given on Sunday, August 1, 2010
I received this letter in the email. It came from Jesus so I knew I could not ignore it. I was a bit nervous as I started to read because I really did not know why he would be writing.
As I read, I realized that Jesus was trying to tell me just how much difference accepting God’s grace makes in our lives. I decided to share this with you, so let me read it to you:
If you never felt pain,
Then how would you know that I am a Healer?
If you never had to pray,
How would you know that I am a Deliverer?
If you never had a trial,
How could you call yourself an overcomer?
If you never felt sadness,
How would you know that I am a Comforter?
If you never made a mistake,
How would you know that I am a forgiver?
By now, these words seem so very personal. I find myself thinking how did Jesus know all this. How did he know that I have had pain in my life. In fact, I found myself pausing and thinking about all the times I have had pain: on Valentines Day in second grade, the pain had me doubled over and I could not straighten up.
Mom had permed my hair the night before, we had Valentines Day cards ready for school, and I got up and was trying to get ready for the bus when the pain hit. It hit so hard that I could do nothing but lean over and cry! Mom and Dad were not prepared for this, but the call to the doctor sent me scrambling to a hospital rather than to school.
An emergency appendectomy and a week in the hospital made it possible for me to heal. My parents and I were told if they had waited any longer, it would have ruptured and that could have killed me. I know God was there and the scar is a visible reminder that I was healed.
Now that is just one time I felt physical pain. There were others—a car wreck, a second and third one along the years. There was the broken elbow, not to mention all those cuts and scrapes from jumping rope or falling. But there have also been the times of mental pain. Those hearts were harder to deal with and took many, many prayers. The mental pain we experience tends to sneak up on us and we do not even realize that we are hurting. We pray about the issues that are hurting us. We go to church and remain in fellowship with God and our church family, but the invisible pain keeps on.
God’s grace is an ever-present force in our lives. We face our personal trials with prayer, Bible reading, and reflection. We look for answers. We ask for help. We pray. And, we heal. Sometimes we do not always understand how God has been part of the process. We may have had help from lawyers, from counselors, from family, from friends, and from our church. All of that help was God’s love in action. We have been delivered from our pain. We have overcome the trials. Their ears, their words, their shoulders and arms have comforted us, never realizing that God was reaching us through them.
Still the letter goes on:
If you knew all,
How would you know that I will answer your questions?
If you never were in trouble,
How would you know that I will come to your rescue?
If you never were broken,
Then how would you know that I can make you whole?
If you never had a problem,
How would you know that I can make you whole?
If you never had any suffering,
Then how would you know what I went through?
While reading the letter, as personal as it feels to me, I begin to broaden my thinking. God does demonstrate his love in so many ways and to so many people. I know my own problems, but over the years I have witnessed God’s love in action in others. In my own family, I have seen physical, mental, and financial pain attack and wear them down. The damage is so difficult to watch and it hurts me, too. But my family had God, and that made a difference.
Each one of the letter’s questions can be asked of everyone: to every single person regardless of age, race, education, and social standing. The questions can be asked here or clear around the globe in China, on the battlefield, in universities, on the beaches, and even on the mountain tops.
Look back in history, too. The questions were asked in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It did not matter whether one is Jewish or Gentile. It did not matter which tribe of Israel you were. The questions are timeless and will never become outdated as we continue on into infinity.
Consider the history of the 12 tribes of Israel. Remember how many times God had to get their attention. They were always challenging God’s laws and you can find the record of all the troubles the Israelites had as they were taken slaves, moved from one land to another, battled all kinds of evils and even crossed the Red Sea with an army chasing them. They knew trouble.
In Hosea 11, see what type of troubles God’s people were getting into:
“When Israel was only a child, I loved him.
I called out, ‘My son!’—called him out of Egypt.
But when others called him,
he ran off and left me.
He worshiped the popular sex gods,
he played at religion with toy gods.
Still, I stuck with him. I led Ephraim.
I rescued him from human bondage,
But he never acknowledged my help,
never admitted that I was the one pulling his wagon,
That I lifted him, like a baby, to my cheek,
that I bent down to feed him.
Now he wants to go back to Egypt or go over to Assyria—
anything but return to me!
That’s why his cities are unsafe—the murder rate skyrockets . . .
and every plan to improve things falls to pieces.
My people are hell-bent on leaving me.
Yet the prophet continues describing just how strong God’s love is for his people then and now. In fact, when reading the chapter, the style is so similar to the way Jesus’ letter is written:
But how can I give up on you, Ephraim?
How can I turn you loose, Israel?
How can I leave you to be ruined like Admah,
devastated like luckless Zeboim?
I can’t bear to even think such thoughts.
My insides churn in protest.
And so I’m not going to act on my anger.
I’m not going to destroy Ephraim.
And why? Because I am God and not a human.
I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your very midst.
The letter continues to make the case for God’s grace. Jesus writes:
If you never went through the fire,
Then how would you become pure.
If I gave you all things,
How would you appreciate them?
If I never corrected you,
How would you know that I love you?
If you had all power,
Then how would you learn to depend on me?
If your life was perfect,
Then what you would you need me for?
Here is the final question: Why do we need Jesus? Who would believe that with all God has given his children, we would not need another thing. But remember! We have been making independent choices all our lives. What makes us think that we really can live in this crazy world we live in . . . you know that line in Hosea: But when others called him, he ran off and left me.
Generation after generation we have been listening to Satan calling us and leaving God. We have literally run off and left God behind. How can we keep making mistakes? How can we keep from making mistakes that take us completely away from God? The answer is so simple and is in the closing:
Today we joined in the sacrament of communion. This is one method included in all Christian denominations, even using the same words in the institution, which we practice to keep connected to God’s grace. With the birth and the ministry of Jesus, we received the greatest gift God has ever given any of us. God risked everything to have his message of love demonstrated right here on earth among men and women regardless of any element of diversity.
In Psalm 107, the writer (who is anonymous) gives thanks to God upon the Jews return from exile in Babylonia. He ends with this warning:
If you are really wise, you’ll think this over—
it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love.
We need to follow the example and thank God for his grace. We need to stop and realize that each trial, each mistake, each pain we feel is being carefully monitored by God. His love is there we just need to reach out in prayer and talk to him. Then, we can accept whatever answer is handed us whether from a family member, a friend, or a professional who is acting as God’s love in action. We can accept God’s grace and live a life filled with joy.
Dear Gracious God,
Thank you for your love. Thank you for all your disciples who serve in love. Thank you for helping us learn that even when we have troubles, your love is always present. Thank you for your letter which reminds us that you are there and we can also serve others in love so they, too, may know your grace. –Amen