LOVE— PART 2

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This reflection is the second part of an exploration into the meaning of love in the letters of St. Paul. It is part of a larger collection of my reflections on what St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” This fruit refers to the virtues evident in the lives of those who have truly patterned themselves on the example of Jesus Christ.

The Fruit of the Spirit — Love, Part 2

The most familiar passage in the New Testament about love is perhaps the description we find of it in the 13th chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4–7).

In the film “Wedding Crashers” the two main characters, played by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, crash the wedding ceremony of an unsuspecting couple. As the pastor invites a reader to the lectern, Wilson whispers to Vaughn: “20 bucks, 1st Corinthians.”  Vaughn replies, “Double or nothing, Colossians 3:12.” Then, in the background, the reader begins reading the first verse of 1 Cor. 13 — “Love is patient, love is kind…” — and Vaughn having lost the bet, pays up.

This vignette shows just how popular and well known the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is to the general public, even to folks who may not know much about the contents of the New Testament.

While we immediately see the applicability of this passage from 1st Corinthians to the marriage of two people before God, in its original context this beautiful passage of Scripture was not written to describe Christian marriage.  St. Paul was writing to a Christian community to teach and direct them in the ways that they should love and respect each member of the church.  St. Paul addressed 1st Corinthians to a church divided by factions, each with its own set of conflicting interests, that bore witness to division and not to the mutual love and respect that should have been on display in that particular community.  St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church members, gently chastising them where necessary, but always with love and great respect.

At the beginning of the letter, he writes: “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Cor. 1:10. Throughout the ensuing letter, Paul urges the people of the church in Corinth to treat one another with mutual respect, as for example in 1 Cor. 10:24 when he writes, “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.”

St. Paul hopes to form a Christian community built on mutual respect and love.  In this community, each person is invaluable and irreplaceable.  For St. Paul, when we respect another person, we not only show respect to our own self, we respect the person of Jesus Christ who has called and incorporated the other into his own body, the Church.  That is why St. Paul can write the following sentences:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. … But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it(1 Cor. 12:12; 24-27v).

It might escape our notice, on first reading the beautiful words about the meaning and practice of genuine love in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, that the attributes of love that Paul describes in 1 Cor. 13 are those that usually are ascribed to God. St. Paul, however, desires earnestly that this sort of love be embodied in the behavior of the Christians living in the church to which he writes in Corinth.[1]

“Love is patient, love is kind….”  The description of what genuine love looks like on the ground in 1 Corinthians can also be used to flesh out the meaning of the virtues

St. Paul lists in Galatians 5: 22-23: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  The fruit of the Spirit refers to the virtues evident in the lives of those who have truly patterned themselves on the example of Jesus Christ, and love is first and foremost on that list.

Let’s examine St. Paul’s description of love one more time:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4–7). One thing that stands out that often runs counter to our own expectations is St. Paul’s statement that love “does not insist on its own way.”  This statement is often overlooked.  We sometimes seem to think that if someone truly loves us that they should agree with us in everything.  Personal relationships often falter on this very point. When we love someone, it does not mean that the other person always has to do things just the way we think they should be done.  Genuine love allows for genuine difference in our relationships. As long as there mutual respect and love exist, people can agree to disagree and still live together in loving relationships with one another.

A church that is faithful to Jesus Christ is a community shaped by the love of Jesus Christ in which people can agree to disagree on some things, but not on the essential character of the church, which is always formed by mutual respect and love for one another.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13: 13).


[1] Raymond F. Collins; Daniel J. Harrington, ed., 1 CorinthiansSacra Pagina Series, volume 7 (Collegeville, MN, The Liturgical Press, 1999), pp. 476 ff.

LOVE

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)

Over the past few months, I have reflected on what St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” This fruit refers to the virtues evident in the lives of those who have truly patterned themselves on the example of Jesus Christ. The reason that the New Testament writers focus on the virtues is so that Christians can live and work joyfully and productively in community.

The most difficult Christian virtue to write about is love.  The word is used so often and in so many different contexts that its meaning is diffuse. Love in common parlance is used to refer both the object of our affection or desire and our relationship to it or someone else. We say, for example, that we love our spouse, our children, our parents, and our grandchildren while at the same time we say that we love chocolate ice cream.

