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The Congregational Church of West Medford is now doing business as Sanctuary UCC.

Surprising Gifts

“May Jesus himself and God our Creator, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.” (Second Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Some people think the best gifts are surprise ones. Others have a different idea: they’d rather know what’s coming or, at least, know that the giver knows what they want.

We’ll be talking about “Surprising Gifts” this month and we’ll be doing it based on this verse from the writings of St. Paul in the Bible. This text, from the Message translation of the Bible, provides the theme for our stewardship campaign 2014. Please watch your mailbox/inbox for a letter and an invitation to consider your gifts for this coming year.

In our everyday speech we talk a lot about “heart”: “being heartened,” “heartfelt expressions,” having a “strong heart,” et cetera. It is precisely that broad and deep sense of “heart” that St. Paul, in this verse, is describing. “Put a fresh heart in you” is stated, in Paul’s native language, by only three words—the second and third are just as they are in English: “in you.” That’s important(!)—without “you” tHeartWeavinghere’s nothing to talk about. But the first word, ahhhh that first word, it is fascinating—what the Message translates as “put a fresh heart” is only one word in Greek, and it can be translated as either “comfort” or “challenge”. I love this—it can mean to bring care and succor and promote rest; AND it can mean to call forth, to arouse. No wonder it takes four words to translate into English—and what a great translation this is: “Put a fresh heart.”

Beloved, that is what God does. God comforts us and challenges us with a “fresh heart.” God provides and even empowers us for rest and re-creation and God challenges and empowers us for the living of these days. Among the modern day prophets who understood this “fresh heart” of God is that nameless (at least I’ve never seen or known her name) hero of the Montgomery Bus Boycott who, when asked how she felt about having to walk miles every day just to get to work and then back home, said: “My feets is tired but my soul is at rest.” Indeed. That’s God Spirit at work!

May God ever and always “surprise” you with gifts of comfort and strength. May God hearten you as you, and as we together, concretize our mission and vision and put into word and deed and dollars and cents the goals and objectives of our mission and vision. May God hearten you as the challenge and the comfoGod's Work. Our Handsrt of knowing that you and we together are putting God’s vision to work becomes reality.

“God’s work, our hands” is a well-known saying—and it’s true! “God’s heart, our heart” is another way of speaking the same truth. May God “put a fresh heart in you.” Amen.


Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade,


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