Easter Living: A Journey with the First Letter of John 1 John 3:16-24
Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ April 22, 2018
Our family were out with my daughter earlier this week celebrating the end of her university semester exams. And as stressful as we might recall it being to sit in a gymnasium with 300 or so other students writing exams, I think there is something even worse. There is the dreaded ‘pop quiz’. The test that comes along that you are not prepared for. The professor opens the lecture telling you to put away your books and computers and says “I have a pop quiz planned today”. And all of a sudden, a lump develops in the back of your throat.
Things happen in front of us every day, and we are required to choose how we will react. What action, or what inaction, will we take? The decision is ours. I was thinking of this decision we face when I, along with many of you, were learning of the tragic event of Southwest Airlines flight 1380 that occurred earlier this week. The plane’s left engine exploded and a piece of shrapnel pierced the window flying into the cabin striking several passengers. With an open window, the plane began to depressurize. And then the most horrifying thing proceeded to occur: the negative air pressure began to pull the passenger seated nearest the open window out of the plane. Jennifer Riordan, a mother of two, was being sucked out of the plane towards her death. What would you have done if you were on that plane witnessing that horrifying event? What a situation to be in…Two people immediately responded: Andrew Needum and Tim McGinty, fellow passengers came to Jennifer’s rescue and began pulling her back into the cabin. Once in the cabin, a fellow passenger took off her oxygen mask and gave it to Jennifer. The plane made an emergency landing in Philadelphia; however, the shrapnel had inflicted such damage, that Jennifer Riordan later was pronounced dead at the hospital. Yet, what a tragedy; what an attestation to the capacity of people’s nature of helping others in their time of need.
What would we have done in that situation? These are the kind of questions we ask ourselves, aren’t they? How would I respond when facing a profoundly challenging situation? We know that speaking up and speaking out for the good of people is risky ~ they can be risky for our profession, risky for our relationships, risky for our economics. We might think back 40 years and remember Oscar Romero who was the Archbishop of San Salvador. Romero spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture only to be assassinated in 1980 while he was presiding over the communion table offering mass to his parishioners. We think back a few decades later, to the days of the civil rights movement with people like Martin Luther King. We wonder how we would have lived when facing such a challenge. Would we preach the “I have a dream” sermon in 1963 and later be assassinated five years later. We might think of Mother Teresa who worked painstakingly through much of the last century in India founding the Missionaries of Charity caring for people dying of HIV / AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, offering food, comfort and companionship. Interestingly, the vows taken by the members of the society she founded take an additional vow beyond chastity, poverty and obedience. They also profess a fourth vow: to give “wholeheartedly free service to the poorest of the poor”. Or we might think of today’s designation of earth day and consider what sacrifices and changes we need to make in our lifestyle for the better of our planet as we consider the needs of the future generations.
