April 21, 2024

What Love Does

1 John 3:16-24

Rev. David Germer

Our second passage is 1 John 3:16-24, which I’ll read in just a moment.

In the coming weeks, we are going to have a number of baptisms at FPC, which is so exciting.  One of the questions that we ask those being baptized, and/or their parents, is who is your Lord and Savior.

I had the privilege of preaching on John 3:16, and the surrounding verses, last month.  That passage may offer one of the clearest pictures of what it means for us to call Jesus our Savior.

1 John 3:16, and the verses that follow, gives us, with equal clarity: Jesus as Lord.  The author is telling his community: Yes, Christ has saved you, but Jesus isn’t done with you.  He calls us into a new way of life. He sets an incredibly high bar. His commandment is lofty, his demand extreme.

Because what we’re called to, is love.

Listen for God’s Word.

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 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. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 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.

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. 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.”

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

I received the kind of email yesterday, from a church member, that makes serving as a pastor just so fun, stirring, and rewarding.

The email was short and to the point, and said basically this:

I read or saw the passages you’re preaching on – Jesus as the Good Shepherd, laying down his life, for the flock.  I had a daydream, maybe partly due to something I ate, that may be just foolishness or insanity – but the dream was: what if the Shepherd is calling for all Christians to travel in mass to Palestine to literally lay down their lives for other sheep?

I don’t hear foolishness or insanity in this.  Well… I do. I hear the exact kind of foolishness that Paul commends in one of his letters – “be fools for Christ.”  My immediate thought was: this person gets what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  This person is foolish enough to think Jesus actually meant what he said, about loving our neighbors, as ourselves.  They get that that means seeking the welfare of others with the same energy and creativity and imagination and resourcefulness we employ on our own behalf, when we are in need.  They get that loving others means being ready and willing to disadvantage ourselves for the advantage of others.

Now, I love that daydream, whether sourced to something that person consumed, or just good old fashioned inspiration from the Holy Spirit.  But it’s not gonna happen.  Not all Christians are going to literally lay down their lives, as 1 John 3:16, calls us to do.  Stories of those who do are inspiring, and we need them…

AND… the heart of the passage, and maybe the entire book of 1 John, is 1 John 3:16 AND 17, which helps us to know that God’s Spirit might nudge us in other ways, perhaps slightly less costly, but no less loving.

“How does God’s love abide in anyone,” the author asks, “who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need, and yet refuses to help” – or a better translation, the more literal translation, puts it this way – “sees a brother or sister in need and shuts up their hearts against them?”

This is a little unconventional for me and the way I usually like to preach (I had to tell the youth that I had zero movie references today)… because what I’d like to do, with the rest of my time this morning, is share some stories of people laying down their lives for others – of refusing to shut their hearts against others in need.  I think that stories and examples are what will be most helpful and needed, with this passage.

So here are some stories.

I have a friend named Jeremy (another friend named Jeremy), who’s a comedian in Hillsborough.  When the pandemic first hit and shut things down, Jeremy began hearing about folks who couldn’t pay their bills, and were facing eviction notices.  Jeremy pays his bills (or at least did at the time), not through his comedy act, but through an internet marketing company that he started and had had a good few years, so Jeremy felt like he was able to help.  He had “the world’s goods,” and saw brothers and sisters in need, and opened his heart to them.  He posted on social media, saying: “Hey friends, I know a lot of you are stressing right now about missing work and having enough to pay bills. I have more than I need at the moment, so Direct Message me with any bills you can’t pay and your Venmo/PayPal address. We’re all in this together.”

A slightly better-known and (at least at the time) more successful fellow comedian retweeted Jeremy’s post, and Jeremy wasn’t expecting that post to go out to that comedian’s 130,000 followers.   By the end of the day, Jeremy had over 100 messages asking for help.

So, he spent the next day responding, and sending money.

A week and a half later, things had begun to die down – this is the point where the typical, logical reaction would be to say, “Wow, that was an interesting experiment I’m glad I made it through, and is over,” and move on with life.  But Jeremy, on April 1 of 2020, upped the ante, and posted another message: “It’s the first of the month and our greedy overlords haven’t cancelled rents. Post your rent bill and PayPal link and I’ll pay rent for as many people as I can. We’ll get through this together.”
He paid 15 people’s rents that day.

Jeremy is not super wealthy.  He just saw people hurting, and felt like he could do something about it, and so he did.  A local paper heard about this and did a story on Jeremy.  In it, he acknowledged:

“It feels weird and a little bit irresponsible.  If I pay too-close attention to what I give away, I get nervous and start getting greedy” [a word he’s using for what most of us would just call, sensible]. “So I kind of just tally it up at the end of the day. Something feels right about being a little irresponsible with this money right now. I’m taken care of. My kids are taken care of” [he has five]. “So in a way, this is justice. If I have money sitting in my savings account that I’m not using and there’s people who aren’t eating, it’s not charity. Justice requires I give what I have.”

