A few days ago, I visited a couple who are parishioners. This beloved couple has experienced some devastating loss in recent times, the most recent being the loss of a dear friend of many, many years. There is no doubt that as we age gracefully, we will lose some of our dear ones who may be family, friends, and colleagues. The loss is ever so sharp and profound, especially when we are very close to the ones we've lost.
As we sat and talked, they asked a question: “Do you have control of your day?” In other words, do you exercise control over what happens in your day? I thought that was an interesting question. I don’t remember being asked a similar question, but it certainly gave me a pause and alerted me to how I even spend and prioritize my day, if it's ever possible. I have since thought a lot about this question, about how much control I have over my day... and if I even have control at all.
“I don’t have any control over my day,” I responded. I may plan to do X, Y, or Z; sometimes I get to all of them, and other times I get to none of them or some of them. Mostly, though, I don’t have control over my day.
I then shared a story with the couple, one about a phone call I received from another parishioner. This parishioner reached out to me about a friend in hospice. The friend isn’t affiliated with any congregation but is an Anglican, and his family would very much love to have a priest visit, anoint, and pray with them before he passes. The parishioner asked if she could give my number to the wife. “Absolutely yes,” I told them.
The wife of this friend called me and asked if I could visit, anoint, and pray for the dying husband, and I told her that I could. She then told me that earlier in life, the husband was enrolled in a seminary to become an Anglican priest when his father passed away. He had to drop out of seminary because of losing his father and she believed that it would mean a lot to him to have me visit, so I took down her address and went over to anoint and pray for the dying husband. When I arrived, I met the daughter, son, and brother of the dying man, as well as his wife. All were so gracious and glad that I made the long trip from Columbia to Washington, D.C. to offer this. Their joy was palpable. The gentleman has since passed on and I have been invited to officiate at his memorial.
I share these two stories with you to make the point that embedded in both stories was an attempt to offer some amount of joy to others. More than that, there were attempts to be a gift of joy to those who were experiencing loss, sorrow, pain, distress, and hurt. It was a joy to be present with these two families and to share with them that God’s abiding presence never ceases; in fact, his mercies never end, as they are new every morning. The reality is that it takes both you and me to bring this joy to others.
Last Sunday, members of Christ Church's Spiritual Life Commission gathered together after worship to prayerfully consider the theme for our next year. After much discussion, we decided on this theme “Be A Joyful Gift To Others.” Romans 12 became the scripture foundation for this theme, one whose text calls upon us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. More than that, it reminds us of the ultimate gift that we are to one another.
I love verses 6-8:
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Granted that we are each a gift to the other; to be a true gift is an invitation, a solemn invitation to not only be a gift, but a joyful gift. To be a joyful gift to others truly acknowledges the unique ability and potential in us to be able to do anything, more than we can ever imagine for others. Our sole call isn’t only about doing something but doing it cheerfully. St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that God loves a cheerful giver. Are you a cheerful giver? Do you ever consider yourself as a gift who likes to give of the self with a deep sense of joy?
I am sure you can also tell stories like mine to highlight the joyful gift you have been to another person. If you have, I’d like for you to continue on that path. Don’t give up on the unique quality in you. Don’t give up on your ability to let the gift in you shine forth - even in the direst of circumstances. Don’t give up on doing more than is required of you. Don’t give up on your ability to inspire others with the gift of yourself - the one gift that you can freely and joyfully offer to all.
Indeed, you and I may not have control over our day, but we have control over how to be a gift that gives to others and does so joyfully.
If God indeed loves a cheerful giver, I have no doubt that God loves your joyful, giving self.