I was out of town last week. My family was finally able to lay my Aunt's ashes to rest after she passed in March, 2020. We lost her to cancer and pneumonia. I officiated last week's burial.
She had filled out a worksheet early last year provided by her church which had asked for her favorite hymns and Bible passages. Included in her list of passages was John 3:16. I added verse 17 to my sermon; the core message being God's grace.
I told the story of when I visited her and my Uncle in 2016 for Thanksgiving. She engaged me in conversation and challenged me theologically, asking for my thoughts on predestination. Thinking she wanted an intellectual discussion, I bowed out of the conversation. She let me go, but with a parting word. She mentioned returning to church as an adult with regrets in her past. Her first Sunday back in worship, she said she very much felt like an outsider. She didn't think God would choose someone like her. That comment broke my heart. No one should feel like that walking into church!
Thankfully, over the years she was able to let go of that fear of rejection and grow in her faith and as a person. By the time I met her later in life, she was well grounded in God's grace. Her life had undergone an amazing transformation.
As we engage with people in our neighborhoods and welcome newcomers to our services, may God's love and acceptance shine through. May the fact that God sent his only Son for us, and that Jesus did not come to condemn us, but to save us, be what people experience first.
Rev. Dr. Jennifer Bales
Communications Director &
Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church