Lectionary Year B
May 14, 2000
I John 3:16-24

Step VI: Contemporary Address


(LE) - Proposed Service of Worship

Prelude

Call to Worship

Liturgist: Listen! God is welcoming us to this time of worship.
Young and old, rich and poor, all are welcomed.
People: This is a place where all belong.
This is a time when all are accountable before God.
Liturgist: The Maker of all seeks our common good.
The God of Mercy calls on us to be merciful.
People: We are not judges over our sisters and brothers.
We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Liturgist: Come, sing praises and put your trust in God.
Come, prepare yourself to serve in Christís name.
People: We bring all our needs before God, our hope.
We want to share our faith and hope with others.

Prayer of Adoration

* Hymn of Adoration #138 "Holy, Holy Holy! Lord God Almighty"

Call to Confession

Prayer of Confession: O God, we confess that our good intentions have too often gone astray. We favor the people who are like us and honor those we deem to be important. We dishonor the poor, write off those with whom we disagree, excuse our self-serving behavior, and sow injustice on every hand. It is so much easier to give advice than to do good. We would rather point fingers at others who are unfair than to give up our own advantages. O God, we plead for your forgiveness and for a depth of faith that will make a difference in us and in our world. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Liturgist: Friends, believe in the Good News of the Gospel.
People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia!

* Gloria Patri

Prayer for Illumination

Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 119: 33-40

Anthem "My Brothers and Sisters"

New Testament Lesson: 1 John 3: 16-24

Sermon "Looking for love . . ."

* Affirmation of Faith:

We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
and binds us together with all believers
in the one body of Christ, the Church.
The same Spirit
who inspired the prophets and apostles
rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
engages us through the Word proclaimed,
claims us in the waters of baptism,
feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.
In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear voices long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks
and to live holy and joyful lives,
even as we watch for Godís new heaven and new earth,
praying, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

Pastoral Prayer and the Lordís Prayer

* Hymn #435 "We are Your People"

* Charge

Liturgist: Friends of Christ, carry Godís love into the world.
You have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit.
People: May the Holy Spirit inspire our words.
May Godís love in Christ empower our deeds.
Liturgist: Sing of the victory of self-giving friendship.
Witness to the saving power of love.
People: In Christ, we are servants and friends.
We are learning to love as we are loved.
Liturgist: God judges our world with righteousness.
Our efforts are accepted with steadfast faithfulness.
People: We want to share our faith and hope with others.
The law of Godís love is reigning in our hearts.

* Benediction

Postlude

* Congregation please stand if able.

Assisting in worship this morning are (KM, the Choir and KA).

(LE - The Sermon) - "Looking for love . . ."

Psalm 119: 33-40
1 John 3: 16-24

Looking for love in all the wrong places . . . Love is a many splendored thing . . . I will always love you . . . I canít stop loving you . . . L - O - V - E . . . Love will keep us together . . . All you need is love . . . Canít buy me love . . . Whatís love got to do with it. Love has been trivialised, sentimentalised, romanticised, and psychologized to the point where it has almost no meaning in our culture.

Now, I can almost see the wheels in your brains whirling and hear those inward groans of ďoh, no, not another sermon on love!Ē I must admit it, I had this same response when I began working with this text; I wanted desperately to find something new, exciting, and challenging , but alas the text had its way with me -- all I could hear was that darn four letter word -- a word overused, misused, and abused. You know the one I am talking about . . . love! We have become desensitised by our culture to the kind of love that God revealsd and reveals to us in Jesus Christ. The truth is we could take all the songs, poems and books ever written on the subject of love, as we understand it, and never fully comprehend the layers of complexities of the love that Christ has modelled for us and calls us to.

One of the things I am looking forward to as I move into the parish is having free time again -- not being a slave to books, papers, tests and due dates. I want time to go "junking" -- you know what I mean. Hit garage sales on Saturday mornings, browse in second hand furniture stores -- "junking." One of my friends has an "eye for junking" -- he can find treasures hidden beneath layers of ghastly colored paint -- paint that hides the intricacies and the richness of a piece of furniture. Heíll take the piece home and, having far more patience than I, will work for weeks, slowly and gingerly, removing layer after layer of paint -- especially those caked on globs in the tiniest crevices. Layers of paint tend to dis-tort the beauty of a unique piece of furniture.

After all the paint layers have been removed, heíll tenderly begin to restore it. Although, the piece will never recapture the splendor of its glory days, the restoration process gives the piece some of its former dignity and beauty. The process of taking something beautiful, scarred by years of the latest color trends, is exciting, challenging and exhilarating for my friend. But, I think this process is far more for him than just the task of working to restore a piece of furniture; being the good therapist he is, as he works on that piece of furniture, it is also a time for him to reflect on his own life -- what in his life has shaped him, what in his life is shaping him and where he is going and how he plans to get there. It is for him a time of critical self-evaluation.

