Suppose your best friend came by one day with a special gift for you. How would you respond? Would you immediately pull out your purse or wallet for some money to help pay for the gift? Of course not. To do so would be insulting!
A gift must be accepted for what it is—something freely given and unmerited. If you have to pay for a gift or do something to deserve or earn it, it is not a gift. True gifts are freely given and freely received.
Writing in a book entitled With Open Hands, Henri Nouwen asserts, “The challenge of the gospel lies precisely in the invitation to accept a gift for which we can give nothing in return. For the gift is the very life-breath of God, the Spirit who is poured out on us through Jesus Christ. This life-breath frees us from fear and gives us new room to live.”
Nouwen’s words remind us that the Christian faith is founded not upon your action or my action, but upon God’s action in Christ: God loving us with a love that will not let us go! Our task is but to receive the gift of salvation, and to recognize and live in the assurance that all that we have comes as a gift from God. Once we embrace this gracious gift which cannot be gained and which cannot be recompensed, only then are we freed to become all that God would have us to be!
In the Parable of the Prodigal Sons the real tragedy of the story was not the open rebellion of the younger son or the jealous envy of the elder brother. The real tragedy was that neither one of them really understood the father. As the story goes in St. Luke 15:22-24, upon the return home of the youngest prodigal son, the compassionate father offered him three outstanding gifts! Gifts that were not only lavish and over-the-top for that time and place, but that also have a special spiritual significance for us today.
I trust that you will join me in worship this Sunday as we explore this in greater depth! And, I hope you plan to return to Asbury on Sunday evening for our special Confirmation Service at 6:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. Almost 50 middle-school students will publicly profess their faith in Jesus Christ and officially become members of the United Methodist Church. They need to know we support them in their faith journey.
I pray God’s richest blessings upon you!
P.S. A definitive new book called Paul: A Biography by Bishop N.T. Wright was recently released and will provide background and valuable insight. The book is not required reading but highly recommended and copies will be available for you in the church office next week. Registration for the Summer Institute opens this Sunday. The class will be held on Wednesday evenings beginning at 6:30 p.m. July 10 and concluding August 21.