When I was a child there were many times when I felt I was at sea in a terrible storm unable to get my sea legs.
My dad was a tall, charming man; adventurous and a bit of a gambler. He was a skilled tugboat captain and a good provider. He loved us. He also battled demons, including alcohol. One week he would tug tankers up the Hudson River, the next he would be home. On the weeks he was home we never knew from day to day or hour to hour whether we would encounter charming Dad or angry Dad. It was important to keep our eyes on the horizon for the storm clouds.
Love saved me. My mom made sure we knew we were loved and cared for. She was our port in the storm: calm, smart, very protective, and the best listener I’ve ever known. Perhaps most important of all, she taught us that Jesus loved us. Mom didn’t go to church; my sisters and I had to. I didn’t understand religion at all (maybe the Latin mass?), but I got that Jesus cared for me. I can’t stress enough how important it was to me then and now; how Jesus calmed my soul. I’ve developed a more nuanced (if incomplete) understanding of faith, grace, forgiveness, bearing with each other and such. But at the heart of the matter it was love that made all the difference.
We live now in unsettling times. Anger and violence seem rampant. The earth and rhetoric are both overheating. I find my eyes straying to the horizon.
I believe love is still the answer. We need each other in this congregation as brothers and sisters in Christ to listen to and care for each other. We need to live out Jesus’s commandment to love one another outside of our church; being generous with those who have less and showing compassion whether we are with people who agree with us or disagree. We need to teach Jesus’s message to our children and to folks who have wandered away or never known Him. And we need our church to lead the way.
We all have to set priorities for how we spend our money and there’s a lot of competition for it. Sharing Jesus’s message is at the top of my list – because love comes first.
“Let us love not in speech, but in truth and action” (I John 3:16-18)
About 2.5 years ago I was considering a trip to Kenya to visit the school, staff and students at Flying Kites. After much internal debate, I’d decided not to go. I’m sure you’ll resonate with my reasons: I had two teenagers with lots of needs, a demanding career, a close friend battling an aggressive cancer, and the list goes on. The timing just didn’t feel right.
A life-long friend asked me why I decided not to go and I explained my reasons. She wasn’t buying it. She said, “I know you and you’ll make time for anything in your life that you want to do. Tell me why you’re REALLY not going.”
That’s when it hit me: I wasn’t too busy…I was afraid. I was afraid of the distance. I was afraid to be that far from my family. I was afraid for my personal safety. I was afraid to see the poverty first hand. I always wanted to be the type of person who did Mission Trips regularly and comfortably but I couldn’t reconcile my desire with my fears. I waited for a sign from God.
Several weeks later I received that answer when someone recommended I read The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. In the book, Stearns reminds us that God tells us directly and repeatedly throughout the Bible that while it’s critical we pray, it’s not enough. While it’s critical we share the story of the Bible, it’s necessary but not sufficient. He calls us to be a people who don’t just talk to and about Him but to be a people who act on His behalf. Signs don’t get much more direct than that…so off to Kenya I went.
The details of what I did or did not achieved aren’t important right now. What’s important was the act. It was done out of love so it goes without saying that lives were transformed. Where are the areas in your life that God is inviting you to act?
“If you act out of love, whatever you do is both perfect and right…The only thing we need to do is figure out what we really love.” - Geoff Herbac
Getting to play basketball during the halftime at the local high school was going to be one of the highlights of my 5th grade basketball career. Picture the scene… the entire town at the game, cheering us on… and suddenly everyone running out of the gym. I felt confusion, disappointment, anger. Someone yelled “Brian, your house is on fire!” What!? You’re kidding, right? By the time the night was over, my house was gone, my stuff was gone, and I was putting up a good front. We lived in a small town, much like Medfield, and by the next day, the community had rallied around us. Money had been raised, household goods and clothing had been donated, and my friends had combed through their football card collections to give me a complete set from the recent season (this was a very big deal in the early 1980’s).
At the time, I didn’t understand this type of generosity. My little brain couldn’t comprehend my loving community’s response to our needs. In hindsight, it was a love born from God. We were members of a strong church community, very similar to UCC Medfield, in a town filled with lively and active churches. They were channeling God’s love directly to us.
Can you imagine what would happen if all church communities were as generous in good times as in times of need? What if we all embraced fully God’s desire for us to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’? If you can’t love your neighbor, you cannot truly love God. As we have been discussing during this Stewardship season, one of the most prevalent examples of God’s love for us is His generosity and sacrificial giving, he calls us to act the same toward others. God does not reserve His generosity only during times of need, he offers it freely, and if we truly want to model His character, we need to follow suit.
The stewardship campaign theme for this year is Love Comes First. Why, is this our theme? How does love relate to stewardship?
Love is the foundation of our faith and as Jesus tells us in the Book of Matthew the most important commandment is to love God and then to love your neighbor as you love yourself. This love-based foundation of our Christian faith is easy to understand yet is a challenge to implement on a daily basis.
We are all made in God’s loving image, as such we all blessed with a generous, giving spirit. When we put others first and live our lives generously we are filled with joy – just as God intended.
A great example of this generous love is shown through the poor, young married couple, Jim and Della in the O. Henry short story “Gift of the Magi.”
Della is desperate to find a Christmas gift for Jim and it is now Christmas Eve day. Della has only $1.87 and decides to sell her long, beautiful hair to a hairdresser for $20 to buy a platinum chain for Jim's pocket watch.
That evening she waits for Jim, excited about her gift, but fearful at the sacrifice of her beautiful hair. Jim, stunned to see Della's hair cut short, pulls out the gift he had gotten for Della -- a collection of combs, now useless. She tells him that she sold her hair so she could buy him a chain for his beloved pocket watch. He tells her that he sold his pocket watch to buy the combs for her hair.
Neither really cares about the waste because of the love they shared…love that sacrificed in order to give.
During this year’s stewardship campaign we invite you to support UCC Medfield with your generous gifts. We pray that you deepen your love relationship with God by exercising your spirit of generosity not only by giving to UCC Medfield but also in living your daily life in the loving, generous manner as God intended for this is the path to joyful living.