First & Christ UMC Chestertown

At the Corners of High & Mill Street

The Main Thing

Posted by on Feb 28, 2020

Sunday, January 26, 2020

I’ve heard it numerous places how important it is to keep the main thing the main thing. So, I did a little research. I found the name Stephen Covey, a businessman and motivational speaker who wrote the popular guide, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He lists ten life-changing quotes. Number 2 on his list is keeping the main thing the main thing.

There are lots of distractions in life. Don’t you feel that to be true? Lots of things that can seem to pull us in lots of different directions. We have lots of things clamoring for our attention.

Maybe you have seen a caricature of a dog who sees a squirrel and is completely captivated by it. He forgets what his master has commanded him to do. He forgets what he was going to do because a squirrel has appeared.

As I am sure you are aware, the United Methodist Church has been dealing with some controversial issues, mainly how we deal with sexuality issues. For many, this has become a major distraction. There has been a report in the news lately announcing that the United Methodist Church is all ready to divide over these issues. I want you to understand that what has been in the news lately is not a true picture of what is going on.

Recently, a group of 8 bishops and 8 lay leaders got together and produced a plan of what it might look like if we separated. They are presenting it as a proposal. That’s all it is, a proposal. It will be considered along with other proposals when our General Conference meets this spring.

I don’t know where we will come out on this. No one does. There are many opinions, even within our own congregations. One of the dangers we face is losing sight about keeping the main thing the main thing.

One good thing about successful people and organizations, including churches, is that they are able to keep focused. They are not so easily distracted. They can keep the main thing the main thing. The most successful person I know of is our master, our leader, Jesus Christ. Jesus always kept focused on keeping the main thing the main thing.

Turn with me again in your scriptures to today’s Gospel reading starting at Matthew 4:12. I also encourage you to get a pen out. You should always bring your bible to church with you. We have pew Bibles here for you in case you forget or for folks that are not used to coming to church. They might not think to bring theirs.

Most of you are folks who are used to coming to church. You are not strangers. You should bring your Bible to church with you. I would also encourage you to bring a pen because there just might be something you want to write down.

It’s not because of anything I come up with on my own. Let me share something with you. I do all I can as I think and pray on what I will share with you to listen to the Holy Spirit of God. Sometimes I get it right. I think what I have to say to you comes from the Lord. That it’s worth your attention.

I do my best to present it in a way that is memorable. I promise you I work hard at that. I will continue to do so. However, maybe there will be something you should write down.

When you write something down, you have a better chance of remembering it. Find a pen. Borrow one from your neighbor. Next week, bring your own! OK?

Let’s recap what’s been going on before this in the gospel of Matthew. We have the birth narrative in Chapter 1. Then in Chapter 2, there is the coming of the wise men. Chapter 3, we start reading about John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. And, at the start of Chapter 4, we have the temptation of Jesus. After the temptation is over, we have today’s scripture.

Jesus hears that John has been put into prison. He leaves Nazareth, moving to Capernaum on the sea of Galilee. In verse 17, we read that from that time on Jesus began to preach. This fulfills a prophecy of Isaiah’s that said that the people living there in darkness would see a great light. Isaiah was talking not of physical darkness, but of spiritual darkness.

Notice that it does not say the sermon that Jesus gave that day was about such and such. Matthew was not sharing the topic of the day. He says, “From that time on…Jesus began to preach.”

Jesus would use many parables, many stories, many ways of teaching. There was one thing that He was always trying to get across. One idea that Jesus was keeping as the main thing. What was the main thing? Matthew put it down in eight words.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Do you want a summary of Jesus’ preaching and teaching? That’s it! Right there!

“Repent , for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Just so you get it down in your head, I want you to do two things. First, with that pen I had you find earlier, write it down.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Got it? Then, let’s say it together.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

That’s it. That was, and is, the main message of Jesus. It’s important to read the rest of what Jesus talks about, but I think you will find that everything relates back to these eight words. This is the main message of his preaching.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

What did he mean by that? First is the call to repentance. Maybe you have heard this before. In fact, I know you have because you heard it from me, probably from a lot of other preachers, too.

What’s it mean to repent? In its most basic sense, to repent means to stop what you are doing. Turn around. Start going in the other direction.

