My church has claimed the four weeks before Advent as a Season of Thanksgiving. With that said, I had a very small encounter today that left me with a feeling of absolute gratitude. I visited my five year old son at school and was overwhelmed by the fact that he said that I made his day. I knew at that moment that I was very blessed. I made my son’s day by showing up and being present in his life.
“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16 NRSV).
It is amazing to me how God continues to move in my life. I prepared my upcoming sermon early as I would be at Annual Conference this week. I thought that I had finished the task that needed to be done and was off to Glorietta, New Mexico without any worries. My focus was to be placed on my interview for ministry and doing the business of the connected church.
My family stayed back in Truth or Consequences. I do not travel well without the whole family being together. I am in a wonderful area of New Mexico, but it is not the same without my two stinky boys and my wife. Without their presence there is something missing. I have a sense of loneliness that is sometimes overwhelming.
Knowing that I really miss my time with my family, this short phrase that is mentioned above kept coming to my mind. I took some time to review my writing and double checked to make sure that I had a complete sermon ready to go. In a moment I realized that my own life reflected the message which was laid on my heart to preach this coming weekend. This is my love letter to my wife and children. My personal narrative of love and joy merged into Paul’s writing.
“I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” This passage is such a short and simple sentence with passion behind every word. It is the commitment of love. The connection that we share in my house is one that promises that I may not like what you do 100% of the time, but I will never stop giving thanks for you. This love is impossible to measure or fully explain. It is simply present.
It is my love for my family which I easily translate to my love and understanding of God. This radically transforming presence of the Divine is revealed in my life on a daily basis. This love that demands my entire participation regardless of how I feel or what my circumstances may be. This love is vital to my life and empowers me to continue to become something that I never imagined possible.
May you be filled with gratitude and never stop giving thanks for those who are closest to you. It is within the act of loving each other that our God is revealed in our lives. We take the love that we share with those who are closest to us and share that love as Christ did with our community. May the world see and know us by our love for it is in loving that we encounter the risen Christ.
This week my sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. I am always drawn to Paul’s opening statements, particularly “I thank to my God always for you” (1 Cor. 1:4 NRSV). While the phrase is wonderful and is great when referring to those people to whom I enjoy the company of their presence, I must admit I fall short of being able to make this proclamation of joy when I deal with those I find challenging. In fact, many times I lack the ability to feel “thankful” for difficult people. (I hope I am not the only one who struggles with this issue).
This is where faith comes into the picture. When asked directly which commandment is the greatest, Jesus said something like this, “Look. Let me sum up every commandment you have ever been given. Love God, and love each other. If you do these two basic things, you will follow every other thing God has asked you to do.” In other words, love must be a verb as well as a noun. We are called into action to worship the Divine.
This action word of which I speak challenges us to connect with something bigger than ourselves. We are to represent God, even when we don’t feel like it. This includes embodying the nature of Christ to those people whom we would rather not speak to as well as those people whom we do not like. I know this is easier said than done, but why not attempt to do what the Master said?
As we put the verb into action our understanding of the noun will grow. The verb moves us to extravagantly worship the noun which is the creator of the universe. Will you be the one in which the love of God, through your deeds, transforms the world, or will you be content to let the one to whom we give praise remain contained without purpose and then make the choice to simply sit back and do nothing? The choice is yours. Say yes to the verb, and then do it. Love each other and in the middle of what you do, the presence of God will fill you with peace.
We have moments when God reveals God’s self to us in ways that sometimes are very subtle and sometimes knock a person to their knees. I recently had an encounter with the Divine on a day when I least likely expected one. I know a couple who live in a retirement home. They have a lot of illness between them and so they do not live in the same room, but whenever I visit the home I always see them together. They are a remarkable pair who I have come to admire.
She has Alzheimer’s disease and the manifestation of her illness is progressing very rapidly. As typical of the disease, there are some good days and some bad days. Through it all, her husband has been there for her every day. Both of them are well into their nineties and have been married over seventy years. Their story is an amazing chronicle of love, commitment, and honor.
I received word that this dear sweet lady had a stroke and was not expect to recover from her condition. Immediately hearing about the issue, I visited her in the nursing home. Her husband came into the room and we began to talk. I watched him and how he tenderly held her hand and was concerned that his wife knew that she was not alone. He was there just like he had been so many times before.
I sat and watched this holy exchange. I watched the vows of marriage being fulfilled and carried out in a way that took my breath away. Their hands joined together served as a reminder of their love and the glue that connected them together as a single family. I was honored to be in that room. I was touched to be a living witness to this special kind of covenant. I left thinking that this is the promise that I made to my wife. I want to be the person that will hold my wife’s hand and she hold mine.
I was made freshly aware of why I am a minister of the Gospel of Christ. I am invited into those places in people’s lives when the presence of God is so real that you can almost touch it. I am privileged to be a part of the lives of those who call me their pastor. I am allowed to stand in the presence of those around me and to share the message of salvation. Sometimes it is delivered with words, while other times it is delivered in silent witness.
As we celebrated Epiphany this past week, I am grateful that God allowed me to have my own realization. I am grateful for the lives of this couple and the honor to be a witness to their commitment to their God, and to each other. May we all be living Gospels to those who are in need of the Word which came for us, sacrificed for us, and lives within us.