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The following text comprises the notes used to deliver a meditation to the Bethel College Cabinet on December 18, 2017.

 

Anyone who has been to a number of weddings has heard the words from 1 Corinthians 13, including this conclusion: “Faith, hope, and love abide; and the greatest of these is love.”

The reason 1 Corinthians 13 is a favorite at weddings is due to its theme of the superiority of love, even to faith and hope. But, what actually makes love possible is faith or allegiance. But, allegiance is not possible without hope. Hope may not be the greatest of these three attributes, but it is primary, because it is foundational; it is truly powerful. For example, it keeps me engaged through every baseball season. It corralled my attention through nearly the entire Packer game yesterday. And, it is the theme of the Christmas story. But, hope in what?

In Luke’s Gospel, Mary uttered the following words to Elizabeth about God during her pregnancy: “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Why? Because, “he has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Soon after Mary voiced these words, Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband spoke of God in this way: “He has raised up a mighty deliverer for us, that we would be delivered from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, that we would be rescued from our enemies. By the tender mercy of God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to guide us in the way of peace.”

No wonder the angels proclaiming the birth of this deliverer, Jesus, said to the shepherds, “On earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Likewise, at the circumcision of Jesus, the old man Simeon said to God, “My eyes have seen your deliverance.”

In line with all these words of hope in mercy through deliverance, John, preparing the way for Jesus, rebuked the rich, the tax collectors, soldiers, and the evil of the King, Herod, a move which cost him his freedom and eventually his head.

Finally, Jesus, at the outset of his ministry, affirmed that he was commissioned by God to “bring good news to the poor,” “to proclaim release to the captives,” “to let the oppressed go free,” and “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And what was the year of the Lord’s favor? Perpetual Jubilee, an ongoing time of deliverance from all oppression. (more…)

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Mrs. Mary Conover (this is a true story, but that’s not her real name—she wouldn’t forgive me if I used it) is a tenant, together with about 150 other people, in a New York City apartment building. A widow of five years, she lives with her employed daughter.

New York apartment houses aren’t especially friendly places. People have been known to die in them and not be discovered for days. In this particular building, the entrance doors have little mirrored peepholes. You can look out of them into the hall without being observed, and if you don’t want to talk to whoever has rung the bell, you just don’t open the door.

But when Mrs. Conover rings the bell, doors are opened promptly. For she may be bringing a freshly baked apple pie, or some home-made laundry soap. Or she may be returning Mr. Poletti’s shirt, which the retired barber asked her to turn the collar on because his wife doesn’t sew.

Pie-baking and soap-making and sewing are carryovers from Mrs. Conover’s growing-up days in a small town. But that background doesn’t explain her kindness to other people. A lot of New Yorkers come from small towns, but one or two years in the big city are enough to dry up any milk of human kindness. (Mrs. Conover has lived in New York for close to 30 years.)

In addition to her small-town background, Mrs. Conover is a Christian. And this is known by many people in the apartment building. So they’ve come to accept the small kindnesses, and even call on her in times of crisis. For instance, when Mr. Kraemer had his heart attack, which turned out to be fatal, they asked Mrs. Conover to come down and stay with Mrs. Kraemer until the doctor came, and while the funeral arrangements were being made.

And during the long months when elderly Mrs. Scott was so sick, she gratefully accepted Mrs. Conover’s help, even though it was constantly accompanied by a simple Christian witness.

If you asked a number of people in that apartment house what a Christian is like, they’d probably reply, “Mrs. Conover. She’s been a Christian friend to me.”

Not that she’s always on the giving end. Last Mother’s Day, for instance, Mrs. Conover was swamped with cards and gifts from people in the house: Barricini chocolates, stockings, hard candy from Italy, cosmetics.

There’s a little Jewish lady—87 years old—from another house, about a block away, who stops at Mrs. Conover’s door almost every Saturday night with a bag of baked goods. Pastry, rye bread, bagels: the contents of the bag changes from week to week.

Mrs. Conover has difficulty understanding the old lady’s German-accented speech. But she knows that her son-in-law has a bakery, and these baked goods come from there.

A few months ago the little Jewish lady came to her door with a box.

“This is my birthday,” she explained, opening the box to show Mrs. Conover a beautiful birthday cake. “My son-in-law made this for me. But I don’t eat cake any longer. My cake is for you.”

After she left (her visits are always brief), Mrs. Conover decided to take a piece out of the cake, and to give most of it to two small boys in another apartment. Their father had just undergone surgery for a malignant condition, and their mother was away from home in another hospital having a baby.

Taking the cake, she went to up to the apartment, where a young Negro girl was staying with the children in the absence of their parents.

“How wonderful!” the girl exclaimed, when she opened the door and saw the cake in Mrs. Conover’s hands. “I felt so bad that I didn’t have time all day today to make a cake for Bobby’s birthday. It was so nice of you to remember.”

Mrs. Conover said she hadn’t remembered. She hadn’t know. But she’d wanted Bobby and his brother to have part of this cake that had been given to her. And she was so glad it was Bobby’s birthday.

Christian love is possible, even in a New York apartment house. And love begets love . . . and hope . . . and sometimes, faith.

Joseph Bayly, “Out of My Mind,” Eternity, November 1961, 49.

The preceding column was the second installment of a series that ran continuously in Eternity magazine from October 1961 to October 1986.

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