By Dr. Sophia Steibel
“So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16 NRSV)
It was a rule of life for me. Every Sunday afternoon I’d travel nearby to see a friend who was in an assisted living facility in Shelby. I looked forward to those moments filled with something beyond the ordinary. It was the mystery of a life rooted in a reality greater than what we can describe with words.
My friend was a singer who had many years of professional training. And she loved to sing loud and clear for all to hear. Because I knew that, my visits would end up in the piano room, where I played, and she sang. The old hymns with all stanzas were her favorite.
As the years progressed her mind, ability to read, and memory declined. Our visits moved to the garden where birds and the sunshine illuminated us. Without exception, I’d ask if she would like to join the birds in their recital, and promptly she started, “Jesus loves me this I know…Yes, Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so.” If there were people around, they’d stop, because the feeble body projected a strong sound.
In 1 John we have a statement so crystal clear that no matter where we are in our journey in life, we can’t help but stop to consider it. The nature of God is love. Not a feeling that comes and goes or a temporary act of kindness when we see someone in need. Earlier this passage reads, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (v. 9). I wondered how my physically weak friend could sing with a resounding expression of life. It was as if life permeated her lungs beyond any scientific explanation. For years she practiced believing in Jesus and complete health was not necessary for life to be witnessed through her voice. Her soul had found a home in God’s love.
During these fourteen days we are being challenged to love those closest to us but also those in our zip code area. First Baptist Church wants to reach out in such a way that others will wonder how so imperfect people can love in a perfect way? The secret is not in us. Jesus demonstrated for us how this is possible. He loved to the very end. In the Gospel of John, Jesus invites us to stay in him just as the branches stay in the vine. My friend had learned this lesson and it showed when all else failed.
Jesus, we may not fully comprehend how it is possible to be so connected to you that life is always present, even in our most dark moments. Help us to let go of trying to make life work and embrace the gift that you came to offer, the gift of love and life. May First Baptist Church be a blessing to the city of Shelby and adjacent areas. May others see in us your perfect love. In your name we pray, Amen.