Bethlehem Lutheran Church

The Heart of Bay Ridge
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Sunday Service 10:30am
4th & Ovington Avenues
Brooklyn NY  11209
Rev. Paul H. Knudsen
Pastor Paul's March Message
Bethlehem Lutheran Church ®  |  4th & Ovington Avenues, Brooklyn NY 11209  |  718.748.9502
A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Dear Members and Friends,

In my 8th Grade Christian Living class at LES, we just read two short stories by O. Henry. The first story, “The Gift of the Magi”, involved gift giving on the part of a young married couple. They had very little money, but they wanted to get something special for each other for Christmas. Della wanted to buy a handsome chain for Jim’s cherished pocket watch, so she sold her beautiful long hair. Jim wanted to buy a set of tortoise shell combs with jeweled rims for Della’s hair, so he sold his pocket watch. Their sacrifices turned comical when they unwrapped their useless gifts. O. Henry concludes however by stating, “And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.”

The second O. Henry short story, “The Last Leaf”, told the tale of two friends sharing an apartment in Greenwich Village. Sue and Johnsy were struggling artists with big dreams. Johnsy is stricken with pneumonia and she loses the desire to live. She looks out her bedroom window and notices the ivy leaves falling off the vine attached to the brick wall of the building next door. She is resigned to die when the last leaf falls off the vine. Sue’s attempts to brighten Johnsy’s spirit and give her hope do not help. Sue tells this story to an old failed artist in the apartment below who likes to over imbibe. Behrman always wanted to paint a masterpiece, but the paper on his easel was always blank. The night was windy, rainy and cold. The last leaf certainly would fall, but to Johnsy’s surprise, it was still there when she opened the shade in the morning. Something stirred in Johnsy’s spirit and she regained the will to live. Behrman, on the other hand, was found soaking wet in his apartment next to a ladder and a palette with green and yellow colors on it. Overcome with pneumonia, he died two days later. Crusty old Behrman had painted his masterpiece, an ivy leaf on a brick wall.

Why did we read these two stories? Both contain the message of sacrifice. They involve a loving spirit that leads to selfless action. Della, Jim and Behrman were all willing to sacrifice in order please or help someone else. We have just entered the holy season of Lent. Sacrifice is at the core of our Christian faith. Jesus journeyed to the cross and died for us. Through the cross, we have come to know that true godliness is found in sacrificial love.

Jesus called to his disciples and said, “Come, follow me.” Jesus proclaimed, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”

In this wonderful Lenten season, let us discover what it means to be a dedicated follower of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us discover the sacrificial Spirit which makes us whole.

In the Lord's service,