John 13:34-35; John 15:12-13
Imagining: a friend in my close circle of friends approaches me and pledges to protect me and sacrifice their life for mine. There is nothing I can do or say to my friend to convince them that I don’t want them to give up their life for mine, that my life is not important enough to be worthy of sacrifice. But I can’t convince my friend to see things my way. Nothing I say will change their mind. My friend will lay down their life for me. This friend loves me that much.
What can I do to repay that offer of protection and sacrifice? How can I show my gratitude for this amazing show of love? Is there anything I can do to appropriately acknowledge the gift that I have been given?
Perhaps the only thing I can do to prove myself worthy of this gift, to show that I truly do appreciate this gift is to do my best to show that magnitude of love and devotion to others. To do whatever I can as a person, a human, a mortal to enrich and sustain the lives of others. ALL others. Others of different faiths, different beliefs, different races, different politics.
Because loving only those who are like me, who are the same as me, is not love. True love is not selective. True love is inclusive. True love includes sacrifice. Sacrifice of self and being. You cannot receive love without giving love in return.
If you were told that the only thing you were required to do in your lifetime was to love everyone, would you? Could you? Would you at least try? We may not be capable of perfect love, but we can certainly try.
And perhaps, with enough effort, we can come close to knowing what it is like to offer our lives as a sacrifice for another’s. To want to do anything to protect someone and ensure their safety, here and now. And later.
Luke 24: 13-27
Today’s sermon was told as a story. A story based on today’s scripture. The point of the sermon was the importance of telling our story. Telling our faith story to others, telling our family story to others. If faith stories were not told and retold to strangers and family, faith would not grow and spread and touch the lives of others, would not encourage others to explore their own faith.
Why do you believe? What in your past, your family history, your personal experience leads you to believe that God is God, that Christ is Christ? What motivates you to live your life as close as possible to Christ’s example?
For myself, I don’t exactly know my story, at least not in words that I can easily string together in a comprehensible statement. But what I do know is that my works, the way I can best show people my faith in action, the best example of Christ I can emulate is to do for others what they cannot do for themselves. I give. I give blood, I gave a kidney, I’m trying to give a family a child, I pay for random strangers’ groceries when they have left their credit card at home and the cash they have is not enough. I give money to my church on a regular basis, including when I receive extra money I didn’t expect or earn. I have seen immediate and delayed results of my gifts and that is the affirmation I get that my faith “story,” as it were, is working, is a testimony that others can see.
My personal “story” is that if I cannot teach or heal or do, I can give to the best of my ability.
What is your story? What gives you the ability to stand up and say, “I believe in Christ?”
Today’s sermon was focused on the Greek word Euthus, often translated into English as Immediately. The sermon’s theme was about the Gospel of Mark and it’s sense of urgency. After major events, Jesus, the disciples, the crowds all performed their actions with urgency, as if they all knew that there was not enough time to get everything done.
It seemed that the sermon suggested that if you see something important happening around you or in your life, you don’t sit to the side and think about what needs to be done, you act immediately. You act with conviction. You do what is right. You do what you know to be true, leaving not a second to chance or doubt.
But what if you don’t feel that sense of urgency. If you do not feel that you need to do something right away, what does that mean? Does it mean that what you are feeling (or not feeling) is not right? If you are not feeling an immediate pull to something that others are already following, is the path the others are taking not the right path for you?
If you do not feel compelled to do something, could it be that you are not supposed to do it? Is Euthus an indication of a call? Or is it just one indication?
What happens to those who follow at a less immediate pace? Are we left behind to wonder what all the fuss was about? Or, perhaps, do we come with a different perspective, a different account of what happened?
If you feel a sense of urgency in what you are to do, embrace the Euthus. But, I think, if you do not feel that same requirement of speed, take a steady and slow approach to it. Do not feel as if your experience is “less than” just because you did not have that sense of rush, that Euthus. Perhaps God has slowed you down for a reason. Perhaps you are needed where you are right now.
Perhaps I need to follow my own advice.
Today I helped lead worship at church. It was my duty to read the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and to offer an invitation to Stewardship. Below is what I said.
