1 John 3:16-18
I want you to try to picture the scene in your mind, there was a man was standing by the salad bar at a Golden Corral. But he was not just standing there, waiting for his turn to make a salad, he was standing there covered in Thousand Island dressing. It was dripping from his hair, over his glasses, down his face, all over his jacket, pants, and shoes. About a gallon of it.
Just moments before a lady was restocking the salad bar and went to the back to get more salad dressing. When she came out of the kitchen this man was standing in her way, so she paused for a moment until she could get past. But to the best of my recollection, it was during that pause that the swinging doors leading out of the kitchen swung back into her with enough force to knock her forward, launching salad dressing all over this guy.
Now before I tell you what happened next, what would you have done? Would you have cried, laughed, gone in a rage? I am not sure what I would have done, but this guy went ballistic! He started shouting and cursing at her. He screamed at the top of his lungs “You’re so stupid! I can’t believe you could do such a stupid, stupid thing. This is a brand new suit and it cost me $300.” His wife chimed in, “Yeah, you’ve ruined my husband’s $300 suit, and it’s the first time he’s had a chance to wear it.” He screamed, “I want to see the manager!”
Well about that time the manager who had heard the commotion comes out the same swinging doors, looks at the man with the dressing all over him and asks, “Is there a problem?” You can’t make this up.
The guy replies, “Is there a problem? Look at me! She’s ruined my suit. I demand that you make this right.” The manager says, “We’ll be glad to get your suit cleaned. Accidents do happen, and we’re really sorry about this.” But the man was indignant, he bellowed “No! I don’t want my suit cleaned. I want a brand new suit, and I demand a check right here and now.”
The manger said he would make it right, he went to the back for a moment and returned a few moments later and hands the man a check. Justice is served. Kind of….
This scene played out for everyone in the restaurant on a Sunday afternoon during lunch. Now, why do you think that would someone be wearing a brand new suit to lunch on a Sunday? Do you suppose he had been to worship? Do you suppose that he had just heard a sermon on “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?
I’m not here to judge anyone. But I do want to remind you that until the church shows society what living out your love truly means, society will continue to live without the church. We might expect the rest of the world to behave crudely, but not Christians, and especially not after church on Sunday morning.
We’ve all heard the expression talk is cheap, but the flip side of that is actions are priceless. Our text this morning was not written to folks John was trying to convert, it was written to those folks who had already made their faith a verb. The people reading this letter had already given themselves in baptism, already believed. John is reminding them and us about how love should be the core of our lives as Christians.
In our text for this morning John writes, 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.
John starts this part of the letter by reminding us that Jesus laid down his life for us. Normally when we hear that phrase we think about His crucifixion. Jesus died for us on the cross, that’s what laying down His life looks like. But in laying down His life John is reminding us that Jesus chooses us. He is not a victim of the Roman Government, or the Sanhedrin, or the Pharisees. If He is a victim at all, He is the victim of His own all consuming divine love. His life was not taken from Him, it was given to us; a choice and gift He freely made.
But John doesn’t leave it there, it’s not enough to remind us what Jesus did, John wants to instruct us on what affect that should have in our lives. There is so much more to this story than just the crucifixion. Notice what he says next, And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
John tells us that, like Jesus, we ought to lay down our lives for others. No surprise there, but notice the example he gives of what this looks like. He doesn’t tell of a Christian dying for another Christian. He says, 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? John’s illustration of how to lay down your life for others is to help someone in need. The truth of the matter is, few of us will ever die for another person, but all of us have the opportunity to put others first on a daily basis.
That brings us back to Jesus. When did Jesus lay down his life? It started well before the cross. It started when He invited a tax collector named Matthew to follow Him, even though He knew people wouldn’t like it. It started when He got an adulterous woman out of being stoned, even though He knew it would cost Him. It started when He allowed a sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears, even though He knew that Simon doubted that He was really a Rabbi. It started when He looked up into that sycamore tree and told Zacchaeus to come down and then He went to his house, even though the teachers of the law used this as a point to discredit Him.
The point is, Jesus laid down His life all along the way. The ultimate demonstration was in the cross but the reality is, it started way before that. The cross was the natural progression of a life that was already given up for others. So when we are called to lay down our lives for others, don’t get all focused on dying for someone else and never live for someone else. Realize that laying down yourself for others is about how you value people and how you see yourself.
Friar Richard Rohr wrote: (Jesus) called us to a presence that is a broader and deeper kind of knowing than just cognitive thinking. Thinking knows things by objectifying them, (in other words) capturing them as an object of knowledge. But presence knows things by refusing to objectify them; instead it shares in their very subjectivity. Presence allows full give and take, what Martin Buber called the “I/Thou” relationship with things as opposed to the mere “I/it” relationship.
