25 July 2021

Several years ago a teacher assigned to visit children in a large city hospital received a routine call requesting that she visit a particular child.  She wrote down the boy’s name and room number and was told by the teacher on the other end of the line, “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in class right now.  I’d be grateful if you could help him with his homework so he doesn’t fall behind his classmates.”  It wasn’t until the visiting teacher got outside the boy’s room that she suddenly realized it was located in the hospital’s burn unit.  No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain.  While she felt like turning and running, she knew she couldn’t, so she awkwardly stammered, “I’m the hospital teacher, and your English teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs.”  The next morning when a nurse on the burn unit saw the hospital teacher, she asked her, “What did you do to that boy?”  Thinking she had done something wrong, the hospital teacher began with a profusion of apologies.  But the nurse interrupted her.  “You don’t understand,” said the nurse.  “We’ve been very worried about him, but since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed.  He’s fighting back, responding to his treatments.  It’s as though he’s decided to live.  Some time later when the boy was sufficiently healed and ready to return home, the nurse and others who had been concerned about him gathered to say good-bye and wish him and his family well.  Before he left for home with his family, the one nurse questioned him about what had happened.  The boy explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw the hospital teacher.  It all changed when he came to a simple realization.  With joyful tears he expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, now would they?”

Morgan Maxwell is the domestic violence victim’s advocate at the Liberty Center in Freemont.  She writes, “My office is located at the Liberty Center, however, you do not have to be a resident at the shelter to meet with me.  My assistance as an advocate is available, free of charge, for anyone within Sandusky County.  Domestic violence is not only physical violence – the power and control that abusers exert can take many forms including verbal, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse.  My goal as an advocate is to provide support to every survivor that has the courage to reach out to me.  I want survivors to know that I will listen to them without judgement, that I believe their story, and that I believe in them.  It is important to me that each individual knows that I’m on their side and that I will be here to support them.  I can offer crisis intervention, referrals to community resources, personalized education, safety planning, and can support survivors through legal proceedings, emergency shelter, and more.  I am able to use my personal knowledge along with my community connections, professional education and past work experience to provide hope and healing to victims.  Safe relationships and healthy families are the building blocks of a strong community.  It is my hope, through my work with survivors, both youth and adults, that each person I interact with would see that they are worthy of being treated with respect and that love doesn’t hurt” (Liberty’s Letter, Summer 2021).

Back Bay Mission also shares love without judging and hope without recoiling.  They shared in a letter to us, thanking us for our support, a recent story from one of the guests who began working with them in December 2020.  She was 33, addicted to a mind-altering drug, homeless, and six-months pregnant with her 7th child.  All her children had been taken away from her by Child Protection Services.  She had no support from her family, who called her “no good, stupid and a bad person who would amount to nothing.”  Judy from Back Bay helped place her in a hotel until she could secure an apartment.  Instead of deciding to keep the baby and likely have it taken away, they worked together on finding and utilizing an adoption agency.  Back Bay continues to meet with her, helping her through securing a job and even potentially getting custody back of some of her children.  Back Bay has been the constant source of encouragement that she needed.

King David also was loving.  When he was being chased by Saul, when he was still alive, he had the opportunity to kill him in a cave: “The men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’” Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. Afterward David was stricken to the heart because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Sam. 24:4-6).  Yet, he merely cut off a corner of Saul’s robe so that he could show Saul that he had the chance to kill him, and did not.  David did not consider Saul an enemy.  God had anointed Saul to be king.  He showed that he cared more about God’s will than he cared about gaining glory and power.  When Saul discovered that David had spread him, he wept, saying, “You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. Today you have explained how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. For who has ever found an enemy, and sent the enemy safely away? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. Now I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand” (1 Sam. 24:17-20).  If you have an enemy, the first step is to cease making them your enemy, even if he or she still wills evil against you.  Pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).  Then, if they are placed into your hand, show them that you have taken the first bold step to love them.  They may be taken aback, realizing that they did not deserve your love, but received it anyway.  If God gives us love when we do not deserve it, the least that we can do is give another a taste of that love.  It turned Saul back toward a focus on God.  Many of us get mad at Christians who do not act like Christians.  Yet, they are not the enemy.  We can pray for them, that they might know God.  If we know any of these Christians in our own life, we can lead them to God by our own example.  Do you have a bad coworker, roommate, teacher, or boss?  Have you ever had one?  Your battle is not with that person.  Your battle is with the one who is trying to distract God’s followers from experiencing God.  He knows that it works.  Do not let Satan get the better of you again by clouding your mind with evil thoughts, as Saul was.

