Sermon, April 26, 2015, Love With Action and Truth

1 John 3:16-24, Common English Bible

This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.

This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence.

Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.

Dear friends, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have confidence in relationship to God.

We receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us.

The person who keeps his commandments remains in God and God remains in him; and this is how we know that he remains in us, because of the Spirit that he has given to us.

            How often have you read 1 John? It’s a short five chapters. Did you know that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is considered “The Theologian” of 1 John? It’s said that he started each day reading through 1 John along with having Holy Communion. This book of the Bible is said to be a commentary on the gospel of John so that two messages are intentionally highlighted:

·      Believe in the name Jesus Christ.

·      Love one another as Christ loved us.

Now, not that this ever happens, I’ve only heard people talk about it, and if we ever become lazy and comfortable in our Christian life, then 1 John is where we need to turn to revitalize our commitment as believers and followers of Jesus the Christ. Think about that for a moment. Reading five short chapters, 1 John, can help us revitalize our commitment as believers and followers of Jesus.

            One of the great challenges of raising children, teaching children, coaching or mentoring children from birth to adulthood is coming to the realization that our actions are more powerful than our words. This is the message of 1 John, too.

            We can talk the talk of Christianity. We can study the Bible. We can memorize scripture verses. We can be in the church building every Sunday going through the motions of worship with the people we know and customs and traditions that make us comfortable. We can allow ourselves to focus on the right and wrong ways to live by becoming the guardians of the faith—meaning that we focus on deciding who’s Christian and who’s not Christian according to our limited interpretation and understanding of the words of scripture.

            1 John will not allow us to be lazy and comfortable because within these five chapters of the Bible you cannot hide from the demand that a Christian life is a life lived loving our brothers and sisters with action and trust. We must, as Christians, walk our talk.

            One of the reasons Christians, often have a bad reputation is because we too often are the example of “do as I say and not as I do.” We fail to do what the gospel of John is about and we fail to live as Jesus commanded. We come to believe that we are not capable of ever being the light of God because we will never be good enough or holy enough—inside our deepest thoughts and inside our heart, our soul—we really do believe that we must earn our way or work our way to be acceptable to God. We settle for a life of anxiety, fear and guilt because we fully and correctly realize that we are incapable of earning the warmth and spiritual health of God’s light. We give up and settle for living in darkness instead of living in God’s light because we recognize that we cannot, on our own, be holy as God is holy.

            In her non-fiction book of memoirs, Out of Africa, published in 1937, Karen Blixen, revealed her almost mystical love of her years in Kenya, of Africa and its people. The book is a poetic recollection of her triumphs and her sorrows on the loss of her coffee farm, the death of her companion, the English hunter Denys Finch Hatton, and the disappearance of the simple African way of life she admired—that was when most of Africa was under British rule as colonies of Great Britain, including Kenya. Here is one of her brief stories from that book:

            It is an alarming experience to be, in your person, representing Christianity to the Natives.

            There was a young Kikuyu [keykooyou] by the name of Kitau, who came from the Kikuyu Reserve and took service with me. He was a meditative boy, an observant, attentive servant and I liked him well. After three months he one day asked me to give a letter of recommendation to my old friend Sheik Ali Bin Salim, the Lewali [governor] of the Coast, at Mombasa, for he had seen him in my house and now, he said, he wished to go and work for him. I did not want Kitau to leave just when he had learned the routine of the house, and I said to him that I would rather raise his pay, but he could not stay. He told me that he made up his mind, up in the Reserve, that he would become either a Christian or a Mohammedan [Muslim], only he did not yet know which. For this reason he had come and worked for me, since I was a Christian, and he had stayed for three months in my house to see the testurde,—the ways and habits,—of the Christians. From me he would go for three months to Sheik Ali in Mombasa and study the terstude of the Mohammedans; then he would decide. I believe that even an Archbishop, when he had had these facts laid before him, would have said, or at least thought, as I said: “Good God, Kitau, you might have told me that when you came here.”

            It is true that people are paying attention to, watching our actions, and our actions are to be kind and loving toward people as we live our lives without fear because we are confident in our unearned salvation through Christ. Often being kind and loving toward others requires self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice is a way of laying down our lives for others. To lay down our life is to open our heart to the needs of others that are visible to us.

