Sunday, 18 March 2012 ~ “Gift ~ Gave ~ Gifted!”

Scriptures:   Numbers 21:4-9    Ps. 107:1-3, 17-22                   John 3:14-21

 

LET US PRAY:  Holy God of healing grace ~ open our hearts and minds and ears so that we may not just HEAR Your message but may also LIVE Your message every day.  Amen.

“JESUS LOVES ME” (sing)

WHAT DOES LOVE LOOK LIKE?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LOVE?

 

I recently received an e-mail from a friend, listing the answers that 4-8 year olds had when asked: “What does LOVE mean?”  These stood out to me:

  • Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs!”  (age 6; LOVE is GIVING)
  • “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore.  So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too.”  (age 8; LOVE is SELF-LESS)
  • “Love is what is in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents.”  (age 7; LOVE is a SUSTAINING PRESENCE)
  • “During my piano recital, I was on stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling.  Her was the only one doing that.  I wasn’t scared anymore.”  (age 8; LOVE is DEPENDABLE)
  • “Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn’t think it’s gross.”  (age 6; LOVE sees beyond OUTWARD APPEARANCES)
  • The winner was a 4-year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.  Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there.  When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”  (age 4; LOVE is COMPASSIONATE)

 

All 3 of  TODAY’S SCRIPTURES speak of the deep and abiding love of our God, despite our sinful nature.

  • In our Old Testament reading, the Israelites have been freed from 400 years of slavery YET they still don’t seem able to trust God … they do nothing but complain about their lack of food and water … ANDare ready to turn their backs on God.  (the true definition of sin).  God initially allows poisonous snakes to bite and kill the Israelites, but then relents … providing the means for His healing grace to restore them to health.
  • In our Psalm ~ the author cries out his anguish over his sickness and suffering … YET also sings his songs of praise for God’s healing grace which has restored him to emotional and physical health.
  • Gospel might more rightly be entitled: “Love Personified” because it contains the MOST famous words in scripture … so famous that all we have to do is mention ‘John 3:16’ and everyone knows what you are talking about; some can even quote it.

 

And, these are beautiful examples from scripture of God’s immense and abiding love for ALLof His creation.  BUT: let me ask you … as a people who live in our fast-paced, filled-to-the-brim 21st Century world:  What does God’s immense love REALLY LOOK LIKE to YOU?  AND, What does it mean, to you, to love in a big way like God?

 

I invite you to listen to a wonderful SONG by CHRIS TOMLIN … “Amazing Grace (my chains are gone” ~ and follow along with words on handout.  (I also invite you to sing along on the chorus, if you are so moved!)  (for words, see attachment)

 

So, let me ask you again:  WHAT exactly DOES God’s immense loveLOOK LIKE?

 

To answer that question, I believe that we must turn to the Gospels and take a look at the life of God’s most precious gift … His only Son, Jesus Christ.  It is here that we hear the beloved stories about Jesus ~

  • Accepting sinners and tax collectors and outcasts as His closet friends and disciples
  • Teaching through the metaphors of nature and calming storms both in nature and within the people
  • HealingANDraising from the dead the outcasts, the untouchables, and Gentiles
  • Rescuing a wedding feast with wine from waterANDcalmly feeding multitudes with unending quantities of bread and fish

And, in this season of Lent, we remember the final stories of Jesus ~

  • Praying for strengthANDdetermination for His followers
  • Standing quietly before the authorities ANDforgiving His accusers, executioners and generations of by-standers from the cross
  • Bloodied, tortured, crucified, dead and buried
  • YET: through all of this, establishing His covenant with all generations through His Body and BloodANDthe promise of the empty tomb.

 

Powerful images, aren’t they?  These are images that draw us right in to the crowds that surrounded Jesus.  Images that remind us that God loved the world SO much … with such a deep and abiding love ~ that He sent His only Son into the world … to, first of all, teach us how to clean up the messes we had created.  But, even more importantly, God sent Jesus to pay a very costly price for our sakes.

 

To atone for our own stubborn willfulness … to bring us back from our tendency to follow our own bright ideas and ignore God’s persistent call for our lives … to turn us back to God’s ways and save us from sin’s equally persistent call in our lives … Jesus gave His own life in order to redeem our sinful world and offer each of us eternal life in His loving presence.

 

This realization takes your breath away, doesn’t it?  Take a moment to think about this … and offer God Your thanks for such an extravagant gift.  ANDnow: in light of God’s immense love for us:  What does it mean, to you, to LOVE as big as God?

 

And, I admit, that this is a REALLY TOUGH question to answer.  Yes, I know that our minds immediately jump to the examples that Jesus showed during His lifetime.  And, I could stand here and give you a whole laundry list of what we could OR should be doing with our lives in order to share, with others, some of the immense love that we receive from God in Christ.

 

But, that list is NOT merely a “once and done, check-it-off, and pat yourself on the back” type of list.  RATHER, it represents a life-long commitment to living out God’s gift of amazing grace … a commitment that is AS unique to each of us as unique as we are unique FROM each other.

 

This SEASON of LENT is a perfect time for us to define our commitment to God and how we will live out that commitment.  This season~ disturbing as it sometimes is ~ offers us:

  • a time of:
    • Honest self-examination
    • Making some adjustments in the  course of our lives
    • Forgive ourselves and others for all wrongs ~ both perceived and real
  • A time to honestly recognize God’s healing actions ~ both big and small ~ in our:
    • Physical lives, through medicines, interventions, therapy
    • Emotional lives, through phone calls, cards, being ‘remembered’
    • Spiritual lives, through prayers and presence.
  • A time to ~
    • Repent our sins and ask God for forgiveness
    • Simply say THANK YOU to God for His healing grace in all of its forms.
  • A time to consider how we will openly respond to God’s enormous gift of love and grace.

 

As we continue to journey with Jesus through Lent, I believe that this is also the perfect time for us to reflect on how:

  • In love, God sent Jesus to save the world …ANDhow
  • In love, God created us ~ with all of our talents / abilities / free will.

And, HOW: in love, God now waits for us to choose … either ~

  • The darkness and the ways of sin and death … OR
  • The Light and His gift of healing grace and eternal life

In love ~ God waits for us to choose the light!  How will you respond?              Amen.

 

Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)

 

Amazing grace ~ How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I’m found

Was blind, but now I see.

 

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear

And grace my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

 

(refrain)  My chains are gone

I’ve been set free

My God, my Savior has ransomed me

And like a flood His mercy reigns

Unending love, amazing grace.

 

The Lord has promised good to me

His word my hope secures

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures.

 

(refrain)

 

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow

The sun forbear to shine

But God, who called me here below

Will be forever mine.

Will be forever mine.

Will be forever mine.

 

Notes from the arties, Chris Tomlin

 

I was doing some research on John Newton and the writing of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  John Newton wrote thee lyrics as a poem for a sermon, describing what God had done for him … that God had not only saved his soul, but also saved him from slave trading.  That inspired me to write the simple refrain, “my chains are gone …”

 

I also found it interesting that the familiar last verse, “when we’ve been there ten thousand years …” was not in the original, but added years later by another author.  I have included in this version Newton’s original last verse.

 

                                                                – Chris Tomlin

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