Yr B ~ Easter 4 ~ 1 John 3:16-24
Today we’re continuing our month-long look at 1st John 3. The basic message of this morning’s reading is simple and clear: don’t just talk the talk – walk the walk!
You might think I’ll start by asking, “So why don’t we?” Well, most of the time I think we actually do! But I do think there are a couple of things that tend to trip us up, or knock us off course. The second verse of today’s reading challenges us to respond if we see someone in need.
1 John 3:17 If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.
It’s one of those scripture passages that means exactly what it appears to mean. And yet, right off the top there’s 3 things we should look at more closely. The first is that this passage – actually the whole letter – is focussed inward. It’s not a sermon challenging the listener to go into the world and show God’s love. Well, not directly. It’s actually talking about perceiving the needs of one’s fellow followers of Christ. Love, love, love means to love God, love others/neighbour, and to love one another. It’s the one another – fellow church folk – who this is aiming at.
So, when you see someone associated with this community of Faith in need, and you have the means to do something about it – you should. Obviously.
But what does it mean to be in need, and what does it mean to have the means to do something about it?
I think we need to define need. In need of what? If I say ‘someone is in need’ we probably tend to automatically think of a poor person, or someone who is hungry or homeless, or someone who doesn’t have work, or a person in a ‘third world’ country. We get an instant mental picture of what ‘someone in need’ looks like. But surely that’s only one aspect of it.
Not every need is outwardly obvious.
So how do you know if someone is in need?
We’re all in need of all sorts of things.
What do people need? Money? Food? Housing? Safety? Absolutely.
We live in a comparatively affluent suburb, of a comparatively affluent region, in one of the comparatively most affluent countries in the world. There aren’t very many classically needy people in Clarington – and even fewer who are part of this community of faith. I’m not saying there aren’t people with serious tangible needs, there are! I’m just saying when you step outside the door of our church – or when you step inside (someday) – you aren’t met with a panorama of poverty, you’re looking at affluence.
What other things might we be in need of?
How about things like friendship? Companionship? To know someone cares? To know someone can come and help?
How about things like a smile? A good belly laugh? A kind gesture?
How about things like compassion? Or love? Or forgiveness?
WE ARE ALL PEOPLE IN NEED!
Every single one of us has needs.
Followers of Jesus are called to love into those needs.
If you see some (kindred in Christ) in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing…… trouble.
Have the means to do something.
What are the means?
What means do you possess?
Surely this means more than money – more than a cheque-book Christianity.
What other ‘means’ might we share?
A few immediately leap to mind: compassion, kindness, support, love.
What shape do those means take? Phone calls. Driveway visits. Errands. Casseroles.
Prayer? Yes, prayer!
Please don’t underestimate the power of prayer.
As a person of faith, filled to overflowing with God’s love, and grace, and presence, perhaps your greatest means of loving one another is through expressing God’s love – in tangible loving ways like we just talked about – and in what may seem like an intangible way – prayer – but a means that may be the most powerful of all.
And that’s important because over, and under, and around, and all through all those other needs that we’ve been talking about there is our ultimate need – our need for communion with the Holy Mystery we name God! God is our greatest need. You gather here, you’re part of this community of faith, because you are aware of this deep need in yourself, and presumably you’ve found that being a part of this church, this ministry, these journeyers, is a way to meet that need to commune with God – to know God more deeply – to experience God’s loving presence more fully – to amplify your interconnectedness with the Ground of All Being – to notice.
My part in that, as the minister who is called to serve this community of faith, is to lead worship, and preach, and teach, and care, and resource your journeys as best I can.
But I’m not the only one charged with this responsibility. We are ALL called to love one another.
We are ALL called to share the love that lights us up and to love others into lightness. You may not be called on to preach or teach – but you are absolutely called to love – to care – to help – and to pray.
Your prayers for one another matter.
Can I explain how it all works? Nope.
But I know in my bones that prayer matters.
We trust in the power of prayer, even as we acknowledge that it remains a beautiful mystery to us. We pray with humility and wonder, never knowing how the Spirit of God may move – but we trust that the Spirit does indeed move – that our prayerfulness amplifies our interconnectedness, and that our prayers make a difference – somehow.