            We can hear the words from today’s scripture passage from 1 John and quickly admit that giving up our life for someone else is not something that most of us will ever come close to considering. However, using our material possessions, our own resources, money, wealth and time are all things that we are called to give up to help those in need. For most of us giving our money, our possessions that we tend to cling to and our time will require self-sacrifice.

            I always have to remind myself that I am an extremely wealthy person, and everyone here today is extremely wealthy. As Americans, we compare our wealth to the millionaires and believe that we are not wealthy. In comparison to the rest of the world, we are extremely wealthy.

·      we have access to clean water and just about every kind of food available in our local grocery stores.

·      we are well educated through our public and private schools through the age of 18 because our tax dollars support our public schools and many of us have the ability to pay money to send our children to private schools.

·      we choose the ways we will spend our time, and we have plenty of leisure time when we choose to use it.

·      we have a roof over our head and cars to drive that can get us anywhere we want to go.

·      we have access to some of the most excellent health care on the planet, and it is fairly easy for us to get to a doctor or health care facility when we need one.

No, we may not live like the “rich and famous,” as the advertising media so frequently shows us this life style, and I think that’s really why we fail to recognize just how extremely wealthy we are because we’ve been conditioned and taught to compare ourselves to the Bill Gates, Warren Buffets, Martha Stewarts, Oprah Winfreys and Donald Trumps of our world. They are the extremely rich ones, and we are nowhere near them in our wealth so we must not be the wealthy ones. BUT we are extremely wealthy.

            Our actions can make a difference because we are extremely wealthy—we are Christians and we have the resources we need. Jesus lived life this way knowing that loving people, listening to people, really seeing people and their life struggles and then acting to do something about their need was the purpose of his life. Because Jesus did give up his life for us, we, as his followers, are called to the same actions.

            People are watching to see if we walk our talk when we say we are Christians. People who are not participating in a faith community are especially watching to see if we act like a Christian when they discover that we claim to be Christians.

            Yes, as a faith community we give money and donations of food and clothing and other items to Rainbow Ministries as they work to provide needs for the homeless, and we support Family Promise by providing and serving a meal to the homeless families when they are living one week at Allen Memorial UMC. There is something else we can help do.

            Action Ministries, a agency of the North Georgia Conference UMC that serves the homeless and those in needs of food and housing, now has an office located in Covington that will serve people in Newton, Rockdale and Butts counties. This is the agency that provides the food boxes we purchase to give away each November. Their “Smart Lunch, Smart KidProgram” is beginning this summer in Newton County.

            More than 1,000,000 children in Georgia schools receive free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. Many of these children are students at East Newton Elementary School. When school is out for the summer, beginning next month, a crucial meal disappears for these children. The goal of Smart Lunch, Smart Kid summer lunch program is to give a community the tools necessary to begin a volunteer lunch feeding program for these children.

            It is my hope and prayer that as this program begins this summer in Covington that we might be able to join with other churches around us to help pack and serve up to 400 lunches per day at least one day a week for the ten weeks of summer. 

            1 John is all about each one of us becoming more like Jesus. It is all about us being like Jesus, the light of the world. Hear these words from the gospel of John from The Message by Eugene Peterson:

The Life-Light was the real thing:

Every person entering Life

he brings into Light.

He was in the world,

the world was there through him,

and yet the world didn’t even notice.

He came to his own people,

but they didn’t want him.

But whoever did want him,

who believed he was who he claimed

and would do what he said,

He made to be their true selves,

their child-of-God selves.

These are the God-begotten,

not blood-begotten,

not flesh-begotten,

not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood,

and moved into the neighborhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes,

the one-of-a-kind glory,

like Father, like Son,

Generous inside and out,

true from start to finish.

When we recognize that we are extremely wealthy people then we also recognize that we have seen the glory of Christ and because of his willing death on a cross and his resurrection we are God’s children. As God’s children we are called to “lay down our lives”—give sacrificially—open our hearts to the needs that are visible so that those in need are fed, clothed, educated, and can come to know the good news of Jesus. We are to love fearlessly and generously with our actions because we believe and trust what Jesus accomplished in his life and ministry. Let us leave here today knowing that our talk is not nearly as important as our walk—our actions that are to be the actions of Jesus. Let it be so dear Lord, let it be so.

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