the great truth of simple truths

The Great Truth of Simple Truths, Ephesians 2:1-10
(video below)

In a Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown went to see Lucy at her psychiatric stand where she dispensed wisdom about life for 5 cents.  Charlie said, “I need help – tell me a great truth.  Tell me something about living that will help me.”  Lucy replies, “Do you ever wake up at night and want a drink of water?”  “Sure,” Charlie Brown says, “quite often.”  Lucy then wisely advises, “When you’re getting a drink of water in the dark, always rinse out the glass because there might be a bug in it.  Five cents please.”  Charlie Brown walks away saying, “Great truths are even more simple than I thought they were.”

In today’s scripture reading from Ephesians, the great truth of simple truths of the Christian faith is shared.  The great truth is God’s love is shared through Jesus.  The simple truths about God’s love being shared through Jesus are found in verses 8 and 10 of the second chapter of Ephesians.

The first simple truth is that God’s love is an undeserved gift shared through Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul put this simple truth of the Christian faith this way:

“For by grace have you been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

The second simple truth of the Christian faith is that followers of Jesus are expected to share the gift of God’s love through Jesus.  Paul put this simple truth of our faith in this way:

“God has created us in Christ Jesus for good works.”

The great truth of simple truths.  The great truth of the gift of God’s love shared through Jesus.  The simple truths of our accepting the gift of God’s love through Jesus and sharing the gift of God’s love through Jesus.

Mary Jane McLeod was born July 10, 1875, in Mayesville, South Carolina, to former slaves Samuel and Patsy McLeod. Even once they were free, her parents struggled to feed and clothe their fifteen children.  Mary’s life changed when a local missionary woman offered to pay for her education, first to Scotia Seminary in Concord, North Carolina, and then to evangelist D.L. Moody’s young Bible Institute in Chicago. She became the first African-American student to attend Moody Bible Institute, graduating in 1895.

She wanted to devote her life to God as a missionary to Africa and applied for missionary service following graduation.  She received a letter from the church board stating there were no openings for black women to serve in Africa.  She was just twenty years old when she sent this letter of response:

Christ has called me to the work. His command is to “Go.” I am so glad He has counted me worthy to lay this Great Command upon my heart. I am so glad he did not designate any particular color to Go.

Instead of seeing this closed door as the end, Mary sought God’s will for her future. She said, “Whenever the Lord says no to me, I look into my heart and search my motives. For it is only the selfless me that God can use.”

Mary left Illinois and traveled south to teach at mission schools in Georgia and Florida. In 1898, she married a fellow teacher, Albertus Bethune. After moving to Daytona Beach, Florida, Mary saw the need for African-American children, specifically girls, to receive an education.  In 1904, with only $1.65 to her name, she rented a broken-down cottage for her first school.  She recruited five girls and taught them service skills but also to read and write. She used old peach crates for make-shift desks and made pencils from charred wood.

Mary begged for money, selling sweet potato pies and fried fish on the street corners to wealthy tourists.  She invited donors to be on the board of a school that looked like nothing more than a shack. Of those early efforts Mary wrote:

I am stronger today because as I have taken the steep, hard way, I have taken time to be faithful, persevering, and hopeful.

In less than two years, her school grew to 250 students and four teachers. Many years later, it would become Bethune-Cookman University.  Her activities on behalf of African Americans solicited controversy.  In 1920, when women were first allowed to vote, Bethune encouraged black women to register, despite intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan.  One night, the Klan showed up in capes and horses on her campus. Mary gathered her students together, threw on all the lights, and sang them off the grounds. And that same year, with Mary’s help, 460 area black women registered to vote in Daytona Beach—a significant achievement since only 488 white women were registered.

Mary’s work on behalf of African Americans received attention from the White House with an invitation to attend a Child Welfare Conference held by President Calvin Coolidge.  In 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called a meeting of outstanding Americans to address the problem, and Mary was on that list.  He created a position for her at the White House.

He said of her, “Mrs. Bethune is a great woman. I believe in her because she has her feet on the ground—not only on the ground but in the deep, plowed soil.”

Her work with Roosevelt began a longstanding career in government service. In 1953, she was invited to travel to Africa as part of a special team of United States representatives for the inauguration of their president. Where once she had been turned away, Mary now went with great honor.

In Daytona Beach, you can visit Mary’s home and gravesite on the Bethune-Cookman College campus. The grave of their founder has an epitaph that says:

She has given her best that others may have a more abundant life.

In reflecting on the story of her life and her journey of faith in the great truth of God’s love, Mary McLeod Bethune shared the following:

“I plunged into the job of creating something from nothing… Though I hadn’t a penny left, I considered cash money as the smallest part of my resources. I had faith in a living God, faith in myself, and a desire to serve.”

The great truth of simple truths.  The gift of God’s love given through Jesus accepted and shared.

How is the great truth of simple truths defining the story of your life?

March 14, 2021

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