David seemed perfect in this story, but we know that he was not always perfect.  In the Scripture today, we read about one of David’s most famous sins.  He lay with another man’s wife because he thought that she was beautiful and he could not resist the urge.  Then he tried to cover it up by having Uriah come back home to sleep with her, but he refused to go to his house.  Little did he know that this would cause him to be sent to the front lines to die, which was the only other way that David could legally have a child with Bathsheeba.  This incident shows us that even the best of us are not released from the presence of sin and from the evil temptations that are in this world.  We even go astray many times.  We rely on the grace of God and on the grace of others to forgive our imperfections.

Last week, we discussed how we might come to God.  We must come to God with a sincere heart and genuine devotion, with spiritual consistency, and responsibly called to one another.  We cannot be the most effective Christians without joining a church.  While solitary prayer and Bible study are important, when Christians gather together are able to understand God’s word through the actions of each other.  We are able to learn from each other’s experience of God.  Early Christians relied on the church, as they believed in God despite their hardships.  They read letters from Paul in prison, perhaps marveling at how he was able to stay positive while bound in chains.  Today’s Christians rely on the church too, as there is reason to hope when there is little hope, to be encouraged, and to feel needed, loved, and accepted.  Stories of encouragement remind us exactly why we need each other.  We have hope because another hoped in us.  We have the strength to move forward because someone else actually believed our story.  We get back on our feet because someone was willing to walk with us during our most challenging time.  We grow in our ability to experience God and have confidence in God when we give our time to the church.  We experience God when we are lifted up by another.  Saul experienced God’s love when he realized that David spared him.  How have your actions helped another to experience God?

I was asked this week what it means to live life fully.  It seems to be a simple element of a Christian life, but what does it mean?  To live fully means to live up to our potential as called Christians needing to make a difference in this world. It is saying yes to God rather than no. I believe that I live fully when I seek out God, for all who seek God diligently find God (Proverbs 8:17). But it is not enough to just seek God with all our heart. To go with one of the resolutions from General Synod 33, we are contemplatives in action. We therefore reflect on our journey with God but our action is the three great loves, love of neighbor, children, and creation. This is where we see the difference. First, we are contemplative and grow close to God. We do this by praying, by reading scripture, by reflecting. Next, we are contemplatives in action. Without both, I do not believe that we are living fully.  However, I must make one add. While we do this, it is important that we are able to feel God’s presence in the forms of love, peace, and joy. I know I find my joy in serving. These feelings may come from the action that we do. Living fully is more than just going through the motions checking off boxes. Living fully is loving life because we are leaving a legacy for God’s glory.  When we give of our time for another’s needs, we help build that legacy.  We are not living God’s church unless we help another to experience God’s church.  When Paul and other in the church prayed through their letters, the church was able to feel loved by God: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:16-17).  Rooted in love was the theme of General Synod 33 for the United Church of Christ.  Are you rooted in love?  Do you never tire of leaving a legacy not for your own glory, but for God’s?  With the grace of God and the ear of others, which we gain from sharing our love, we will do just that.  May the glory be to God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

2 Samuel 11:1-15
11:1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
11:2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.
11:3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”
11:4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house.
11:5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
11:6 So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David.
11:7 When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going.
11:8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.
11:9 But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.
11:10 When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?”
11:11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.”
11:12 Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day,
11:13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
11:14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
11:15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

Ephesians 3:14-21
3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
3:15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
3:16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,
3:17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
3:18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
3:19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,
3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

John 6:1-21
6:1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.
6:2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
6:3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.
6:4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
6:5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”
6:6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
6:7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”
6:8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,
6:9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”
6:10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.
6:11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.
6:12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”
6:13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.
6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
6:15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
6:16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,
6:17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
6:18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.
6:19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.
6:20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
6:21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

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