(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on May 11, 2014)
If you’ve been around me very long, you know I’m a guy who loves a metaphor.
Metaphors fit me like a glove. (See what I did there?) Actually all the English majors are going, “Dude, that’s a simile. But, you know, nice effort!”
In the New Testament, the metaphor I see most often used to flesh out how we are to live as followers of Jesus is the metaphor of taking up the cross, the metaphor of laying down our lives. Just as Jesus did on the cross, we are to do in day to day life.
This…this is not an easy metaphor to live. How do you have a life metaphor based on dying? It’s so dramatic. So over the top. It’s great for preaching, what with its inspirational, give-it-all-you-got flare…but how do you do it? Where’s the practicality? What does it look like?
We’re looking at part of 1 John chapter 3 today, and it’s got some answers…some answers that are doable.
I’m enjoying this journey through 1 John.
I’ve been reading the whole letter regularly. We want to encourage you to keep reading or start reading as we go through this together. The more I read it, the more clear the simple structure is becoming to me.
John writes so that we will know what God is like, this God who has become human flesh, whom they have seen and touched and known. God is light. God is good. God is love. God is true. God leads to right relationships and fellowship.
We’re made to live in God’s light, made to live in obedience, made to live in love with God and people. We’re made to orient everything we do and say and think around God’s goodness, love, and light. Yet there is a contrast out there, a different way, a way of darkness and sin and tension and hate.
On the macro level, 1 John shows the clear difference between living in God’s light versus stumbling in the darkness. Yet on the individual level, there’s a wonderfully rich acknowledgement that day to day life isn’t all black and white. We want to love but sometimes fail, sometimes even hate. We want to live in the light, but sometimes walk in darkness. We try not to disobey and sin, yet sometimes do.
Every time one of those failures and individual struggles comes up, God’s actions through Jesus consistently draw us toward love and light.
Jesus is our advocate and the sacrifice for our sins. God’s love follows us, pursues us, never gives up on us! And it’s an ACTIVE love. It’s love that appears. It’s love that forgives. It’s love, great love, that claims us as children, that one day will make us like Jesus.
God’s actions are practical, tangible, active expressions of love towards us. These verses we are honing in on today, verses 16-18 of chapter 3 which we read earlier, these verses focus on the heart of it all: God’s love for us was so great that it took on flesh and then sacrificed it for us.
Here’s where we are back to the beginning, the foundation of the metaphor of the cross. Clearly the metaphor is only a metaphor from our perspective. From God’s perspective, Jesus laying down his life for us was not a metaphor at all, but rather the greatest action of love in all of space and time. The ultimate love, the action which defines the best of love for the entire universe…this love is not God loving God’s self. It is not a self-focused love.
Ultimate love took on shape in a self-giving love, a self-sacrificing love. Jesus enacted perfect, ultimate love by sacrificing self in order to bring us, the other, in and transform us.
Our identity comes because of ultimate love!
Who we are…children of God, it says in 3:1…comes because of love. Who we will be…someday made just like Jesus, it says in 3:2…happens because of love. How we will act…as ones who also lay down our lives for others out of love, it says in 3:16…our actions are guided by God’s love in Christ and by Christ’s example.
So there’s the inspiration, and the metaphor for us to live by, and the coolness…and yet also the feeling of unattainability sometimes.
And then it’s clear.
You know, sometimes the bible is challenging. Sometimes trying to piece together something written in another time and another place in another language to another culture is just so hard to get to the bottom of.
But sometimes it’s just crystal clear. Transcending language and time and space, not up in the stratosphere of philosophy but just hanging out right here in the daily grind. It’s just there in hard practicality.
If you have stuff, and you see someone who is in need…the love of God inside us will obviously push us to have pity and help. Or, to phrase it as 1 John does, if you have stuff and see someone who needs stuff and you AREN’T moved to pity, are you really going to claim that God’s love is in you?
It’s a plain as day, simple, practical example of what it means to live as Christ lives, to love as God loves, to lay down your life for another. One example of sacrificial love for someone else is to see their need and meet it with what you have. This I could do! This is attainable! Laying down my life can look as practical as giving something I have to someone who needs it, in an effort to be loving as God is loving.
Then the letter goes even broader: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
This is what we most deeply long for, isn’t it?
To live with love. To rise to the occasion like Christ and sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. To not just talk a good game, but to walk the talk and live the life. To have faith be more than belief, more than an adjective, but to be seen and felt and heard by others, action and verb in our world!
This is what the world wants from the church, isn’t it? Don’t just say it, do it. Don’t be hypocrites, live it. Don’t just say I’m loved, show me.
“Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.”
This can happen in us. This can happen in us, 1 John says, because they have seen and heard and touched and known the love that was from the beginning. Jesus appeared, and he advocates for us. He made our forgiveness and transformation possible.
This can happen in us. We can love, because we ARE loved! Loved with a self-sacrificing love that makes us God’s children and will not stop working in us until one day we will be like Jesus.
We. Are. Loved. And that love does more than talk a good talk in us-it acts and loves in self-giving ways towards others.
Metaphors aside, philosophy and theology aside, complications aside, life with God is this: to live in the light of God’s love, and to let God’s love go through us to others with actions and in truth.
Let’s talk together a bit about how this can happen. Verse 17 gives one example: If any one of you has material possessions…the love of God in us will move us to act and have pity for those who do not. Sometimes this is so easy: you are thirsty and I hand you a cup of water.
Sometimes it’s a little harder: there’s only one chocolate chip cookie left and I put it in the kids’ lunch instead of eating it myself. Sometimes it’s much more challenging: giving up a couple lattes a week so that you can sponsor a child. Loaning money through Kiva so that a woman across the world can start a business. Buying a box of school supplies for a kid who can’t afford it at Edwards Elementary.
Let’s start by brainstorming some more of what we have. Verse 17 says “If any one of you has material possessions”, and virtually all of us do. What are some of the other things or commodities we have, other resources we have that might become tangible acts of love in our world? [ASK]
The other part of this is “sees a brother or sister in need.”
What are some actions you have done in the past that help you to better “see” the needs around you? What helps you open your eyes to notice the needs you might meet with tangible acts of love? [ASK]
Finally, what are some of the needs you notice? What needs grab at your heart and do cause you to be moved with pity, moved by God’s love? [ASK]
I think these sorts of conversations, simple as they are to have, help us move toward what we’ve said we most deeply long for.
This is how we live with love and walk the talk: notice what we have. Pay attention so we don’t miss the needs around us. Give sacrificially, knowing and trusting that we are loved by God whose love knows no lack.
May we be people who love with actions and in truth. May we be people whom God’s love is transforming. May we lay down our lives for one another. This is the heart of living with God.