Iíd like to suggest that Christ-like love is alittle like a piece of furniture in which the potential beauty lays hidden under layers of cracked and fading paint that we are inexplicably drawn to. It appears to have been around forever -- there is an eerie familiarity and comfort about it -- it is something we want desperately to possess, yet, there is a measure of fear and risk involved. The fear of whether or not we are up to the task and the risk of stepping out in faith.

Our New Testament text challenges us to take a hard look at our behaviors in light of the kind of love that we see, and have seen, in Jesus Christ. There is a familiarity and comfort to this kind of love -- we know it, donít we? However, there is an overlay of fear and risk in knowing that we donít know it in all its complexities and yet we choose to embrace it -- letting it shape us -- as we continue to grapple with what Christ-like love really means and looks like in this fast-paced, ever-changing world in which we find ourselves living.

We donít know who wrote The First Letter of John -- and my normal irreverent response to this kind of question is pretty much "who cares? the message is the thing." The message was the thing back when it was written and the message is the thing that remains. The message was addressing something deeply disturbing that was happening in the Johnannine community. In chapter 2 of this letter we read about "the anti-christs" who had left the community; however, more to the point, they had left the fundamental teachings and faith of the community behind. They no longer taught that God became incarnate in Jesus the Christ.

These "anti-christs" were probably doecetic Gnostics; meaning, as if I needed to tell yaíll, that the Christ as Spirit didnít really become manifest in the man Jesus of Nazareth but only "appeared" as such and that while he - the Christ - entered this man Jesus at his baptism at the time of his crucifixion he - the Christ - departed from this human body so as not to fully participate in the suffering and death of Jesus. To our 20th century neo- orthodox ears this sounds absurd, doesnít it? But we evidently have people that continue to hold this dualistic view of a spirit/body split. The folks that automatically popped into my head were the Heavenís Gate group. However, we might even cast "feel good religion" devotees and followers of certain "pop psychologies" into this category. Some in our culture, tend to hang on to this dualistic view and, dare I suggest, even some good Presbyterians. I remember the flak I got in a C.E. Committee meeting when I suggested that one of the ways we could creatively explain Lent to the children involved hanging symbols representative of Jesus Christís suffering on a cross. I was informed "our tradition is to remember the cross as empty." This spoke volumes to me about this personís grasp of Jesus Christís true nature as being fully human and fully divine.

Right off the bat, the author of 1 John is telling his hearers "we know love by this, that Christ Jesus laid down his life for us." We affirm that Christ was crucified for our sins and this certainly is the pinnacle of how we see and have seen his self-giving love for us. However, I want to suggest that we need to consider his whole ministry as acts of self- giving love -- reaching out to people where they were with love that transformed their circumstances and revealed God to them. Remembering, though, that these acts culminated in the event of the cross -- paradoxically an event of death and life.

Christ-like love is manifested in us when we dare to risk ourselves for our brothers and sisters -- when we risk reaching out to people where they live. Unlike folks who operate on feelings only Christ calls us to show Christ-like love not in empty words but in truth and action. Believing, confessing, and proclaiming Jesus the Christ as our Lord and Savior is where Christ-like love originates. If we believe, confess, and proclaim Christ who reveals Divine Love to us can we shut our hearts against our brothers and sisters? How do we dare for in doing so we shut our hearts off to God who is the Very Source of our existence.

For many of us, verses 16-19 seem pretty straight forward -- I do this, I love my Christian brothers and sisters. We can think of many ways that we carry out Christ-like love to those who are like us, even those who may be outside our immediate circle, but are connected to us in the body of Christ. But are these the only folks that John is telling us we are to extend Christ-like love to? Intellectually, we may respond NO! but is this what our actions reveal about us?

I am going to venture to guess that our pericope is not just dealing with members of the Johannine community or the communities of faith to which this sermon may have been circulated or even to our various communities of faith today. Yes, we need to continue to extend Christ-like love to them, but are we called to expand our vision? As reformed - theologians - in - the - making we believe that Scripture interprets Scripture -- in technical jargon we term this midrash. Many Biblical scholars purpose that 1 John was written as midrash for The Gospel of John and would suggest 1 John must be read in light of the Gospel. The lectionary Gospel text for today is John 10: 11 -18 and it has been proposed that our pericope may, in fact, be midrash for The Good Shepherd text. We know the story, but listen to verses 14 to 16 as we reflect on just who are our brothers and sisters:

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. 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.

The point in using The Good Shepherd text, in this particular vein, is to discern what John meant by community. I think The Good Shepherd text is unambiguous. Christ has other sheep that shall be brought into his fold -- Christ will bring them in. If we, as the Church, are the Body of Christ in the world then it is our task, and should be our joy, to bring these wayward sheep into the one flock with the One Shepherd. We do this by demonstrating Christ-like love to those who lack a personal relationship with Christ. We demonstrate Christ-like love through truth and action.

