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

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sermon (June 5) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "You Give a Little Love"

     Some commercials are pretty creative.  I remember an animated Coke commercial which had a man driving through a city and he parked his car. He then got out of his car, walked into a store, bought a bottle of coke and drank some of it.
     He left the store, and proceeded to go down the street helping anyone he could help.  First he gave someone a free bottle of coke, then he gave a homeless man some money, he saw a fire in a can and put it out, he opened a car door for someone, he stopped a thief from robbing an elderly woman, he turned a negative religious sign into a positive message, and before too long, the entire city was walking along with him and singing.
     All through the commercial, you hear the words, “You give a little love and it all comes back to you.”
     And of course, at the very end of the commercial, they show you a close-up of a billboard on top of a building advertising Coca-Cola.

     I got to thinking that this is what our new “Athens First Saturday Community Outreach” is all about. We meet at the church at 8:30 in the morning on the first Saturday, but instead of drinking lots of Coca-Cola, we pray instead, and then we go out into the community to share God’s love with the people around us.
   In fact, our church participated in this just yesterday and Logan Waldie who coordinates our “Athens First Saturday” outreach is here to tell us some of the ways that we did nice things for people here in our community.
(Logan Shares)
   As Logan shared with us, “Athens First Saturday Outreach” is about giving a little love, and it really does come back to you. But it’s not a love that comes from a coke bottle. It’s God’s love working in and through us that makes a difference in people’s lives. 
     I notice that the prophet Elijah didn’t have a coke bottle in his hand when he did a kind thing for a struggling widow who was finding it hard to make ends meet.  Living during a time of a severe drought, all she had left were a few ingredients to make a biscuit.  And with that one last biscuit, she would try to make a meal out of it, perhaps their last meal as a family.
     But by reaching out to this family in need, Elijah was able to share with her that God would be able to make those last few ingredients last until the drought was over.  To this woman’s credit, she trusted in what Elijah told her to do and that little food she offered to Elijah and to God never ran out.
     But that’s not the end of this story.  After some time, this widow’s son becomes ill and dies.  Elijah offers prayers to God, stretches over this boy three times and her child came back to life.  And because of this, this widow knew that Elijah was truly sent from God.
     Just at the right time, this woman was reminded that God was with her.
     I think of our own community and single parents who are trying to make ends meet.  With bills to pay, and trying to keep a steady job, when would you ever have time for yourself?  And what if you don’t have any extended family to help?
     I remember reading about a single mother here in Ohio.  Her name is Rachel, a single mother of two children who was homeless.  She suffers with epilepsy.  She had lost her apartment and had nowhere else to turn.  As a last resort, she stayed at a homeless shelter.
     During her stay, counseling sessions revealed Rachel’s wonderful gift of writing poetry.  After her 60-day stay at the homeless shelter, she was able to turn her life around and move into her own apartment.  She published her first book of poetry.
     Here is one of her poems.  This one is called “Earth Angels.”
     “You hear people talking about seeing guardian Angels everywhere you turn today.  I don’t know if they exist of not.  I am sure that one day I will have the answer to that question.”
     “But I am sure of one kind of Angel that goes unnoticed.  That is the kind of Angel that lends a helping hand to those in need and does not think to look down upon them.  But strives to lift them to higher firmer ground.  Or the ones who drop a kindly word to help ease the ache of sorrows dark.”
     “Then there are those who will stand strong and sure against life’s stormy seas.  For those of us that can not withstand its rushing waves.”
     “These kinds of Angels do have wings and they are heavenly beings.  They are mortal flesh and blood.  But still they give of themselves to me.  These are true earth angels.”
     “Thank you from our hearts.”
     It’s amazing what even a little love can do.
     The Psalmist cries out, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.   The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow.”
     Hundreds of years after this story of Elijah, the widow and the little boy, a funeral procession makes its way down a dusty road in Galilee.  A widow’s only son has died.  She walks slowly behind the coffin and as they make their way toward the family burial plot just outside of town, a stranger approaches the procession and has great compassion for her. 
     He then does the unthinkable.  He breaks social and religious custom by touching the coffin which would have been considered unclean.  And if that wasn’t enough, he then tells this young man in the coffin to rise.  To everyone’s amazement, he does!  Jesus brought this widow’s son back to life.
     Everyone begins to glorify God and the word about Jesus begins to spread all over the surrounding country. 
     We can’t but wonder, if by recording this story of Jesus healing this widow’s son, Luke might be giving us a foretaste of what is to come.
     Toward the end of his Gospel, Jesus’ himself will be carried off to a burial place just outside of Jerusalem.  His widowed mother’s only son. 
     He will be placed in a tomb.  On the third day he will rise to new life and will be given a new body.  A resurrected body.
     The stories of these two widows, the one from the Book of I Kings and the one from the Gospel of Luke, show us God’s care and concern for all people, and especially for those who are the most vulnerable in our society.  In the midst of heartache and despair, God reaches into our lives and offers us more than enough hope, love, and new life.
     I mentioned that our “Athens First Saturday Outreach” is held on the first Saturday of each month, hence the name. I think it’s no coincidence that we often will celebrate Holy Communion on the first Sunday of each month.
     Notice that we don’t serve Coke Cola for communion. Instead, we serve grape juice which reminds us of Christ’s self-giving love when he died on a cross for the sake of the world. It’s this sacrificial love that leads us to do good in our community. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is what reminds us that, “You give a little love and it all comes back to you.”
     Penny and I ate out for dinner one evening.  We talked about how our days went, enjoyed our meals, and went to the cashier to pay the bill.  We’re about ready to go out the door when Penny says, “Hold on.” 
     I stand at the door thinking that she forgot something.  When she comes back, I notice that she now has this great big smile on her face.  Out of curiosity, I ask her if everything was OK.  She tells me, “Everything’s fine.  I bought some candy for the children who were at the one table near us.  Weren’t they adorable?” she asks me.
     I nod my head in agreement, not wanting to admit to her that I never even noticed them.   And then Penny tells me, “Well, I told the mother that her children were adorable and thought they would enjoy some candy.  And she thanked me.”
     As we left the restaurant, I could swear that I heard someone singing, “You give a little love and it all comes back to you.”

You Give a Little Love
Small Group Questions
I Kings 17:8-24 & Luke 7:11-17
June 5, 2016

A coke commercial has used the phrase, “You Give a Little Love and It All Comes Back to You.” It then shows people walking down a street while drinking their bottles of coke. Supposedly, the joy of drinking this popular soft drink is why the people end up doing nice things for people as they walk through the city.

Think about a recent time when somebody did something nice for you when you weren’t expecting it. Maybe it was something as simple as opening a door for you. How did you respond?

Jesus spent a lot of his ministry walking from village to village doing nice things for people. Our Gospel reading is a good example of this. He brought healing to a mother’s child. This led to the people of the town praising God.

What helps you to remember to “give a little love” by doing good things for people when you are running errands in town?

Our new “Athens First Saturday Outreach” is a way for our church to intentionally “give a little love” to the people in our community. These are held on the first Saturdays of each month beginning at 8:30 am and lasting until noon. We meet at the church for a prayer before we go out to serve.

Sometime this week, go to where people are and look for ways that you might offer God’s love to the people you see.  Before going, pray for God to open up opportunities to “give a little love.”

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