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. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him
whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
1 John 3:16-24
My sermon from the 4th Sunday of Easter (April 22, 2018) on 1 John 3:16-24. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
So on Tuesday, I discovered just how waterproof my rainboots are. My boots, if you haven’t seen them, are pretty much the only water resistant shoes I own. I’m pretty picky when it comes to what I wear so when I find shoes I like, I wear them until their bottoms literally fall off. That means, when there’s even a hint of rain or water outside, I bust out my trusty boots. They’re thick, with a heavy heel, banana yellow in color, and come up to the middle of my calf. They usually work great…but Tuesday was a different story. My family and I were visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore on the one good weather day we had. Since it rained the day before and the temperature was hovering around 40, we bundled up in our winter coats and our rainboots and headed to the beach. I had the bright idea to hike 2 miles along the beach to visit a lighthouse. That hike went as well as could be expected since my unrealistic expectations and unrestrained optimism ran head first into the reality of taking a 3 year old and a 5 year old on a very physical hike. We didn’t make it very far before we got stuck in a tide pool. The ocean waves were pounding the beach, sending the water inland. The pool, at first, didn’t look very deep but a few steps into it, and we suddenly sank. I soon had two very wet kids and some very wet socks because the water came up to my knees, pouring over the top of my boots, and filling them up. When we finally managed to get out of the tide pool, I took off my boots and poured the water out of them. I slipped the, back on only to hear a large squick every time I took a step. My family decided to head back to our warm, and very dry, airbnb but I decided to press on, towards that lighthouse. I found a way through the tide pool, and headed along the sandy shore, with each step going squick. After about a half mile of this, I noticed my boots filling up again with water. Each step I took was squeezing the water out of my socks. But since the water couldn’t go out, it just stayed in my water tight boots. Every step I took meant more squicks as the loose sand on the beach made my feet sink, causing each step to be harder than the one before it. These boots, designed to bring me comfort and protection so that I could engage the world with dry feet, ended up trapping me in miserable wetness to the point where each step was a struggle that I didn’t, necessarily, want to take.
Today is our 3rd week in the first letter of John. We’ve already seen how this letter isn’t really a letter – it’s more a statement of what the letter writer believes. Some kind of split in their community, based on different understandings of Jesus himself, has caused the larger, more successful part of their church, to leave. What remained behind was the smaller group, the ones that wrote this letter, trying to get the larger group to come back. But at the same time, the author of 1 John affirmed that the Jesus we know: who lived a human life and ended up nailed to a cross – that Jesus is truly God’s Son. Jesus can’t be split into two different parts – into a human side and a divine. He is 100% one of us, and at the same time, 100% God. His entire life mattered. His death mattered. And his resurrection mattered too. To know Jesus is to embody and live out his whole entire story. So that means our life should love and help and make sacrifices for others just like he did. And we’re told told this every single day because God’s love never takes a break.
Which sounds, from our human point of view, as an utterly exhausting way to live. Each one of us woke up this morning with things we have to do. There’s the basic stuff, like eating, and the other things we do or have done for us, to cover the bare minimum of our human living. Some of us are working today or getting ready to go back to work tomorrow. Others are figuring out who will take which kid to practice, who will shop for food for the week, who will try to get their taxes finished before their extension expires, and who will visit their parents, knowing that they might have to say goodbye. It’s amazing how things, sort of, just pile, drowning us in all that we need to do. And then there are still more of us, feeling lonely or scared or worried, who wished we had a longer to-do list to distract us from our feelings. The complexity of everyday living is tiring all on its own. So it can feel overwhelming when our faith seems to be asking us to do one more thing. It’s like, if on our daily to do list, we had to write “be Jesus to everyone” on it each and everyday. Our faith, this living and breathing and evolving relationship with Jesus, can bring us comfort, peace, and a sense of purpose but it also, at the very same time, demands a lot from us. The flip side of faith is that faith itself, this force that causes us to trust God, is a gift that God freely gives us…but it’s also a gift that compels us to become something new that loves like Jesus can. Faith, which can protect and guide us as we wade through the sinking sands and tide pools of our lives, can also overwhelmed us when crisis, busyness, worry, and our everyday reality cause us to feel trapped, lost, confused, and wondering where is God right now? When the comforts of faith collide with the demands of faith, we can feel trapped in the sinking sand, unsure if we even want to take our next forward step.
Which is why 1 John says we should – because when we live out the life of faith, we discover the faith we already have. Faith doesn’t ask us to add one more thing to our to do list. Faith asks us to reorient the list we already have by recommitting ourselves each and everyday to that Jesus who has already committed himself to us. When we love like Jesus, when we examine all our doings and decide to root them in God’s only Son, we not only show others who we know Jesus to be but we also reveal, to ourselves, that we truly are God’s children. We might not always believe that or we might doubt that this Jesus matters. But what we do in our everyday life reveals to each of us the identity we were given at our baptism. We were made followers of Jesus. We made faithful and faith-filled. And we are, even today, loved. When we see clearly how much God loves us, how much Jesus on the Cross was meant for you and for me, the easier it becomes for us to love: to see the needs of this world and give our gifts, our resources, and even our lives so that others can thrive. A confident faith doesn’t mean that we will wade through life fully protected from the struggles, harms, and challenges that life will bring us. A confident faith, above all, holds on to our identity as beloved children of God, so that even in those moments when our faith is overwhelmed, flooded with anxiety and doubt so that our next steps feel heavy, hard, squishy and full of the unknown, we still know we aren’t alone. And then, even when we are afraid, we can then love and serve like Jesus because Jesus never stops loving and serving us.