That’s so convicting to me.  And inspiring.  That’s what love does.  It doesn’t stick with word or speech, but opens our hearts to the needs of others – in truth and in action.

Not all of us have that ability.

Not all of us have the world’s goods.

Here’s another example I think about a lot – a story I once read about the settlement of Martha’s Vineyard, one of the islands off the coast of Cape Cod.  When the island was settled in the 17th Century, most of the residents came from one particular community in Europe, a community in which there was a fairly large incidence of hereditary deafness. Because Martha’s Vineyard was a relatively isolated island and most of the children born were born from two members of the same community in Europe, by the 19th  Century 1 out of every 25 people on the island – 4 % – were deaf. What usually happens, as we know, when someone is differently abled than the majority, is that those in the minority have to adapt – they’re required to operate as best as they can with some form of disadvantage. In the case of Martha’s Vineyard, the deaf folks would need to communicate by writing… and frankly, simply miss out on a lot.  That would be the standard, and logical, way of moving forward.

What actually happened in Martha’s Vineyard is something different, something that epitomizes our call as Christians, that demonstrates Jesus’ call to love your neighbor as yourself.

Those in the community who could hear decided to disadvantage themselves, in order to advantage others. They all learned sign-language.

They refused to allow a segment of their community to suffer the status of second-class citizens in not being able to communicate the way the others could, and leveled the playing field.

I say they disadvantaged themselves in making this decision- and it was hard, and trying, and time-consuming, and frustrating, for so many people of all ages to learn another language. But of course, it turned out to be to their advantage, as well, in all kinds of ways.

Students found that they could talk in class without the teacher knowing. Fishermen found that they could communicate to other boats or people on land by using telescopes and sign-language. The whole community became more intimate, and more deeply connected to one another.

That’s what love does.  Moves us to lay down our lives – our comforts and advantages and privileges  – for the advantage of others… revealing to us that our well-being is bound up with the well-being of our siblings.

Last story.

The church in San Antonio I served for 8 years as Christian Education Director, UPC, was smaller congregation than ours, but not tiny – 300 members.  There was a couple in the church – Cynthia and Tony – long-term, beloved members of the community.  Tony had some kidney issues, and they received some hard news one day from his doctor, telling them that he would need to come in for dialysis, multiple times a week, likely for the foreseeable future, if not the rest of his life.  Cynthia shared this with the pastor, my former colleague and boss, Kelly Allen, and she did so feeling a little at a loss, but knowing she had to share it with someone.  See she couldn’t see how this would be possible.  Cynthia still worked, and planned to for many more years – not only did she want to keep working (as a resource educator in the public school system) because she loved it and felt called to it.  They also needed her income.

Kelly playfully (though with absolute conviction and sincerity) asked: what do you think the church is for?  This chuch loves you, and loves Tony.  Let us love you.

A few phone calls later, and the community had sprung into action, creating a list of dozens of members of what would become known as “Tony’s Transportation Team.”  The created a sign-up list, and for the next 9 years, until Tony’s death, that team of people – some of his closest friends, and some who signed up barely knowing who he was – took Tony to dialysis, faithfully, three times a week.  Dozens of emails every week, making sure someone could pick Tony up, take him to his appointment, sit with him, get him home.  Friendships formed and blossomed.  A community was strengthened.  In this case – the benefit was significant, and powerful – life-changing, even, for Tony, and for Cynthia… and it was a sacrifice for those on the team… but because it was done together, in community, and because of the great benefit they received, by their time with Tony, and by their inclusion in that community – it wasn’t seen or felt as a burden.  It was understood as a gift.

That’s what love does.  Love gives us eyes to see that our well-being is bound up with the well-being of other siblings.   It pushes us out, to love not just with words and speech – to not say, “If you need anything let us know, we’re here,” and leave it at that.  But to make the calls, create the spreadsheet, put in the hours. [And please hear and know that I am preaching particularly to myself, here, because I am SO good at saying those words… and less great at the follow-up; the action].

Love changes lives.  Love changes the world.

There are other stories, other examples, of what love does – of what truth and action, disadvantaging oneself for the advantage of others, refusing to close one’s heart against another – looks like.

As a parent.  A boss.  A friend.  A taxpayer.  A citizen in a community discussing reparations.

There are infinite ways to love – some that are extreme and radical and huge, that may lead to literally laying down our lives.

Some that are small, and ordinary, and radical, and beautiful.

Who are we called to love?   …

Who is in need?   …

We were in need.  And God moved toward us; Jesus refused to shut up his heart against us; the Good Shepherd laid down his life for us.

May God give us courage and imagination, energy and passion, so that we might love our siblings as God has called us to – in truth, and action.  Amen.


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