Bear with me as I further this point with a selection of writings from one of our theological parents. He begins "we must be ready to do good to our neighbors with no less eagerness, ardour, and trouble than to ourselves." The question arising though is who is our neighbor, and from our text, who are our brothers and sisters? He continues "we must turn our eyes first of all not to the man himself whose appearance often elicits more of dislike than of love, but to God who demands that the love we owe Himself shall be diffused to all humanity . . . whatever the man is like, he is loved because God is loved." Many of you may recognise the writer as John Calvin -- he certainly seems mellower than I remind from Intro to Theology! So we have it on good authority from the Scriptures and Calvin that Godís command to love is extended beyond our narrow communities of faith to the whole of Godís creation.

Let me tell you about a friend of mine whose life was radically transformed by Christ- like love -- a love she wasnít expecting to find and certainly a love she wasnít planning on sharing. My friendís family had been he victim of a horrendous act of violence perpetrated against one of itís members. This womanís instinct, like many of ours would have been, was to revenge the wrong inflicted upon her loved one and her family. She was determined to track down the person who was responsible for this viciousness and, she was clear, her intentions were to murder the bastard. I realise that this is strong language and perhaps offensive to some, but these are here words and I honor them in order to show the depth of her murderous rage.

Her quest -- or a far better word maybe obsession -- led her into the world of the homeless in a major urban center. Her only focus was to find the person responsible and extract revenge. As her obsession drove her deeper into the lives of those collectively known as the "faceless homeless" she began to hear their stories -- what it was that shaped their lives and moved them into the streets, what was shaping and/or distorting their lives on the streets, and for those who were able to see a future what their hopes and dreams were. Soon, the "faceless homeless" were no longer impersonal and nameless "others" -- they had names, stories, dreams, dignity, worth and real needs. It was Christ- like love that transformed her vision giving her Christ-eyes to see these "others" as her brothers and sisters as she glimpsed Christ in them.

It was Christ-like love that transformed her heart once full of poison and hate -- seeking only after revenge -- into a heart overbrimming with Christ and a willing to forgive, as he forgives, when she came face-to-face with the person who had wronged her family. "For God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything." God used her pain and rage to push and pull her into a ministry where she could use her gifts to do Christís work among the homeless.

However, there is another dimension to her ministry which is sometimes harder for those of us who know her to handle. She is called to make known to those of us who sit comfortably in our homes the conditions of the marginalized in our society. I have come to recognise this part of her ministry not as a condemnation of those not called to ministry to the homeless or other marginalized groups, but a voice urging us not to forget that there are others not of this fold that must be brought into the one fold of the One Shepherd and this is the responsibility of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Our text continues to dispute that mere feelings, or inner experiences, are the criteria by which one is to judge a personís spirituality -- our own or anotherís. I will admit that often I hold up my spirituality against the spirituality I perceive in others and find myself lacking and I have also done the opposite. This is not the critical self-evaluation that God calls us to -- we are not to compare our spirituality or even our ability to practice Christ-like love against others; we have only to look at ourselves in light of are discernment of Godís will. God only can know the full measure of our hearts and God is not judging us on how much we do or how well we do what we do. God is concerned with the intentions that lie behind our actions -- often there are those intentions that we are even unconscious of.. I think about my friend and speculate that the intention God saw and rejoiced in when she hit the streets was not a quest for revenge, but a journey of healing.

I am in the process of reading the volume about Charles Hartshorn in the Makers of the Modern Theological Mind series. As many of you may know Dr. Hartshorn is a process thinker who taught philosophy at the University of Texas and, by the way, still lives in Austin. One of the concepts that has really struck a cord with me is his understanding of God as One who fully participates in creation. Quoting Alan Gragg who authored this volume "Hartshorn feels that one of the highest religious motivations is the desire which man may have of doing some action to bring joy to the heart of God. Moreover, when a man such as Beethoven creates new forms of beauty in the universe, his creativity make a difference to God by adding to his experience." It is an understanding of how our obedience to God and Godís commandments pleases God which should bring us comfort and assurance in our critical moments of self- evaluation. God knows our hearts and the intentions of our hearts better than we. Here is comfort and assurance for those who prayer to discern Godís will. Along with comfort and assurance there is also the promise of forgiveness if we repent and turn from those things that prevent us from keeping Godís commandments.

Everywhere we turn our culture is bombarding us with promises of where and how we can find love. The author of 1 John if writing today might respond that those who turn to culture to find a love that will give a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives are "Looking for love in all the wrong places . . ." The trivial, sentimental, romantic and psychological loves that culture offers up to us as panaceas to our search for meaning in life are transitory and fleeting at best. We know real love in Jesus Christ; it is in the event of the cross that we find love and life. We know Divine Love in the person and work of Jesus the Christ -- love that is lasting and weathers the test of time . We hear Christís call to share the Divine Love with our brothers and sisters wherever they may live for Christ has other sheep that must be brought into the fold.

Our challenge as children of God -- people of the New Covenant -- is to go where people who donít know Godís love live -- whether in our own homes, down the street, on the streets or across the world -- and share it -- not in empty words and platitudes, but in truth and action. This is our calling in life and this should be our joy in living.

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