“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
There is an old hymn that goes something like this; “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” It is comforting that in our opinion-laced, judgment-centered world that Jesus offers each of us something that is in short supply; grace. Jesus wanted to let his disciples know that they are not servants or employees that clock in and clock out, rather they are friends that are cherished and beloved. The gift of friendship Jesus shares with us allows us to be ourselves around God, to unwind and bear our heart and soul to the One that redeems us and calls us God’s own. “O what a friend we have in Jesus….” As Jesus reaches out to us and gathers us in, we are called to witness the same grace as Jesus offers to us. God knows people need someone who they know cares and is invested in them, just for being who they are or where they find themselves. Grace is all about truly being invested in the well-being of somebody else. You are needed by someone because you are needed by God to share the Good News of Jesus Christ that offers grace upon grace no matter the circumstance or your opinion of how a person should be, look like, or how they may dress. Jesus was far more concerned about people then programs, procedures, or decorum; more concerned about their needs than socio-economic status, academic achievement, political affiliation or neighborhood in which they live. The love of God transcends the judgment of others and offers friendship; the last breath of Jesus hanging on the cross befriended a criminal who was hanging next to him. You are needed by God to share the grace of God with all of God’s people. Jesus defines us as “friends” because we are needed by him. You are needed because somebody else just needs a break and understanding that they are not alone in this life and in the life to come; you need to let them know, for the love of God…. Thank you Jesus for the privilege to serve.
“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
II Corinthians 9:7
It is truly a rare person that takes joy in paying their bills; bills are a reality of living in our culture. Sometimes we worry if we will be able to pay our bills, other times we can, still other times we know we cannot pay some of our bills at all. All this worry about bill paying can, and does, adversely impact both our physical health and emotional well-being. Giving to the ongoing ministry of Jesus is profoundly different; our giving is not bill to pay but a thanksgiving to God for the blessings we have received. God doesn’t force us to offer gifts to the church nor does the church pressure people to give, as St. Paul wrote, “give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” The gifts we offer to God are purely given out of gratitude for all the grace God continues to shower upon us. The joy of giving is the knowledge that our faithful stewardship truly makes a difference in somebody else’s life. Think of giving as a commitment to the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ, using what God has entrusted to us. The spiritual discipline of giving is like any other discipline, the more it is practiced the more a part of life it becomes. When our priority is serving God through our Risen Savior Jesus Christ, our giving becomes an absolute joy. We promised God to participate in the ministries of Jesus Christ through our giving; the resulting miracle of our faithful stewardship is an increase in God’s blessing in our lives and in the lives of others. Giving is a joy that lightens our load and increases our commitment to God. No matter how large or small the gift, the heavens celebrate in your generosity and shares in your joy. Thank you Jesus for all the gifts we have received and the privilege of joyfully giving back to you.
“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home at ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
Have you ever ventured through an attic or basement and noticed how much stuff accumulates that we cannot remember where it came from or why you still kept it around? At one time it was probably special and maybe a special person gave it to you as a token of affection or in hopes that it would provide some type of comfort or enjoyment. It is not the gifts or the cash however, that is the longest lasting gift, it is our gift of time to somebody else. Though things fall from memory, someone who stood by us through a difficult time will never be forgotten. In the early church everything was a celebration; food, drink and especially the gathering of the faithful. It is no wonder the “Lord added to their number” day by day because truly that is what is yearned for; a community to laugh with, cry with, and be with. In our baptism, we promised to serve by our “presence.” In other words, as God is “there” for us at every turn of our lives, we are called to be there for others. The more we serve, the more our Spirit-enlivened presence is felt, celebrated and appreciated. Someone told me a few weeks ago that we should “worship like our life depends on it, because it does.” Worship brings the people of God together in one place for a few hours a week to just let go and let God into our lives. We are called to serve with our “presence” because you are needed by someone else to come along side to give support and comfort, especially in times of uncertainty or loss. Be there for somebody who is alone, tired, abandoned, hurt, unsure, dying, cast aside; the list is endless. Be present with the love of God; the time is now to be present, especially for those crying out, “precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn…” (Thomas Dorsey, “Precious Lord, Take my Hand.”) You are called to be the presence of Christ in the life of another because within you abides our Living Lord. Thank you Jesus!
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
At the time of our baptism, we promised God to pray. Our prayer is our connection to God and is a lifeline to those we have been called to serve. Prayer is no trivial act to do before meals and during worship; prayer is the power that transforms lives. Consider the grand prayer of Jesus for us according to John chapter 17. As he prays for his disciples he prays for us that God sanctifies us in the “truth.” The truth that Jesus refers to is not our own truth, which is counter-intuitive, rather it is the truth that sets the prisoner free, the truth that has the power to transform lives. Our prayers are intended to impact the lives of others in significant ways because in our connection to God we are empowered to reconnect and deepen not only our own relationship with God but especially to be the catalyst for others to truly know the power that will offer them hope and comfort no matter the challenges they may face. We are charged to pray for one another in a concert of prayer that celebrates the reality of God’s presence alive in the world. For Jesus, prayer was not a second thought or a ritual to be performed; it was a lifestyle to lead. King Solomon had everything he ever needed and a kingdom beyond compare. God told him pray for anything you want, “Ask what I should give you.” (I Kings 3:5) This could have been like winning the lottery for Solomon, he could have asked for great riches for himself and God would have given it to him. Yet he did not pray for himself, he had a heart for those he served; “give your servant therefore an understanding of mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil…” (I Kings 3:9) When we are “sanctified in the truth” no longer is life just about us, it becomes about those God has called us to serve. Jesus prayed that each of us are “sanctified in the truth,” which has equipped us to be the holy people of God, set apart to witness a love and power far beyond our wildest imagination. When you pray you are offering someone else an eternal gift that can never be taken away or outgrown. Pray without ceasing; the power that God has graciously offered to you through Jesus will be a lifeline not only to you but to the world around you. Thank you Jesus for the gift of prayer.
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Our world ultimately was transformed when Jesus was baptized. Jesus’ baptism was just not about him just as our baptism is not just about us. It is said that baptism is an “outward sign of an inward grace,” and that is true. From the time of our conception God has been working in us and offering grace upon grace to give us a gift that can never be taken away. Baptism represents a moment in time for us to understand that we have graciously been received into something far greater than we could ever imagine; the eternal gift of salvation. Through the sacrament of baptism, we recognize that some of the things we do, say and think (sin) are actually keeping us away from living life in true God-given abundance and grace. Baptism is a life-transforming act of God in you. Just as the heavens opened at the time of Jesus’ baptism to hear God proclaim, you are my Son, “the Beloved,” at your baptism the heavens rejoiced as well. You are the beloved of God and God wants nothing short of offering you eternal life and believing that through Jesus the Christ your life can be profoundly transformed. No matter the journey you are on, know that God, through our Risen Savior Jesus, is with you. You are not alone. Baptism is more than a chance to wear nice clothes and a ritual to perform, it is a gift with temporal and eternal implications. Remember your baptism, celebrate your baptism because truly you are God’s beloved. Thank you Jesus for your eternal gift.