Ever since Adam and Eve, humanity was going in the wrong direction. We were created to be right with God; to love him, to glorify him, and to enjoy being with him. We were created to dwell with him in the Garden of Eden.

Something went wrong. We came under the influence of evil. We started going in the opposite direction. Instead of loving the light, instead of living in the light, we chose darkness.

We got lost in sin. We became broken by sin. We got separated from God as the result of our sin.

I don’t need to elaborate on the definition of sin. I know that you know about sin. You instinctively feel it. You instinctively, just like Father Adam and Mother Eve, want to hide because of it.

Adam and Eve, after they did what God told them not to do, when they heard God walking in the garden, do you remember what they tried to do? They tried to hide from God. Why?

Because they said, “We were naked and afraid…”

What in the world were they afraid of? God knew what they looked like naked! He made them that way! Afraid of God? What put that into their heads? Sin did. Natural reaction.

“Oh, I did something wrong. I better hide.”

There is no hiding from God. He knew where they were. He knows where we are.

Even today, even as Christians, we have this instinct to try to hide what we do that is wrong from God. We will lie. We will try to cover up. We will try to blame someone or something else. Adam and Eve did it. We have been doing it ever since.

That’s why Jesus had to come. That’s why he had to preach what he preached. Repent! Stop it! Stop going the way you are going. Turn around! Make your way back to God!

Actually, you don’t even have to make your way to God. Just stop. Turn around. God will make his way to you! You only have to turn around instead of turning away from him.

Stop what you are doing because what you are doing, that sin, is leading you away from God. It’s putting up a wall between you and God. Friend, nothing is worth that!

Nothing is worth it. I don’t care how attractive it is. I don’t care how much it glitters. I don’t care how much it makes you think it will make you happy. If it is not of God, it is not worth it!

I know this is a hard truth. We hear it. We know it. We believe it. Even so, sometimes we go off in that direction anyway.

God loves with a mighty love. He will keep calling us back. Oh, that we would hear him. Oh, that we would turn to him. Oh, that we would face him. We need not be afraid. We need not fear. He will forgive he will cleanse. He will make new.

Stop what you are doing if it is moving you away. Turn around. That is repentance.

Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is near. The time is now. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year.

Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. Now! Today! Why? Because Jesus is near. Jesus is here. In our present reality.

Sometimes we think heaven is a long way off. I’ve got time. First of all, you don’t know that. Any day can be our last day here on Earth. An accident can happen and our lives can be snapped out in an instant. Something can fail in our bodies. We die or descend to death in a way that just leaves us no time. We always want to make sure we are right with God and right with one another.

Our eternal life is not something that starts when we die. It can start now, the moment we believe. It starts the moment we give our lives to Christ.

It’s right here. The chance to make things right with God is right now. Don’t have to go a moment longer without him. You can be set free from whatever it is that has you bound and be right with God.

Jesus is here right now to give us life. Praise God! He wants to teach us about God’s love. He wants to teach us about service to others. He wants to invite us into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. He wants to make us part of his body, the church. All of that is right here.

It’s why he came. It’s why he died. It’s why he rose up from the grave. It’s why he ascended into heaven. It’s why the Holy Spirit came down to dwell within us.

Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

That needs to be our cry to the world today. We need to keep that as our message, as it was the main message of Christ. Our world needs to hear it. Someone in your family needs to hear it. Someone who lives on your street needs to hear it. Someone who works with you needs to hear it. Someone you socialize with needs to hear it. Not everybody knows yet. They may have heard it, but they don’t know it yet.

One of the only ways they will come to know it is through us. It has to be our main message, too. Let us not be distracted. Let us not go off on side things. We may not agree on all things, but let us agree on this.

We are called to be made right with God. Jesus is the way to that right relationship. Trust and believe in him. Let his love live in you and through you.

The kingdom of heaven is near because Christ is near. Let it be that the kingdom of heaven is near because you are near. Because we are near. Because we are here.

That’s why God has us here on High Street in Chestertown, Maryland. As long as we let our light shine, the darkness will not prevail in our town. If we live out our faith, if we do not hide, if we stay right with God, we can bring others to Him.

Oh, Christian. Oh, brother and sister in Christ. Let us keep the main thing the main thing.

“Repent…for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Amen.