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\\ "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"For The Love Of God Is Empowering"
(Matthew 22:36 -40, John 4:1-32)
I heard about an executive who was given a prank gift for his birthday, a penguin.
He decided just to accept it in the spirit in which it was given, so he called in one of his employees and said, /"Will you please take this penguin to the zoo?"/
The employee never returned to work that day.
That night, however, he appeared at the executive's house, with the penguin.
Exasperated, the business executive said, /"I thought I told you to take the animal to the zoo." /
/"I did,"/ said the young employee.
/"He enjoyed it so much, tomorrow I'm planning to take him to the museum!"/ (1)
At the last Church I served, one day we received a memorial gift to the Church.
There was a short note written on a beautiful little card that described who the memorial honored.
It said the usual thing,/ "Enclosed you will find a check to be used as a memorial for, Mr. So and So"/ Unfortunately, the person who sent the memorial forgot to sign the note and they forgot to enclose the check.
Not only that but the card had been purchased from the Altzheimer's Foundation.
It turned out to be very real, but I thought it was a joke from one of the pranksters in the Church.
Gifts and presents come in all kinds of shapes and sizes don't they?
And we all like receiving gifts and presents.
I really like to give presents but I also like to receive them.
I don't know anybody who doesn't like to get presents, do you?
Now imagine, if you will, one of those special days in your life.
It might be your birthday.
It might be your anniversary or the day you got a promotion.
It might just be one of those surprise sort of special days that come along in life.
But it's one of those special days, everything about it is right.
To top it off, like icing on the cake or ice cream on your pie, you get a package.
And not just any package but a very special package.
The minute you see it you know it's special.
You feast your eyes on it and you know it's something unique.
Your eyes light up.
It feels like Christmas as a child again.
Your heart feels all fluttery, your face grins all on its own.
You feel right on the verge of being all giggly and silly.
The package is so beautifully wrapped and decorated that you don't want to open it.
But it's so inviting and enticing that you can't wait to open it.
Filled with all the anticipation of Christmas and birthday rolled into one; just as carefully as your excitement will let you, you open the package.
You peel the paper off slowly . . . .
look inside . . . .
and it's empty.
You get that horrible sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Your heart physically aches from the disappointment.
We all know that feeling don't we? We've all experienced that kind of disappointment at some point in life.
Some of us are dealing with those kinds of feelings right now.
We've all had the experience of opening the box and finding it empty.
We don't like that feeling of disappointment nor the emptiness that it leaves in our soul.
* *Some of us have looked at the gift of life or our life situation and it looks empty.
That's NOT what God intended.
We have been given the most precious gift of all.
Through God's unconditional, creative love, we have been created in the very image of God.
That is one of the most wondrous gifts, one of the most beautifully wrapped gifts anyone can be given.
And it is ours personally.
It has our name on it and no one else's.
It can never be anyone's but ours.
You and I are created in God's very image.
There is a family resemblance.
Our worth, our value doesn't come from the things that we own or the talents that we have or how much we make or how much we give away.
Our worth, our value comes from this wonderful gift God has given each of us, the gift of ourselves, created in God's image.
Unfortunately, some people don't know that.
They have looked at the gift of life and for them it's empty.
For some the reason is simply that they never heard of the gift.
No one ever told them they were created in God's image and therefore very very special to God and to themselves.
To them the wrapping paper even looks tawdry and plain.
Some people have heard this marvelous message, they've seen the glitter of the wrapping paper but only out of the corner of their eye.
For some reason they can't quite focus on it long enough to see just how beautiful it really is.
In part it's because they don't want to believe that they are of value to anyone.
Or they can't believe they are of value, especially to God.
They simply haven't accepted the gift
There are those who can't accept the gift.
They can't accept the idea that a loving God would do something like this, without any strings attached.
They've never experienced unconditional love and so they don't have any point of reference.
For them, it really is too good to be true and so they open the gift and it appears to be empty, like all the other promises that have been made and broken in their lives.
For others, at some point in time, the gift was very real.
They cherished it.
And gloried in it but throughout their life it was slowly stolen away by the cruelties of life.
Bit by bit, little by little, the gift was stolen.
An unkind word slipped in and took its share.
A disparaging phrase carried off some more.
Unmet expectations by others came back time and time again and ran off with piece after piece, until finally, the gift was empty and there was nothing left but the wrapping paper.
And it sat there as a crumpled reminder of the gift, a reminder of what used to be but seems to be no more.
Then there are those who have bartered the gift away.
They accepted it totally and completely but they got distracted.
They looked out at the world and saw all the sparkly things and heard the whispered promises of more and better.
And suddenly they weren't satisfied.
This wondrous gift from God wasn't enough for them.
And so they began to trade it piece by piece, bit by bit for the sordid adventures of life.
They became self indulgent.
Besotted by booze; dazed and dazzled by drugs, they bartered and traded and used up the gift until one day it was empty.
Even the wrapping looked worn and old and frazzled.
For others, the gift has simply been lost.
Through neglect or through overuse, they have somehow forgotten their purpose.
They have forgotten the glory of the gift.
They can't even remember what it looked like.
Or where they put it for safe keeping.
They've settled not for living but for mere existence.
And maybe the worst of the bunch are those who wholeheartedly accepted the gift but have never opened it up.
It still sits there.
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