Part of the confusion is caused by the fact the in the English language love is both a noun and a verb.  Love then is both a virtue and an action. When we speak about love in the context of a church community we usually distinguish between God’s love for us and our love for one another. Our love for one another in Christian community is always modeled on God’s love for us but God’s love is both beyond our capacity to understand and to enact fully in our lives.

Talking about the love God has for each of us can be so clichéd. We have heard about it so often and in such vague terms that it becomes meaningless. Krister Stendahl, the former Dean of Harvard Divinity School and Bishop of Sweden who taught my seminary preaching class, gave his students the following advice: whenever you preach about God’s love, do so sparingly.  If you talk about it too much it will go in and out of the ears of your hearers almost immediately. They won’t hear it at all.  Remember, he said, when preaching that “a little love goes a long way.” That is why I saved writing about the virtue of love until last.

This post is the first of two in which I will begin to explore the meaning of love, particularly as we read about in the letters of St. Paul and other New Testament writers. The topic, of course, is enormous and a thousand books I fear would not be enough to exhaust it.  This article will examine the love of God for us and the love of one another in the community of the church.

Throughout the Old Testament, and most often in the Psalms, we find this refrain: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good for his steadfast love endures forever.”  The words “his steadfast love endures forever” occurs 42 times in the Old Testament.  The Hebrew word the NRSV translates as “steadfast love” is hesed.   It is often translated as “mercy” or perhaps even better as “loving-kindness.”

Mercy and loving-kindness are at the heart of God’s very being.  This is also reflected in the New Testament book of 1 John where we find these words: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16).

For Christians, the model of love is Jesus Christ himself.  The love embodied in the person of Jesus Christ is not selfish but self-giving.  Jesus is the good shepherd, the model shepherd, lays down his life for us.  The writer of the Gospel of John observes that “God loved the world so much that God gave his only begotten Son” for us and for our salvation.  (See Jn. 3:16). Or, as St. Paul puts it, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8 NRSV). God’s love, in other words, is made most evident to us in the gift of God’s Son, Jesus, for us and for our salvation.

Throughout the New Testament, the example of God’s love as modeled for us in Jesus Christ is made the cornerstone of our love for one another.  The example of Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of how we should act towards one another in Christian community.  The author 1 John says this quite directly:

Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7–11)

Because God loved us so much, we ought to love one another. The model for how we are to love one another is shaped by the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. It is a cross-shaped love, a love willing to sacrifice the self on behalf of another. This love always looks first to the good of the other.  St Paul captures that spirit when he advises Christians on how to live together in community with these words: “Let love be genuine; …love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor “(Rom. 12:9-10).

St. Paul writes this immediately after he says: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function…. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Rom 12:4, 6).  In other words, St. Paul is saying that we all are not alike. We are different people with different abilities and gifts.  Our abilities, our greatest strengths, are not the same nor should they be. If we truly love other persons we should not try to shape them into our own image but rather seek to love and honor them, as God by virtue of our baptism has called the other into community with us.

Imagine what Christian community would be like if we each strove to outdo one another in showing honor to one another. What if we made a point to honor everyone for who and what they are, without criticism, without rancor, without bitterness, but sought first their welfare and dignity over that of our own? How might it change our life at home, at work, at church, and in the wider world?

As St. Paul says, “Think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

To be continued. In part 2, I will discuss the most familiar passage in the New Testament concerning love: the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. 

THE PASSAGE OF TIME

This summer I began to re-read one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann, winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize for Literature primarily for his novels Buddenbrooks (1901) and The Magic Mountain  (Der Zauberberg, 1924).

In 1995 a new English translation of the novel was published that I found preferable to the older translation I had first started to read many years ago. So with a new translation in hand, I began reading the book again.  Ι  say I’m reading  the book again because although  I have read a good part of it at least twice,  I have never managed to  finish it. I seem to get to page 300 or so and then move on to other things without finishing it. Mann said that he thought the book properly should be read twice, once to get the overall story and the second time for the symbolism and the deeper meaning.  So this time, I suppose I’m taking his word and I am determined to finish it.

