Love. Generosity. There are people in your life who go above and beyond what’s expected. People who impact you in an extraordinary way. I feel blessed to have more than my fair share of people like that in my life. My friend Lyn is one of those people. We worked at Disneyland together and would hang out often. She was one of the sweetest and nicest people I’ve met and her good nature really stood out one day while I was up at UCLA during my undergraduate days. There was a girl I had a serious crush on at school and things weren’t going so well. I called Lyn up and just poured out my heart to her and as she listened to my frustration and sadness, she told me everything was going to be okay and then said, “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right there.” I waited in my room when there was a knock at the door about an hour or two later. I opened it up to see Lyn there, holding this Pooh Bear she bought just for me. She gave me a hug, said “I thought you could use a friend,” and just sat with me for a while before heading back home. That one act of kindness has stuck with me ever since. That was about 30 years ago now and it still feels fresh in my mind. Who does that? Not only did she make the long drive up from Anaheim to UCLA (no small feat in itself), but she made time to stop at Disneyland, get me a big Pooh Bear, brave the traffic, and find parking on a campus notorious for little to no parking. Not to mention we were both college students on a budget. Still she did all of that just for me.
In times of need, it’s good to know you have friends you can count on.
Back when I was in seminary, I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend a seminar in France about Methodism in Europe. We were going to stay for a week at a Christian retreat center in the small city of Sete on the French coast and would meet up with fellow pastors from all over Europe. To go would cost quite a bit of money and Cassie and I were not as well off then as we are now. It was a struggle just to send me to seminary. Even now, it would still have been a stretch to pay for it, but Cassie agreed this was too good of an opportunity to pass up so we committed to figuring out the finances along the way. As part of the curriculum, the school had us send out ten letters to friends and family to ask for their help in deferring the cost. I did it to fulfill my obligation to the class, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be a burden to family and friends or make them think I was abusing our relationship to get something out of it, so I also sent a separate note to everyone to explain all of that and let them know we weren’t expecting anything. But one of my friends did. My buddy Lance gave me $500. I was flabbergasted. Up to that point, I don’t think Cassie and I had given $500 in one lump sum to anyone or anything so to receive that gift was extraordinary. And it’s not like Lance was rich. He didn’t own a mansion. He was just making a living like everyone else so $500 was a very significant amount of money. But he said he wanted to help and knew this was important. It was. To this day, the things we saw and talked about during that week have impacted my life and my ministry. It was the first time ever I had the chance to travel abroad. It was the first time I had the chance to experience God in a different country through different eyes. It really was life changing and I have been so grateful for that opportunity.
When people show extraordinary love, it changes your life.
And you don’t have to travel across the world for it to have that kind of effect on you. If you have your Bibles or a Bible app on your phones, I want you to find the book of Leviticus 25:8-10. Leviticus 25:8-10. Think back to a time when someone in your life did something like that for you. Think of a time when someone was there for you just when you needed them. Maybe they were there to comfort you when you were feeling like the world was coming to an end. Maybe they took care of you at the hospital and came to visit when you were scared or lonely. Maybe you were in need and someone reached out with a helping hand. That is humanity at its best, when we behave like the people God is hoping we will be. And when we do that, we can change the world. Lance helped me out about 15 years ago and Lyn came to my side almost 30 years ago and I still remember both like they happened yesterday. When people show extraordinary love, you can’t help but have it affect you. It influences you. It changes you. And that’s exactly the way God planned it. God WANTS us to be extraordinary givers of compassion and kindness. God WANTS us to overwhelm people with our love and generosity. Because that’s how we are going to change the world.
8 “‘Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years.9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. – Leviticus 25:8-10
Every fiftieth year was proclaimed by God to be a Year of Jubilee!
It is a time of extraordinary forgiveness, compassion and kindness. God tells the Israelites, “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” But these aren’t just words. God tells the Israelites to set his people free. If someone was in debt, their debt was to be forgiven. If someone had to sell their land, their land was given back. If someone was a servant, they were released from service. It was complete freedom and forgiveness. God wanted his people to be free to serve only God. He knows when we are bound to someone else and could not take care of our basic needs, we could not truly devote ourselves to him. So just as we observe the Sabbath once a week to free ourselves for worship and rest, God wants us as a society to be restored and renewed. Restoration is important to God and thus it should be important to us. At the end of the chapter, God proclaims, “‘Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, 55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” We are his people and we cannot be free to serve God when we are obliged to serve others. The key to free us to be God’s people is this form of radical forgiveness, compassion, and kindness.
And how vital it is to have those needs met. We’ve talked primarily about physiological needs so far – food, water, shelter, clothing – but we’ve moved beyond those into what Maslow would refer to as higher needs. The need for security, the need for love, the need for kindness and acceptance. These are important needs also, every bit as important as the physical ones. Because like our physiological needs, when they aren’t filled we are inhibited from being the people God created us to be. And that’s why God demanded we celebrate this “Year of Jubilee,” to free us from whatever might be holding us back in this life. This idea of the Year of Jubilee is found embodied in the life of Christ. Christ came to liberate us from our sins, to free us from the shackles of rulers and teachers who stressed form and function over love and acceptance. Christ came not to tear down the law, but to free us from the yoke it had become and to help us realize the law was there to help us become our best selves. It wasn’t meant to be a tool of oppression as it had become. The Pharisees would use the law as a bludgeoning tool instead of a guide to right living. And we see that same attitude in our world today. People use the law to get what they want, to hurt those who aren’t like themselves, and justify their actions with “the law.” But they are not using the law as it was intended. Instead they are abusing the law for their own desires. Look at the immigration detention centers across the country. Horrific stories of abusive conditions have been reported and the governments only response is “they shouldn’t break the law.” Does that give us the right to treat them with cruelty and abusive behavior? Does that make it okay to separate siblings and only allow them to see one another once a week? Does that mean it’s alright to give them rotting food and broken bathrooms? The kind of behavior we would not find acceptable among our own citizens we somehow find acceptable for those who are not? Many of our leaders like to proclaim we are a Christian nation. Then how can we blatantly ignore God’s call on us to care for the alien in our midst? How can we ignore God’s call on us to take care of the poor and those in need and still say we are God’s children?
The next Year of Jubilee is in 2025.
The Catholic Church celebrates it every 25 years instead of 50. In fact, when needed, the Pope calls for special Jubilee years like in 2015 when Pope Francis declared the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. But why wait? Why wait for the Catholic Church or for the Jewish calendar to align with the values behind the year of Jubilee? Why not instead take steps to live our lives in such extraordinary ways that we make an impact on the world around us constantly? Especially during the Christmas season as we are reminded of the great gift God bestowed upon the world through his son, Jesus, let us remind the world that Christianity is founded on the ideas of forgiveness, mercy, and redemption and act accordingly. Do one extraordinary act this year. Just one. Ponder upon the ways you can do something to impact the life of another. It doesn’t have to be with money. Look at how my friend Lyn was there for me with her presence and her thoughtfulness and what a long-lasting impact that had on my life. You can do the same. You can offer to let someone stay in your home. You can forgive a debt someone owes you. You can forgive someone for something they did to you when you have every right to be upset. There are lots of ways to be an extraordinary person. Sometimes it’s in doing the little things without complaint and with a smile day after day. The idea that God loves a cheerful giver does not just mean with money, but with everything we do. Let’s make this year and every year a chance to show the extraordinary love of God.