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Posts tagged ‘God’s love’

The Greatest is Love

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)

Inevitably, when I meet with couples to officiate at their wedding, they choose 1 Corinthians 13 as the scripture passage.  It’s a great choice.  It’s also not about marriage – at least not only marriage.  Ultimately, it’s about relationships beginning with God’s love for us and how we are called to live that love out in our own relationships.

We can even go one step further.  The description of love here in 1 Corinthians 13 comes in the middle of Paul’s teachings to the Corinthian church about how they are called to be the Body of Christ and to use their gifts to further the work of Christ in the world.  Having this teaching smack in the middle of a church that is divided over who is better than someone else or whose gifts are more important is a brilliant way to teach about what the love of Jesus really is and how we are to model it in the church and in the world.

Of course, this is not an easy prescription to follow!  Think about it:  “Love is patient (first major challenge!); love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

Oops – how many of us can say that we have followed these teachings?  Well, Jesus did, and that is the goal for us.  Maybe if more marriages, friendships, families, churches, countries, governments, or whomever we might name incorporated the love of God as described in this passage, we would have a much better world.

The Church of Jesus Christ can be an example for promoting harmony, good will, conflict management, and bringing the Light of Christ into the world wherever they are.  “Love never ends” happens because God’s love is eternal and the source of all love, kindness, compassion, and caring.

Maybe we should read this passage every day and keep a diary about how we are doing.  Or maybe it would be good to have a yearly bible study on this chapter in 1 Corinthians as a reminder to the church folks that we carry the responsibility to bring Christ to the world through our own choices and the way we share God’s love with others.

In what ways have you shared God’s love?

Where can you be more consistent?

How will you keep working at it?

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What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Now faith, hope, and love remain — these three things — and the greatest of these is love.”         1 Corinthians 13:13 (CEB)

I always liked 1 Corinthians 13, and I still do.  Yet, when my husband and I were married, I was adamant that we would not have it read at our wedding.  Instead, we chose 1 John 4:7-11 because it talked about God’s love and how we love because God first loves us.  Maybe it’s because I hear the 1 Corinthians passage read at weddings all the time, so I didn’t want to be like so many others who choose the passage because they think it applies to marriage.

Actually, this passage is far more about God’s perfect love and how we can live in that love in all our relationships.  Just think if the world followed the teachings from that chapter!  We would have care and concern for our brothers and sisters in the human race; we would treat each other with respect and kindness; we would listen to each other, be patient with each other, and work together to make all things harmonize.

When there was dissension, we would find ways to communicate with love and find ways to work through the issues to bring resolution.  Our interactions with others and throughout the world would be about working together instead of fighting or being out only for ourselves.

I am writing this on the day after the U.S. election.  There are many people who are happy today and many who are angry and sad.  Division has marked our lives for a long time, including all the campaigning and mud slinging that went on with this election.  But we aren’t going to undo what has been decided, so we have to look to Christ and the description of God’s perfect love that is so beautifully shared in this chapter.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to take the path of love, and sometimes it’s tough love – other times it’s joyful expressions of our care for someone else.  In this case, it seems to me that some of us are being challenged to persevere in the face of challenges that face us in the coming years.  Others may need to call themselves to accountability for gloating or being arrogant about their candidate winning (or the other candidate losing).

Whatever “side” we are on, may we find ways to live faithfully in spite or because of where we stand with or against someone.  I know this is vague, but when I take stock of how I’m feeling, I know that what I most want is for us all to get through the storm and find ways to care about each other and minister to each other with the love of Christ.

Where can you be a peacemaker, no matter where you stand on issues?

How does the description of God’s perfect love in 1 Corinthians 13 help you to find ways to live that defy the prevailing attitudes in our culture?

In what ways will we claim our priorities of “God first” in our lives to make our world a better place?  How will you love with God’s love?

 

Saints

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”  Ephesians 1:11-12 CEB

This morning one of the saints of a church I serve passed on to greater glory at the golden age of 95.  She was not a celebrity, never ran for office, didn’t do the really noticeable things that so many of us seem to want in our lives.  But she was an amazing woman who had no idea that she WAS amazing.

Someone like this is every pastor’s blessing.  She was a great baker, and her filled date sugar cookies were the star of every bake sale we ever had.  People flocked to the church’s bake sales looking to buy them before they were all gone.  More than that, she loved her church family and all the people in it.

It didn’t matter to her if there was controversy or dissension (although it bothered her when it was happening), and it certainly didn’t chase her away.  She was a member of the church for well over fifty years and rarely missed a service.  People all called her “Grammy,” young and old alike.  She brought a quiet, unassuming presence that provided some stability in tough times and reinforced God’s love during calmer times.

