Tag Archives: love

Unlikely Evangelism

well

John 4:5-42

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, `I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, `Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, `One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

When I was growing up in Fernandina Beach, FL, there was a guy who would park his small, red pick up truck on Centre Street in the historic downtown 8 block section of shops and restaurants.  In my memory, he came every Friday morning in the summers, as I worked at Palmetto, LTD, a small clothing shop two blocks from the docks.  He parked right outside the shop sometimes, and had a megaphone as his communication tool.  He screamed out shouts of hellfire and damnation as he stood alone with empty parking spaces all around him and tourists crossing the street to avoid any confrontation.  We usually kept the front door to the shop open to attract more business, but we closed it when he was close by to block out the screaming and wait for him to leave.

This was my early definition of “evangelism” and I was not interested.  I also didn’t see anybody hearing that and thinking to themselves, “Hey, that guy makes a ton of sense and I want that life for myself too!”  Hearing someone yelling out the consequences of our choices is never going to fall into the best practices for changing our beliefs.  We have to change the way we view the concept of evangelism.

An unnamed woman who met a stranger became one of the most famous evangelists in the Gospels.  She didn’t know Jesus when they met at the well, but he surely knew her, just as he knows each and every one of us.  Knowing or believing in him isn’t a prerequisite to being known by God, and this story highlights that this woman certainly wasn’t full of virtues and family values. In the Christian tradition, we know many stories of Jesus’ love, forgiveness, healing and grace, but this woman knows none of this.  Yet she goes back to her community and spreads her story of meeting Jesus so very well, striking just the right chord with those who heard of it, that they became believers who welcomed Jesus to their community.  And it all started with a chance meeting at an unremarkable place, with no planned intentions or prior understanding and in the midst of a load of what we would call promiscuous behaviors.

So how does this connect to my life?  I have always tried to live a life of good works and try always to be my authentic self, but I also rush through my life at a breakneck speed, working to get my to-do list accomplished and fulfill my many roles of wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend and principal.  I know I miss out on opportunities to just tell my story of my encounters with Christ.  I always find the time to tell funny stories, share my struggles with a colleague, hear the latest news from those I know, and even to exchange some tidbits of gossip.  But I don’t always make the time to share the Good News of Christ in the world.  Maybe I don’t know how?  Maybe (and more likely), I don’t share my relationship with Christ with others because it makes me uncomfortable.  And I’m not going to be lumped in with that yelling dude from my childhood for sure, so I don’t seize the opportunities when they are right in front of me.

But if not me, and if not you, then who are we trusting to share God’s love?  Are we leaving it to the street corner screamers?  The televangelists preaching prosperity?  The door to door kids giving out literature?  Those ways don’t work to turn people to Christ – if they did, more people would be doing it.  Instead, we need to walk in our faith in all of our relationships, sharing our faith through our actions of love and support, our words of encouragement rather than hurtfulness, letting our deep love of God show in all we do.  And tell our stories when we can.  If a harlot who has a casual meeting at a well can be an evangelist, then we certainly stand a chance when we TAKE the chance to change the world and bring folks to Christ.

Gracious Father, thank you for continuing to give us the gift of your love and forgiveness.  Equip us with the words and actions to be tellers of your truth in all we do and say.  Continue to lead us to share our love for you and to bring us closer to Christ.  You know our strengths and our challenges and still love us and count on us to do your kingdom work.  With your support we can do more to spread the Good News!  In your name we pray.  AMEN.

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Brave is the New Black

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Matthew 5:38-48

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Concerning Retaliation

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Sometimes (or maybe all the time and I’m too thick-headed to see it clearly), all the readings in the lectionary line up and a Big Picture Idea jumps off the page and sparks an idea.  This week is that time for me.  Here is a link to all the readings if you want more than just today’s Gospel reading. For me, the message I hear loud and clear is to “Be Brave.”

All of this week’s readings are full of do’s and don’t’s; there are some that are suggestions and some that seem pretty black and white no-no’s.  And I think most “come to church every week Christians” really feel comfortable in the rules that are spelled out.  Especially the YOU SHALL NOT ones – man do we love to hang our hats and identities on those! This claim of Christianity often struggles to stretch beyond the rules and leaves us incomplete in our attempts to follow Christ.

I have a friend who teaches Kindergarten. He is a compassionate and committee educator and the students who are lucky enough to be in his class every year learn lessons far beyond the required curriculum and state standards.  He is innovative and diligent in creating a classroom environment where all students are compelled to excellence.  I refer many educators to his blog because he discusses issues in ways that help all educators reflect on their practice.  But my very favorite topic that is a thread throughout all of his written discussions, his professional development presentations with other educators and especially, with his students, is his one and only classroom rule: Be Brave.

