What would you say?
In just a few hours, 33 9th graders, who are affirming their faith at their Confirmation this afternoon, will share their belief statements before our online congregation and their in-person immediate family members. Many of our confirmands’ statements will hold words of faith, mixed with doubt. We will hear our own faith and doubt in what they say.
So, let me ask you as a Christian, if you were to give a defining statement about your faith in Jesus Christ, what would you say?
Maybe a starting point for all of us would sound this: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for us and was raised from the dead. That fact about Jesus – about his laying down his life for us – is not just a model for how we are to live our lives. Jesus is so much more than a mere example to us.
When we confess that Jesus laid down his life for us and was raised from the dead, we are confessing that by his death and resurrection, Jesus became our source from which our life is drawn. Our lives now find their well-spring in what Jesus did for us. Laying down his life and being raised from the dead – these are the central acts of Jesus. Those actions of Jesus have become our empowerment.
Love One Another
In 1st John today ( 1 John 3:16-24), we hear a repeat of Jesus’ command for us to love one another as he loved us. One Christian commentator reflected on what being commanded to love means. He gave it a modern twist writing, “strictly speaking one cannot actually be commanded to love. One can command a dog to obey or command a computer to print. But love springs from a different source. According to the author of 1 John that source is the reciprocal relation(ship) between Jesus and the community he gave himself for. As Christ laid down his life for us, we sacrifice ourselves for others. In such sacrificial love, Christ abides in us and we in him. (“A River Ride with 1 John: Texts of the Easter Season”, ROBERT M. BRUSIC, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, Word & World, 1997)
In today’s gospel, Jesus illustrates his deep abiding relationship to us by comparing himself to a good shepherd in relation to his sheep. The shepherd is everything to the sheep. He is the source of their life and safety. He is their protector and guide. He has a vested personal concern for the sheep because they are HIS flock. They belong to him. By his actions, the shepherd is even willing to save the sheep by laying down his life for them, if that’s what is needed.
1st John now asks us—as those who live in a post-resurrection world—how will we live out our faith in this one who did lay down his life for us?
Christian faith is about extending what we have received from our shepherd, and putting that belief into action. God’s love through Jesus is a compelling force that not only comes TO us, but works through us. Christianity is about doing as much as it is about believing. They go together. One can’t be separated from the other.
We Christians are called to be the channels through which Jesus Christ seeks to build lasting and saving relationships with everyone in the world. To that end, Theresa of Avila famously declared, “Christ has no body on earth, but ours”. This is what 1st John wanted believers in Jesus to understand. When we truly extend Jesus’ love into the world, we Christians embody the actions of Jesus. We become willing to sacrifice ourselves. We may never literally lay down our own lives, but we become willing to sacrifice our time and energy, our comfort, and our privilege for the good of the “other”. It is then – in those SELF-GIVING actions – that we are living out the overwhelming loving grace of God that WE’VE experienced ourselves through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
That’s our challenge as present-day Christians. Living in truth and action. And it’s a big challenge indeed.
The Good Shepherd
Perhaps practicing our faith in truth and action finds more of its footing in the gospel. Consider again the comparison of the Good Shepherd to the hired hand. A hired hand – is compensated for his work. A shepherd, on the other hand, knows the sheep belong to him. He digs into that belonging and doesn’t abandon the flock when things get tough. The good shepherd is completely invested in his relationship to the flock. A hired hand has the potential to lack commitment. A hired hand is doing his work to make a living, yes, but because he’s paid for his work, he can quit at any time. He can walk away from the relationship at any point he chooses.
What does it look like when the church acts out of shepherd love instead of hired hand love? What if the church would act toward others who are nearby – whose needs we see – with this same kind of ‘digging in”, refusal to abandon, and the determination to help people know they belong – kind of love?
Truth + Action
This is love demands no return. It is a love that will not let a needy sister or brother go without help. This is the kind of love practiced by saints who have gone before us and by ordinary disciples like you and me.
This love in truth and action looks like putting aside our own wants to do what we can to meet the needs of others, to share the burden, to alleviate pain and suffering — when and where we can. It means looking at one’s glass as always full enough to share, to not hold everything only for ourselves.
To give of Christ’s love in truth and action means that as this faith community, we work at the hard parts of being together and staying together. It may mean keeping respectful dialogue going with each other even, when we disagree. Listening to each other instead of demanding that its “my way or the highway” and walking off like a hired-hand. We might need to hold our tongue for the good of the body. Or we may need to finally speak up.
To offer Christ’s love in truth and action means we keep learning of the physical needs of our neighbors who most struggle to get by — and continuing to assist in meeting those needs —by offering food and clothing, providing some assistance for rental stability, advocating for justice for those from whom it has been withheld, and offering compassion to those who have not previously received that kind of tender care.
If we allow it, the love and grace of God that we’ve received in relationship to Jesus, can so fill us that we are able to pour ourselves out for others without worrying that there won’t be enough love (or anything else, for that matter) left for us.
So, let’s continue to hear 1st John’s challenge to us: “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.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.