Her family reflected the solid upbringing they had under her mothering with open hospitality, welcoming all to their home, weekly Sunday dinner gatherings at her house, sticking together even when there were some tensions, and loving, respecting, and adoring their mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

Our saints loved pastors – every one – and supported them whether she thought they were great pastors and preachers or not.  This was HER church family, HER church home, and she found God here as well as friends who loved her as much as she loved them.  She lived her faith without even knowing it.

Oh that we could have many more saints like this in our churches, those who witness their faith in their lives wherever they are; those who don’t even know that they are special beyond words; those who love with God’s love and receive that same love back; those who are the backbone of healthy churches and peacemakers in the midst of conflict.

This saint would not have even considered getting up to help lead worship, but she was a worker bee in the background, washing dishes when needed, preparing coffee for fellowship, baking her famous cookies, tending the bake table at the sale, donating toward fund raisers, pitching in to help wherever she was needed.  More than that, even on her death bed she wanted to know how someone was doing – always putting others before herself.

Thanks be to God for the saints who keep us all on track and calm us down, pointing us to what is really the most important thing:  Love of God in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Are You Found?

“Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”  Luke 15:1-10 (CEB)

I have a bad habit of losing things – mostly papers that I hold onto because I know I’ll need them at some point.  I put them in a pile so they are right where I “know” I will find them, and of course, when the time comes that I need them, I CAN’T find them!  I start going through my “in” and “out” boxes on my desk, check in files where I may have put them, look at my “pending” file, and then I start searching the house.

Much to my relief, I DO eventually find them, but not after a lot of frustration and anger at myself for “doing this again.”  You would think I would figure out a better way, but I just don’t take the time to do it.  Maybe some day . . .

In the parable of the lost coin, a woman has lost one of ten coins.  I can imagine that this is a big loss for her because money didn’t come easily in her day.  She did a little of what I did:  she went through her pockets, swept the whole house, pulled out drawers, storage boxes, looked underneath things, and eventually she found it. The inanimate coin probably had rolled into a corner and was waving at her all along saying, “Here I am!”  But of course, she wouldn’t have “heard” it anyway – instead she had to work hard to find it.

Once she picked it up, instead of being relieved and putting it in a safe place, she went out and spent it because she threw a party to celebrate that she HAD found it!  Does that make sense?  Not to me.

But then, this parable is about God and God’s inclusive love.  When someone is “lost,” whether it’s one of us who might consider ourselves pretty faithful but who have missed the mark somewhere along the line, or whether it’s someone who has turned away from God, God goes looking.  When God finds us/them, we are lifted and celebrated.  We have found home.  So, maybe this isn’t about being lost; rather, maybe it’s about being found.

We are found with God’s amazing grace and infinite love.  We can’t understand it, but that love is so great, that every time someone turns to God or returns to God, there is great celebration!  God loves us that much, and God doesn’t give up on us!  Just as the shepherd who went to find one sheep and the woman who swept hard to find one coin, God finds us and celebrates us.

That’s pretty awesome.  How can we not want to spend time with someone who loves us that much?

In what ways have you ever felt lost?

Where or how did God find you?

Did you know that there was a celebration?

Ouch! Thanks!

Then the word of the Lord came to me:  “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as the potter has done?” Says the Lord. “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” Jeremiah 18:1-11 (CEB)

I remember playing with Play-Doh when I was younger.  The dough was soft and flexible, and as long as I put it back in the plastic cup replacing the lid, it stayed that way.  However, if the lid was left off or the dough was left out for a while, it lost is pliability and became stiff, hard, and breakable.

When we read the image of the clay in the potter’s hand, we can picture the potter sitting at the wheel and shaping it into a vessel of some kind.  I have a friend who once made a whole bunch of chalices and plates for a women’s clergy gathering.  90% of them were great, but a few of them had leaks and wouldn’t hold the liquid and had to be thrown away.  Fortunately, most of them were fine.

Thinking of being like clay in God’s hands is a reminder that, as God’s children, we are molded and shaped through our baptism and our choice to follow Christ throughout our lives.  And as long as we stay open to God’s word, the teachings of Jesus, and the power of God’s Spirit moving, we will grow and become stronger in faith.

Yet, we all have cracks and leaks that show up occasionally.  No one is perfect, and each of us is shaped uniquely in our own way with our own gifts and talents.  Staying malleable keeps us from becoming so rigid in our beliefs that we aren’t willing to learn something new and become even better.  That’s how God shapes us.

I’ve been so blessed as a pastor because the majority of the people in the congregations I have served are open to learning and growing.  There have been a few who disagreed with me, and I would have been disappointed if no one had!  I grow through my interactions with others and from considering their ideas, too.  God is always stretching me and shaping me into being a better “vessel” as I pastor my congregations.

