We gathered. We prayed. We started to check-in…the homework had been to write out Romans 8:28, and then to be open to seeing who God might bring into our lives during the week who might need the encouragement. It turns out it was a slightly mixed bag. Some forgot…some didn’t do it…some found that the person needing the encouragement of Romans 8:28 ( And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.) was them (their own self). And then too there was a very important question, can we offer this verse as an encouragement to those who do not love God? Or what about when we really can’t see the good? Or maybe our idea of what is “good” might be different from God….or even different from the person? And so — we named too, that there is wisdom & discernment necessary (as always?) when offering something or some encouragement to anyone — there was a reminder of how Job’s friends (see the book of Job) did best when they remained silent. And so there is that complication of letting the Holy Spirit lead each of us when to speak & when to be silent & what to share. HOWEVER, we also do not know people’s hearts, we do not know the whole picture, and we trust scripture when it says that God’s Word will not return void — so when the Holy Spirit moves us to speak and to encourage (even if we do not know what exactly someone else believes) let us with humility and courage offer it.
And then we pivoted as we do to our scripture for the day, 1 John 5:1-5,
1Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
5Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This was another passage that is well loved. That has come alive to one of us because of it’s promises — promises of victory in and through Jesus Christ. There was the observation of “our faith” — what is that exactly? Is it “our faith” that overcomes the world? Is it our faith IN CHRIST? Is it Christ who overcomes the world? And does how (if) we love the children of God prove that we love God? And does how we love God prove that we love the children of God? — or is it just one o these?
In the discussion these verses were well received. In the closing moments I observed that none had mentioned the bit about verse 3…”For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” Was I the only one listening? Am I the only one who might bristle or at least hesitate in saying that the commandments of God are not burdensome? (There might have been some smirks here….) Because if following, and if loving God is so NOT-burdensome — why does it seem so challenging, and why do we need to be reminded?….
Yet there is of course the encouragement that comes in verses 4 and 5. And this is where we derive our homework from. First — what are some battles/victories that God has ALREADY helped you win in life? Second — what struggles are you still working on, and how do you imagine God will (or can?) help you win them? Yes, this might be a bit more vulnerable, and I pray we hold it tenderly — and considering how many will be traveling this coming Sunday due to spending (thanks be to God) time with family — we will check in with this homework not on this Sunday (May 13th) but on next Sunday (May 20th). So keep on thinking y’all….and I can’t wait to be seated around the table yet again to listen to God through scripture & through each of you!
Rev. Sabrina Slater