Week of Sept. 30: A Christian's greatest gift to the world is love


By Vicky and Rev. John Brantley
Lesson for week of Sept. 30
Lesson Scripture: Hebrews 13:1-3; I Corinthians 13
    Lord, help us to love others in the same way that you have loved us.  Amen.
    It is easy to love what is familiar and close to our hearts. God gives us love to reach beyond our limits to accept each other.  Mother Teresa said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”
 Show hospitality
      Don't be afraid to love those who are different from you.  Christ said in Matthew 6:8, “Even sinners love those who love them.”  We tend to be with people who are most like us.  There is nothing wrong with that unless we shun or ignore others because they are different from us.  Remember God loves us when we are unlovable.  We have not “cornered the market on God’s love.  God loves every person, regardless of who they are or what they have done.  That is unconditional love and that is the core of our faith.  
        In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him or her. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him or her more. If you do that person a good turn, you will find yourself disliking them less."
      Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community Church in Daytona Beach, Florida, has this sign in the entry to their church, “We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.  We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli, if you can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woke up or just got out of jail. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like ‘organized religion.’  We welcome those who are inked or pierced. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!”  What signs of welcome are visible at your church?
Love accepts
      The greatest gift Christians have to offer the world is love.  At the Last Supper, Jesus was in the same room with a bunch of people about to betray him, deny him and desert him. And he knew it.  But what does Jesus do? "He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” In this action, Jesus models how to love others.
      The examples Jesus gives of accepting others are difficult but not impossible for us to follow.  In the first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul asks for a measurement.  What is it worth to act with good intentions but not to love others?  His answer is that our actions are empty if we do not care about loving others, even our enemies.  Imagine someone that you find it difficult to love, accept or even to listen to them speak.  Know that God loves you both.  God sees you and that person beyond your history or your present.  Rely on God’s love as the source to respect the other person.  Even in disagreements, we can be with one another, as God still loves us when we are separated from God.  The ability to accept people whom we find difficult to love comes from God not from us alone.  Trust God to accept you, and you will have strength to accept all your neighbors.
 Maturity of loving
      Though we don’t always love, we are maturing when love comes first.  As humans our nature is to put ourselves first.  As we grow in our faith we realize that Christ gave us the example of a love that is as great for others as it is for ourselves
      In an engine-room, it is impossible to look into the great boiler and see how much water it contains.  But running up beside it is a tiny glass tube, which serves as a gauge.  As the water stands in the little tube, so it is in the boiler.  When the tube is half full, the boiler is half full; when the tube is empty the boiler is empty.  How do you know you love God?  Look at the gauge.  Your love for your brother or sister is the measure of your love of God.
      Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, a UM minister from Alabama writes, “Many of us want to give people a razor, a deodorant and a bar of soap before we give them our acceptance. We give them the bad news that they are not accepted, and then wonder why they never hear the good news that God loves them. Jesus never suggested that we clean people up before we pick them up.”  Just as our faith matures as we grow in Christ, so does our love for others.  We become wise enough to acknowledge that even though we disagree with another, he or she may have important ideas to share with us.  Adam Hamilton says that when we don’t know what to do in a give situation, we should “do the most loving thing.”
 Take Action: Recall, with honest confession, a time you have not loved someone in the past, Review each phrase of the “Love is…“statements in I Corinthians 13 and write down how you might have changed your words and actions to reflect the love God has for us.
 “Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us; teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.  Be present, Lord, among us, and bring us to believe we are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live." #560 The United Methodist Hymnal