Now, you might think that schools should always spell out to students the exact expectations for their behavior, much like the rules from Leviticus do (in extensive and figurative language, of course!), but imagine instead that all of those rules fall under that very broad umbrella of being brave.  Jesus makes some pretty radical statements in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew about how we are expected to treat the people who are the hardest to love – those who wrong us, cheat us, lie to us, repel us and challenge us.  They were even more radical back in Jesus’ day, as the cultural rules and governmental laws actually forbid the very things that Jesus calls us to do.  To follow his example and heed his command to love one another is really quite brave.  Courage is an under-appreciated quality to have when we make the commitment to follow Christ.  I still think some rules are important (speed limits, as an example), but the reason we need them spelled out for us by God and our government is because when we rely on ourselves to keep us in check, we just fail and fall short of loving one another.

Loving one another is not a feeling.  It is steeped in action.  Love as a feeling is fleeting and shallow; love as action is life changing and living out the call to bring Christ to the world.  It takes courage and bravery because it is not easy to do!  When my teenager says those things that she does that cut me to the core, when a parent at school yells at me for a problem completely outside my control, when my husband lets me down, when a hurting person lashes out in anger – responding with love is not my first and most primal response.  And I’m not very good at the loving response that Jesus calls us to have.  My other cheek is in self-preservation mode!  But when we respond back in anger or selfishness or withdraw our outreach and offer judgement instead of love, then we aren’t being very brave!

To quote Chris Rosati, a victim of ALS profiled on the show CBS Sunday Morning, “If I have enough time, I’ll change the world,” it is our jobs as followers of Christ to love with reckless abandon and be very, very brave.  Brave enough to strive to be perfect.  Because any less than that implies that our love won’t be shared with everyone.  Changing the world is exactly what this radical love will do.  Now go out and BE BRAVE!

Lord of love, your reconciled us to you with the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ.  We don’t deserve the grace and mercy you give us every day and we long to be perfect in our love for you and for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Help us to be brave and courageous in our love for your people. We can do all things through you.  AMEN.

Salt and Light

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Matthew 5:13-20

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

When the Super Bowl came to Dallas in 2011, we had an epic ice and snow winter storm.  We were stranded in our house and unable to drive out of the driveway for several days.  It didn’t get above freezing for about 5 days and was bone-chillingly cold overnight.  On about day 3 of the enforced ice-in, we lost power for most of the day.  It was 8 degrees outside and the temperature was dropping quickly in the house.  Luckily, we have a wood burning fireplace and were able to keep the temperature somewhat liveable.  But it was a cloudy day and quite dark inside, making it hard to read a book – one of the only activities we could do with no power or no heat!  We opened the refrigerator sparingly to keep the food from spoiling.  We had some moments of brevity (have I mentioned we are native Floridians and do not enjoy any aspect of the cold weather???) including some simulations with candles at the table in an homage to Abe Lincoln’s log cabin way of life! Light became a fleeting commodity that day and the failure of my refrigerator bereft of power made me think about the old ways of life where preservation of meat was dependent upon the use of salt.

This reading spawns great memories of one of my favorite childhood Vacation Bible School songs, “This Little Light of Mine.” as well as the a reminder of the saying that some of our older generations use when referring to down to earth type REAL people as “Salt of the Earth.” Jesus tells the multitudes present for the Sermon on the Mount that being a follower of Christ gives you the tools to be a game changer for yourself and others through the metaphors of salt and light.

I think a lot about my legacy.  I have moved about in my career, working in several states and changing positions every few years within the school leadership framework.  I start every new job with the end in mind….what will my legacy be when I am long gone? What will the impact of my presence be on the community?  When I think like that and use the mission and vision of the organization, I have found that I spend less time focusing on the details and more time focusing on the big picture issues and decisions.

When I read about Jesus’ teachings, and think about that perspective of legacy, I think that is what Jesus is telling his followers in this Sermon.  He doesn’t discard rules, but rather claims them and fulfills them through the lens of love.  The commandments that we have are meant to be followed, but it is not about the following that Jesus concerns himself.  To provide a metaphor, the rules for driving on the highway need to be followed to keep drivers safe.  But there is no rule for courtesy – it is something that is appreciated within the order of driving safely.  Nobody likes a rude driver, right?

