Accepted and used.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.

Welcome and thank you for joining us this Sunday as we testify to our faith in our Lord and Savior and join in fellowship in His Holy Name.

God gives – isn’t that a wonderful statement? God has placed gifts in us, as St. Paul tells Timothy, a spirit of power, love, and self-control.

These gifts from God are a sure antidote to the things that humans face every day – weakness, anger and hatred, and a lack of control over both ourselves and our surroundings.

The interesting thing about gifts is the choice of the one receiving them. The receiver has the choice of accepting and using the gift, accepting the gift and leaving it unused, misusing the gift, or just ignoring it.

Growing up, I, like you was trained to be thankful for gifts, and to accept them with grace. We were also taught that we must not waste what we were given. Perhaps in some ways that accounts for some of the clutter we all have – what to do with that ceramic chicken table setting someone gave us?

God only gives needful and useful gifts. No ceramic chickens from God. We have these gifts of power, love, and self-control but now we must apply them. As professing Christians, that is what we are to do.

Jesus shows us how we are to apply these gifts in everyday situations, during the ordinary of our lives. We are to use our power, love, and self-control as His servants and servants of each other. We are to see with faith, the size of a mustard seed, how God’s gifts intertwine and bind our relationships with Him, our brothers and sisters in the Kingdom, and all of God’s creation.

Jesus wants us to use these gifts in doing all He commands, that is, to walk the gospel path where we give completely of ourselves, where we clothe and feed those in need, where we visit those alone, and where the beatitudes mark our life. We can all look those up.

To those given more, Jesus calls for more. For all of us in relationship with each other, we are to be a representation of Jesus’ dwelling with us, His abiding presence. Look on each other and see Jesus abiding; His gifts ready for application.

Today, as we pause to consider the pets we love or have loved, we see in a special way the implementation of God’s gifts. We recognize a dependency in the ones given to us, for care, for companionship, for a recognition of their innocence and their sharing of unconditional love which we need to reciprocate. God thus uses creation to illustrate in the simplest of ways how the accepted gift is to be used. May we ever show how we have accepted the spirit of power, love, and self-control placed in us and how we have used them as His servants.

What about me?

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call Him while He is near. Turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, Who is generous in forgiving.

First and foremost, welcome to church on this Back to Church Sunday. Whether you are joining us for the first time, for the first time in a while, or for another week, we welcome you. Whether on-line or in-person, we welcome you. Know that God has put it on our hearts to tell you, to reassure you, and to make clear to you that you are welcomed and loved.

Over and over in scripture, God makes clear His pursuit of His people. He constantly calls after them. He runs to them, even when they are afar off.  He does not ask anything from His people other than a relationship founded in faithful love. 

God says come, no cost, nothing to pay. He says return. Call Me, turn to Me, and you have Me. Look here, I have gifts for you, My Son’s life for you. My love and grace, freedom, and everlasting life for you. Yet, we ask, ‘But what about me?’ We still ask, ‘Can it be that simple?’ 

The loving Lord is standing here, in our midst, and He says, ‘Yes! That simple.’ I am ‘near to all who call upon Me.

You see, the Lord’s creation is founded on love. God has built His kingdom on a foundation of love. He did not build His kingdom on some set of insurmountable barriers, nor upon a checklist of things we must do. This is the thing many find so difficult to believe, that an all-powerful, Almighty God would welcome me, that He would welcome me whether I come at the start of my life, in the middle, or near the end – and that He would not extract a price from me.

Brothers and sisters, perhaps you have heard someone tell you that God is vengeance, or that He punishes to force us to act. Perhaps you have heard that some formulaic process of approaching Him is needed, or that obedience to some set of man-made rules and disciplines is required, or that you must punish yourself to get to God. None of that is true!

It is as simple as love. Love me and each other Jesus taught.  Follow me, He says. From there, love motivates our footsteps, our daily doing, speaking, working, prayer, and sacrifice. It is that simple.

What about me? Jesus tells us that I, me, who I am, is welcome today. There is no, ‘Where were you?’ with God. His call is continuous, and if we have taken the opportunity to come today, whether the first time, as a moment of return, or even as our 23,660th time being here, we are welcome and are in the kingdom. We have sought and found Him Who welcomes us.