One of the struggles we have living out our love for others is that our culture seems to find new ways to objectify people every day. A 2017 study by the BBC found that 53% of all 11 year olds have seen pornography and that number jumps to 94% by the age of 14. According to the National Campaign to End Teen Pregnancy, 48% of all 16 year olds in this country have been involved in sexting or sending sexually explicit pictures through mobile phones.
For the last 20 years the best selling video games have been filled with violence and gore, some even giving the player extra points not just for killing their opponents but doing so with extreme violence. In a very divided political landscape, one area of agreement is that this is becoming a problem. On one side of the aisle President Trump tweeted: “Video game violence and glorification must be stopped, it’s creating monsters!” then from the far left left Ralph Nader likened violent video games to “electronic child molesters.” In 2013 President Obama budgeted $10 million to study the effects of violent media on our children. They found a link "between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior ... and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement.”
Print, audio, and visual media are continuing down this path of treating people as merely objects and less like people created in the image of God. When I can objectify you, and treat you as merely an object placed here for my gratification and enjoyment, it becomes impossible to love you. We need to reclaim this idea of humanity. We need to model love in the model city by seeing people as the crowning creation of God. We need to not only see the different colors, cultures, ideas, and expressions of humanity but live out a divine love.
Sallie McFague asks the question this way: How can my life be a reflection of divine love in this time and place? The classic Christian phrase for discipleship, the imitation of Christ, means that we were made by God to become like God, loving all others, loving universally.
I’m drawn to that phrase about loving not in “word or speech” but instead in “truth and action”. It means the measure of who we are as Christians. John is saying that when it comes to being a Christian talk is cheap. But action isn’t. John asks how those who have been given so much can see a brother or sister who needs help and turn their back on them. He asks how we can see the example of Christ who loved us so much that He gave everything for us, and then turn our backs on those who need the same kind of love. The measure of the Christian life: not what we say, but how we act.
I fully understand that we don’t always get it right. We may have the best of intentions, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s hard. When we actually have to give up our time to go volunteer we may sometimes find other things to do. When we are asked to open our checkbooks and help out, we might rationalize that we really would rather use that money for something fun. After all, we worked hard for it. When that friend comes to us needing someone to lean on, we might make excuses on why we can’t get together.
We’ve all felt that twinge when we’ve said one thing and acted in another way. We know it’s not our best self, or who we really want to be. And so we resolve to do better. And while none of us are perfect, we try. It’s a noble endeavor, to try to make sure our actions reflect who we say we are. For us Christians that means making sure our actions reflect the love of a Christ who first loved us.
But because we have not done a good job of living out the love we profess to have, a lot of people don’t trust Christians. I get it. When I was growing up in the 80’s it seemed like every month there was another televangelist being hauled out of their house in handcuffs, or tearfully confessing to something to Barbra Walters. It doesn’t take long to recognize that some Christians did one thing while saying another. There are a lot of folks who look at the religious world and only see hypocrites.
And truthfully none of us are always the person we want to be. We aren’t perfect. We know that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be the sort of people we say we are on Sunday mornings. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to be people not just of words but of actions.
This is so vital for our life together as a church. A church should ideally be the kind of community where without us saying a word about what we believed, you would know we were Christians. You might remember that Jesus said that people will know that we are His disciples not because we have a big, beautiful building. Not because we don’t drink, cuss, smoke, or hang out with women who do. Not because of a bumpersticker, or a t-shirt. Jesus says: Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (John 13:35 NLT)
That has implications for our church in this community. Remember a few weeks ago when I told you that I did my little survey and no one knew who we were? What that told me is not that we need to get bigger billboards on the side of the road, we don’t need a bigger ad in the paper, or a bigger presence on the internet. What we really need is a bigger love for this community. It is so easy for me to forget that we don’t exist just for ourselves. Actually we are here to serve and love others. When we measure who we are as a church community, we should start by asking how have we loved our neighbors, our community, not just in words but in truth and action.
That’s not always easy. And yet, if we are going to claim to be a Church of Christ it’s not optional. The world has plenty of religious people. What the world really needs is a Church of people who are striving to love like Christ.
And so my question to you is this: how are we going to be people not of word and speech, but of truth and action? How are we going to be the people that our world needs us to be?
I know God has a plan for every person here today. I know God has brought you here not just for worship, but for service. The love of Christ may have gotten you here today, but God doesn’t want your Christian journey to end here in a church pew. God has something greater in store for you.
The journey every week starts here. Think of your pew as your launching pad. Here we say, and sing, the words of our faith, we get ready to become people of action. And when you leave here, you go out into a world that needs that action. It’s a world that needs followers of Christ, not just Christians In name only.