Main Street UMC, Kernersville, NC
Love God Love Others

Ash Wednesday – The Most Important Thing

1 Corinthians 13

Welcome to one of two services in the Christian year that are specifically designed to make you feel bad. The ashes, the prayers, the psalm of confession … these are not exactly pleasant.

But feeling bad is not all bad if it gets us headed in the right direction. That’s the purpose of Ash Wednesday, and the purpose of Lent. It’s a course correction. Did you know a commercial airliner in flight is off course 90% of the time? And yet the vast majority of airliners actually make it to their destination. Why? Course corrections. That’s what tonight is about.

Also, please be aware that there’s a huge difference between conviction and condemnation. Conviction is when the Holy Spirit makes you aware of something you need to change. Condemnation is when the forces of evil tell you you’re stupid, worthless, and not worth saving. We are not here tonight to condemn you. But the Holy Spirit may choose to convict you. That may feel bad for a time—but the loving goal is to get you headed in the right direction.

Our Scripture comes from 1 Corinthians 13. This is from the Apostle Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The other day, I had to get the oil changed in my car. So I went to one of those lube shops that can do it in a jiffy. This place had all the latest equipment – they were computerized, mechanized, homogenized, pasteurized … They had all the little extras – said they would check my brake fluid, my windshield fluid, my radiator fluid—even check the fluid on my knees! They had a state-of-the-art waiting room, with free wi-fi, a gourmet coffee bar, a fireplace, nice leather chairs, and a huge flat screen TV.

I was impressed! I said, “Man, this is great. I’m going to enjoy hanging out in here. Now, just one thing: How long will it take to change my oil?”

And the man just looked at me and said, “Well, there’s a problem. You see, we spent so much money on all the latest equipment, on all the little extras, and on this state-of-the-art waiting room, that we don’t have any oil.”

Now, you’re smart enough to know that that story is too ridiculous to be true. Nobody would try to run a lube shop with all the latest equipment, and all the little extras. and a state-of-the-art waiting room but no oil. That would be leaving out the main thing!

And yet I wonder …

• How many of us are filling our lives with all the latest stuff, but we’re leaving out LOVE?

• How many of us are going in for all the little extras, but we’re ignoring the one thing that really matters?

• How many of us are living in a state-of-the-art house where love is a stranger?

• How many of us are so focused on work, getting ahead, getting things done, or doing what we want to do that loving God and loving others takes a back seat?

• How many CHURCHES have state-of-the-art facilities, all the latest equipment, and all the little extras, but no love?

And how many couples, right now, even as I speak, are having a Valentine’s dinner at a fancy restaurant, in a state-of-the-art venue, with all the latest dishes, and all the little extras, but no (real) love?

Oh, they say they love each other, but the truth is it’s just words. They’re just going through the motions. He gave her flowers and candy, but he won’t give her things that really matter, like time, listening, patience, kindness, and meeting her needs. She gave him a heart-shaped valentine, but her real heart is full of anger, resentment, bitterness, and mistrust.

Tonight, couples all across America are sharing the love that’s sold in stores, but they they’ve never experienced the love that’s displayed on the cross.

And Paul says that without love—without real love—self-giving, sacrificial, Christ-like love—we have nothing:

“If I speak in the tongues of angels, but do not love, I’m just a noisy gong.

“If I have faith that can move mountains, but not love, I’m nothing.

“If I give away all my possessions, but do not love, I gain nothing.”

LOVE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THERE IS. And when I say love, I don’t mean the kind of love that’s being marketed to us right now on Valentine’s Day—not the love that’s sold in stores—but the love that’s displayed on the cross.

And if you want to know what that kind of love looks like in everyday life, Paul describes it quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 13. If you love someone,
– You’ll be patient with them
– You’ll be kind to them
– You’ll forgive them
– You’ll honor them, protect them, and tell them the truth
– You’ll let them have their way (at least once in a while)
– You’ll believe the best about them unless it’s proven otherwise.

Love as Paul describes it is not just an emotion—it’s a set of actions. It’s not something you feel—it’s something you do.

Paul describes this active, self-giving love, and he insists that this love is the most important thing:

“If I speak in the tongues of angels, but do not love, I’m just a noisy gong.

“If I have faith that can move mountains, but not love, I’m nothing.

“If I give away all my possessions, but do not love, I gain nothing.”

Love is the most important thing.

One day Jesus was teaching in temple and somebody came along and said, “Hey, Jesus—what’s the Greatest Commandment?”

And Jesus said, “Well, actually there are two:
o Love God with everything you’ve got,
o And love your neighbor as yourself.”

So what are the Greatest Commandments?
– Love God
– Love others

What’s the priority for our lives?
– Love God
– Love others

What’s the most important thing?
– Love God
– Love others

This year at Main Street we’re going to spend the season of Lent focusing on Loving God and Loving Others. We’re going to make the most important thing in the Bible the most important thing in our lives.

Our Lenten sermon series, beginning this Sunday is called, “Love God, Love Others.” In your bulletin you’ll find a list of Daily Scripture Readings that will help you love God and love others. If you want your life to be about what really matters, then be present for these sermons, read these Scriptures, and use these 40 days of Lent to reorient your life around The Most Important Thing

And that brings me to the ashes. The ashes of Ash Wednesday represent two things: Repentance, and Mortality.

Repent means “to turn.” It means to realize you’re going the wrong way, and turn around and go the right way. Sometimes that involves feelings of guilt and sorrow and remorse, but those feelings aren’t the point. The point is getting back on track.

Tonight you may need to repent because you’ve neglected the Most Important Thing. You’ve neglected your family. You’ve ignored your friends. You’ve taken your spouse for granted. You’ve allowed your relationship with God to fall by the wayside. You’ve been impatient, unkind, angry, and self-centered. You’ve put your wants and desires first, and the legitimate needs of others last.

The Good news is that tonight, you get to repent! Isn’t that awesome? Repentance is a wonderful thing. It’s a freeing thing. It’s a chance to start over.

So come receive these ashes and get a fresh start!

The other thing these ashes stand for is MORTALITY. They call to mind the words of committal – the last words we say at a funeral service. We place our hands on the casket or the urn and we say, “This body we commit to its resting place; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

These ashes remind us that life is short. Our days are numbered. So the time to love is NOW. The time to focus on what really matters is NOW. Because you may not have tomorrow!

Stop saying, “Sweetheart, when things slow down, I promise I’ll spend some time with you.”

Stop saying, “Let’s get together someday” – because someday may never come.

Life is short, but the good news is that tonight you can get refocused.

Come receive these ashes and resolve to focus your life on the Most Important Thing.

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