Even the simplest prayer – like saying Shalom to someone, makes a difference. Doesn’t it make you feel just a little bit blessed when someone prays Shalom on you? It does me. Little prayers, big prayers, written prayers, extemporaneous prayers, formal prayers, prayers by heart, table graces, bedtime prayers, we-jus-wanna prayers – silent prayers when words can’t express – they all matter, and they all ‘work’ – because prayer is sharing God’s love. That’s everyone’s job.
You have the means to help meet one another’s deepest need.
You can pray, for and with one another.
1 John 3:17 If you see some kindred in Christ in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.
That sounds a bit harsh, and I don’t want to be about guilt trips here – but we keep saying that God is love, and that we’re all about love, love, love, so if you have the means (and you do) to love, through prayerfulness, and choose not to love then love can’t really flow. It kinda disappears.
Friends, please hear this as me encouraging you to do more of what you are already lovingly doing in abundance, and not chastising you for falling short. I’m absolutely not trying to do that.
AND, we can always go deeper, and fuller, and more intentionally prayerfully – which means more powerfully loving.
Now, let’s go wider. When you take that same prayerfulness, and compassion, and care that we naturally express for one another – our fellow journeyers – our church friends – when we take that inward strength and turn outward, beyond our own deep needs, then we begin to speak into the deep needs of the community, the world.
Their needs are just like ours.
Friendship, companionship, knowing someone cares, knowing someone can come and help, a smile, a good belly laugh, a kind gesture, compassion, love, forgiveness.
Those aren’t Christian needs – they’re human needs.
And so too is that ultimate need – the need for communion with the Holy Mystery we name God. Others may name that mystery differently.
They might call it the Divine, or the Holy, or the Sacred, or the Spiritual,
or the geez-I-don’t-know-how-to-describe-it-but-it-feels-like-there’s-something-more.
That is humanity’s greatest need – to connect and commune more deeply with…Something More.
You have the means to help.
You see, we actually do a fantastic job at supporting the classic needs of people. Faith United does incredible outreach in this way. Through our Church Work in Durham committee, for example, we support about a dozen different care agencies and ministries. We have an annual Advent fund-raising drive where we dig fresh-water wells in Africa and Haiti. And we give around $30,000 to the United Church M&S Fund each year – not to mention all the hands-on community volunteering our members do at St Vincent’s kitchen, and Meals on Wheels, and the like – well, at least when we are able to be out.
So yeah, we get it. We put our money where our mouth is – and not just with money. We see people in need and we have the means and we do something about it. We share the love of God. But what about meeting the deep spiritual need of society today?
How can you help someone feel God’s love?
How can you share the love of God that lights you up?
How can you offer that same opportunity to open someone to experience that love for themselves?
If a person is hungry and you have the means you’ve got to feed them, right?
And if a person needs clothes or shelter and you have the means then you’re supposed to help them, right?
So surely then you are called to do something about meeting people’s deepest spiritual needs too, right?
That’s what evangelism is.
It’s sharing the love of God that you know with someone who doesn’t seem to know it.
In fact, evangelism is the highest love there is because it helps to give a person the means to experience the greatest love there is – God.
If you can help someone notice God more fully you’ve given them everything.
Where church folk get into trouble – and where evangelism gets its bad reputation – is when we ‘assume’ we know that we have the answer for them. Talk about making God’s love disappear!
What evangelism is supposed to be is simple lovingness – love loving into people’s deep needs.
What shape that lovingness takes is the unique challenge. Relationship building, humility, and listening will certainly help.
And prayerfulness is what fuels that lovingness, and makes us bold.
My (friends), let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality…(Let us be) bold and free before God!…(And) as we keep God’s commands (to love, love, love), we live deeply and surely in (God), and (God) lives in us. And this is how we experience (God’s) deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit (God) gave us.
We have the means to love into humanity’s greatest need – to connect and commune more deeply with Something More.
We have the means to love the world into lovingness.
So let us love!