Sometimes the breaks or cracks that show up and bring us pain and sorrow can be repaired.  The scars and the putty or glue that repair those cracks is always visible, but they can also make us stronger.  We can learn about God’s presence in our lives and share that love of God more fully even with – maybe because of – the “wounds” that we carry.  Others can see our human-ness and realize that they can have the same thing as they grow in faith through their life experiences.

What about you?  Where have the breaks and cracks come in your life?

How were you able to see God working to heal and help you move on?

In what ways has God shaped your life and how do you share that with others?

Sent Out in Jesus’ Name

Whoever listens to you listens to me.  Whoever rejects you rejects me.  Whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”  Luke 10:16 (CEB)

Does the magnitude of this passage really sink in?  Think about it.  (PAUSE)  Jesus sent out his disciples two by two in the passage from Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.  He told them to go and take NOTHING with them other than the clothes on their backs.  “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine” he said to them.  It’s your job to go bring the Good News of God’s love and healing to them.  Go in my name.

Wow . . .

They went.  They followed Jesus’ instructions.  They came back excited and exuberant because of their successes.  They also didn’t stay where they weren’t welcomed.  This is loaded with lessons for us as we try to follow Jesus in our own lives.  Jesus calls us to serve him, to share God’s love with others, to “preach the Good News and use words if necessary” as St. Francis of Assisi said.

It’s challenging and intimidating enough to go out in Jesus’ name.  There are many people who are afraid of rejection.  In addition, there are also many who actually DO go out in Jesus’ name and are rather off-putting in their aggressiveness.  So how do we strike a balance?

Another question is how do we do this without taking anything with us?  Maybe that instruction piggy-backs on the lesson immediately prior to this where Jesus tells three people to follow him, and all three have excuses as to why they couldn’t do it right then and there.  Maybe it’s saying that “things” get in our way.  If we let material possessions, owning things, and having to pack a lot of “stuff” to take along, it will probably get in our way.

Jesus seems to say that ministry in his name can only be hindered if we let the “stuff” of life hold us back.  So, we can minister more fully and with all our attention when we put Jesus as our focus and follow him by setting everything else aside.  We still have the other “stuff,” but it’s just not more important than sharing God’s love.

When we focus on Jesus’ message, we are doing God’s work, building the kingdom of God on earth, inviting others to know Christ, and bringing Jesus to the world.  When we do that, God is working through us.  People will actually begin to see Jesus at work in the world – through us!  That’s powerful stuff!

How will you put Jesus first?

How will you share the Good News of God’s love?

How will you preach the gospel with or without words?

Lost and Found

“. . . we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive.  He was lost and is found.”  Luke 15:32 (CEB)

Have you ever felt lost?  I don’t mean not being able to read a map or trying to find your way out of a store (I did that once, though!  It felt like a maze!).  No, the “lost-ness” I’m talking about brings confusion, indecision, fear, anger, depression, and a sense of hopelessness.

Years ago, I realized my dream of moving to California.  It was the land of movie stars, glamour, excitement, warmer temperatures, and full of opportunity.  That had been my dream since I was in high school.  When I arrived with a friend of mine, we quickly discovered that it wasn’t what we had pictured at all.

Finding jobs was much more difficult than we expected, and when we did find them, we could barely afford to pay the rent on the apartment we had leased.  After two months, we realized that we needed to return to New England which was truly “home.”

Maybe the experience taught both of us that “the grass isn’t always greener” on the other side, and it also may have helped us to appreciate what we had right in front of us all along.  Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz said, “There’s no place like home.”  What most of us need to figure out is “Where IS home?”

In the parable of the prodigal son – or the parable of the son who stayed home or whatever we want to call it, the younger son thinks he can find his way better without his family dragging him down.  This is such a common scenario in so many families.  Teenagers run away from home because they believe things are better elsewhere, and they soon discover that they aren’t equipped to handle the world by themselves, without a support system.

The older son was the dutiful child who remained at home and did his duty, working the fields and tending the flocks.  He didn’t ask for much, but his resentment and jealousy of the younger son (whom he disowned) spent his inheritance and returned to his father’s welcoming embrace and forgiveness.

Hey, as the oldest daughter in my family of origin, I never could understand why my younger brother and sister “got away” with so much!  Yet, they have turned out to be responsible, faith-bearing people who have figured out that life is more than defying parents and trying to get away with things.  We loved them regardless of who they were and what they might have done.  I never had been inclined to push the boundaries, and maybe I should have!

What I think this parable reminds us to do is to stop and count our blessings, recognize the grace of God in our lives, make a list of the many gifts we have been given, and see that “home” is a pretty good place after all.  There is no need for resentment and jealousy because when our hearts are at home with God, we are all loved and treated with an abundance of God’s grace.

Everyone is welcome in God’s house, and we ALL can rejoice when the lost return, even when those “lost ones” are just confused about how to find our way around the house!

When have you felt lost?

How have you found your way back to God?

Where has your heart made its home?

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