated by Jesus three times in those three sentences. Jesus had taught his disciples much on the subject of love, but he had never specifically commanded them to love one another prior to this occasion.

         I think Jesus recognized an innate flaw that resides within the lives of all of his followers, including you and me. Without specifically commanding his disciples to love one another, there existed the very real possibility that this essential, nurturing activity would be neglected. You see, we are much better at dealing with love as a noun than as a verb. We prefer talking about love rather than demonstrating love.

         Look at those verses again. The source of love comes from Jesus, Just as I have loved you. One writer once pointed out that “Before we can minister in love, we must be mastered by love.” We need such an overwhelming relationship with Jesus that his love flows through us to others.

         And then Jesus goes on to describe the measure or the extent to which we are to love, As I have loved you, so you also must love each other. Love is essentially an action. R. Ainsley Barnwell defines love in this way, “Love is forgetting of oneself in the service of another.” To love means stepping out of our “safe zones” and entering into the life of another. It involves becoming vulnerable. It seeks the highest good of the one being loved.

         The source of our love is Jesus. The extent to which we are to love elevates others over ourselves. And finally, the result of love is this: everyone will know that you are my disciples. Folks, the result of love is nothing short of spectacular. The result of Christians loving one another is that the Church becomes the greatest witness to the world, without even saying a word. When we choose to obey this new command of Christ, the world will have to take note and be attracted to the Savior.

         You see, the world is looking at you and me for matters of the heart. We are on trial. Those outside of Christ are trying to determine if Christianity is for real. They’ve heard the evangelists and the preachers deliver grand expositions concerning what life in Christ is all about. But all that information is not going to amount to anything if they don’t see living examples of the truth. The art of love is in our relationship with others.

         God gave us the command to love him alone and then to pass that love onto the next generation; to build a love for God in the future. Jesus came to us and lived out that command in flesh and blood showing us a new way to not only love God but to love each of those he created in his image.

         As we continue this second Sunday of our stewardship focus on Extravagant Generosity, I want to read to you an excerpt from Bishop Robert Schnase’s devotional guide, Practicing Extravagant Generosity.

In the daily devotional, the author describes how practicing Extravagant Generosity is a fundamental activity because we ourselves have been recipients of Extravagant Generosity:

         Every sanctuary and chapel in which we have worshiped, every church organ that has lifted our spirits, every pew where we have sat, every Communion rail where we have knelt, every hymnal from which we have sung, every praise band that has touched our hearts, every church classroom where we have gathered with our friends, every church kitchen that has prepared our meals, every church van that has taken us to camp, every church camp cabin where we have slept—all are the fruit of someone’s Extravagant Generosity.

         We have been the recipients of grace upon grace. We are the heirs, the beneficiaries of those who came before us who were touched by the generosity of Christ enough to give graciously so that we could experience the truth of Christ for ourselves. We owe the same to generations to come. We have worshiped in sanctuaries that we did not build, so to us falls the privilege of building sanctuaries where we shall never worship. (pp. 41–42)

         You have come to love one another right here in this worshiping community. Consider an appropriate way to express your appreciation of these gifts of grace. Find a way this week to say, “I love you,” to your family members as well and to other people in our community. As Christians we are in the relationship business. We are here to be examples of our love for God and Jesus’ love for us. Relationships are truly matters of the heart. Relationships are truly matters of extravagant generosity. Relationships are truly matters of radical hospitality. “Hear, O Norwalk First: Love each other! This is how everyone will know that you are Jesus’ disciples, when you love each other.”

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