Sermon Lesson: 1 John 3:16-18 (NRSV)
Full Sermon Lesson: 1 John 3:16-24 (NRSV)
Psalm: Psalm 23 (NRSV)
Quoted Verses: Matthew 22:37-39 (NRSV)
Increasingly, more and more, when I look out my window and contemplate the world, I feel that nothing is quite as simple as I wish it could be. Now, before you pack this sermon away because you think I’m about to give into such maudlin thoughts, I’ve found that Christianity—as wonderfully complex and nuanced as it is, can always be boiled down to a phrase that I’ve always attributed to the Beatles—“All you need is love.”
Whenever I think life is a bit too much (and right now, when I am contemplating mask mandates at churches and potential travel arrangements to my great aunt’s funeral that may not happen), a little bit of simplicity is exactly what I need.
Because, here’s the thing, if you looked at what Jesus told us, his followers, in the Gospels, that was exactly his sentiment—Love the Lord your God, and Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39)—or, in other words, All you need is Love. You don’t need anything else. You don’t need the laws. You don’t need the nitpickers. You just need the Love in your heart. It doesn’t need to be a perfect selfless love (in a perfect world, it would be, but the point is that it’s growing to become such a perfect selfless love), it just needs to be genuinely felt.
That’s why—here—at the beginning—before we delve into 1 John and a discussion about love, I’d like to say to you, my church family, that I love you and to thank you for your kind and warm wishes yesterday after the death of my great aunt. I hope my love for you, sent over this newsletter, warms your hearts even the slightest of bits and brightens your day this Tuesday.
Now, to the text!
Jesus’s Love for Us
Jesus undoubtedly loved us all. His entire purpose of coming to earth, being born as a babe, and living among us was to not only understand us, but to show us that love.
He further showed us that love, as we know, by taking our sins upon himself and sacrificing himself on the cross.
Now, I often describe the crucifixion as a state execution, and this is for several reasons. The first is to shake us all out of a sense of complacency. We’re so used to hearing about the crucifixion that it doesn’t shock us anymore. We don’t quite realize the enormity of it. The second is because Jesus was executed by the state “in real time,” as it were. He got the equivalent of the electric chair or a needle in the arm. I hate to put it bluntly, but that’s what it was. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Thirdly, there is a degradation to state execution that is missing from any other form of death. You are found guilty of crimes and the State (with a capital “s”) deems that you must be punished for it. You are not an innocent person in the eyes of the law. You are guilty. To acknowledge the degradation that Jesus willingly suffered for us is to acknowledge the depths of his love for us. If we ignore part of his sacrifice, we might as well ignore all of it.
After the author of 1 John reminds of the depths of Jesus’s love for us, he asks a question, which is a pertinent one, and which I will reproduce here:
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees brother or sister in need and refuses to help? (1 John 3:17)
This is a question that goes specifically to our Christian love and charity. It’s a bit wordy, I grant you, but it’s something like that. How could we accept and live in God’s love for us, and then not help our fellow brother and sister when needed? How can we not love them as we, ourselves, our loved?
This is the question that every Christian must face. How much is too much? How much is not enough? What should I do? What is charity? What hurts another’s pride? What exacerbates a problem?
I’ll use an example I believe I’ve used in a sermon before, which comes from my own life. When I lived in London, I liked to get out at night and just go walking. I often walked to King’s Cross where there was a 24-hour McDonald’s, and there was a veteran from the Afghanistan war who slept outside of it. It was pretty obvious from his collection of needles that he was on heroin or something similar, so money would (in my mind) be no help to him. It might be used for something other than food.
Never mind that I rarely carried cash at 2 AM, but I did make the decision not to give cash to someone who appeared to be a junkie. That didn’t mean that I didn’t want to help a man who had so obviously served his country, who had served in a war America had also fought. So, instead, whenever I turned up, I bought him a fish fillet sandwich (his favorite) with a coke. I remember once he ratted me out for not spending an extra 5p on mayo. The memory still brings a rueful smile to my face.
Now, not everyone has a beleaguered veteran outside of their local McDonald’s.
We all find ourselves in situations, not all the time, but enough that if we think about it, these situations may come to mind. We might ask ourselves—”Was I kind?”—to begin with and move from there. Kindness, after all, can be the simplest and yet truest expression of Christian love.
Our text next turns to the call, specifically toward “Little Children”—to love in truth and action, and not just word or speech.
It’s a lesson I feel our world has yet to learn for the many centuries since Jesus has left us for heaven. We still have a way to go.
Although the words are spoken to Little Children, I think it would be a mistake to assume that it is spoken specifically to those who are children in body. We are all God’s children, we all have something to learn, more to give, places to improve in our lives. These words are spoken to us.
This call to action and truth and love is for each and every one of us—Love, more specifically, love each other. Was it not one of Christ’s two great commandments? We must not forget even when it may be useful for us to put it on the back burner.
Love, And Don’t Forget to Love
I can, of course, appreciate that it is difficult to love in the current global climate. Although as your minister I would never take a side in political issues (and what in this world is not political when all is said and done?), I can understand where continued covid-regulations, high-profile trials, tensions at the border, and a spike of gun violence can put anyone on edge. I sometimes find myself dizzy with the inundation from news sources that never seem to end on their 24-hour news cycle.
I understand. I’m right there with you.
Start small. Start with the people you love dearest and nearest to you. Remind yourself why you love them the most.
Then take a step back. Include more people.
Slowly take a step back and another (it doesn’t have to be all at once), until you’ve included perhaps your entire church family or your entire neighborhood you live in. Get a group of people that are in a specific group or community of some kind. Feel your friendship and warmth and companionship and love towards all of them.
Take another step out. The feelings will be less firm and filled more toward good will than actual love rooted in your heart. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s simply a different kind of love.
Slowly, but surely, the circle will expand. When before with your most near and dear you accepted faults within people with ease, difficulties in characters with little reservations, now you will love and hope for resolution and change through the knowledge of Christ.
This hope for change will include prayers of healing—and soon, hopefully, your anxiety may begin to slip away, because you let go and you let God. This, you might also recognize, is a form of prayer.
It’s not a fix-all, of course. It may, however, ease your mind and help you feel like you can go into the wider world with less fear of the consequences that may lay in wait.
Be Safe—as always—and God Bless.