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Christmas is only a few days away, and I’ve not give you the last of the Christmas Bingo boards!
I almost forgot! Which reminded me of a Christmas memory, sort of. I was in high school, I think, and I did a lot of embroidery. My mother usually didn’t, but one afternoon in the spring, she asked to borrow my wooden oval embroidery hoop. I explained that I didn’t have one, but she could use a round one I had.
No, she corrected: I had an oval one. She knew this for certain because she remembered finding it and buying it for me as a Christmas present a few months earlier.
No, I don’t have one, I said. She paused and thought a minute, and then stepped out of the room. She returned a few minutes later holding the hoop, which she had forgotten to give me at Christmas. She handed it to me, explaining, and then said, “now can I please borrow it?”
Can you relate? We intend to do something; we intend to do good. But sometimes we get so rushed that we cannot remember which of our intentions we have followed through on. Some have some grace: Did I water the plants? Some remind you on their own: Did I feed the dog? And some are easy to check on: Did I pay the light bill?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)
And surely that was Peter’s intention, when he had this exchange with Jesus:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
(John 21: 15-17)
As Lutherans we wince at the idea of good works that either earn or prove salvation. We rely on the fundamental understanding that we are saved by God’s grace alone. One of my favorite verses:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
But we have to keep reading, just one more verse: 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Our response to God’s grace is to bear good fruit, which shows in our good works. Although it was not one of Luther’s favorite books, he too pointed to James 2: 14-19, 26:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
We are saved by God’s grace. Praise God! And we are called to live that faith in tangible ways. Just as Jesus told Simon Peter, “Feed my sheep, take care of my lambs,” we, too, are empowered to care for God’s people, the sheep to which Jesus referred.
At this season many charities receive abundant gifts. Unfortunately, for too many, this Christmas outpouring will constitute the majority of their annual donations. It is the end of the fiscal year for individual taxes, and so some people make extra donations in order to increase their deductions on their tax returns. Make no mistake: the charities and churches are definitely thankful for these donations.
But God is good all year. Yes: choose a worthy cause and make a gift in thanksgiving for all that God has given you, especially the gift of his Son’s entrance into our world. But don’t let that intention be forgotten.
Make a commitment, one that you can keep but that stretches you a little. One that demonstrates that as you stretch, God will act. Live the whole year in faith.