Salt and light are regular, everyday things that today we may take for granted (until we don’t have them in a power outage!!!).  Salt makes food taste better and has historically been used as a preservative.  Light shows us the way to get around in the dark, or gives us more time to spend in conversation with friends and family.  The opposite of light is darkness; and the good things we do generally don’t get done in the dark, right?  The parables and metaphors that Jesus uses to teach simple folks like us make it easier for us to understand the very complex concept of grace and mercy and God’s will for us.  He speaks in this teaching about the end of life goal for heaven and that we must remove those things which separate us from God.  Following the commandments is still necessary, but the rules alone won’t be fulfilling God’s promise.  We must love; bring light to others and make flavorful our lives and those of others with the salt God gives us.

Heaven awaits and Jesus has paved the way.

Jesus, you are Light and Salt of the earth and want us to be the same in your kingdom.  Show us the way and keep us straight on our path to everlasting life in You.  AMEN.

Baptism as a Weapon of the Spirit

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Matthew 3:13-17

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Holy Baptism

“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 298).

In the waters of baptism we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ (from the Episcopal Church website).

I remember hearing this story as a child and wondering (probably out loud, as I was prone to do) why Jesus would need to be baptized by John if he was God.  My lens as a child in the church was that children and sometimes even adults, went to the front (or back) of the church to the baptismal font for a big celebration on Sundays or other holy days.  I knew it was special then, but it wasn’t until I had the honor of standing with my husband as he made the decision to be baptized as an adult in front of our friends and family that I had the full realization of the personal commitment of being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit.  Then, a couple years later, our infant daughter was welcomed as the newest sister in Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever and I nearly lost it that day as the enormity of my responsibility as her parent and fellow Christian to raise her to know and love the Lord, accepting Christ as her savior on her behalf.

Baptism was a relatively new concept started with John.  He brought people to faith and repentance with water, and with the promise of someone greater than him coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:1-8) John and Jesus grew up close like brothers, but had not spent a lot of time together as adults.  John prophesied in the above lesson from Mark about the good news of Baptism in Christ, so I can only imagine how he felt to be in the position to be commanded to fulfill the will of God by baptizing Jesus himself.  I can hope that John had more faith than I would have had under the same circumstances, “You want me to do what to YOU?  Right here?  Right now?  Are you crazy, Jesus???? I’m just not worthy”).

There are some things happening in my life right now that make me feel a strong pull from God in directions that seem quite unusual, difficult, even a little bizarre.  I don’t feel comfortable as I think about this plan that God may have for me that is not aligned with the plan I have had for myself.  Following Him as he leads me into uncertainty DOES NOT MAKE MUCH SENSE.  John probably felt the same way as he was tasked with the actual Baptism of Jesus.  But fulfilling the plan is exactly what he did…and much more as we go on to read in the Gospel stories of his edgy and unusual life.

The baptism of Jesus was a necessary step in the completion of the Trinity.  And each of us takes that step of joining in the relationship when we are baptized as well.  For some critics of baptism in the very young who technically cannot make the decision on their own, here is my response:  It is my job as a parent who decides to bring a child into the world and our family to ensure the choice of future of success and happiness.  I am tasked with making education a priority, teaching values which support a child growing up to contribute to the world, and demanding that she is NICE in the world and to those she meets.  But my most important job is to provide my child the opportunity for a lifelong relationship with God through Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit.  That starts with baptism and continues in my expectations for her and the experiences we give her as parents until she goes out into the world in a few short months to make decisions far beyond our control but hopefully withing the realm of her life to date.

Jesus’ baptism fulfills God’s plan, but it also shines a light onto his bottomless forgiveness, love and compassion.  Malcom Gladwell talks about finding his faith in this article, highlighting the so called “weapons of the spirit.” He discusses meeting a family who lost their child in a horrific murder, and their discussion of forgiveness and love – sounding so foreign under those extreme circumstances of love.  Although I pray I never (and you never) have to experience a life changing event like that, the gift of baptism in my love has given me the weapons I need to approach any challenge I may have with love and forgiveness.  I’m not worthy of the gifts I have received, that much is true.  So as the receiver of those gifts, how can I be selfish and not turn around and share them with others who may or may not be deemed “worthy” in my human eyes?

We are living in a world where things happen that bring us great sadness.  Terrible things happen to the most innocent among us and as we rock along in our well-planned life, a detour pops up that leaves us bewildered and confused.  But God has given us all we need to approach these difficult situations with grace and love, giving gifts we didn’t know we could give because it what God calls us to do.  It’s the most surprising thing to see when a yucky situation is met with love and forgiveness; let’s walk our walk with Christ making it less surprising to see and more of what we expect to happen when Christians face life’s challenges.

