Martha Mutikani
3rd November 2013
Called to Offer Unconditional Love

All Saints Day was special to me because after church we always shared a meal; we all dressed up and ate good food. I did not understand the fuss about the famous saints, but only as the years have passed, have I begun to understand what being a saint is all about. Most of us are used to bible saints like St Matthew, St John and St Joseph the list is long. If you were to look back at the people you have met, I wonder who you may describe as a saint. I have discovered that saints are closer home than we may think. My saint might sound unusual to some people but he was the local ice cream man.

So let me tell you about my saint. As a child I used to listen for the ice cream bell, as soon as I heard the bell, it was as if some miracle had happened. I would jump and run to my mother and ask for money. Sometimes I just took my mother’s purse and ran to the ice cream man, with my mum following. The ice cream man knew his customers well. On one particular hot day, my mother did not have money, to buy me ice cream, her purse was empty but I followed the ice cream man anyway.

My friends bought their favourite choices and they were all happy. I was looking at him with tears in my eyes. The ice cream man on this day gave me an ice cream. He was a poor man. His job was selling ice cream, using a push trolley with a mobile cooler box. He walked miles and miles selling ice cream. Giving away one ice cream was actually too costly to him. He saw my tears and was moved. He gave me what he had, even though it was not profitable, so that I could dry my tears. My saint the ice cream man was generous; he gave me his love on this hot day without asking.

As a child a saint to me was a giver – to me love was about what I received. Although people around us and those in Redhill might wish to receive such love and generosity, they do not expect it because times have changed. As a church of saints here at St Matthew we ought to challenge that perception.

Most people measure our Christian behaviour, by what they see us doing for them. Luke expresses the message of Jesus, as a message of active Christians, with love at the centre of all we do. Jesus commands us to love one another. I think Jesus knew how hard it is to love; especially loving those who do not love you back.

Jesus as expressed in Luke was aware of the nature of our personalities; he recruited sceptics like Nathanael, who thought nothing good would come from Nazareth. Jesus had been told off by Pharisees for healing a man who had a withered hand. Jesus had enough of criticism, gossip, and hatred; we ought to learn from his example of perseverance. He continued to give love and remained patient with those who were opposing him.

Our readings both in Luke and Ephesians are describing, the qualities expected of those following Christ. If you remember Father Andrew earlier this year preached about Jesus setting the bar high. We are to rejoice in our calling to be aspiring saints, but it is not always easy because he sets the bar high. If we try on our own we will never reach it, but the power of the Holy Spirit and obedience to such reminders, as we read today in the bible, guides us as we journey on.

Some scholars believe that Paul was writing to the Ephesians, while he was in prison, others state that Paul dictated the letters and someone else completed the letters for him. It is almost unbelievable, that he still had energy to share such profound thoughts, while in Prison. He was giving love, even when he was in despair. Paul was encouraging us to love one another as members of the body of Christ. Jesus was speaking to his disciples and encouraged the same love. We have sung in the past ‘One more step along the world I go’ one of the verses says ‘Give me courage when the world is rough, keep me loving though the world is tough; leap and sing in all I do, keep me travelling along with you’.

In our reading Jesus says blessed are the poor, he is not talking about being poor in money or saying having money is bad. But we need to be questioning ourselves, ‘what are the riches that prevent us from loving like saints’? Nicodemus, the Roman centurion of Luke 7, Joseph of Arimathea, and Philemon were all wealthy and faithful Christians, who used part of their wealth in the ministry of Jesus. The Greek word for poor referred to someone who ‘crouched in a corner begging’. Jesus is not referring to that kind of poverty, when we read in Matthew he clarifies. Jesus means poor in spirit which is the same as being spiritually dependent on God.

Total dependence on God helps us to seek to please God in all we do. At the core of our faith is unconditional loving. Only through prayer can we get the energy to be active Christians, loving those who hate us. Throughout Jesus ministry there is emphasis of love. This love is not lip service but deep rooted love, the ultimate sacrifice seen when Jesus died on the cross. We have read in the gospels, that Jesus willingly and in agony walked to the place of crucifixion. Such love is what people are looking for! When people come to us they are not looking for ‘just’ friends, but for true friends who can draw them closer to God by their actions.

The food bank is a testimony of love in action, from faithful saints here at St Matthew’s church. It reminds me of the poor ice cream man who gave me ice cream, when he knew he was losing part of his profit. Some of you give food and your time when you do not have much yourself. That’s love in action. The recent harvest was a simple action of reaching out to the Redhill community. I met one of the staff members from one of the charities we support here in Redhill, and she said “oh! You are from St Matthew’s church, every year they give us food which we distribute to our clients. It’s just really helpful to our charity. We are so grateful”. Let’s continue, as these acts of generosity, may help to change the perception of those we live with and serve in Redhill.

The bible is full of stories about saints who were simple people like us. Zacchaeus a tax collector, who was a crook, had become rich by defrauding people. Jesus reached out to him irrespective of how bad he was, Jesus offered him love, he went to his house and ate in his house. The love Zacchaeus was offered led to his repentance. Zacchaeus pledged to give back to the poor half of his wealth and refund those he had defrauded. He met Jesus and his life was changed, we notice he became an active Christian. We have met Jesus; we have been empowered to reach out to those around us. It does not matter who we are, Jesus loves us and we can help those we meet without being selective. Our famous saints made it happen and the Holy Spirit empowers us to make it happen. Love in action is the mark of the good news of Jesus Christ.

We need to continue even when the love we offer is thrown back to us. I have just spent a week at Gatwick airport on Chaplaincy placement. I witnessed love being shared and given without any expectation of reciprocation. The Chaplain ministered to people by his presence at the airport, walking around and talking to staff and people he met during his walks, it was amazing. Nearly all the staff who works at the airport knows the Anglican Chaplain, they go to him with almost any prayer request. He told me an amazing story of a young person whom he had helped. The person was stranded at the airport. The Chaplain took him to the office to give him some money for transport. He saw the Chaplain taking money from the drawer in the office. A few days later, this young person, came back and broke into the Chaplain’s office, broke the drawer and took all the money. He was caught on CCTV and was arrested. The Chaplain visited him in prison, despite throwing back the love he had been given, the Chaplain still reached out to him.

The challenges we face today are enormous. We have those who are inflicting pain on us, people facing war every day. The young people cry with us, some cannot find jobs after years of study; some are facing bullies at school and work. It feels awful to tell someone in that situation to love their enemies. We are reminded to love unconditionally, no matter what we are facing or have experienced; Jesus promises to be with us all the way.

We can continue to sing together “O when the saints, go marching in, Lord, I want to be in that number”. Marching saints have surprising faces and you are among them. Our saints have marched on we can march with them one day if we remain prayerful, listening to the word of God and practising what it encourages us to do, reaching out to all irrespective of who they are, continuing even when the love we offer is thrown back to us. Those saints who have gone before us lived their lives worthy of their calling in total dependence on God. They knew what it meant to treat others as you would like to be treated, we can learn from their examples. Our journey needs to be enhanced by action – unconditional love for all. My song which I grew up singing tells it all “Love is not love until you give it away, then you know that’s love”.