The novel tells the story of the young Hans Castorp who in the years prior to WWI comes for a three-week visit to his cousin Joachim, a patient at a tuberculosis sanitarium in the mountains in Davos, Switzerland. During his first three weeks as a visitor, Castorp is diagnosed with a lesion on his lung and ends up becoming a resident of the sanitarium for the next seven years. Mann envisioned the book as a reflection on two themes. First the novel was a symbolic description of the terminal sickness of Europe in the years prior to the first World War and second it was a reflection on our human experience of the passage of time

Mann’s reflections on time were influenced by Einstein’s theory of  general relativity and his description of our movement through space-time, as well as by Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological studies of time consciousness, Heidegger’s Being and Time, Henri Bergson’s Time and Free Will, and numerous other philosophical, psychological, and political  thinkers of the day. The sanitarium serves as the stage on which a wide variety of these ideas and political positions battle for the allegiance of young hero of the novel.

Einstein’s observations about the fourth dimension of time or rather the inseparability of space and time had a profound impact on the structure of the novel. Einstein’s work on general relativity was first published in 1915, seven years prior to the publication of The Magic Mountain. To plot a location at any given time we need the latitude and longitude (the X and Y axes)  and the elevation (the Z axis). That is how three-dimensional space is ordered and accounted for in scientific and mathematical terms. Without accounting for the fourth dimension of time, however, our  location is still indeterminate. If you and I, for example, are in the same location on the X, Y, and Z axes at  different times, then we cannot say in the present moment  that we are in the exact same location. As we move through space we also move through time.

For me, the most remarkable thing about the novel is the way in which Mann in the telling of the story reflects on the way in which we experience the passage of time. Have you ever noticed. when you travel to an entirely different location than that to which you are accustomed in every day life, that time seems to go slower than when were are at home in our usual locales?  In that circumstance a single day can seem like two or three days. In the novel, Castorp’s first day seems almost to last forever. The first week seems to last for weeks. By the third week, looking back it seems as if he has been on the mountain for long, long time and yet the time, the time he has spent there seems to have flown by. The first three hundred pages or so of the novel are devoted to the first three weeks of Castorp’s stay. Or, to look at it another way, the first five chapters narrate the first year of Castorp’s stay, and the last two chapters, the remaining six years. In these last six years, time seems to fly by almost unaccounted for as if in the twinkling of an eye.

I thought a lot about Mann’s reflections on the experience of the passage of time during my trip to Stuttgart in late July to present a paper at an academic conference. The first days of my trip  (after accounting for jet-lag) seemed to last forever but by the end of the conference it seemed as if the time had just flown by. How is that, I wondered, and what, if anything, are we to do about it?

The narrator of the novel gives a partial answer:

Habit arises when our sense of time falls asleep, or at least, grows dull. … We know full well that the insertion of new habits or the changing of old ones is the only way to preserve life, to renew our sense of time, to rejuvenate, intensify, and retard our experience of time—and thereby renew our sense of life itself. That is the reason for every change of scenery and air, for a trip to the shore: the experience of a variety of refreshlng epìsodes. The few days in a new place have a youthful swing to them, a kind of sturdy, long-stride— that lasts for about six to eight days. Then, to the extent that we “settle in,” the gradual shortening becomes noticeable.

As we seek to live rewarding, fulsome lives, we need to structure time and space away from the grind of everyday life in which time seems to contract and in which the hum-drum is the ordinary state. This does not mean that we should never put down roots. Without solid deep roots, like plants in a drought, we would perish.  Our human roots, unlike plants, do not stay in the same location all day. We move around even as we are rooted in homes, families, and communities, including the church. On occasion, however, we seem to need the experience of a new place to slow the passage of time, so that in that new time, we can rediscover ourselves and perhaps come to a new awareness of our passing through time. Castorp, living in a sanitarium in which death was a frequent occurrence, observes that we all are moving endlessly toward death. This memento mori serves to bring our temporal limits to consciousness and to awaken us to ourselves so that in the time we have left (and we never know how much that is), we can make the most of our lives.

Now that I have gotten this off my chest (Castorp might have appreciated this pun), I should get back to my “re-reading.” The enchanted mountain awaits my summiting.  I’m now on page 301….

EUCHARISTIC COMMUNITY


Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash

Note: This is a follow-up to my post “We are Eucharistic Beings” from November 20, 2018.

All of the promises made in the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer are important. But the question that always stands out for me as a parish priest is, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?”

