Friday, October 27, 2017

The Tree of God’s Love (I John 4:11; 16-19; John 15:4-5) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A person writes: “I came across a sign once that I love—a lost dog sign. There was a big cash reward for whoever found the lost dog.  The description of the dog said: He's only got three legs, he's blind in the left eye, he's missing a right ear, he's almost deaf, and he answers by the name 'Lucky.  That dog is lucky not because of the life he’s led, he's lucky because he has an owner who loves him and wants him back. That's what God’s love, God’s redemption is all about!”   God is the owner who loves us and wants us back.

It is stewardship time and our theme for this coming year is: “The Tree of God’s Love.”  Our life is a manifestation of God’s love.  God created us out of love.  God is the author and creator and source of life.  Everything is owned by God and belongs to God.  God appointed us to exercise responsible authority over all living things and to live purposeful, meaningful and loving lives.    We are God’s stewards, God’s managers, God’s representatives on earth.  We have the resources of the world at our disposal.

Perhaps that’s the difference between an atheist, who doesn’t believe in God, and a theist, who believes in God.  An atheist says: “It’s my life, I am not accountable to anyone, I can live any way I choose.”  A believer says: “My life is not my own, I belong to God and I am accountable to God for the way I live my life.”

The tree of God’s love.  The picture of a tree in the narthex is an apt symbol of God and God’s love.  Trees provide shade, food, wood, oil, fruit, oxygen, nests for birds, and beauty among other things.  Trees and vines are often mentioned in the Bible in a variety of ways.

Listen to other Old Testament allusions to trees and vines in the book of psalms.  “Blessed is the man who is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.” “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  “O Israel, what have I to do with idols?  It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.”  “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” The prophet Isaiah speaks of the people of Israel as “God’s vineyard.”

In the New Testament Jesus speaks about a mustard seed as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows it becomes the largest of plants and becomes a tree.  The birds of the air come and perch in its branches.  Jesus then makes a more radical claim by saying: “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.  I am the vine you are the branches.  Remain in me and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine you are the branches.  If one remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  As the father has loved me, so have I loved you.  My command is this; love each other as I have loved you.

I am impressed with the hearts, which you have placed on our artist’s depiction of a tree in the narthex.  They are your promises, your commitments of love in response to God’s love for you.  In the New Testament we read in I John 4:10 - 12: “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”    This is an inspiring truth from the word of God.  When we love others, we know in our hearts, that God lives in us and God’s love in being made complete in us.

Sometimes however God’s love is right in front of our eyes, but we don’t see it.  We miss it. Like the story about a customs officer who observed a truck pulling up at the border.  Suspicious, he orders the driver out and searches the truck.  He pulls off the panels, bumpers, and wheel cases but finds not a single scrap of contraband.  Suspicious, but at a loss to know where else to search, he waves the driver through. The next week, the same driver arrives and is again searched but to no avail.  Over the years, the officer tries each week as the same man drives up, but no mysterious cargo ever appears.

Finally, after many years, the officer is about to retire.  When the driver pulls up in his truck the officer says: "I know you're a smuggler, and you know it, so don't bother denying it.  But I can’t figure what your smuggling.   I'm retiring and I swear to you I can do you no harm. Won't you please tell me what you've been smuggling?"  The driver pauses, looks the officer in the eyes, and says: "Trucks.”  God’s love is sometimes so obvious that we don’t perceive it.

We honor God when we partner with God in the work of His Kingdom, that is, wherever God’s reign, God’s rule, God’s love, God’s will is being accomplished on earth.  Like our weekly Youth program where young people from the community and our congregation are growing in their Christian faith, led by Robert Gerow and his dedicated volunteers.  And our weekly Kingdom Kids program, where children from our preschool, church, and community, led by Grant and Kat, and volunteers, learn about Jesus and enjoy games, meals, crafts, and music.  We have a wonderful Preschool under the leadership of the director Brigitte together with her dedicated teachers.  Our Preschool enrollment is overflowing.  It provides a healthy spiritual, intellectual, and social foundation for children, and builds community among the preschool families.  Some of those families have joined the church.

Our Sunday Evening Roots worship service and ministry reaches young adults in our community under the leadership of Grant.  Some of these young adults have joined our church.  We celebrate our music program, the Sounds of Worship and our Chancel Choir, under the leadership of Esther Jordan and our organist Anne Bay.   We are moved in worship by the music of handbells from our Crusaders under the leadership of Esther.

We see God’s Spirit moving in our prayer and healing ministries and in our congregational care ministry under the leadership of Donna Pierce, which brings Christ’s care and compassion to members and friends.  We offer Bible study and Christian education opportunities for all ages during the week and on Sunday mornings.  We have faith-filled and committed leaders – deacons and elders, who enthusiastically serve Christ in our church.  We serve in partnership with the Lord in reaching out to our community as we participate in events such as Pacific beach Fest and Graffiti Day.  We see God’s hand touching lives in military and other families in our Friday Pizza and Movie Night ministry.

God has blessed the community through our congregation's Sunday Night Ministry, by providing meals for 100 or more homeless people each week for nearly three decades under the leadership of Janice Minor and Neil Charette.  We weekly serve nearly 300 homeless people through our mail service, where we provide our address as a way for homeless people to receive mail, from government checks to personal mail.  I often hear homeless people say: “God bless you, thank you for this mail service,” as people pick up their mail under the direction of our office manager, Meri Murch, and the office volunteers.

We see God’s hands at work as we provide clothing and food, volunteers and financial support for CCSA, Meals on Wheels, Monarch school, Baja Presbyterian Ministries, Military Outreach Ministry, Intervarsity, Heifer Project, Presbyterian Urban Ministry, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and international missionaries like Esther Wakeman in Thailand.  We are greatly blessed by your generous giving to our Endowment Fund which annually contributes money to our ministry both today and for the future.

God’s Spirit is among us, guiding and empowering us.  I want to personally and on behalf of the elders, thank you for your faith, your generous commitment and your support this year.  We are asking for your prayerful support of your time, talents and money for this coming year, as we together reach people for Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ cares deeply about your life, your growth in faith and your participation in His Kingdom.  Christ will use your giving for His purposes.  Every pledge, every donation, every gift, every offering counts.  Commitment Sunday is next Sunday, October 29.  We will have a basket on the chancel and invite you to come forward to place your pledges in the basket as a sign of your commitment.  Let us give thanks to God for His grace in our lives.  Amen!

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