April 22nd, 2018

The First Letter of John 3:16-24

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

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“Hear now these words from what is referred to as the ‘The First letter of John, chapter three, verses sixteen thru twenty-four.’”  Let us open our hearts to this writing about sharing God’s love.”

1 John 3:16-24

16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

“As we consider what we have just heard, are we ready to love one another?”

Love One Another”

O God, my God, you are my shepherd, I shall not want.  You make me lie down in green pastures; you lead me beside still waters; you restore my soul. You lead me in right paths for your name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of darkness and even death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell, O Holy One, in your house… my whole life long and forever more. /Psalm 23:1-6, adapted/

The 23 Psalm and this short writing from the First letter of John go together, for to give love, we must first receive and experience it!  The Psalmist is reassuring us of God’s eternal love.  To receive the full benefits of such love we must be willing to fully trust in our Creator’s abundant and everlasting love.  As individuals, this means that when things are not going the way they ought or the way you had hoped for, then you must hold fast to that tiny spark of hope and faith, which you cling to… as you once again turn to the Holy One for help.  We are God’s children and we live after the resurrection of Christ; therefore, we must always remember the lengths that God will go to – for each and everyone of us.  “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us.” /1 John 3:16/ We need to cling to this knowledge that God’s love is: this deep, this complete.

The 23rd Psalm also sets up a spirit, a state of mind or attitude, in which we ought to allow ourselves to feel.  As I read through this Psalm, in the first person, I was feeling the fullness of God’s rich and lavish love.  The phrases caused me to reflect ‘back upon my life’ and acknowledge how many times the love of God has intervened in my life, setting things right.  Amazingly, this has happened many times, especially when I did nothing to deserve or earn such love!  On more than one occasion, more than a countless number of times, I have felt the presence of God as I have had to face the biggest fears of my life.  So, when I personally read the 23rd Psalm for myself, I have this overwhelming sense of gratitude, which humbles me. Yet, at the same time I feel lifted-up which allows me to hold my head up high knowing that my relationship with God is in its right place and there is no need for me to hang my head any longer.  The Psalm reassures me that I have been held in God’s arms and put back on my feet.  With this in my heart I can turn my attention to what our lesson from First John is now saying.

My prayer is that each one of us are feeling as I and those who have come before me, lifted-up and reassured of God’s love as the Psalmist intended when writing the 23rd Psalm.  For you and me, we need this if we are to fully grasp what our scripture for today is saying to us.  We shall need the reassurance of God’s presence in our lives, allowing us to ‘willingly’ and ‘confidently’ to pass God’s love to another; for we are called to love one another!  After giving us some clarifying statements to ponder, our writing clearly states the obvious; it is unmistakable to those of us who have studied the teachings of Jesus as contained in the gospel accounts of his lessons.  “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” /1 John 3:23/ Remember how Jesus answered the question: “Teacher which is the greatest commandment?  Then Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” /Matthew 22:36-40 / (NIV)/ Simply stated: to truly love our neighbors, we must love one another.

Let us listen again to our writing.  “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. /1John 3:17-18/ First, the listener, those whom heard these words so long ago and now, you and I, as we hear them spoken to our ears here in the present time, we are chastised to take our love of others and put our words into action.  Consider this simple, everyday situation.  Our washing machine in our home broke down a couple weeks ago.  I casually mentioned this to the man that lives across the street from us.  Later that afternoon his wife came over and rang the doorbell.  My wife Lois was home, and she answered the door.  Our neighbor offered to allow us to use her washing machine until ours was replaced. That’s putting one’s good intentions into action!  Our writer is telling us to do likewise.

“The writer clearly envisions a relationship with God where people are not diminished, but rather they are encouraged to stand on their own two feet with confidence.”  Professor of New Testament studies, William Loader, is pointing us to the pieces of our writing that offer us this strength through the metaphor’s our writer left for us to ponder.  “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.” /1 John 3:21-22/ We are being told that if we do not allow doubt, fear, and wrong thinking into our hearts and minds then surely, being right with God, we shall be emboldened to make good choices and decisions as opportunities and challenges to support, help or even ‘carry’ for a period of time, the burdens of those who are our brothers and sister, our neighbors!  Surely, when we look to the examples and illustrations of ministry which Jesus left for us to learn from, we can adapt our lives to follow his leading.  We can do this while we use our intellect, to transcend the differences in time and social structures, of the First Century, into the time in which we now live, to minister to the needs of others with the same ‘willingness’ to witness to God’s love, as we offer it to our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and one another.

Now, we ought not try to mimic Jesus, or ask the question “what would Jesus say”?  That would not be fair to whom Jesus was.  His actions and words were in a different time and a radically different reality and place then we find ourselves in.  However, we can surely say, as we form a response to a situation when it presents itself, how might the teachings of Jesus help us form or shape our words and actions?  Surely, we could consider for a moment how, if Jesus were here, how he would not allow individuals or even groups of people to be left without food, shelter or water.  This is but one example, of a multitude of possible life situations, of which we may wish to consider how we might apply the compassion and social justice side of Jesus’ love, to and for others whom we interact with.  Jesus was a man of compassion and he showed true concern for others.  He also showed his emotions, he was true to his humanness as he walked this earth.  We need to always remind ourselves, it is ok to allow our feelings to be part of our choices and decision.  That old saying “Intellect before emotions,” may work in a business decision process, but it does not always apply when we are working with the “Spirit” of God in our hearts and with the well being of another, who is in some type of distress or need.

I was sitting with a man during a community meal recently.  I had totally misread his emotional state of mind as we began casually talking.  Then, in a blink of an eye, his anguish and his spiritual exhaustion became apparent.  My response was to open my heart to his words.  I was not able to ease his burden, yet, during that moment I strived to be fully present to him and to be supportive of his emotional needs, in that space and moment of time.  It may not have been all that he needed.  Nevertheless, I pray my open human response helped ground him in the knowledge that he was not alone.  When I think of how Jesus connected with people, I get this sense, that those whom Jesus ministered to, did not feel alone in this world, no matter what their human plight.

When we think about or talk about how someone, namely Jesus, or anyone else we have come to know about, whom has responded with their very life for another, we need to remember this is the highest form of intimacy a human can show for a person.  When we study the ministry of Jesus we hear about his candor, his devotion, his sense of justice in how he selflessly interacted with compassion and divine love for everyone he interacted with, no matter who they were or where they were on life’s journey.  Is not this what we all yearn for?  We want to be heard.  We want to be respected and cared for by someone that does not judge us by our social standing or the color of our skin, nor by the size of our bank account.  Yes, the Jesus we love was a man who crossed every barrier to reach out in a desire to make a difference in people’s lives.  This is how we are to love one another

O God, our God, you are our shepherd, we shall not want.  You make us lie down in green pastures; you lead us beside still waters; you restore our souls. You lead us in right paths for your name’s sake.  Even though we walk through the valley of darkness and even death, we fear no evil; for you are with us; your rod and your staff – they comfort us.  You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies; you anoint our heads with oil; our cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell, O Holy One, in your house… our whole life long and forever more. /Psalm 23:1-6, adapted/

Amen.

 

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