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Such Love Does Not Stand Alone

A Lenten Message

March 10, 2024


Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north and from the south.

17 Some were sick through their sinful ways and, because of their iniquities, endured affliction; 18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; 20 he sent out his word and healed them and delivered them from destruction. 21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

                                                                             

John 3:14-21

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

 

The concept of God's love emanating from the Spirit through Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity. This love is not a distant, abstract notion but a tangible, life-altering force. The Spirit of God, a divine presence in all creation, allows us to experience this love, the same love we witness through Jesus on the cross, in a deeply personal and transformative way. Christ is the embodiment of God's love, and through his teachings and example, we can learn how to live a life of love and compassion. Jesus continues to show us how to love our neighbors, forgive our enemies, and care for the most vulnerable among us. Through Christ’s example, we can actively experience the transformative power of God's love in our lives. It's crucial to understand that this love is not solely for our personal benefit but for everyone. As integral parts of the body of Christ, we are not just recipients of this love but also its bearers. We are called to share this love with others, to be beacons of light and hope in the world. When we open ourselves to God's grace, we become vessels of that love, spreading it to those around us and contributing to a more loving and just world. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ!

 

In Psalm 107:1-3, we are called to give thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love and His wondrous works. This love is not only a personal gift but a shared experience among believers, reflecting God's grace and faithfulness towards God’s people. As we recognize and appreciate the love of God in our lives and that the Spirit is always active within us, we are drawn into a deeper connection with God and with one another as members of the body of Christ. Similarly, in verses 17-22, we witness a redeeming power as God delivers His people from distress and rescues them from their troubles. The Psalmist uses the metaphor of food.  The people loath the food (which is the life that God gives us through grace) and instead choose to starve. Starving is Israel turning away from God, a sin, and sin will not nurture our souls. God’s love has a transformative nature, as expressed in the sacrifice of Jesus, and inspires Christians to share this love with others who may be struggling or in need of hope and restoration.

 

Illustration:

One recent example of someone who was transformed by God's grace to make a positive impact on the world is the story of Alice Marie Johnson. Alice Marie Johnson was a first-time nonviolent drug offender who was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1996. After serving more than 21 years in prison, her case gained widespread attention when Kim Kardashian West advocated for her release. In 2018, President Donald Trump granted Alice Marie Johnson clemency after hearing her story and recognizing the injustice of her life sentence. Following her release, Alice Marie Johnson has become a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform, sharing her story to raise awareness about the need for rehabilitation and second chances for individuals who have made mistakes. During her nearly 22 years of incarceration, Alice accomplished what has been termed as “extraordinary rehabilitation. While in prison, she received certifications in Electrical, Pastoral Counseling, Hospice Care, and Personal Fitness Training. She became an ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. She received numerous awards for her contributions and volunteer work.  Alice is a gifted playwright.  Her original plays were not only viewed by prison staff and inmates but also by the outside public.  Alice also mentored and counseled many women during her time in prison. Alice Marie Johnson's transformation from a woman serving a life sentence to a dedicated advocate for change is a powerful example of how God's grace can inspire individuals to make a positive impact on the world. Through her faith and perseverance, she has been able to turn a challenging experience (to say the least) into a platform for advocacy and social justice, demonstrating the redemptive power of God's love and the potential for transformation in the lives of those who seek God’s grace.

 

While Alice Marie Johnson's story serves as a powerful example of how God's grace can transform a life and inspire positive change, it is essential to remember that we do not have to wait for a dramatic event or a moment of crisis to seek God's grace and guidance in our lives. Turning to Christ does not require us to hit rock bottom or face extreme hardship before we can experience His love and forgiveness. God's grace is available to us at any moment, and His arms are always open to receive us, no matter where we are on our journey. Choosing to seek and follow Christ in our daily lives and making a conscious decision to submit to His will, seek His guidance, and live according to His teachings continuously cultivate our relationship with God. By practicing discerning prayer and reflection, studying the Word, and participating in worship among a community of believers, we can experience the transformative power of God’s love and grace in our lives. We do not need to wait for a drastic turn of events to recognize our need for Christ's presence and salvation. By approaching Him with humility, openness, and a willing heart, we can invite His love to work in us, guiding us toward a life filled with purpose, hope, and fulfillment.

 

In John 3:14-21, the concept of God's love is further emphasized through the message of salvation and eternal life through Christ. Jesus is presented as the ultimate expression of God's love for the world, offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sins so that we may be reconciled with God and experience His abundant grace and mercy. We are taught and continue to teach our youth the familiar John 3:16 passage. This passage is one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the Bible, stating, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life." This verse encapsulates the core message of Christianity, emphasizing the sacrificial love of God in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to offer salvation and eternal life to all who believe in Him. It has had a profound impact on Christianity. It concisely summarizes the central tenets of the Christian faith: God's love for humanity and the redemptive power of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. This verse has been instrumental in shaping many Christians’ understanding of God's unconditional love, God’s desire for a relationship with His creation, and the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ.

 

John 3:16 has also inspired countless believers to share the message of God's love and salvation with others. It serves as a foundation for evangelism and mission work. It is a source of comfort, hope, and assurance for Christians across denominations, reminding us of the depth of God's love and the gift of eternal life available to all who believe and continues to impact the lives of believers and shape the teachings and practices of Christianity, emphasizing the core message of love, redemption, and eternal life through Jesus Christ. It also makes a poignant and concise bumper sticker. As members of the body of Christ, we are called to embody and extend this same love, this collective love, to others. The love of Christ is not meant to be hoarded or kept for ourselves but rather shared generously with others, reflecting the selfless and sacrificial nature of Christ's love for us. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Think about that… especially when you read that Jesus said in Mark 10:43-45, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

The word "must" in Mark 10:43-45 is used as an imperative command. In these verses, Jesus is talking to his disciples and explaining to them that whoever wants to become great among them must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. That is a tiered level of servitude – Servant to Slave. Servants are paid employees who get time off, vacation pay, and maybe a 401k – Slaves do not. To be an enslaved person is dehumanizing. By using the word "must," Jesus commands us to follow his teachings even when society tells us to do otherwise, even to the point of being ostracized or, worse, crucified. He clearly directs his disciples then (and to us now) on how to conduct ourselves and interact with others. Jesus highlights the foundational principles of “Servant Leadership” and Sacrificial Love, two essential areas of study as we discern what Lent means to us. In light of Psalm 107 and John’s account in chapters 4 and 14, it is vital to recognize that the love of Christ is not an individual possession but a gift we receive and participate in within the community of believers. This love, flowing from the Spirit of God, unites us in a shared bond of faith, hope, and love as we journey together toward the common goal of glorifying God and spreading His kingdom on earth.

 

The season of Lent reminds us that the love of God, through Christ, is a transformative and collective love that we are called to embody in our daily lives. By embracing this love in all its fullness, we are empowered to extend grace and compassion to those in need and to reflect the light of Christ to a world in darkness. As we continue in prayer and devotion, let us allow this love to bind us together as the body of Christ and to point towards the redemptive work of God in the world. May we also understand that in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each is a manifestation of love we find through discernment. AMEN.

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