Reconciliation Otherward – bringing the flock together.
1 John 3: 16-24 Sermon April 25, 2021
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
John wrote these words in his letter – our first reading for today from 1 John. In essence, his letter is a commentary on and elaboration of his Gospel message – specifically the text we also hear today – about the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
These two passages both speak – in no uncertain terms – to God’s commandment to love one another.
Looking at this commandment through the lens of today’s sermon series focus – God’s “reconciliation otherward.”, we ask… In this season of resurrection, what does it look like for us to become God’s reconciliation with our neighbors? How can we reconcile in love with the other?
And not just our neighbor whom we already know…but also loving our neighbor, the other…
The neighbor at the margins…the neighbor who is suffering… the neighbor who needs and deserves our love. The sheep who have strayed, been lost, injured…All are welcome… The Good Shepherd models for us inclusiveness of the whole flock…extending love to our neighbors.
How do we manage this?
What is God calling us to BE?
Perhaps more to the point… what is God calling us to DO?
The answer to all these questions can be LOVE.
The image of the Good Shepherd with his flock – a flock that is expansive, inclusive and welcoming to all – from wherever any have strayed. The word ‘Good’ in this text is not what first comes to mind in the way we typically use it. A good person or a good story…– John intentionally uses Good in the sense of meaning “model”. Jesus is modeling for us – showing us how to love one another…how to take care of others. Like a shepherd cares for his sheep.
This is a very familiar story…
We see how the Shepherd takes care of all….his flock and those who have strayed. In fact, the Shepherd is most concerned about those who have lost their way. He wants to bring everyone into his flock. He does not want to leave anyone out of his protective care.
We too, are called especially to those who are lost…to bring them back into the fold of LOVE.
Love is more than a feeling. It is more than words.
Love is manifested through action…
I will always remember my mother’s words to me when I was helping take care of her towards the end of her life…
One day, I spontaneously said to her – I LOVE YOU.
And my mother…who was not a church goer or particularly religious, answered – “I KNOW YOU DO – FROM YOUR ACTIONS”
I have cherished those words… they gave me comfort after she died.
Loving isn’t always easy. There are those we know or know of who are challenging to love – testing us in our faith and obedience to God. But we are called to love one another.
There is a second commandment that John gives on behalf of Jesus… and
it is far more challenging…
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 to help?
He wants us to go so far as to lay down our lives for one another.
I cringe at this command… lay down my life – lose my life…for others?!? Is this the price we must pay as Christians?
With the exception of for my three children, I’m not courageous enough to choose that willingly. And that is what Christ did – he willingly gave up his life for the sake of others. Through out his Gospel, John emphasizes Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life…
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
In writing this sermon, I was forced to not look away – as I have generally done my entire life……I try to honestly understand the phrase “lay down one’s life”. What is God calling me to do? What is he calling each of us to do?
The Father loves me because I lay down my life in order to take it up again…
That is what Jesus did…
What does taking my life up again mean for me? Is it about transformation?
I do not think Jesus wants all his followers to literally die for the sake of others – as he did. But he might seek our transformation.
We can transform if we follow Christ. We lose our former lives – putting others’ needs over ourselves. We are called to go beyond our biological survival human nature for the sake of the needs of others, reconciling with our neighbor.
One biblical commentary described laying down one’s life in this way:
“Laying down ones life means to open one’s heart to the needs that are visible in this world… The deed of love is:
1)the opening of the heart
2)the sharing of goods and services, and
3) the activity of making an honest and truthful connection that is not in words only.”
I don’t think laying down one’s life is meant in the way Nancy Pelosi, unfortunately, expressed on Tuesday. As you might know, she thanked George Floyd for sacrificing his life for justice!
Perhaps her comment reflects a somewhat misguided reflection of her Roman Catholic theology of suffering and sacrifice. I shouldn’t judge… but her words struck me.
We are called to literally lose our lives for the sake of justice. We are called to transform our world for the sake of God’s justice.
Thankfully, she later clarified what she meant – She acknowledged the fact that George Floyd’s horrifying death was not his choice but it will hopefully be the catalyst that leads to systemic change in our racist society. The change is hopeful…His death was tragic…
Not to be too political, but I also heard Vice President Harris speak about George Floyd…And I think she is closer to the idea of laying down our lives for others…
‘We are all a part of George Floyd’s legacy and it is now our job to honor his legacy and to honor him …It is not ok to be a bystander. We must work towards justice!’
I think this is more in line with Jesus’ command to love one another and lay down one’s life for others.
… “WE are all a part of George Floyd’s legacy” –
This is important…In witnessing his hate-filled murder by societal authorities… we must all respond with action, working towards systemic change. It is not ok to be a bystander!, says the VP. We are called to work towards justice.’ We are called to loving actions.
The St Marks community is filled with ministries for social change.
Yesterday, I attended the WIN meeting regarding the use of land in ward 6 and 7… and I was so impressed. I think there were 200 people – many from St Marks – in person or on zoom – who joined in – with determination and resolve – to ensure that this property be available for those without.
I’ll end with John’s words from earlier…
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in TRUTH and ACTION..
We can work on that and trust that it will bring reconciliation with God and with our neighbor.
Let us love towards justice… reaching out to our neighbors – including the ‘other”.
Perhaps particularly for the other. As the Good Shepherd models for us.
I invite you to think about how you envision yourself loving the other through action…There are endless opportunities.