April 29, 2012
I. The recent news story of how Marie Bell donated a kidney to Marshall Smith, the father of one of her kindergarten students, is at once inspiring and gulp evoking. Donating organs is not on any teacher’s job description. Since it can only be done once, you better be sure you made the right choice, and be sure you can live with the possibility, however remote, that you might need it years later.
A. When they got the word that they were a match, Marshall Smith exclaimed, “Everything matches! I mean, every single thing she has done has come out to be a match. That’s God-sent. … I didn’t think God made people like her anymore.”
B. When she was asked why she did this, Marie Bell said, he “needed me. I was going to answer that call. … I just did what was right. … I’m slightly sore but spiritually strong.”
C. More often than not those who are recognized as heroes dismiss their self-sacrifice with “I just did what anyone would have done.” Or “I was just doing my job.” Or like Marie Bell, “I just did what was right.”
II. To love with God’s love is to lay down your life for someone else.
A. We read this three different times from three different angles in John’s New Testament writing.
1. In John 10:11 Jesus said that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Unlike the hired hand who runs away when the sheep are threatened, because they are not his, the Good Shepherd loves the sheep, and the sheep belong to the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd stands in harm’s way to protect the sheep. Illustrating his redemptive mission, Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd.
2. In John 15:13 when Jesus had his last talk with his disciples on Maundy Thursday evening, he told them, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus wanted them, and us, to understand the significance of his crucifixion that came the next day.
3. We read this morning in 1 John 3:16 that we know love because Jesus “laid down his life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Jesus is not only the teacher and example of love, he is how we know love and how we are able to love. Jesus defines and embodies love.
B. 1 John 3:17 gives us practical directions for love by which we 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?” From the perspective of faith, James 2:15-16 reinforces the same principle. “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” An authentic spiritual life, authentic faith, authentic love will of necessity be expressed in compassionately providing for the practical needs of others.
1. The translation “refuses to help” is much weaker and less graphic than the literal Greek, which would be more like to close up one’s innards or guts. It implies shutting down human emotions and empathy. It has the strength of Lady Macbeth’s speech as she prepared to murder Duncan, her husband’s rival for the throne. (Act I, scene V)
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts! unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief!
2. Also the translation “world’s goods” is a little too limiting. Literally it means, life of the world. This certainly includes money and possessions but goes beyond that to say that if we have Jesus’ life-giving, life-sustaining love, we cannot withhold it from others. You may remember that when Peter and John saw the lame beggar at the Temple gate they said they had no money but would give what they had, which was physical healing.
C. When several of the presidential candidates’ tax returns were recently released to the public, the charitable giving line appropriately got a lot of attention. Though Mitt Romney’s were not released yet, based on previous years commentators projected that they would show he gave a tithe to the Mormon Church and almost an equal amount to other charities. Without implying any political opinion or assessment of the Mormon Church or other of the other causes he supports, I would wish that all who seek public office were similarly generous and suggest that would make the debate over publically supported social services much less contentious. Practically laying down our lives for others is not limited to life threatening heroics and financial generosity, as powerful as those might be.
1. We lay down our lives for each other when we give the time and effort to provide personally for someone at a point of need. Between Thursday’s Elders’ meeting and other conversations I have had with some of you this week, I’ve heard of at least a dozen such gifts of love in this congregation this week. If I were to name a few, I’d embarrass some people and skip others, so I’ll leave it for you to think of those you know about.
2. Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to lay down our lives for someone is to listen with attention and empathy. Our presence becomes the presence and love of Jesus when we give up hurry and busy to listen. The most powerful way to show someone how important they are is to waste time with them.
3. Perhaps the hardest way of laying down our lives for each other is to give up our personal preferences for the benefit of others. Can you feel and express thanks to those who prepared a church dinner that included your least favorite foods on the menu? In worship can you sing with enthusiasm songs and hymns that are not your style to be in harmony with the congregation to praise God? When your new pastor comes, can you joyfully support new ministry approaches even if you are uncomfortable with them?
III. Acts 4:5-12 opens a window into how, from the earliest days of the Church, God’s love overflowed as the first Christians laid down their lives for others. Last week we listened in on Peter’s sermon as people in the Temple came running to see the lame beggar who had been healed. About 5,000 people put their faith in Jesus that day. The Temple leaders perceived this as a threat to the sanctity of the Temple and to their authority. Since it was already evening, they arrested Peter, John and the man who had been healed to hold them overnight.
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed,10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
A. While Peter’s sermon is what seemed to have provoked their arrest, remember that this started out with a simple response to the practical, physical need of an insignificant beggar. The love of God was not taught as a doctrine, it was lived as practical compassion for a person in need.
B. In English we miss the word-play as Luke wrote the story in Greek. In the Temple court, they may have been speaking Hebrew as the official language or Aramaic, which was the common language. So we don’t know how this came off in the conversation, but the Greek word for healed and saved are the same – sozo. It may have worked in Hebrew because the word shalom has a similar depth of meaning for peace, wholeness, blessing, salvation. But to get the impact of the story we need to realize that Peter is not speaking narrowly about going to heaven after death.
1. Sozo means physical healing, which is what the lame man received in the name of Jesus.
2. Sozo means spiritual wholeness, which is being at peace with both God and yourself – in your heart as we read in 1 John 3 this morning.
3. Sozo can also mean escape from death. Often that meant living a good long life, not meeting a premature death. As hope in the resurrection blossomed, it came to mean a hope for eternal life.
C. Peter may not have been fully aware of the consequences of healing the lame man, preaching in the Temple and claiming the name of Jesus in court. Yet he was laying down his life for the man who had been healed.
1. Peter’s quote identifying Jesus as the stone the builders rejected comes from Psalm 118, the same Psalm that was chanted when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus quoted this same line in the parable of the wicked tenants that he told after driving the merchants and money changers out of the Temple (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). All of that took place just a few months earlier. Now the same Psalm was being used again in another disruption of the Temple order. First by Jesus and now in the name of Jesus.
2. With his boldness before the council Peter was laying down his life in love, not only for the man who had been healed but in the name of Jesus, who was the source of that love.
IV. In John 3:23 to believe and to love are a single command. We do not earn or even prove our faith by our love, but when God’s love is in us, it will come out as we lay down our lives for others in practical compassion.
A. Criticizing others or condemning ourselves for inadequate love is all too easy, but 1 John 3:20-21assures us that that God knows our hearts better than we do. God recognizes the love that God has put there through Jesus.
B. When we abide in God with faith and love together, we have confidence with God.
1. Like Peter’s boldness before the council, we will be bold in practical compassion.
2. We will be bold in prayer and intimacy with God.
C. Whether the news is about bullying, gangs, fight clubs or cheerleader tryouts, the signs of hunger for authentic love are all around us. Counterfeits do a lot of damage. Shallow substitutes are ultimately unsatisfying. As communities of people who lay down their lives for others, churches are beacons of authentic, satisfying love to the people of the 21st century, right here in Duncanville.