John baptized Jesus and we are baptized by water and the Holy Spirit to join our brothers and sisters in Christ in fulfilling God’s kingdom work in our lives.  John followed God’s command and we are called to do the same.  Because don’t we all want God to see us and our work and tell the world he is well pleased with us?

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit.  The love and forgiveness you show to us every day is a gift we want to share with those we meet, even when we may deem them unworthy, just as we are.  Teach us how to love one another without judgment and to respond to the challenges of our world in ways that make You well pleased.  We ask all this through your son Jesus Christ.  AMEN.

Really Forgiven and Loved

woman alabaster jar

Luke 7:36-8:3

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

A Sinful Woman Forgiven

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Some Women Accompany Jesus

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

I was at the hair salon yesterday.  This was one of those LONG appointments where I had several steps of service followed by periods of waiting for the next step.  This always means that my hairdresser is serving several clients at once, sometimes with interesting conversations!  Yesterday, there was a gal there who is on the same “schedule” as I am and our paths have crossed before.  She was reading the newest edition of “People” magazine as she waited for her turn and the cover story was about some of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing.  I only briefly glanced at the cover as she waved it to show our hairdresser – it showed a picture of three beautiful women who had all lost limbs in that terrible tragedy.  This other client was incensed and she began a rant about immigration, terrorists and punishment, while sadly noting the ruin of these three ladies’ lives.

When I read today’s Gospel reading in preparation for this blog, I immediately felt the peace that comes from forgiveness.  Hear me….I am not a believer in forgetting the crimes that have happened to absolutely innocent victims in our country and around the world.  But I am working very hard on forgiveness as a personal choice.  As I listened to the conversation in the hair salon yesterday, my internal dialogue (because I learned a long time ago that the hair salon is a dangerous place to engage with strangers who differ from you in beliefs) went in a completely different direction.  This client stated that we should strap a bomb to the surviving accused man and set it off, letting him suffer without any medical treatment.  That should be his “punishment,” she said.

I couldn’t believe the venom and the malice, but I understand feeling helpless in the face of tragedy.  It doesn’t always bring out the best in us, as I saw yesterday and we see every day in our interactions with others.  Luke’s Gospel story for today addresses forgiveness in two different ways.  One of the ways Jesus shows and teaches about forgiveness is to give grace and mercy to the woman who serves him with the ointment on his feet and using her hair, weeping at the presence of Jesus.  Undeserving the Pharisees – yes.  The good news is we don’t have to do anything to DESERVE forgiveness.  We just get this free gift because of our relationship with Christ.

The second way Jesus teaches about forgiveness is in his conversation with Simon.  His message is about forgiving all sins, no matter the debt – no matter the seriousness.  This really speaks to me and has, ever since I heard a sermon while visiting a church on our last vacation.  Forgiveness isn’t incremental to the sin – it just is forgiveness.  I have no idea if the “Boston Bomber” as he is called has sought forgiveness or has any understanding of Christ’s love for each of us.  But what I know that I have to do a better job with is forgiving others…no matter what.  Not conditional in any way and man, that is HARD to do.  I need to do it even when it is not asked of me.  I need to do it even when I am hurt, sad or mad. This is not a pansy way of just letting folks walk all over me, but really about bravely approaching my call to follow the Great Commission:

Matthew 28:18-20

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We are called to go out in the world and teach others to do what God has commanded.  If forgiveness is what is expected of us as we are forgiven (John 13:34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”) by God, then love needs to be the lens we use to examine our world and all that we do and is done to us.  Wishing pain and misery on our enemies just feels bad, and bad thoughts beget bad thoughts and even bad actions.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is “Be the change you want to see in the world,” by Ghandi.  I can’t sit in my comfy house and wish that everyone was kinder and nice to one another, more forgiving and merciful and more full of love for all mankind.  I have to go out and fulfill the Great Commission myself, hopefully living out the change I want to see in the world.  God forgives us our most grievous sins and our smallest missteps.  We should be striving to do the same – even when it’s hard.

Forgiving Father, we come to you not worthy of your grace and mercy.  We humbly ask your forgiveness for all our wrongdoing and ask you to send your Holy Spirit to guide us in our work in the world.  Send us out to do the work you have given us to do and help us to love one another as you have loved us, unconditionally.  We ask all things through our mighty Savior, Jesus Christ.  AMEN.

