For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NLT)
These are very familiar verses; well, at least the part about God’s plans for our future being good and hope-filled with His promises, and the fact that when we pray JHWH is going to be listening with both ears! You can buy plaques at the bookstore with these words; we write it on graduation Bible covers. Good words – God’s plan for us is good…protected…prosperous!
We certainly do like the sound of those words! Preach it, Lord!
But then, as in many other parts of Scripture, God muddies the waters and puts a spin on what we wanted to hear, which was: let the good times roll…let the blessings fall down like rain!). But, if we’re honest, what we are forced to hear (or ignore) is the last part of it:
For God also says: You know all that about MY good plans for you…hope, prosperity and a good future? They’re just that – MY PLANS; and if you really want in on ALL MY Promises, you must also hear (and live) the part about coming to ME whole-heartedly!
Ok! So…what does “Whole-hearted” mean?
“Commitment” is the all-time favorite word to use if you want to see people scatter!
We use a whole lot of words around the church – Bible words – that tell us what Jeremiah meant about being whole-hearted, or committed to God.
· Loving God with all your mind, soul, strength and spirit
· Give your life to God
But, the hard fact is many people want all the benefits of being close to God, but more than not we have trouble committing to actually doing it – staying close to God.
We want to have Just a Closer Walk with Thee when God’s blessings start flowing, but when God finishes the sentence with the commitment He requires of us to stay close – it’s more like we run like a scalded rabbit in the opposite direction!
You cannot have both; you cannot have blessings AND
be independent of the One who is the Blesser!
Another factor that enters this equation is the difference between being a metaphysical Christian and being genuinely close enough to God to get your hands dirty.
A metaphysical Christian is someone who loves the idea of loving Jesus, loving God, and walking with the Holy Spirit, but somehow his or her Christianity never gets out from between his own ears. It’s all hymns, cum-bay-ya around the campfire, first in line at dinner-on-the-grounds, and all the feel-good stuff, but the idea of committing to be a servant in the Kingdom requires an appearance of the Virgin Mary in his cornflakes.
Now, don’t misunderstand me – the head/heart/metaphysical stuff isn’t bad…we do need a vertical relationship with God and a prayer life. But God called us to more than that – he called his church to get together, stay together and work together. Churches that do that will find they become healthy, strong and connect with many ways in the Kingdom of God to do the work of God. Churches that refuse to go to work become bloated, sick and in danger of needing a funeral director, rather than a pastor.
Taking the cornflakes out of our doctrinal stance here, let me review with you just what it means to be committed to God in a practical sense (as opposed to just the ethereal and metaphysical “head/heart” relationship).
To be committed is to be part of the Bride of Christ, the church here on earth. Many people take the high-sounding stance that so-called “organized religion” isn’t for them, because of all the hypocrites and holier-than-thou types. So….what’s the choice, un-organized religion, where I keep to myself so all those hypocrites won’t contaminate my pure and holy walk with Jesus?
Friend – Jesus never talked about a church like that in the Gospels. But example after example in the New Testament shows us that God wants us to commit to the earthly expression of His body – the church.
He wants us to be whole-hearted seekers of him together – which leads to the other understanding of what commitment is all about for a practical follower of Jesus Christ…whole-hearted not only means commitment…
The community-expression of God’s church on earth is just what you’re looking at – look around at the warm bodies in the pews; we’re it!
And each one of us, when we joined this community of faith, made vows. Take a look in our hymnal page 38 and be reminded of what it is like to commit to being part of Christ’s church:
As members of Christ’s universal church, will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries?
As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?
And so, is that your testimony? That you are committed to being in worship and discipleship regularly? That your gifts (tithes and offerings) are brought regularly? That you offer yourself in service? That your life away from this building is a witness for Christ?
Or were those vows simply a ritual; you said the words, but nobody really expects you to do all that stuff…do they?
Short answer: only if you really want to see God and His blessings. He is only visible to those who seek Him whole-heartedly!
I want to suggest that you think about that whole-hearted thing this week. Read this sermon online, or take a copy home with you and re-read it.
Because next Sunday we will have a time to re-focus on those vows of commitment and whole-heartedness as we gather at the baptismal waters to renew those vows.
We will say “yes” to the blessings; it also means we say “yes” to our commitment to community!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!