Making this promise puts us in continuity with the earliest church, the church of the apostles. In Acts 2:42 we read that the members of the earliest Christian community “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The central aspects of my ministry are shaped by this promise. I strive to teach and proclaim the apostolic faith of the church and to foster a Eucharistic community in which fundamental respect for the dignity of every person is not only welcomed but essential.

The other promises made in the Baptismal Covenant fall under this “devotion,” this commitment to living in a community formed by the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. We can only “respect the dignity of every human being” when we respect the members of our own community, the people we often know best but find most difficult to live with. In my ministry,  I find that people long for genuine community. They long for a place where they can love and be loved in return. This recapitulates the whole story of the Bible: God desires to form a people, first Israel and then the Church, who will love God and whom God will love in return.

In community, we have to learn to love people we do not necessarily like. That is why Christians need the Church. We need its community and fellowship if we are to grow and mature in our Christian lives. Christians need the church to teach them how to love others fully and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.”

The response to the baptismal questions is important to keep in mind: “I will with God’s help.” Remaining in communion and fellowship with others is not always easy. We can only do it with God’s help, and God is always present to assist.

When we promise to continue in “the breaking of bread” we acknowledge that we are Eucharistic “companions,” literally, persons with whom we share bread. In a true Eucharistic community, we do not have to agree on everything. We only have to agree to continue to break bread and share it with one another. In a Eucharistic community, I believe, genuine diversity and differences of opinion can live side by side because in community we fundamentally live for one other.

Finally, when we promise to “continue in the prayers” we make a fundamental commitment that we will lift up and honor all of God’s people, and the world in which we live, before God. Prayer reminds us that everything we have comes from God and that nothing we have comes from ourselves alone. We are “Eucharistic beings” who are created by God to give thanks. It is only when we offer prayer and thanks to God and when we care to the utmost for those who are different from ourselves — always respecting the dignity of every human being — that we live into our full humanity.

BEARING FRUIT

I have posted several meditations on what St. Paul calls the “fruit of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22). The last post focused on “Kindness.” In this post, I would like to reflect more generally on what this “fruit” might mean for you personally.

The “fruit of the spirit” refers to the virtues that genuine Christians should manifest in their daily lives in word and deed.  How should you as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, live your life in relation to others?  How should you behave?  The answer St. Paul gives is that in everything we do and say, we should manifest the “fruit of the spirit” in our lives.  

The way we live and work with other people witnesses directly to our own spiritual formation and maturity. If we live in peace with one another, demonstrating our kindness, love, and generosity with others, we demonstrate that Christ indeed lives in us.  On the other hand, if we are angry most of the time, our lives do not witness to the love of Christ, something that all those who follow Jesus are called to embody and show to the world.  Jesus told his disciples very clearly that they were to love one another just as he had loved them.  

In the New Revised Standard of the Bible, the version used most often in the Episcopal Church today, St. Paul’s words are translated in this way: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness” (Gal 5: 22).

Each of these words contain a vast treasure of meaning for us.  After all, what does it really mean to love another person or to be a person of peace? How are we to be kind and gentle toward others? 

The Message is a paraphrased translation of the Bible. Eugene Peterson, its author, does not call his translation the Bible, as he does not want his version to be confused with more literal translations.  His version seeks to express what the passage means for us today in our current context using simple, but contemporary language. As a result, it functions best as a companion to more literal translations of the Bible.  I find that after I read a passage in the NRSV, I often want to see what Peterson makes of it in The Message

The paraphrase of Galatians 5:22-23 in the Message is as follows:      

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

The way in which Peterson unfolds what St. Paul means by the fruit of the spirit is brilliant: “[God] brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard….”   

The purpose of a fruit tree is to produce fruit.  Similarly, Jesus calls those who follow him to bear spiritual fruit by living a life that is genuinely Christ-like, a life that is peaceful, loving, gracious, forgiving, kind and generous towards one another.  

What kind of fruit are you bearing in your life?

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: KINDNESS

Over the past year,  I have written three mediations about what St. Paul calls the “fruit of spirit”:  Resilience” (Patience),” “Gentleness in my Dealings” (Gentleness), and “Joy”(Joy). This month, I would like to focus on Kindness.

The “fruit of the spirit” refers to the virtues that genuine Christians should manifest in their daily lives in word and deed. How should you as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, live your life in relation to others?  How should you behave? The answer St. Paul gives is that in everything we do and say, we should manifest the “fruit of the spirit” in our lives.