“You must pre-pay for your car’s fuel before a single drop sees the inside of your tank. You pay for your groceries before you can leave the store with them. You pay your electric bill once the utility company calculates how much you’ve used. You get your paycheck after you’ve put in your time. The newspaper company will leave a paper in your driveway after you’ve paid for a subscription. You can’t hear your favorite artist perform live until you’ve purchased entry into the venue.
The majority of this world relies on payment for services. If you want something, you have to pay for it.
This church is not a store, but it does give you many options when it comes to filling your spiritual shopping cart. It is not a gas station, but it does give you the fuel you need to keep going. It is not a restaurant, but it gives you a period of rest between all the activities that fill your life. It is not a utility company, and yet it fulfills the basic need we all have that keeps us coming back for more: love and truth.
This church does not require payment for services rendered. There are no bills from the church at the end of the month. There are no hidden fees. There are no payment plans to help you get out of debt to the church.
And yet we pass these collection plates down the pews each week, hoping that you will give a goodwill offering. Something to show your appreciation, your gratitude, your faith in the church. That what we are doing here, what we are, is something good, something fulfilling, something everyone needs.
The diaconate will now come forward to collect your offerings to the church.”
This is a follow-up to my post on December 18, 2011. I’m writing it because I’ve had people ask me what an Affirmation Circle is, after I posted on Facebook ”I feel like I need a church camp affirmation circle experience right about now.” I’m writing this post to enlighten those who didn’t understand and to preserve the feeling as best I can so that I don’t forget it.
Monday was a bad day. Well, it actually started on Sunday, but I didn’t feel the impact until Monday morning.
Sunday I learned something about a close friend of mine that made me re-think my relationship with that person and forced me to evaluate my core values (still evaluating). I also felt a huge stab of betrayal, hurt, confusion and dread.
Then on Monday, I learned that my manager is retiring in January. Yay for him, not-so-yay for me: I’ve had 3 managers in 5 years and there’s almost always a long adjustment period when the new one steps in where I end up questioning if I’m right for this job, and if it’s right for me.
Mix those two together and it makes for a very, very emotional me. A very full-of-self-doubt me. A what-am-I-doing-wrong me.
I was very much in need of what our Interim Minister spoke of on Sunday: the gift of encouragement. But the more I thought about it, it wasn’t so much encouragement I needed. I needed reassurance that I was in the right place, that I was safe, that I was loved, that I was not the cause of the problem with my friend. I needed Affirmation.
At summer church camp, almost every small group held an Affirmation Circle at the end of the week. All the kids would sit in a circle, the lights were usually dimmed (or it was done during the nighttime small group time), and the Affirmation would start with one camper in the middle of the circle. One by one, each camper and counselor in that small group would touch the camper in the middle and say something affirming. “You are kind.” “You are a good friend.” “You have good insight.” “I like that you sat next to me even though you didn’t know who I was.” “You give good hugs.”
When you spend a week with 50+ kids your own age and quality small-group time with 10 of those kids, you get to know each other very well, very fast. You laugh with them, you cry with them, you fall down in front of them, you help them up. You eat with them, you sing with them, you share with them, you listen to them. A week of this almost guarantees that you will not only want to come back year after year, but that years, decades, after camp, you will still consider these kids (adults) to be your closest friends; you can only see them every 3 or 4 years and yet it’s like you’re just starting up a conversation where you left off when your cell phone dropped the call.
To have these kids, who have seen the very best of you and the very worst of you, lay their hands on you at the end of the shortest and longest week of your life and tell you, one at a time, that you are loved for who you are is probably one of the best feelings I have ever felt, second to the feeling of love that surges through you when your infant smiles at you with recognition for the first time. Affirmation from your peers after a physically and emotionally draining and uplifting week is the cherry on top of the experience that is church camp.
I did end up getting my Affirmation feeling Monday night; one of my best friends came over for wine and Mac & Cheese and she listened to me first and then she Affirmed me. She reminded me of who I am, where I’ve come from, where I’m going and what I’m doing. She touched me, my soul and my quivering heart.