Message of love remains central

What does Jesus mean in 2022, asks Ron Gilder.

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me. At least this is what I sang at Sunday school and yet it was the cross, the nails in Jesus’ hands, the blood that flowed scared me, yet it was the only way to come into Jesus’ love.

We would stand in a circle on our main street on Friday and Sunday nights playing the old-time hymns and yelling to the people on the street that they were blackened sinners and would end up in hell if they would not stop their wicked ways and confess to God how bad they were. It was only then they would be saved. There was no other way but going to go to church every week to confess how bad I was too. I did this until I was 15. It was then that I with other members of our family were sidelined out of our church, shut out from the love of our congregation. At the age of 15, this made me think more deeply about what it means to be a Christian. It has been a long process. It has meant letting go of old beliefs and searching for more meaningful ones that help me understand myself and others. It is a search that still goes on for me. For me it still centres on this man we call Jesus.

What does Jesus mean in the year 2022?

To cast light on this I go back to the 1970s when my own family belonged to a small church in Christchurch. The Sunday attendance was upwards of 80-plus.

We had a Sunday school of 50 children. We had a loving community. The parents who brought their children stayed for the service. The older members were held in high regard and considered people of wisdom.

In late 1970s I left to train for full-time ministry. I always kept in touch with my home parish. By 1985 when I inquired about them, what I was told shocked me.

The parish had hit rock bottom. Nothing we had built up existed any more. How could this be?

A vibrant congregation goes from over 80 to 30! In all, I believed it must centre around this man Jesus and the message of love.

At the time a workmate said, “it’s all about love ... however, the line between love and hate is so thin it’s hard to tell the difference”.

His comment made me think.

It was early one morning in my second parish, a man named Tim phoned me to tell that he had had a troubling experience during the night. He had woken and out of the darkness his recently deceased wife emerged before his eyes. She said some words to him which included some words about her recent illness. She said that she was now at peace. That said she slowly faded from his sight.

We talked for quite some time. His last comment was quite remarkable.

He said: “I have wondered all my life how the resurrection took place. Now I understand.”

Tim remembered what he learnt at Sunday school about the resurrection.

As he got older what was told from the pulpit puzzled him but what he experienced in a vision of his deceased wife was a vision of pure love.

The following Sunday he greeted everyone with a smile that I had never seen on him before. I was interested, for the Thomas of the Bible said when he saw the risen Jesus in the upper room ‘‘My Lord and my God’’. Jesus’ love became real.

Later George Matheson wrote ‘‘O love that wilt not let me go. For me the love of Jesus radiates from the empty tomb’’.

I sat beside a stranger in town recently. We talked about the weather and Covid-19, and then he said to me, “Am I a good person?”. I replied, “Yes you are, and you are loved”. His reply was, “I needed to hear that”.

Isn’t that what everyone needs to hear?

■The Rev Ron Gilder is a retired Dunedin Presbyterian minister.

Comments

Where did people call the public sinners bound for hell? It does not sound like a Presbyterian operation.

Yes, the message still is to warn people as Jesus did, that they will suffer if they are not repentant and believing in Him. Jesus is a wonderful Saviour as He alone died, saving all who trust Him, forever. I say this as another retired Presbyterian minister.

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