A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, December 31, 2012

Sermon by Rev. Cheryl Foulk (December 30) "One More Gift"

I gave my four year old grand daughter a gift on Tuesday,Christmas Day. I reminded her that we would see her again on Friday night. She asked me if I would give her another present when I saw her then!  I said that there would probably be one more gift...

Today we have “one more gift”  to add to those we have opened  during this Advent. Our nativity set reminds us of those gifts we have talked about: Mary with her sense of expectation;  Joseph with his trusting acceptance; the shepherds who found the gift of family; the innkeeper who gave the gift of himself; and the gift from God, Jesus, the world's hope. However, we are not quite finished with unwrapping presents.

This last gift has a fashion theme.  Speaking of fashion, have you noticed all the Christmas sweaters today in worship?  Some are quite unique. We do notice what people wear.  Sometimes we even become known for what we wear:  a bow tie, a hat, a certain kind of shoes. It becomes our trademark.

As followers of Christ,  we also have a trademark in our appearance. Paul writing  in his letter to the Colossians  provides us with a fashion tip.

We are “to put on”  or wear  compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness.  And to complete the outfit, he suggests putting on love.  These seven words are connected because they all have to do with relationships. Compassion is seen in an attitude of caring with mercy.  Kindness is evident in the way we look or speak to another person. Humility is having a self-contentment of heart.  Gentleness is an appreciation for how fragile another soul may be.  Patience is revealed in a persistent openness. Forgiveness is not seeking revenge or pay back. Love is seeking the best for the other person and desiring what God would want for them.

These intentional attitudes and actions are as obvious as the clothes that we wear.

Single mom Kim Kerswell thought getting into  a fender-bender was the worst thing that could have happened to her this December. It turned out to be something quite different. Kim works at a Panera Bread  outside Boston . She  rear ended another car in the parking lot which belonged to Sherene Borr.

As the two women exchanged information,  the young mom told Sherene  that she was struggling to make ends meet, and raising two kids on her own. Sherene felt that   that there was genuine need here and she wanted to respond.  Surprisingly, she sent Kim a text later in the day which said she wanted to help give her family a Christmas!

Not only did  she forgive any damages to her car, Sherene with other friends  is making  sure that Kim is stocked with groceries, gift cards, and toys and clothes for her kids. Both hope that their friendship will continue after Christmas . It sounds as if Sherene was wearing the right outfit of clothes that day: compassion, kindness, forgiveness. She had  put on all that was needed and had tied it up with love. 

Who is well dressed in God's eyes? What is your style?  To relate to other folks with love, to recognize them as children of God with their own dignity, to see them as worthy of our time and  actions  is quite a spiritual fashion statement. This wardrobe does not come naturally. We are  prone to be self-centered, distant, critical, and impatient.

Consciously we have to decide each day how we are going to treat each other. Allow God to pick out what we are wearing. In everyday encounters, we can be  signs of God's love in this world.

Nell Mohney is a motivational speaker, and writer. She was the author of the Upper Room Advent booklet we used here some years ago. In this  Advent collection  she wrote of experiencing the power of God's love through her family. When she was a  junior in high school, she had a Christmas season  job downtown and would window shop as she went to work. In the window of a dress shop was the most beautiful green coat she had ever seen and  she wanted that coat more than anything. One day she even tried it on and it just fit. The price tag was over the top. She shared about the  coat at home but with the family's tight  finances it was not going to be a reality. Each one understood that Christmas would be limited that year.
 On Christmas Eve when she passed by the store,the coat  was gone. She asked inside and was told  that it had been sold. She prayed that whoever got it would love it as much as she had. Her family had a subdued  opening of presents on Christmas morning. It became apparent that there was one more gift under the tree, and it was for Nell. Opening the box, Nell discovered  the  green coat! 

She found out later that her mother had sold her watch and others in the family had agreed to cheaper  gifts  in order that she could have this coat. She wore the coat for many years. It represented such sacrificial love from her  family. When she wore it, she felt wrapped in her mother's love and in a greater sense, by God's love that was hard to comprehend. Her soul was nourished for life by  that love.
Love is a frequent verb in the Scriptures. We are to love God, we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we are even to love our enemies.  We are to treat others  as we would like to be treated ourselves. Paul considers love as the greatest action over any other gift.

At the end of the Gospel of John,  we have the story of Peter, Jesus' disciple,  being  questioned about his love by Jesus. He answered”Lord, you know I love you.  Jesus said “Make it visible by feeding my sheep.  Take care of  one of my children , may they realize my love through you.”

When we are in the midst of irritating situations with difficult people, perhaps this is where God is provoking us into seeing  how much more we need to grow in our love for one another ! In those moments where our patience is stretched and our kindness runs out, it becomes apparent that we need God to refresh  the wardrobe of our hearts, to give us a makeover.  God has been so generous with love. What are we doing with the love God gave us?

A man was reminiscing about his childhood. He said: “The saddest words I remember from  holidays came in my grandparents living room- when all the presents were unwrapped, the cleanup nearly done and my dad tapped me on the shoulder to say” Son, let's go; Christmas is over” .

However, he said, we know that isn't true.  We know better. Christ came to be with us, to “abide with us.” , to be Emmanuel.   After all the presents and the food, when we are back in the routine, (at work ,at school) when life is back to normal, Christ is with us.

Christ is here filling us, guiding us, “dressing us”,empowering us to express the message of Christmas every day of the year.  With each encounter with another person, his love can be visible. Christmas is not over.

So I guess we have one more present to open and need to see what is in the box!  

(Present is opened to reveal a Christmas sweater. On the back is the word “Love”.)

Love may sometimes feels like it is the wrong size, scratchy, or not appropriate, or even embarrassing, out of place,but it is our trademark.

Listen to the reading from Colossians once again:

From The Message: Every item of your new way of life is custom made by the Creator. With his label on it. All the old fashions are obsolete.  So chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all purpose garment. Never be without it.

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