I want to illustrate this first point by way of a brief story: In working with kids this summer at a mission for children, I remember a particularly poignant conversation I had with a young man, not yet 16, who lived at the mission. Now you just gotta know this kid: ever the smart-Alec, loved to give me all kinds of grief, but with the biggest of hearts. And I remember there was this one night I found myself discussing with him about why he had walked away from his Christian faith. You see, I had been at his baptism just a couple years prior and upon learning that he had since left the faith, I just wanted to know what had happened. What he told me that night has stayed with me every day since then, truly, and is the inspiration for this message. He said he no longer saw the meaning in following Christ. “So we pray before meals”, he said, “we drag ourselves to Church on Sunday morning”, “we do all the stuff, but where's the meaning?" I was stunned. How my friend had gone from such an eager young believer, to so totally disaffected with God and His Church baffled me, but not for long.
In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus talks to us about love. Verses 34-40 record how the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up by asking him to name the greatest commandment in all the law. Jesus responded with a quotation from the Hebrew Scriptures, saying that to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul—This is the first and greatest of all of God's commandments.
Now, at first blush, the Pharisees query doesn't seem like much of a stumper, nor Jesus' answer particularly novel, but if you had to answer this question without the benefit of knowing Jesus' response, what would you say? Well, some might answer an active prayer life. Others might point to regular Bible reading. Still others might argue for regular church attendance or a political battle; a social justice cause. Do you see the problem now? The Pharisees understood that a wrong answer to this question could tilt the axis of biblical theology so far one way or the other that it would all come crashing to the ground. However, Jesus knew this, as well, and he not only knew this, but in everything he did, he modeled for us the importance of keeping our love for God central to everything we do. Because if we miss that first part—loving God with all that we are—we can strip the meaning from everything that comes after and we'll end up just quitting altogether. That is how my friend could be so on fire for God and then not. It's how you can have senior Christians who have sat in the same pew, sung the same hymns, taken the same communion emblems for decades whose faith has atrophied and grown cold. And it's how you and I can fill our lives up with spiritual stuff that makes us feel good, or feel Christian—stuff that may very well honor God—but, in the end, be nothing more than whitewashed tombs full of dead bones. Jesus knew: if we don't love God, we excise the very heart from our faith. That's why this is so important.
So, what do we do? When our love for God has ebbed and our faith as a result, what do we do? The Bible has an answer for us: we remember where we came from, repent of anything between us and God, and then remain in Him. Remember, repent, and remain: three r's taken from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
You know the story, after taking his Father's inheritance, going off to a far country, and blowing it all, the prodigal soon finds himself bumming slop off a team of hogs at a farm. “When he came to his senses" in Luke 15:17 "he said, "‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” That is, he first remembered from where he'd come from. Then in verses 18-20, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; take me back as one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.” His repentance, the second R, was him apologizing to his Father and then returning to restore their relationship. The final R is remain. We don't know what happened to the Prodigal son after the story's end. We do know that his father, like God our Father, accepted him back, not as a servant, but as his beloved son, but whether the son choose to remain in that love for the duration of his life is only speculation. However, it is not enough to simply remember and repent, we must remain in God's love.
And, in closing, that's not a hard task, for when make a habit of reflecting on who God is, how great He is, we cannot love help but love Him. And when we love God, people cannot help but see .And, maybe, will come to love him too. To love God with all our hearts and minds and souls, I pray this for my friend and I pray this for us as Body of Christ, as well. Thank you very much.