May 22, 2016: Love Changes Lives

Posted on : May 19th, 2016 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

The other day a friend was telling me about a ministry that happened in a very unique context with a very unique congregation. It was among prison inmates who are “Lifers.” The “congregants” are some of the most violent men in our society. They have been convicted of heinous crimes and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Initially, a volunteer prison chaplain walked the cell blocks asking if anyone wished to speak with a chaplain. At first, very few inmates were interested. In fact, some of the inmates were rather rude and hostile to the chaplain. But then an inmate or two wanted to speak with the chaplain and word began to spread that this chaplain was a person who could be trusted, as well as a loving man with a kind heart. He could not be conned; but he could be trusted.

After a while, a group of inmates requested a weekly Bible Study, which the chaplain led. In the course of time, the inmates not only shared what they had done that got them their life sentence, but they began to articulate with one another how immoral, destructive and cruel many of their actions had been. As the inmates shared, they began to get in touch with a part of them that they had never before experienced – the part of them that was never loved.

Initially they heard the chaplain talk about God’s love. Then they began to experience God’s love through him. Finally, over time they began to learn to care for each other and learned to love each other. Imagine hard core, gang-banger, “Lifers” developing their own ministry of compassion and learning to love one another.

Today this group that began as a prison bible study is now a full blown “Bible College.” The inmates are learning how to become ministers to and with other inmates. Each of them knows they will never be released from prison. They were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But what changed them was discovering the part of them that was never loved.

In the Gospel of Mark, after Jesus is baptized he has a profound revelation. He hears God saying to him, “You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my love rests.” Even for Jesus that revelation was hard to accept. The story continues that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness where he remained for 40 days testing the truth of that revelation and the validity of his experience with God’s love.

One of our core values in the United Church of Christ is stated each week in the last words of our worship service – the message we take home: “God Is Changing Lives.”

God’s Love does change our lives. Experiencing this love, opening ourselves to God’s love, allowing ourselves to be touched by God’s healing love is not a one-time event in our lives. It is an ongoing process.

May God Bless each of us as we begin this season of letting the Holy Spirit love the parts of us that have never experienced love and transform our lives.




~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Mark 1: 4-11

Mark tells of Jesus’ baptism by John.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my love rests.”

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