Extravagant Love - The Gift

Matthew 6: 16-21         Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6:10              Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017

 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Prayer:  O God, you have gifted us with a love that will not let us go, a love that saves each of us, a love that grants us the highest good.  Our praise and thanksgiving is given to you, O God.  Amen.

So, why do we do Lent?  What’s the point of it all?  The standard “church” answer is that it reflects Jesus’ 40 day experience out in the dessert after his baptism.  The baptism was a huge event for Jesus, and the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness where he was able to sense his calling, reflect on his baptism, and practice the spiritual discipline of fasting.  Going without food for a long period of time—this was expected to help him discern and perceive God’s presence on his journey.  So, being reflective and penitent, he went without eating for that whole period.  And, being famished in body, but not worn down in spirit, he withstood the temptations of the Devil.  It takes spiritual discipline to do that.

The more “spiritual” answer as to why we do Lent is because on our 40 day journey, we are striving to get closer to God.  We try to discern and perceive God’s presence.  We try to be intentionally reflective, repentant and penitent during Lent, digging more deeply into spiritual practices, more so than we would normally do.

Now, we’re not going to do the spiritual discipline of fasting, per say, like Jesus did.  But, thanks Rich Kaelberer who sent me this email:  “Do you want to fast this Lent?  In the words of Pope Francis, “Fast from hurting words and say kind words.”  “Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.”  “Fast from anger and be filled with patience.”  Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.”  And there are others for you to see on the screen.  I would add one more though, as we begin our Lenten spiritual journeys: “Fast from expressing harsh attitudes about others so that there’s room to communicate the languages of love to others.”

Jesus teaches his disciples and us, not just about fasting, but mostly about how it’s important to do a spiritual practice, like fasting, for the right reasons.  God knows our hearts!

It’s interesting and amusing to me that you can do one thing, like fasting, and do it for all the wrong reasons, which is not good, or you can do that same thing for all the right reasons, and it’s acceptable.

It’s like when one person says one thing, and it’s all good, but when another person uses the same words, because of the situation, it’s all bad .  Kind of like this clever State Farm commercial that many of us have seen:

  Love that ad!  Makes me laugh!

Our 2017 Lenten journey this year will center around practicing several languages which communicate God’s holy Extravagant Love to others.  And, the same principle applies: we can communicate the extravagant love of God… for all the wrong reasons… with fanfare for the public to see us… or, for the right reasons… with faithfulness and humility in our hearts—for God to see.

That’s what we’re about this Lenten season—examining the 5 Love Languages as articulated by author Gary Chapman—practicing those languages and others I’ve added which communicate God’s Extravagant Love.  For Love begins with God.  God is faithful in giving us and all humanity holy love.  It’s the Gift.  And, God gives and shows extravagant, holy love through the faithfulness and humility of Jesus Christ whose 40 day journey in the wilderness we mirror.  Paul wrote and affirmed that God essentially has said, “I have listened to you.  I know your hearts!  And on a day of salvation, I have helped you!  I gifted you with Love!”

We’ve received the gift!  Now we’re instructed to be ambassadors of this Extravagant Love.  We’re God’s representatives who carry the intentions, the values, the practices of God’s Love to others.

I think this means that we receive God’s gift by internalizing it.  We make it apart of us.  Then we embark on the spiritual journey that gives us the opportunity to communicate this Extravagant Love to others.

This season of Lent, I invite us to deepen our practices of loving

genuinely, with honesty, with pure intentions, with integrity, patience, kindness, no matter what may befall us, no matter what may afflict us, no matter how many sleepless nights we might have to endure…

This season of Lent, let’s “Spread the Love” by communicating it well because it’s a Love that delights us as we learn more about it, that inspires us to share it with others, and undoubtedly enriches our resurrection faith!

I close with another video commercial from Values.com called “Spread the Love.”  In my opinion, this video sparks the message that “Love really, really, really is the answer.”  “Because nothing’ ever gonna make this world better.”