In life, we face many situations and we need to make the decision of how we will respond. In the Christian faith, we think about Jesus’ response to the violent and oppressive ways of Rome and his free offering of giving his life. Given as a sign and symbol of his absolute love for us and providing an opportunity for God to transform even the ways of death, birthing them into new realities, new ways of life for us all. There is a distinct difference for us; however, as followers of Jesus. We are not called, I don’t think, to lay down our lives and die for people, as Jesus demonstrated. We are called as followers of Jesus, to lay aside our immediate needs and respond to people in need from the abundant resources of our lives. As we have discussed, these three letters of John are understood to be somewhat of a commentary on the Gospel of John because they are written to the community who predominantly integrated John’s gospel as they sought to be followers of the Way. And in John’s gospel, the two big themes were firstly a call to belief and secondly a call to love. John’s gospel called Jesus’ followers to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and to love one another as Jesus had taught them to love. And this later half of the third chapter spells out how we are to love one another. “Beloved, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”. It is the same challenge Jesus taught in Matthew’s parable of the two sons working in the vineyard. The first refused to go, but later agreed and went to work. The second says he will go, but never actually shows up to do the work. The first son loved his father in the following of his commands; whereas, the second son, only paid the father’s command lip service. (Mt. 21) “Beloved, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”. It is that same kind of response the disciples give when Jesus instructs them to feed a massive crowd with only a few loaves and a few fish. They respond without hesitation, they go and do. “Beloved, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”. What we find in this text is that love is revealed in action, not just in words offered. Love is revealed in God’s action of sending Jesus. Love is revealed in Christ’s action in laying down his life. And the question becomes asked of us: how will we respond in living out our lives in ways of love and service. I once heard a powerful stewardship analogy given by a speaker. She was speaking about the need for funds to achieve a ministry project they were committed to. She said: “I have great news! We have all the money that we need to achieve our goal and move forward on this ministry project. But I also have bad news. The money is still in all of our pockets.” And this applies to all components of how we respond in loving service ~ money is just one of a ways we exchange time for currency in our modern world. We have all the time, all the talents, and all of the treasure we need to change the world. Everything is within us. We have it. We just need to release it. Sharing God’s love with the world! “Beloved, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”
My first ministry was in the days where they “settled” ministers as a condition to their ordination. You needed to agree to be sent to a church somewhere in Canada ~ generally they would be a pastoral charge that would not receive any applications upon their vacancy. My classmates and I were dispersed widely across and I was ordained and settled in the ministry of downtown Prince George. As a ‘green’ minister, I received my real education there. Not in seminary. I met some amazing church people; the heart and soul of that community. And I met some people that were the heart and soul of that community. One person I met was named “Cowboy Bob” ~ a retired police officer and a committed Christian. I first met him on an wintery Sunday morning when I was in my study getting ready for service. He saw my light on and pounded on the door ~ nothing was subtle about this man. I answered the door and there was this big towering man with a long pony tail, winter coat and his ‘signature’ cowboy hat. “You the new pastor?” He came in and, over the coming weeks we struck up quite a friendship. He had made it his personal mission to go up and down the back alleys and streets and check on people to make sure they were OK. All the sex trade workers knew him, as did the pub owners, as did the first responders. Over the years, Cowboy Bob had pulled drug addicts out of the snowbanks, who had passed out and would have died of hypothermia. He had tipped his hat at many people, reminding them they were safe. Cowboy Bob was a good cowboy. In my second year of ministry at Knox United, Cowboy Bob confessed to me something about his faith. He said that he had never been baptized. And so, on Easter Sunday that year, it was my deep honour to baptize this man who God had blessed for service in the world. “Beloved, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”
Today is “Earth Day” and I suspect that we all have our own understanding of what it means to consider the needs of the planet and those of the future generations. But what this day accomplishes, is the further of dialogue on this topic among the diverse array of voices in our community. This day, too, is a day that calls for action: “Beloved, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”. I admired my friend who wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau recently. She wrote a heartfelt letter and backed her words up with action writing: “Dear Prime Minister, I heard you addressing the French Government about our responsibility to care for the world based on scientific fact. I implore you to take your own advice when it comes to the Kinder Morgan expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.” She proceeded to explain her beliefs on the pipeline and concluded noting how her family had installed solar panels on their home earlier this year and switched over to driving an electric car. While I suspect there will be a range of thoughts on this, what I think scripture is calling us to is towards a love for others, a love for the planet that is lived out not just in our words but in our actions. “Beloved, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”.
500 years ago, at the time of the Protestant Reformation, there was a vigorous debate about what was required for salvation. The Reformers brought forth the theological belief that faith alone was what allowed one to be fully connected with God. But, as we are exploring this morning, faith can never exist alone. Faith and the expression of a lived love are inextricably bound. When God nurtures a deep faith in our hearts, God also creates an equal capacity for an active love as well. We will likely not be called upon to pull a person out of a plane window or to speak at a rally that will lead to our assassination; yet, we will face a myriad of ‘pop quizzes’ throughout the course of our lifetime. Calls to live our love in responsible, caring and faithful ways.
“Beloved, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”.
May it be so.