Easter 4 – "Love In Deed and Truth" – 1 John 3:16-18 – 4/26/15

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“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

• Here’s how you know what love is. It’s “life laid down.”
• Here’s how you know when you’ve been loved and are being loved. It’s their “life laid down” FOR YOU.
• Here’s how you know when you’re loving someone else. It’s your “life laid down” for them.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

In our gospel reading, Jesus repeatedly identifies the Good Shepherd as the one who “lays down his life.”

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
And again, “I am the good shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep.”
And again, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life…”
And again, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord…”
(John 10:11,15,17,18).

Sheep need to know what ‘true love’ looks like so that they’re not taken in by the ‘the hired hand’ who only, really, actually cares about his own life. The ‘hired hand’ says, ‘you make me feel good,’ ‘you make me happy,’ ‘you’re a lot of fun to be with,’ ‘you make my heart go pitter-patter.’ ‘That’s love.’

Sounds ridiculous I know, but you’d be surprise how many sheep fall for it. Or maybe you wouldn’t.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

All ‘true love’ is cruciform love. Which means that ‘true love’ is always a ‘COSTLY THING.’ It always costs the lover his or her life.

A person’s life is his / her most precious possession. This is why MURDER is the greatest crime. And why “GREATER LOVE has no one than this, that he LAY DOWN HIS LIFE for his friends.” (John 15:13). Taking someone else’s life is a crime. Giving your life for someone else is the highest honor.

John says that all ‘true love’ COMES FROM GOD. IT DOESN’T COME NATURALLY. No one is ‘a born lover.’ First you’ve got to be loved by God before you can love one another. And if you want to know whether or not God loves you, just look at the cross. He’s laying down His life FOR THE WORLD. “For God so love THE WORLD that He gave His only Son to LAY DOWN HIS LIFE…” So unless you’re from some other world than this one, you can be sure that He has LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR YOU, and that’s what LOVE is.

To ask ‘WHY GOD LOVES YOU,’ is another topic altogether. It’s clearly not because we are so loveable, or because we make Him HAPPY or because He finds us FUN to be with. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ LAID DOWN HIS LIFE for us.” (Rom. 5:8) God LOVES YOU because He IS LOVE and this is what ‘real love’ does.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that that ‘OUGHT’ means that if you don’t love others as you’ve been loved by God that He isn’t going to love you anymore. No, it’s unconditional. But it is still an OUGHT that we OUGHT to do .

Notice also that John does not say that ‘we ought to lay down our lives for Jesus.’ Frankly, Jesus doesn’t need us to lay down our lives for him. But our neighbor does. And our neighbor may be as close to us as our own spouse and children and congregation and members of our community.

They are the ones who need ‘true love.’ And we are the ones who are UNIQUELY EQUIPPED to give it, because we know what ‘true love’ is. The world that doesn’t know Jesus Christ does know what ‘true love’ is. How could it? We only know what we have received and if we’ve only ever received ‘fake love’ that’s what we think love is. But we know ‘true love’ because we know Jesus Christ who laid down His life for us and who lives in us. “By this we know what love is…”

And so we are God’s secret agents scattered throughout the world. Through us, He is showing the world what ‘true love’ actually is.

Granted, the opportunity to LITERALLY ‘lay down our lives’ unto death for our neighbor is not something that many of us will be called upon to do. Those who serve in the military, policemen, firefighters are expected to be willing to lay down their lives unto death for others. But most of us aren’t given this opportunity.

So, John writes, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does GOD’S LOVE ABIDE IN HIM?”

You know, I find it to be very tempting to say “I would gladly lay down my life for my neighbor if the need ever arose, but really, the need has never arisen.” It is very easy for us to put ‘true love’ on such a high and lofty plain that we hardly ever have the chance to actually, really ‘love one another.”

So John brings love down from the ‘HIGH AND LOFTY’ TO THE ‘DOWN AND DIRTY.’ “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need…” If the opportunity to love by laying down our bodies unto death is RARE, the opportunity to love by laying down “the world’s goods” that we have is PLENTIFUL.

Suddenly John is sounding a lot like James. James writes, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, (John would have probably said, ‘love’) if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:16-17)

John writes, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

A good example of ‘love’ carried out ‘in deed and in truth,’ is the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter here in Waterville. It has been our privileged over the last several years to have had the opportunity to give some of the “world’s goods” that we have been given to this organization on behalf of those in need.

So Betty, I wonder if you’d be willing to come forward and tell us about the ‘love’ that is being carried out in ‘deed’ and in ‘truth’ at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter.

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