Scriptures: 1 John 3:16-24 John 10:11-18
LET US PRAY: O God who loves us and then loves us some more … open our ears to hear Your message this morning; open our hearts and minds that we may become Your Living Word today and everyday. Amen.
Over these past 2 weeks, we have been looking at what COMMUNITY is.
Two weeks ago, we heard in John’s gospel that, on Easter, Jesus appeared to most of the disciples who were gathered together in community in a locked room … only Thomas was missing. Thomas truly needed to experience the risen Lord … and Jesus fulfilled that need by returning and meetingALLthe disciples ~ in that same place.
This is a vivid reminder for us that ~ as part of the larger community ~ Jesus comes and meets us exactly where we are … in the midst of our own fears and doubts, our own challenges and frustrations, and our own joys and celebrations.
And, then, last week ~ we heard in Luke’s Gospel that, on Easter evening, Jesus appears to His disciples who are gathered together … IN community … and offers them the physical proof that He is ALIVE and living among us. And, we played with some yarn … tossing it back and forth until we were all caught within the many strands of yarn … visibly enmeshing us into the web of the larger community.
And, just as Jesus opened the Scriptures for His disciples and sent them into the world to teach and preach and make new disciples … we are reminded that Jesus also commissions and sends us into the world … to work together AS community …ANDto bear witness to what God is doing in our world through the risen Christ …ANDto invite others to become a part of this community of Christ.
Today, we are going to look at another aspect of how we live and work together as a community that is based on a rich and honest love for each other.
The heart of today’s message from John’s 1st epistle hinges on the 3rd sentence in this reading: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
We all know how easy it is to say I LOVE YOU and praise another person when they have done something nice for you or with you ~ and yet never really show that love by our actions.
But the author of this letter to the wider community has put this command into a whole different light by challenging his readers ~ and us ~ to make that love VISIBLE in “truth and action.”
We know how Jesus showed His love for us … by:
- Standing in solidarity with the underdog
- Touching lepers ~ eating meals with those overlooked by society ~ befriending the outcasts, the foreigner, the rejected
- Ultimately He gave His life for us so we all would live fully ~ now and in eternity.
THAT act was the ULTIMATE example of the old adage: actions speak louder than words!!!
And, in our everyday lives, we can all tell the stories about the countless Christians who have shown their love of Christ by the way they have served each other … such as: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose marches to abolish segregation spoke louder than words; OR Mother Teresa, who loved the sick and outcasts of India into wholeness; OR the Mission 1 Initiative of the United Church of Christ, uniting an entire denomination to show our love for the needy through food and monetary donations as well as letters of petition to our local legislators.
Serving each other in love can be tough … and sometimes risky. And it can also seem like a “pie-in-the-sky” impossibility for any one individual. Personally, I know how much energy I have ~ what my resources are ~ how far I can push this arthritic body! But, I don’t believe that John’s text actually asks us to lay down our lives for our cause OR even to become the leader of a major revolution of rejuvenation.
Rather, I believe that what the author of this letter is trying to get us to recognize is that ~ ULTIMTELY ~ we express our love … NOT by preaching the perfect sermon or submitting endless Letters to the Editor … BUT by looking at the needs that exist and responding OUT OF LOVE in whatever way we can to meet those needs.
And isn’t that what the heart of the Gospel message is all about! When the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus by asking which commandment was the greatest, Jesus replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength … ANDyou shall love your neighbor as yourself!” Our epistle reading today tells us that we can best express that love of neighbor by sharing generously from our abundant resources.
Now, if we are honest … we know that we have been blessed with abundant resources … whether that be material OR financial resources … OR the gift of our wisdom, knowledge OR a particular ability that we excel at.
For instance: I excel at working with fabric and paint … and I stink at baking! So I can beautify the sanctuary with flowing blue fabrics when we celebrate a Baptism … and I also promise to never volunteer to bake cookies forCCC!
WHATAREYOU GOOD AT? (call out)
SO: think what a difference it could make if one person were to use their gift to meet a need right here at St. Paul’s. And, if you hesitate to show your love in action because you are only ONEperson ANDwonder what difference you can make … let me tell you a story (see attached)
And that is just one way that any of us ~ as individuals ~ can “love in truth and action.” But … I want us to think larger … and to see ourselves as a community who has been the recipient of God’s immense love over the years and who is called to respond AS a community ~ out of our love. Just think of the impact we might have on the local OR global community if we were to pool our resources and respond to the needs we see with open hearts overflowing with love?
AND: even better … just imagine the impact that these “random and planned acts of love” might have on THIS community of faith!!! I’m talking about our communal love expressed in:
- our willingness to work together to benefit others
- extending an invitation to our current and new members ~ to take an active role in the ministry of our church
- How we value the histories and lives of each other
- willingly give of ourselves so that others will be loved and fed … so that, in turn, they can love and feed future generations of this church.
A long time ago, John Donne wrote: “No man … OR woman OR child OR community … is an island unto itself.” I am convinced that the key to our survival as individuals and as members of our various communities lies in our ability to respond to the needs of each other with intentional actions that are rooted in a love that is as honest, tangible and as over-the-top as Jesus’ love for us.
What better way to celebrate our risen Lord in our lives than to let our actions of love speak louder than our words … today and tomorrow and every day. Amen.
A True Story
As I prepared to celebrate the life of Don Griffith at his memorial service last December, Don’s wife, Dottie told me this incredible story …
On one of his many trips toWillsEyeHospitalinPhiladelphia, Don realized that they were very early for the appointment and suggested they go and get breakfast at the nearby McDonalds. Sitting outside the restaurant was a rather dirty, smelly homeless man who was begging for some money. Don asked if he was hungry and promptly invited the homeless man to join them for breakfast. Once inside, the man only ordered coffee … but Don then ordered a complete “flapjack” breakfast for the man. Don then insisted the man sit at their table so they could eat breakfast together.
The man wolfed down his food and, when asked, admitted he was still hungry. Don bought the man a second meal and they sat until the man had finished his food. Before leaving the restaurant for his appointment, Don also purchased a hamburger lunch and gave the bag to the man with the instructions, “Save this for lunch!” He also gave the man a few dollars and walked back to the hospital.
Dottie told me recently the sequel to this story. Don’t brother-in-law loves to go to McDonald’s for breakfast … especially when he has a Buy-one-get-one-free coupon so he can bring the free breakfast home for his lunch. One day he returned home without the extra meal. When his wife asked him WHY, Don’t brother-in-law said: “Well, when I left the McDonald’s, there was this homeless man sitting there. He looked hungry, I had just eaten, and I had the free meal. I don’t know what made me do it … but I knew I had to give the meal to that man.”
His wife ~ Joan (Don’s sister) ~ smiled and said: “It must be because of Don’s example. And today was the perfect day to do this … because today would have been Don’s birthday!”
(Isn’t it wonderful to think how one of our simple acts of love can continue to influence others … even when we are no longer there!)