St. Paul is not inventing this metaphor on his own. Jesus himself in numerous places in the gospels urged his followers to live lives that bear fruit. In the gospel of John Jesus, for example, says:

My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” and “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name (John 15:8,16).

In his letters, St. Paul continually urges Christians to bear fruit.

…We have not ceased praying for you and asking that…you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God (Col 1:10).

In his letter to the Galatians St. Paul contrast the “works of the flesh” with the “fruit of the spirit.”

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these (Gal 5: 19-21)….By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness(Gal 5: 22).

It is important to note that the “works of the flesh” are plural, but its opposite, the “fruit of the spirit,” is singular.   St. Paul does not call them the “fruits” of the spirit as if we could display some but not others, but rather groups them into one.  We can’t have one without all the others if we are to manifest signs of the presence of Christ Jesus in our lives.  The fruit of the spirit is made manifest when all together and at the same time are on display in our lives.

The list that enumerates the “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians is not the only listing of moral virtues found in St. Paul’s writings. In Colossians, we find a similar list:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col 3:12).

In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul cites the example of his own manner of life and that of his band of fellow evangelists when he writes:

…[A]s servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: …by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left…” (2 Cor 6:4–7).

In the list of the virtues found in Galatians, Colossians, and 2 Corinthians we always find “patience” and “kindness.”

We find those two virtues listed again when in 1 Cor. 13, one of the most renowned passages in all of St. Paul’s writing, he describes the meaning of love (another aspect of the “fruit of the spirit”).   St. Paul begins with these simple words: “Love is patient; love is kind….”

Here again, we see the interrelatedness of the Christian virtues. To describe love, St. Paul turns to patience and kindness. (All three are found in the list of the “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians.) I’m sure that if St. Paul were to describe kindness, he would at a minimum turn to love and patience to give shape to his description. That’s why love, patience, and kindness are elements of the “fruit of the spirit” and not separate fruits of the spirit.

St. Paul goes on to describe how love is kind and patient. “Love,” he continues, “is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:4–6).  Love and kindness are integrally connected, but to exhibit full kindness to someone, we need to embody all the elements that St. Paul lists in his description of the “fruit of the spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness.”

St. Paul compiled the list we find in Galatians to describe how Christians should behave toward one another and as a tool to urge them to live in a manner consistent with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. When we act in accordance with his teaching and example, it can be said that our lives are bearing fruit. St. Paul’s description of the fruit that we who follow Jesus should seek to bear, particularly as it relates to how we live and work with others, gives us both a helpful checklist and a way of discerning whether we are living our lives in accordance with the teaching and example of Jesus.

NEW BEGINNINGS

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Moses was a prince in Egypt, an adopted son of Pharaoh. As such, he had access to power and wealth. But after killing an Egyptian in anger, whom he saw beating a fellow Israelite, Moses fled into the wilderness to avoid arrest and punishment. Things did not look good for Moses, a fugitive from justice, who now tended sheep far away from the life of privilege he had known.

God, on the other hand, had a plan for Moses. God searched Moses out and revealed God’s self to Moses in a burning bush. God then said to Moses, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)

The call of God came as a great surprise to Moses. He had resigned himself to tending sheep in the wilderness. How could he ever expect that God could use a murderer like him to fulfill God’s plan? Moses “found favor” in God’s sight and God called him by name (Exodus 33:17) to a task so arduous Moses had no idea how he could accomplish it apart from complete trust in the God who called him.

The story of Moses is a story of new beginnings like no other. It reminds us that nothing in our past can hinder the ability for God to use us as God wills.  Nothing we have done or failed to do can stop God from calling us to something new. And, nothing we have done can prevent us from starting over again. God never gives up on us and God always gives us the chance to start over again.

Don’t listen to those who tell you that you are forever stuck in your past. Don’t listen to those who tell you it’s too late to start something new. Listen instead to God who says to each of us in God’s own way, “you have found favor in my sight and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:17)

God is with us in our beginnings and our endings because God is a God of promises. So, don’t get stuck in the past. Look forward to the future with hope. Look forward to your future with hope. It is never too late for God to use you in God’s own way and for God’s own purposes.