FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
My first official job in the church began when I was in junior high school when I was asked to play the piano for the kindergarten department of our Sunday school, replacing their current pianist who was going off to college. One of the songs we sang every week was … you guessed it … “Jesus Loves Me.”
These days I do many services in nursing homes and one of the most requested hymns is “Jesus Loves Me.” Almost everyone, I want you to know, sings at least the first verse by heart.
Karl Barth (the Swiss theologian) was at Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago during his lecture tour of the U.S. in 1962. After his lecture, during the question and answer time, a student asked Barth if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in a sentence. Barth allegedly said something like, “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ “
From the first times a child begins to realize the blessings of God’s love, to a mature believer who takes comfort in being in community with others who know God’s love and share with each other stories of God’s faithfulness; this song speaks from our hearts more eloquently than words we summon from our heads.
Most of us reading this editorial fall somewhere in between these two examples, into what I like to think of as the discovery phase, learning about yourself and others and being open to people getting to know you.
We are developing wisdom. Sometimes we call it insight, intuition, life experience or seeing things clearly through the eyes of a child. This wisdom is part of our core being; part of God’s presence in our lives.
When we connect our wisdom to God’s wisdom, all sorts of amazing things begin to happen.
We begin to see God’s creative work more fully, rejoicing in the beauty of nature and delighting in the complexity of both the similarities and diversities within each person.
We delight in things we create, sometimes working alone and sometimes together. Think about some of the things you’ve made or helped to make for which you are most proud.
A meal: who was it for and what did you make?
A garden: what did you plant and how was it used?
A vocation: who do you work with and who is better because of what you do?
A perspective: how did it evolve and why are you pleased because of it?
A child: have you told this child how proud you are of them lately?
A recovery: how long has it been, who blessed you in that process, and who have you blessed?
A vital congregation: who are your key co-workers and leaders?
An inspired mission: can you remember whose idea it was or doesn’t it matter any more?
A special group of friends: are you good at welcoming new friends into the group and helping folks feel they belong?
When we followers of Jesus sing “Jesus Loves Me” may we lean more strongly on God’s wisdom to understand that God’s love is not just for us but for all in whom God delights. Let the dance continue!
– Bernstine is the executive director of United Churches of Lycoming County.
FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
The “Fruit of the Spirit” we discover in the New Testament letter to the Galatians 5:22 are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I have the most trouble with the last, mostly from using my hands to put too much food into my mouth! I chose this scripture verse since this is the weekend that many Christians celebrate the Christian feast of Pentecost.
The second chapter of the book of Acts tells us that the disciples were all gathered in one place on the Jewish Festival of Pentecost (Shavu’ot, the Festival of Weeks, a time of harvesting the first fruits and giving them back to God and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai) “and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
I believe that the Spirit gives each of us gifts that we are to use in both dramatic and quiet ways, but ways living into the nine words from Galatians. So I want to share a story that I believe contains all of these fruits of the spirit. It is a story that was shared recently by David Colin Jones, bishop in residence in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.
“I saw an extraordinary example of self-giving love in a visit to a Sioux reservation in South Dakota. One Sunday afternoon I had the privilege of attending a powwow on a reservation. The powwow was actually a “giveaway.” The tradition in that culture was to honor a departed relative by giving gifts to others in memory of the diseased. The family hosting the powwow had been preparing for a year to give away as much as they could to show their love and respect for the deceased?
Sitting near me was a young couple with a baby. They obviously were tourists and had happened upon the powwow shortly after I had arrived. The family hosting the giveaway noticed the young couple. Without even being introduced, a member of the family walked over to them and presented a hand-made baby quilt. It had obviously taken hours and hours to prepare. It was beautiful. Needless to say, the two young parents were absolutely astounded. Their eyes filled with tears. They had never before experienced that kind of generosity. They had just happened upon the powwow, attracted by the sound of the drums. They had not expected to receive anything.
For a moment that Sunday afternoon, the young couple experienced a glimpse of the extravagant generosity of God. They caught a fleeting glimpse of giving for the sake of giving – giving with no expectation of receiving something in return.
Such is the Christian story – the giving of God’s son for the purposes of God. It is in that spirit that we give and that we serve.
Where is your love being channeled today? Whom will you serve? How has the Holy Spirit given you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? In what ways are you an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit that is in your heart, mind and soul? Where is the Spirit in the story of your life?
– Wagner-Pizza is canon and provost of Trinity Episcopal Pro-Cathedral in Williamsport.
FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
From prison the apostle Paul wrote the following words: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” They are recorded for us in Paul’s letter to the Philippians Chapter 1, verse 21.
To live is Christ. To die is gain. Paul is expressing the idea that as long as he is alive his comfort and hardships do not matter. His life is all about advancing the Kingdom of Christ, and to live is to serve Christ. However, if he should die he gains: he is free from the troubles of this world and is able to rejoice in the presence of his Savior.
Either way, alive or dead, Paul wins.
The same is true for us. If we are alive and serving Christ, we win. The cause of Christ benefits from our witness, our love, our serving and our expressions of ministry in the name of Jesus. And if and when the Lord takes us home, we gain a heavenly presence with the precious Lamb of God.
Now, I have seen this play out in a very real way during the past two and a half years. It was about that long ago that I learned that a very close friend of almost 50 years had Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). When I first became aware of his affliction, I could only say, “I am sorry, I am sorry,” to which he replied, “Oh no, I am blessed, so blessed.”
And for the next 30 months, or so, I witnessed my roommate from college live in the manner that Paul wrote about.
Ron Boltz, because of the nature of ALS, was limited physically, but his life still reflected Christ. He proclaimed Christ in all he was able to do.
On one occasion he and his wife traveled from Lancaster County to our home in the Slate Run area. That Sunday, at the church that I serve in Cedar Run, he spoke from a wheel chair touching every soul in the congregation. There was hardly a dry eye.
He spoke about what is really important in life: serving God and seeing that family members and friends all come to a saving knowledge of Christ. He spoke of how God had blessed his life and that when faced with a disease that kills, he was blessed, content and ready for the inevitable.
You see, Ron could say, despite the fact that he was held captive by a crippling disease, as Paul said, held captive by a prison cell: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Either way Paul won, Ron won, and so can we.
– Messinger is the pastor at Cedar Run Baptist Church in Cedar Run.