By Rev. Christie John, Geneseo United Methodist Church, Buckingham

What comes to mind when you think of the word “charity”? I suspect that many people think about non-profit organizations that try to do good by helping others…as in “one of my favorite charities is Big Brothers Big Sisters.”  Perhaps for some “charity” is associated with a handout, something that we may resent giving and would never feel comfortable receiving.  Or maybe “charity” means being tolerant of others – giving them the benefit of the doubt. For still others, “charity” may simply be a way of saying, “being nice.”

This is the third in a series of meditations about Lent, the forty days (not counting Sundays) that lead up to Easter. Lent is traditionally a time for Christians to be especially thoughtful about their need for God’s forgiving and healing grace. It is a time to grow closer to Jesus as we thank him for giving himself for us on the cross. We do all of this in preparation for Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the good news that in his resurrection from the dead, Christ is revealed as the conqueror of sin and death.

There are three spiritual practices that are especially associated with the season of Lent. The first is fasting, or temporarily giving up something that is a good and normal part of one’s life in order to make more room for God. Another practice is prayer which can be as simple as conversing with God as we would a friend or as elaborate as the ritual of litanies. The third spiritual practice is called almsgiving, or works of charity.

Charity in this context means more than being nice or giving someone a hand…although it may include those things. Charity is another word for love – the sort of love that seeks to serve without demanding anything in return. It is love that is patient and kind, that rejoices in and actively seeks the good for others and consistently fights against injustice wherever and whenever it is found. It is love that doesn’t give up. Acts of charity help us draw closer to Jesus as we share in his life and mission and see him in the ones we serve.

In what ways is God inviting you to help the people with whom you work, or live, or play? How might you share the love of God with someone who is desperate to receive it? It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture – sometimes a gentle smile, a gracious word or a listening ear can do a world of good. I invite you to practice acts of kindness and humble service and discover how charity calls forth God’s gratitude, encouragement and hope around you and within you.