Scripture Reading: John 13:31-35
I’ve shared with you before that it was a handful of friends in college who were truly instrumental in my early spiritual growth. But I know for a fact that they weren’t the only ones who had a hand in my faith development. There were many who came before them, helping to lay that foundation.
First and foremost were my parents. I credit them with providing my siblings and me with a home life filled with love and grace. Lots of grace. And faith, too. It was very apparent to me growing up that both of my parents’ Christian faith was very important to them. And to the best of their abilities, they modeled their faith in a way that all three of us could see it.
One of the ways my mom modeled her faith was by her personal prayer life. I don’t recall seeing her sitting at the table and praying while us kids were running around playing. But the memory I do carry around to this day is how often she told us that she prayed for us every day. I always envisioned her praying while she laid in bed, or while she was making dinner, or while she was out running errands. I’ve always thought she incorporated prayer life into her daily routine. What I remember is my mom letting us know on a regular basis that she was praying for us. We knew we were actively being prayed for every single day!
With my dad, I saw him model his faith through a life of integrity. My father’s always place a high value on honesty. For example, if a table server would accidentally leave an it off the bill, my father would bring that to their attention. There were other ways, and all together they made a big impression on me.
So, my parents were definitely instrumental in laying that important foundation for my later significant spiritual growth.
Someone else who was important in laying that foundation was the young couple who led our junior high youth group the year I was in 7th grade. They weren’t there the following year, most likely because one of them was probably a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, and probably graduated and took a job elsewhere. But what they brought to that youth group made a huge impact on my faith, even though it was only a year for me.
I don’t recall any details about our group discussions, or about specific issues of faith that we might have talked about. But I distinctly remember being struck by the fact that their walk with Christ was really important to them both, and that they must have wanted us to have that same experience, because I remember thinking that I wanted whatever they had! Their faith really ignited something within me, and I remember feeling excited about being a Christian. And I also remember recognizing that prayer was important to them, too. It should come as no surprise that every meeting was closed with prayer, but I think there was just something about the manner in which they prayed that indicated that it truly came from the heart. To say that my 7th grade youth group experience was life-changing would be a true statement—because it was, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
So, who were the people in your life whose life and witness helped lay the foundation for your own spiritual growth? Who modeled a life of grace? and love? and forgiveness? and encouragement? and hope? Who regularly prayed for you, and held you before God? Who made it clear to you, whether in word or deed, that you were beloved? and valued? and a source of joy? Who somehow managed to communicate that a relationship with Jesus Christ is important? and that it can be exciting? and even life-changing?
The fact is, you’re here today because of the work and faith of other people. You’re where you are in your own faith because of the work and faith of Christians who’ve gone before you. And this is true whether you consider yourself relatively new to the faith or you’ve been on this journey your whole life. None of us comes to faith in a vacuum. Someone – a friend, a co-worker, a family member, someone – held you up before God.
Here’s my point: to use the terminology of Hebrews 12:1, every one of us has our own personal “cloud of witnesses” who, in one way or another, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, have paved the way for our own faith in Jesus Christ. This is all by God’s design. It’s the way he’s arranged for faith to be passed from one generation to the next. And because the practice of the Christian faith is observed, and learned, you and I are a part of that “cloud of witnesses” for someone else. Whether we realize it or not, our behaviors, actions, words, beliefs, and life-values are actively influencing other people. And I think it’s important to be aware of this reality so that we can make sure our influence is having the effect of building up the kingdom of God! Isn’t that the call God’s placed upon each of us?
Have you ever thought about your life as a call from God? That kind of language is very familiar to me, because I heard it growing up. Growing up, I heard my dad speak about his vocation a public school music teacher as a call, as well as his avocation as a church musician as a call. I’ve always viewed my pastoral vocation as something God called me to. And the fact is, Christians can speak of their life in Christ as a type of call from God. And the heart of the call that’s common to all Christians is to live in relationship with God and with other people. You and I are called to be in relationship with our Heavenly Father, and to be in relationship with the people around us. That is the bottom line for what our lives are supposed to be about.
There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament Law of Moses. 613 rules. 613 mandates. One day Jesus was asked to name the #1, most important commandment of all 613. You might think that it would take some time to think about. But it didn’t Jesus any time at all. He knew exactly what the answer was. He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which, in Hebrew, is called the shama. ‘Shama’ mean to hear. This passage is called the shama because it begins, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You call shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Off all 613 commandments, the most important one is to love God. To be in relationship with the Lord.
And then, he took the answer to their question one step further. He said, There’s actually another commandment that’s equally important. In fact, you might say that they’re two sides of the same coin. You can’t really have one without the other. Because to love God—to truly love God—you have to also do the second one, which is “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Or in today’s parlance, to be in relationship with other people.
So there it is, in Jesus’ own words. As a Christian, you and I are called to love God and to love people. To be in relationship with God and others.
In fact, I think Jesus felt it was so important to know and understand that he reemphasized it during the Last Supper. He said, “I give you a new commandment (which, really wasn’t new at all, but maybe he wanted them to hear it with new ears): Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. In fact, this is how people will know that you’re my followers, when you love each other” (John 13:34-35). And what better way to show God’s love to others than to intentionally living a life that reflects the heart of God.
Do our lives reflect God’s generosity towards us? Is God’s gracious generosity echoed in our relationships with other people?
Last month I highlighted 5 attributes of God that we can live out in our own lives. They were love, grace, mercy, faithfulness, and holiness. The attribute of God I want to lift up today is generosity. Just as our ability to love others is rooted in God’s love for us, so is our ability to be generous. Any generosity we show is rooted in God’s immeasurable generosity. He is generous beyond compare. His blessings flow continually; he’s given each of us more than we’ll ever be able to give back. But the fact is, we can give something back to God because we all have something to give. And what we can give of ourselves, we can do so with gratitude for all he’s given us. And that’s because God is a generous, giving God!
Of course, the greatest gift he gave us was his Son, Jesus. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. Why? So that we could have eternal life. And Scripture reminds us that this gift was poured into us even when we hadn’t proven ourselves worthy of it. But he gave us Christ anyway!
So here’s the question for us today: Do our lives reflect God’s generosity towards us? Is God’s gracious generosity echoed in our relationships with other people? How generous are we with love? Or are we more apt to hold back until someone proves their worth? How generous are we with the things with which God’s blessed us? When it comes to our willingness to share with others, are we driven by a belief in the law of scarcity, which says there’s only so much to go around, and so I have to be very choosy about how much I give away in case I need it for myself? Or are we driven by the truth of God’s abundance, that there’s no way to out-give God? In other words, in what ways do our lives echo the generosity of God when it comes to our relationships with other people? When it comes to being a part of someone else’s “great cloud of witnesses,” what is our witness in regard to God’s generosity?
Have you ever thought about the fact that faith is learned by watching others live theirs? Our children, the youth among us, and even some adults within our spears of influence are learning how to express their faith by watching us and seeing how we express ours. They probably don’t realize it, but they’re very tuned into how we express our faith, both in here every week and out beyond the walls of this church.
My mother’s prayerfulness taught me to be prayerful. My father’s honesty instilled in me the same value for integrity. A passion for Christ exemplified by my 7th grade youth group leaders opened my eyes and heart to the life-transforming relationship with Jesus. Each of them practiced what they believed. And it rubbed off on me.
May it be, dear friends, that we continue to look for ways to outwardly demonstrate our belief that God’s generosity is unfailing, immeasurable, and without end. Why? So that the faith of those who are watching us might be strengthened and become solid, built on the rock of God’s truth – Jesus Christ.