Strength to the End

Two of my friends lost their mothers in December, and it always brings back memories of my own mother’s passing when that happens. If you have lost your Mom, you understand the special kind of painful hole that her death creates in your soul. Your mother, whether she was good or not, whether she was supportive and encouraging or judgmental and harsh, was the very first person to know you from the inside-out. There is a blood bond or an adoptive bond that can’t be denied. And if your mother was good, the hole is cavernous and hard to navigate, especially in the first weeks and months. Her lack of presence in this world is disorienting and foreign.

I had a good mother, so I know this pain.

Our lectionary passage today has a beautiful phrase that made me think of my friends’ new grief and my own well-worn sadness over losing our mothers. The blessing of my mother’s passing came in the way she died, as we had spent the evening together and I made her tea and helped her get ready for bed. A few hours later she died in her sleep. We didn’t know it was coming. What a tremendous gift of grace that was!

God gave both of us strength for the end.

Paul assures the church of Corinth that God will also strengthen them to the end. This is a powerful promise that we can all grab ahold of when a loved one dies or as we face our own mortality. I think this can also apply to the end of a relationship, losing a job, graduating from college, moving away from your home, adult children going off on their own … all those things that at some point must come to an end.

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the partnership of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until it’s season, something God alone can see.
(Hymn of Promise, Natalie Sleeth, UMH #707)

God is faithful indeed.

The End and the Beginning by Michelle Robertson

With All My Heart

One of my favorite moments in a wedding happens during the ring vows. As the rings are nervously being slipped onto fingers for the first time, the couple says to each other, “With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you.” There is something quite profound in that statement.

“With all that I have” is a promise that you will share every single resource you possess with the other, including everything that the future promises. Going beyond the material and financial support that is pledged, this statement is a way of saying that there is not one part of my life that I will not share from this point on.

But when you say to someone, “with all that I AM,” the commitment goes even deeper. It promises that you will not hold anything back. It says I will honor you with my inner self. I will honor you with my secrets. I will honor you with my hopes and dreams. I will honor you with sharing my failures and fears. Pledging such deep loyalty to another person with all of your heart is an audacious act of optimism and hope.

Whom do you love with all your heart?

In our Psalm today, David puts God in that place of honor and love:

Psalm 138 (Common English Bible)

 I give thanks to you with all my heart, Lord.
    I sing your praise before all other gods.
I bow toward your holy temple
    and thank your name
    for your loyal love and faithfulness
        because you have made your name and word
        greater than everything else.

David’s feelings of gratitude, love, and loyalty came from a place of reciprocity. God extended these blessings to him first, and his response to God’s faithfulness was to pledge himself by thanking God’s name. God answered David in times of trouble.

On the day I cried out, you answered me.
    You encouraged me with inner strength.

Let all the earth’s rulers give thanks to you, Lord,
    when they hear what you say.
Let them sing about the Lord’s ways
    because the Lord’s glory is so great!
Even though the Lord is high,
    he can still see the lowly,
    but God keeps his distance from the arrogant.

When we feel lowly, it is good to know that God sees us and answers us, no matter what it is we are experiencing. But beware of being arrogant…God has no tolerance for that.

Whenever I am in deep trouble,
    you make me live again;
    you send your power against my enemies’ wrath;
    you save me with your strong hand.
The Lord will do all this for my sake.

Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord!
    Don’t let go of what your hands
    have made.

Have you ever been let down by someone who supposedly loves you? I have.

I don’t know what you are going through today, but hear this; God’s faithful love for you lasts forever. In those moments of deep hurt, betrayal, disappointment, and estrangement from the people you love and count on, remember that God is incapable of letting you go. His hands have made you, and you are HIS.

With all that God is, and all that God has, God honors you.

Two Loves.