Seth Patterson March 15, 2020
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1–61; Corinthians 13:4–8
When I was younger I was always taller and bigger than all of my friends. This was never really part of the equation until they would start wrestling and playing and trying to tackle each other. I would want to participate and I would jump in! Oftentimes, the fun would be over quickly as I would accidentally hurt someone. I absolutely never meant to hurt anyone and I would feel awful about it for hours afterwards. My friends and parents would then tell me that I don’t know my own strength. I thought this was such a strange phrase. How could I not know my own strength? How could I not know something that is such an integral part of who I am?
It’s true though. And it’s not just me. Each of us has times in which we do not know our own strength. We accidentally hurt someone when all we were trying to do was jump in to the fun. We just want to participate, and we inadvertently hurt someone. We do not know the strength of our words and actions.
This strength, though, is not only about the times we may hurt someone without trying. We each have a strength beyond our knowledge that can profoundly effect another’s life. Each of us through our words and actions can unknowingly use our strength to help someone. We are often—even accidentally—the person that someone else needs us to be.
This strength that we do not always know about is love. Love is not merely something that we feel, but it is an action that we perform, that we give, that we say, that we do. We do not know our own strength and that power is love. And that strength of love becomes actions in so many ways. As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
As we continue to adapt to these new circumstances, the need to act lovingly is expanded. While it is always important to practice the ways that we love ourselves and others, times of stress and change exacerbate the need. Practice patience on yourself. Take the time to breathe and pause before starting anything new. Practice gentleness on yourself. Find the ways in which these changing days may give unexpected gifts to you and new opportunities to act lovingly. Practice patience and gentleness with others. There may be no better reminder of our interconnectedness than this current situation. We certainly are all in this together.
We don’t know our own strength, you don’t know your own strength and that strength is love. And these actions of patient and gentle love can be shown in unexpected ways. In closing, one example of this comes from our 2nd through 5th graders and our Immigrant Welcoming Working Group. Through a program called Conversations with Friends, they mailed letters to immigration detainees in Sherburne County. These letters, based on Matthew 25—“I was in prison and you visited me”—were an opportunity to act lovingly. They sent them and then didn’t know what would happen. Then we received a response:
Today is February 21, 2020. My name is Rosario Garcia Perez. I am from Guatemala, from the city of San Juan lxcoy in the Huehuetenango district, in the northwest part of my country. This letter is for the children who connected with us via Conversations with Friends. Today I am imprisoned by immigration, but I have faith in God who created us in his image with love. When I see the pictures and letters from small angels who wrote to give us hope, I see that God is great in his mercy toward humanity, and I realize that God did not create us with hate but with love, that we love one another. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you are or where you’re going, in the eyes of God we are all equal. We are brothers in God. I hope the children can read this in English. I hope all the children who wrote to us know that we are people, and that what they did is so important to us. When I saw those letters, I cried. They touched me in the bottom of my heart. I am the father of four beautiful daughters and a son—they were very amazed by all you wrote, for complete strangers! I thank you from my heart for your letters and drawings. God will show much favor and grace to you.
I am fighting my case before the laws of this country. I hope God will live in those who serve him. The apostle Paul tells us (1 Peter, chapter 5, verses 6–7), “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.” Amen.
Rosario Garcia Perez
These young people do not know their own strength. None of us know how strong we are capable of being when we practice patience and gentleness and live in the actions of love. You do not know your own strength. Now is a time to show it.