We have had an incredible few weeks of International and National current events!
- The Oklahoma City bombing trial has begun.
- Desolating floods throughout the mid-west.
- Brutality in various emerging African nations with stories of neighbor killing neighbor and stories of neighbor helping neighbor.
- Peace efforts in the Middle East hindered at every turn by extremists on both sides.
- Victims of tornadoes, domestic and sexual abuse, urban violence in our own nation as heard and seen nightly on the evening news broadcasts.
- The mass suicides in California of searchers and seekers.
All these stories call our attention to massive human suffering, broken lives, pain, and sin in our world. At the same time these stories stir up within us a tremendous sense of empathy and compassion. Today's scriptures invite us to reach out to those in need and to share Christ's love with one and all.
In the Charles Schultz's comic strip Peanuts, Linus and Charlie Brown are all bundled up with caps and coats on a snowy, wintry day. They spot Snoopy shivering in the cold. Desiring to comfort him, they walk over to him. Linus speaks first, "Be of good cheer, Snoopy." Charlie Brown adds, "Yes, be of good cheer." Then, they turn and walk away. Snoopy is left still shivering. A big question mark appears over his puzzled expression, as he watches Linus and Charlie Brown walk away. Christian love is to carry us beyond words to deeds. God has blessed us abundantly to share abundantly with those in need.
(The Gospel According to Peanuts, Robert L. Short, p.11).
The Epistle says that God's commandment is that we should believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love one another. Our love is to be offered in deeds and truth, not just through words and speech. Hopefully, we can do a better job than Linus and Charlie Brown.
The Gospel promises the guidance of the Holy Spirit for those who believe and love.
The reading from Acts demonstrates how faith and love are shared between the Apostle Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
For many of us, it is easier to love from a distance, rather than up close and personally, because it is not as complicated or involved. Sometimes it is easier to see the forest rather than the trees.
- Sometimes it is easier to cut a check to a relief agency than to love or take care of our neighbor next door.
- Sometimes it is easier to say a prayer for the person far way than to reach out physically to someone in the same predicament locally.
- Sometimes it is easier to turn off -- with the flick of a TV remote or the light switch -- those in need who are far away rather than responding to the needs of our own families, friends, and neighbors who are close.
Yet, the Commandment is to believe in Jesus Christ and to love one another, regardless of how near or far. The promise is that we will not have to do it alone. The Holy Spirit is there to assist us. In the first reading, Philip demonstrates how it is to be done: done -- one-at-a-time -- one person, one situation, one event. We are to look at the trees and not the forest.
Ministry occurs one-on-one by yoking faith and love together with the help of the Holy Spirit.
It might be through a counseling appointment, a confession heard and absolution given, a hospital visit, a nursing home visit, 20 minutes in the parking lot with a parishioner, or 15 minutes in an aisle at the grocery store with someone who simply needs us to listen.
It might be a phone call to an estranged acquaintance, cookies delivered to a shut-in, time spent with someone who is lonely, helping the elderly neighbor with shopping or yard work, reading scripture or evening prayer to someone who is blind or incapacitated; a smile or a conversation, our openness and willingness to be present for the many strangers whom we encounter during the course of a day.
The Commandment is to love one another, to be there for each other. This certainly happens corporately, but it is most effective when it is one-on-one; when we tend to each tree instead of the entire forest.
I have a great deal compassion for the Bosnians, the Rwandans, the Palestinians, the Israelis, but I can't reach them personally. Yet, I can reach numerous people in this church and in this community. So can you! Wherever we work or play or attend school or volunteer, there are many lives we can touch and befriend in the name of Jesus Christ.
There are countless hurting, unhappy, unloved and searching people in our communities who have yet to hear the Good News of the God's love through Jesus Christ and they long to see it presented in deeds and truth not just in word and speech as we hear in today's Epistle.
Certainly any money we might send for mission work over-seas is important. The prayers we offer for the Bosnians, the South Africans, those in need and desperation throughout our world are also important.
But the work we do one-on-one in sharing our faith and sharing Christ's love has a greater and more immediate impact. And it is the work of sharing our faith and loving our neighbor the scriptures invite us to do today for those who are far away and for those who live in our own back-yard.
The Commandment is to believe in Jesus Christ and to share His love one to another.
The promise is that the Holy Spirit will guide us and lead us. Philip shows us the way. Philip teaches us how it is done with a gentile outsider before it was acceptable to invite them into the faith.
Philip listens for direction from the Holy Spirit. Philip then acts by going to the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip meets him on the eunuch's ground or turf. He assesses where the gentile is spiritually and then proceeds with discernment. Philip encounters the man, but waits for the man's invitation to join him. Philip is not pushy. He waits until he is invited before getting into the chariot.
Philip listens for directions from the Holy Spirit.
Philip meets the man where he is.
Philip waits for the man's invitation to join him and then responds to the man's need by sharing his faith story and by sharing how he has been changed by God's love through Jesus Christ. His focus is on the individual -- one-on-one. There is no mention of Philip talking with others in the caravan. We are told that only the Ethiopian is baptized.
(copied, unknown source).
Philip was able to look at the tree instead of the forest. Our faith and God's love within us are best shared one-on-one. It is there for most of us that lives are changed and transformed.
Might we strive in the coming week to love one- another.
Might we strive to share our faith and Christ's love within us. Like Philip, might we listen and wait for direction from the Holy Spirit; meet people where they are and not be pushy, responding to their needs and not our own agendas.
If each of us will be intentional about sharing our faith and loving our neighbor, I believe there could be innumerable people in this community who will receive an invaluable gift from us...one-on-one.