When I was kid, nothing was better than a good birthday party – especially if it was my birthday party. Wacky games and snacks, some kind of activity or craziness, cake and ice cream, and gifts, gifts, and more gifts all helped highlight my special day.
Some of the presents were predictable, purchased after I posted my suggested birthday list on the fridge with a magnet for the whole family to see. Other presents were grand surprises that seemingly came out of nowhere in just the right size, color, or shape. How fantastic!
It was, and still is, very easy to get excited when everything is about me. But that is an illusion, because life is not about me. Victorian era novelist, Mary Anne Evans, knew this and spoke the truth when she said,
"What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"
When we step back into reality, we realize that each of our lives extend far beyond me, myself, and I.
In a previous congregation I served, I ran into young Henry on his way into church on a Sunday morning. His arms were loaded with bags of non-perishable items. His younger sister, Eva, not to be left out of the excitement, was close behind, arms full of even more food. What a joy to see these little ones coming to worship weighed down with cans and boxes of food that our faith community could pass along to the Methodist Open Door Food Bank.
When I offered a word of thanks for their donations, Henry’s face lit up as he explained, “All of this food was from my birthday party!” On Henry’s birthday invitations, he had made a unique request of his buddies:
for Henry’s party,
please consider bringing
a donation for the local food
pantry in lieu of gifts.
Guess what happened? Everybody did it.
Henry’s friends – and their parents – stepped beyond normal birthday protocol of “fill the kid’s room with a mountain of toys” and instead showed up ready to fill empty bellies and souls. Just a few simple words gave his friends permission to think of others.
Henry’s parents said that if you asked him why he was doing this, he might say, “It is important to help other people who don’t have as much food in their house as we do.” At age seven, Henry was already living a life of gratitude. He recognized that having food on the table is a gift and that others are in need.
One of God’s favorite activities is giving. Gift-giving is central to what God is up to in the world. God is constantly looking for ways to share skills and talents, joy and blessing, as well as love, peace, and comfort. Over and over again throughout the Bible we hear stories of God pouring out blessing on people and delivering hope in the most desperate situations. But gifts aren’t just stuff of the Bible.
We’ve been talking for months about how God blesses the world through Lord of Life. We are blessed when we share in worship, learning, and fellowship moments, and then God makes it possible for us to bless our neighbors, community, region, and beyond! God’s good gifts spill into our lives and then out into the world!
Take time to thank God for the many blessings we receive and consider how we might share our gifts with the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Henry, as an act of love and compassion, used his birthday as an opportunity to think beyond himself. Fill your arms and fall in line behind him. Ready to share. Ready to love.