The Great Invitation

John 17:20-26

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

When I was a freshman in college, I experienced one of the greatest social experiments for students this age – I pledged a sorority.  I went to college far from home; no phone back then (much less a cell phone!!), no T.V., no car and not a soul that I knew.  Sorority rush was a few weeks after I arrived and I immediately felt a sense of belonging on my bid day.  I not only had new friends, but I also spent the semester learning about the beliefs of our founders and was introduced to a life long focus on serving others and philanthropy within a community, separate from my parents and my childhood and something I could own and believe in.

I remember standing in line on bid day and there was a group of girls in front of me that clearly all knew each other.  They laughed at jokes that had unspoken insider information and already seemed to have that “sisterhood” thing before even accepting their bid.  But some of them weren’t like girls I had ever known.  They dressed differently, talked with strange accents from parts of the country I had never visited – and I was quite intimidated.  Fast forward 27 years and these are some of my lifelong friends and sisters.  All I needed was the “invitation.”

Being a follower of Christ is so much greater than my sisterhood in my sorority.  Some obvious differences include that EVERYONE is invited to believe and follow Christ, no one who chooses to live a life in Christ will ever feel rejected in that relationship and we don’t have to DO ANYTHING to be deserving of acceptance.  This verse from John describes the complex and simple dichotomy of the relationship of Jesus with God – both praying to the Lord and depicting his role as part of the Trinity, therefore inclusive WITH God. His words from verse 22-24 are a clear articulation of Jesus’ desire to share his knowledge and love of God with his friends and followers, as well as for you and me.

The world gets a lot more simplified when we view it through this lens of love.  Loving our neighbors as ourselves, God’s love for the world and its people illustrated through sending his Son to take away our sins, loving our enemies, and trying to love ourselves as God loves us.  All the other stuff we experience in the world can be flipped around if we filter it with love.  Just try feeling anything other than love for someone who wrongs you when you remember that he or she is a child of God, just like you!  It’s much harder to hang on to hurt when we are invited to love.  Loving Christ and others through him makes everything easier to handle and the world a much better place.

God of love, open our hearts to reach out in love to those around us; at home, at work, at school, in our community and those we don’t even know.  Help us to feel your love for us each day and to live out our lives in a way that honors your greatest commandment.  We thank you for your many gifts and we ask you to lift our eyes to you to feel your love for us.  In your name we pray. AMEN.

Forgiveness Within Reach

John 20:19-31

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Jesus and Thomas

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The Purpose of This Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believethat Jesus is the Messiah,the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Maybe it’s just me, but forgiveness is a tough one.  I have to work really hard on forgiving those who I perceive have wronged me.  Now, I’m not talking about forgiving someone for taking my parking place at the mall or for drinking the last diet coke…I’m really thinking about those biggies.  One of the ways to really “get” to me is to misrepresent me.  When someone says, “I heard you said blah blah blah,” or “I heard you did blah blah blah,” and those things not only didn’t happen but are contrary to what I WOULD have said or done, it doesn’t bring out the best in me.

But Jesus is pretty clear about the concept of forgiveness.  He appears to his disciples following his resurrection, breathing on them the Holy Spirit (wondering about the awesomeness of that!!!!) and explained about forgiveness.  He said, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Talk about empowerment!  Jesus uses the Holy Spirit to gift the disciples with the ultimate power of forgiveness, while chiding them at the same time about what happens if they don’t fully utilize this incredible gift.  Through the building of the wider body of Christ, we all have the same responsibility as Christians.  Forgive others.  Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on this method of forgiveness.  He gives them the power and through the gift of love we all have the same power.  And when we don’t forgive others?  That’s pretty clear too…the sins are still there. 

That’s pretty discouraging if you think about it terms of just humans.  But the best news of all is that we are forgiven in totality when we ask God.  He will NEVER “retain our sins,” and gives us forgiveness no matter the grievance.  And I can assure you I have some pretty egregious sins, I tell you!  I ask…he forgives.  So why can’t I do that too?

I want to forgive, I really do.  I often have to forgive over and over again until it is gone, because one time forgiveness can still leave me with retention of the hurt and pain that came with the wrong.  That’s why this one is such a tough issue – our humanity stands in the way of forgiveness at times.  But holding on to resentment, pain and the feeling of being wronged gets right between us and God, which no one really wants, especially God!

This joyous Easter season of new life brings new opportunities to grow in our faith.  Let’s commit to work on forgiveness…of ourselves and others, without exception.  It’s the purest form of love – Agape love.

Lord, we ask you to guide our hearts and minds to forgive.  Help us to know and love you and show that love to our brothers and sisters.  When we struggle with this, show us the way to reach out and heal our wounds and those of others.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  AMEN.