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Where have you seen God’s love this Advent? Has anyone kept a fridge journal like I suggested three weeks ago? Where have you seen God at work in our world during these cold weeks of Advent? Be thinking about that because I’ll be asking you about it again soon.
Last Sunday around 8:30pm I was walking out of Food Lion and snow was lightly coming down. I was two parking spaces away from my car and I heard, “excuse me sir?” When I looked back there was a woman in a heavy coat with her hood over her head. She then explained to me that she and her husband were in Thomasville and her husband had gotten drunk and left her here. She needed to get back home to her son and they lived in Greensboro. She was trying to call a taxi service and they needed a twenty dollar deposit to take her all the way back to Greensboro. She only had $10 on her and she was wondering if I would be willing to give her $10 more so she could get home to her boy?
Some red flags were going up for me but she started to play the heart strings. While I mulled over her story she mentioned, “I can’t believe it is snowing. It is really chilly out here.” She was good as the guilt of her circumstance was laid thicker and thicker on my heart. I poked at her story but my lame questions were answered well which could mean she was telling the truth. During her telling of the story I was reminded about the study we are doing in Solomon’s Porch “When Christians Get it Wrong.” If I did not help her was I getting it wrong?
Paul starts off his letter to the Romans with a run on sentence that would make any English teacher cringe. For seven verses he goes on and on in his salutation. Now in the Message Translation that I read does break it up but in the original Greek it is all one sentence with LOTS of commas. Now in our modern world we don’t do salutations much anymore. The 140 character limit on texts and Twitter don’t allow us much fluff. Emails are usually to the point. The art of salutations is becoming lost. As I read this in a commentary this week I had to look up salutation for myself because my four grade English lesson on how to write a letter was not coming to mind.
A salutation is the greeting line in a letter. It is the “dear” part of a Dear John letter. In a letter it is the “To Whom it May Concern” or the “Ladies and Gentleman” part of the Ring Master’s speech. It is the beginning of the letter that invites the reader or listener in. We don’t do much of that anymore. I cannot remember the last email I sent that had “Dear” in it. Usually I write just the name of the person as the greeting and the more informal the email the less I even do that. The art of salutation is dying away. But for Paul it was extremely important.
When Paul was writing to the Romans he had to make sure they knew who he was. He started off his letter by introducing himself and giving a little background. I want you to take a short period of time and introduce yourself to someone near you today. Try not to pick your spouse but act like you don’t know each other and take 15 seconds to introduce yourself to someone, GO.
15 seconds may not seem like a lot of time but it is enough time to get beyond the initial ‘hey’ part of a greeting. Now raise your hand if you mentioned your name in your introduction? Raise your hand if you mentioned what you do for a living? Raise your hand if you mentioned you family status, like father of 2 or grandmother of 12? How many of you mentioned you are a Christian and a person who follows Christ with all of your being?
When that hooded lady stopped me in the parking lot I never introduced myself. She was willing to give me her name and address, but I never told her who I was. I ended up giving her $5 from my wallet. I really didn’t have $10 to give her. When I handed her the crisp $5 bill she said, “God bless you. Thank you very much, this will help a lot.” I did not respond. I silently watched her walk away to the back of the parking lot and out into the cold snow flurried night. I wonder what would have changed if I did say, “Your welcome. You see I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and because of that I am to take care of least of these in my community. Whether your story is true or not doesn’t matter. You are in need and I have something I can share with you. I’m giving you this money out of love and nothing more.”
Paul is not afraid to call himself out as a follower of this God who sent his Son into the world to redeem this world from sin. The first line of his letter says, “I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God's words and acts.” How many of us introduce ourselves to strangers by saying, “Hi, I’m a slave of Jesus Christ on assignment to proclaim God’s words and acts.” How many of us really believe that? How many of us here today are that dedicated to God that it spills out of every pour we have in our body?
Today, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we have all four candles lit in our Advent wreath. The waiting and preparing are almost over. The celebration is about to start. Today we lit the candle of Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love. Today we celebrate the love that God has for us and the ability to share that love with everyone we come in contact with. If I had to choose one word to describe what it means to be a Christian, love would be that word. God loved us so much that he decided to send his Son down to earth. We are commanded to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are called, as followers of this God, to share his unconditional love with everyone we meet. Whether the hooded lady in the snow was lying or not I am called by God to share love and I did in the form of a $5 bill.
Where have you see God’s love this season? In the busyness of getting ready for Christmas have you taken a moment to see where God is active in our world? Is anyone willing to share what they have experienced with the congregation?
I love how the Message translates verse 6. “You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ.” Who we are as people, as Christians, as the church is rooted, grounded, and defined in Jesus Christ. “You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ.” When we introduce ourselves that is where we need to start. When we give a salutation our greeting and our closing should be bathed in the fact that we are who we are because we belong and are a part of Jesus Christ. Who cares what we do from 9-5 Monday-Friday or what we retired from. Our children and grandchildren are important but God mark on our heart is even more important than them.
The people at First UMC in Fort Worth, TX are demonstrating that love to the people in their community. They are doing something so simple it is ridiculous. They are providing a meal for the homeless and a chance to write a Christmas card. But the lasting effects are huge. You can see that writing a Christmas card is so meaningful to these people. They have a chance to let their families know they are ok and they still love them. Many people look past these homeless people every day. They are only human debris in their city. But the church gives them something deeper, they give them their humanity back. They give them a picture with Santa, a warm meal, and time to write their families and wish them a Merry Christmas. First UMC in Fort Worth is sharing love with others.
Love is not complicated. Love is actually quite simple. It is what God gives each and every one of us and is something we pass on to others. Love is dead if it is not shared. Paul in his opening salutation to the Romans shares God love with them by introducing himself. This introduction makes him transparent because as we read this we no longer see Paul, but we see God. The small acts of love at First UMC are not seen as gifts anymore they become transparent and are seen as God moments. The moments you shared move us past our daily lives and into a realization of how active God is in our world. Morrie Schwartz said, “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
Paul ends his salutation by saying, “And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah.” May you leave today, knowing that you are surrounded by God’s love and may you be willing to see that love in action. May Paul’s words filter into your soul and may you realize who you are. “You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ.” You are who you are because of God’s love found in the baby who will be born. May you become so transparent because of this love that when people see you, talk to you, interact with you, they no longer see you but they see God at work in this world and they see love.
And all God’s people said…Amen.