Rev. Katherine Todd
1 John 3:16-24
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
1 John 3:16-24
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.
Beloved, let us love not in word or speech but in truth and action.
There is something magnificent about this scripture to me.
We all approach things in our own ways. For some, speaking the words, “I love you” can be extraordinarily difficult. For others, the words come rolling off our lips.
For some, we would rather love be seen and felt and known before it is said. This is how I’ve always felt about the Christian fish folks put on their cars. Perhaps not unlike many of you, I struggle to keep my cool when I drive. I can be pretty calm much of the time, but then there are those moments when the struggle against road rage is real. I have always thought how horrible it would be to put that fish on my car and then drive in anger. And while I don’t do this often, I figure one time is too much for the negative witness I would be giving!
It is not enough to proclaim that one is Christian.
It is our actions and truth that speak louder.
I have always wanted my actions to demonstrate Christ before my words.
But this is almost always harder.
Words are cheap. Words are easy. Symbols are easy. Even routines and habits can become easy to us.
But action, intentional action…
Living, intentional living….
That is hard stuff.
It is one thing to say we believe something, for instance, and quite another to walk the walk and live into the truth we say we believe!
And so we have this seemingly clear call to LIVE and to ACT in love. And yet, the living of this proves incredibly difficult.
First we have our moods and emotions. Many times we do not feel love or affection, compassion or kindness. Many times we in fact feel anger or hurt, frustration or resentment…
Loving when every fiber inside us does not want to, is a major challenge for most of us. Some of you may recall the story I shared last fall of Corrie Ten Boom who was faced with forgiving one of her former captors during WWII. Faced with what felt like a very cruel request to forgive this man so deserving of her hate and condemnation, she found liberty in simply being obedient to the Spirit of God – in extending her hand in forgiveness. And you may recall that when she did this, she found God supplied all the feeling she needed to be able to sincerely say, “I forgive you brother, with all my heart.”
This was most surprising. That by simply obeying God’s call, she found her emotions fell in line afterwards.
As surprising as this feels to me, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. This is the pattern with many things in life. I have repeatedly found myself not wanting something that is good but when doing the good thing, filling up with joy and the DESIRE to do it after all.
God can work and move in our sheer obedience.
So even when we do not FEEL love for someone. It is possible to love in action, and we may find our hearts and emotions following suit.
But then we have the question of what love is.
What is love to you? To what can you compare love? Is it ice cream and comfort food and hugs? Is it safety and being known? Is it possible only under certain circumstances? Is it unconditional? Is love being kind and nice and polite always? Is love unfiltered honesty? Is it pleasing another? Is it pleasing ourselves?
What is love?
Is there a place for anger in love?
Well, with Jesus as our guide, I would say yes, based on how he responded to the selling of goods in the temple and to various religious leaders with whom he interacted.
Is there a place for setting boundaries in love?
I’d say yes again, recalling the story of Jesus saying to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan” when Peter was outspokenly dead set on Jesus not suffering and dying…
In Jesus, we do not see pandering to other’s feelings. We hear truth spoken, sometimes with edge, sometimes with the utmost compassion. I’d say Jesus is not comparable to a warm blanket and teddy bear; he was not all warm fuzzies, but there were definitely those who followed him and found warmth and welcome and home in his presence. Even the children wanted to be near him, and he made time for them.
So many human emotions are seen within the person and life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. We see his need for time alone with God. We see him exhausted and sleeping while others are working. We see him hungry. We see anger at injustice and falsehood. We see delight in children and in the faith of those considered least among them. We see him mourning the pain and loss facing him as he weeps in tears like blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. We see him resolute when questioned and condemned before the council of the Elders. We hear his cry out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” – this feeling of being far from God, when he needed God most…
Thanks be to God for giving us such a one to look to.
in a life,
what love looks like,
The first part of the scripture we read today, says it very plainly,
“we know love by this, that he laid down his life for us…”
In this supreme act of self-giving, we know love.
Now, there has been a lot of theologizing over these many years since Christ’s life and death and resurrection, and not all of it has been equally beneficial to body of Christ over the years.
Some theology has made God out to be the baddy who won’t be satisfied without the blood of an innocent one. While this is an understandable interpretation of history and scripture, I think it has had most unfortunate affects on the church. It has led folks to dismiss the Old Testament entirely…and I concede that there is much in the Old Testament that seems contrary to the God we’ve come to know in Christ…and yet I do not believe Christ is different from God. Rather, I believe Christ is opening our eyes, in the clearest way, to the heart and true nature of God. Christ came from God. Christ is God. They are not separate or different.
And so, through the lenses of Jesus Christ, I read all the Old Testament differently – believing we see more clearly, through Christ, and trusting that the God we have known in Christ, is the God who has been from of Old, for all times. And this God came near, meeting us in the person of Jesus Christ.
The scripture read today from John about the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep is a good counter to these severe images we may have of God. Here we have Jesus saying that he lays down his life, of his own accord, and that he can take it back of his own accord.
The crucifixion was not something done to Jesus.
It was not done to him by God.
It was not done to him by Pontius Pilot.
It was not done to him by the Jewish Elders.
It was not done to him by the people, who joining in crying out, “Crucify him!”…
The crucifixion was Jesus’ own act of pouring himself out for the life of us all and the healing of all the world.
Jesus, of his own power and will, laid down his own life, that through him, we might find life, and find it to the full!
So may we go out, renewed!
May we go out, knowing we are loved, beyond all loving!
May we know that the One, able to do all, humbled himself for us
Poured himself out for us
Lived for us
Died for us
Rose for us
Lives eternally and reigns in power…for us.
We know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us…
So let us go and love one another
Amidst rush hour traffic
Amidst broken systems
In times of prosperity and times of want
In times of good leadership and times of poor leadership
In times of peace and times of turmoil…
May we live in love, following the example of our Lord, our Savior, our God, our friend…
Praise be to God!!!