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EPIPHANY: The Light in Our Darkness #6

 A Test of Love ©  I overheard the conversation; so too did others. In the setting you really couldn’t help it. The puzzled plaintive questioning in the voice was unmistakable and the dialogue surfed the edge of embarrassment.  It involved a young woman talking to a close and obviously treasured boyfriend.  I cannot remember the dialog word for word but it went something like this. “I don’t understand?  If it meant this much to you why wouldn’t you share it with me? His response was muffled and awkward.  “I didn’t want you to feel pressured or put you on the spot.” Her earnest, almost heated, reply came back.  “But if it mean that much to you; you could at least share your convictions.” He mumbled something about being embarrassed and fearful of rejection.  She respond by saying something to the effect of “if you love, as you say you do, how could you not share!?” Can you guess what the topic was?  It was about her boyfriend’s failure to share his deep convictions of faith in Christ with his girlfriend.  Apparently he had told her that he went to church but never added much more to his low level, low key sharing.  For her, it was a test of love.  If you really love me, you will share. There is a great love contained in the story of the wise men (Magi) as found in Matthew 2.  Actually there are two great loves.  The overwhelming first love is God’s love for us, for all humans.  God loved us so much that the Lord of the Universe didn’t just sit back and say, “I hope they get it.”  God came down and came to us in the person of a baby named Jesus; the cradle connects to the cross … and beyond!  According to Luther, this is the greatest miracle of all.  This great love is encapsulated in the great doctrine of “incarnation.” God became flesh, human, in Jesus! The second love is that of the wise men traveling their great distance and kneeling at the Savior’s feet.  It can be simply summarized in the power, majesty, and humble overwhelming love of Matthew 2:11.  “They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” The test of love for us is similar to that of both God Almighty and the wise men.  Do we love enough to share?  Do we love enough to risk misunderstanding or rejection?  Do we really love as the Lord loves? There is much written about attractional theology and attractional church evangelism.  Our churches should exemplify such radical hospitality that people are attracted to them.  They should be so open, welcoming and loving that others want to come!  But by itself attraction is not enough.  It fails to fully reflect the greater love of God in Christ. Incarnational theology and incarnational evangelism engages, reaches out, to the last, the least, and the lost.  It passes the test of love in its willingness to reach out, initiate an encounter, and, with great graceful intentionality, offer our gifts in sharing that which matters most to us – the very person and love of Christ. Back in 2010 Rev. Mike Slaughter, the lead pastor for Ginghamsburg UMC, wrote a book entitled Change the World: Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus.  His first chapter was entitled “Missional vs. Attractional.”  Among other great insights he commented, “The church must make a major paradigm shift from attractional evangelism to mission evangelism.” (p. 7)  The chapter ties the great commandment of love to the great commission of faith sharing and disciple making. Offering the light of Christ in our darkness is a test of love. Awhile back (2006) Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church wrote an insightful and instructive book entitled Just a Walk Across the Room.  One reviewer on Amazon wrote: “It was insightful to me to see how easy it can be to share my faith with others in a non-threatening and easy manner. The bottom line is to truly care about others, be open and honest, and share the most important thing in my life which is my relationship with Christ.” Witnessing, faithful sharing, and evangelism comprise together a test of love. Ultimately this concept of love connects with deeper convictions about salvation.  In an age where we have confused salvation with going to heaven, it is useful to remember that salvation is ultimately not about heaven but about a relationship with Christ as Lord both in this life and the next.  Jesus himself put it well.  “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” (John 10:10) There is an old, once well-known but now almost forgotten poem that expresses this relationship well.  It draws together God’s great love and the test of our sharing.  Written by Myra ‘Brooks’ Welch, it is simply entitled "The Touch of the Masters Hand." The Touch of the Masters Hand T’was battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought It scarcely worth his while To waste much time on the old violin, but held it up with a smile; "What am I bidden, good folks," he cried, "Who'll start the bidding for me?" "A dollar, a dollar"; then two!" "Only two? Two dollars, and who'll make it three? Three dollars, once; three dollars twice; going for three.”   But no, from the room, far back, a gray-haired man Came forward and picked up the bow; Then, wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, He played a melody pure and sweet as caroling angel sings. The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, Said; "What am I bid for the old violin?" And he held it up with the bow. A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two? Two thousand! And who'll make it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going and gone," said he. The people cheered, but some of them cried, "We do not quite understand what changed its worth." Swift came the reply: "The touch of a master's hand."   And many a man with life out of tune, And battered and scarred with sin, Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin, A "mess of pottage," a glass of wine; a game - and he travels on. "He is going" once, and "going twice, He's going and almost gone." But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand The worth of a soul and the change that's wrought By the touch of the Master's hand.