Living In The Light When The World Is Dark: Part III – Action

God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out on us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that our hearts and minds may be opened. Amen.

1 John 3:16-24

16 This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?

18 Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 19 This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence. 20 Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have confidence in relationship to God. 22 We receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us. 24 The person who keeps his commandments remains in God and God remains in him; and this is how we know that he remains in us, because of the Spirit that he has given to us.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Our actions speak louder than our words.

A young man wrote this to his girlfriend. “Sweetheart, if this world were as hot as the Sahara desert, I would crawl on my knees through the burning sand to come to you. If the world was like the Atlantic Ocean, I would swim through shark infested waters to come to you. I would fight the fiercest dragon to be by your side. I will see you on Thursday if it doesn’t rain.”

This young man had very bold and loving words for his sweetheart.  But if it rains on Thursday, and he doesn’t show up, what do his words mean?  Our actions speak louder than words, don’t they?

This week a former DARE officer was arrested for possession of narcotics.  His job used to be going inside Jacksonville schools warning children about the dangers of narcotics. But this week, investigators say, during a drug bust, he was caught doing the very thing he told children never to do.   Which speak louder? His words or his actions?

We can say, “I love you,” all day long.  But if our actions are inconsistent with our words – which would you believe?  The truth of our love is revealed by our actions.  Today’s scripture says: “Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.”

Today, we are continuing our study of 1 John.  In week 1, we talked about the idea that God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all.  We talked about the idea that the world and our lives are full of pollution – things that keep us apart from God – sin that keeps us separated from God.  We read in 1 John chapter 1, that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin and that the sin is forgotten immediately by God – that it is as far as the east is from the west.  (See 1 John 1 and Psalm 102).

We learned last week in 1 John 3 that we are truly children of God, and when we accept the relationship that God offers us through Jesus, we become adopted as part of God’s family.  And we thought about the idea that as we grow closer to Christ, as we reflect on Christ, we become like Jesus – we begin to reflect the image of our new family into the world.  We begin to shine the light of God into the dark world as we bear the fruit of the spirit that the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

And today, we are going to talk specifically about how the fruit of God’s spirit is made real in the dark world – through our actions. These fruit Paul talks about aren’t just abstract ideas – they are a way of living that others can witness.

We see from our scripture today that part of the fruit that we bear, part of our reflection of God’s light in the world is when we love our brothers and sisters.  But the love that today’s scripture talks about is a love that is not just in words and speech, but by our actions and truth.  And when our actions show that we love, that we truly love, we are reflecting God’s light into the darkest places.

Since the very beginning, followers of Jesus have drawn others to God through their actions.  Writing about 125 AD near the time that 1 John was written, a Christian philosopher by the name of Aristides looked at Christians in action and described them this way:

“They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that has distributes liberally to him that has not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him, as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the spirit and in God; but when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him. And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.”

(From a sermon by Freddy Fritz, Concerning the Collection – Part 4, 5/12/2012).

Verse 17 of today’s text asks this question: “If a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?

Samuel Bradburn, an associate of John Wesley, was highly  respected by his friends and used by God as an effective preacher. On one occasion he was in desperate financial need. When Wesley learned of his circumstances, he sent him the following letter:

“Dear Sammy: ‘trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.’ Yours affectionately, John Wesley.” Attached to the letter was a 5-pound note (then worth about $10).

Bradburn’s reply was prompt. “Rev. and Dear Sir: I have often been struck with the beauty of the passage of Scripture quoted in your letter, but I must confess that I never saw such a useful ‘expository note’ attached to it before.”

Someone has said, “Pious talk can’t take the place of helpfulness.” If John Wesley had only preached to his desperate friend Bradburn and not sent along the gift of money, how shallow the words might have been!  It was the action of love that spoke louder.  It was the sacrifice that showed the love of God when Bradburn’s finances were dark.  To profess faith in Christ as Savior and Lord but ignore the needs of fellow believers is inconsistent.  In the book of James we read that true faith translates into compassion in action. The best commentary on our faith is our actions.  (From a sermon by Dennis Davidson, Authentic Faith Works, 10/26/2009)

Because our actions speak louder than our words.

But I want to call you deeper into this text.  Yes, we are called to give to those in need, just as the scripture says.  But I think there is a deeper message for you to ponder.  I think there is a deeper level of love God calls us to.  And honestly, it is uncomfortable to think about this.  These words take us to a whole new meaning – and a whole new level of sacrifice, I think.  The text says:

“This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

This is the love of sacrifice.  Don’t you think all true love involves sacrifice?  I do.  I think all true love involves some level of sacrifice.  All true love involves putting ourselves last and another first. True love means we give our time, our money, our efforts for another.  True love means laying our lives down, so that another’s life can come first.

This idea of laying down our lives for another doesn’t mean simply writing a check for a food pantry or for Imagine No Malaria.  I really think it’s more than that!  Aristedes from 125 AD didn’t say, “Wow, these Christians really give a lot of money away!”  Instead, he said, “these Christians are amazing because they pay attention to one another; they care for one another; they put others before themselves.”  This week, part of your weekly challenge is to think about what “laying down your life” could possibly mean in your everyday, walking around town life.

Laying down our lives occurs in many small ways on a daily basis, but sometimes laying down our lives might mean something really big and life changing – even world-changing.  And this kind of true love 1 John talks about might even mean literally laying our lives down for our brothers and sisters.

Some of you have heard and read about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  And I share with you the story of his life and death.

The History Channel said this: Two days after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a lecturer at Berlin University, took to the radio and denounced Nazi leadership principles.

Bonhoeffer’s broadcast was cut off before he could finish.

Shortly thereafter, he moved to London to pastor a German congregation, while also giving support to the Confessing Church movement in Germany.  The Confessing Church was a declaration by Lutheran and evangelical pastors and theologians that they would not have their churches taken over by the Nazi government for the purposes of spreading Nazi propaganda. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1935 to run a seminary for the Confessing Church; the government closed it in 1937. Bonhoeffer’s continued vocal objections to Nazi policies resulted in his losing his freedom to lecture or publish. He soon joined the German resistance movement, and even the plot to assassinate Hitler.

Writer John Inderman says that in June 1939, Bonhoeffer was in the United States and while here had been offered a post through Union Theological Seminary.  The job would have allowed him to remain in the United States, free and safe from the by now dominating control of Nazism not only over the German state but also the German church.              Earlier, in Advent of 1937, he had authored and published what has become a classic of Christian spirituality titled “The Cost of Discipleship.”

Perhaps the weight of his own arguments in that book persuaded Bonhoeffer that his place as a disciple was back in Germany, working for the Confessing Church.  Bonhoeffer actively resisted the Nazi regime, leading to his arrest and imprisonment in 1943.  On Sunday, April 8, 1945, immediately after leading a prayer service, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was taken away and hung the following morning.  He was 39 years old.  Among his final words were these, which express the cost as well as the joy of discipleship and sacrifice: “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”  (John Indermark, Immersion Bible Studies: Luke, page 61).

Can you imagine being so filled with God’s spirit, being so transformed into the image of Christ that your life and even your death could reflect such light into the darkest modern world we can even imagine? Bonhoeffer’s light shone into the darkness of Nazi Germany and the prison where he was held.  That light shines in our lives today, as we remember.

God’s love is revealed to us in the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ.  And we have the ultimate example of self-sacrifice in the life and death of Jesus.  When we are reborn in God and remain in God, we will love as God loves.  Today’s scripture calls us to lay our lives down for others.  But, we can never do it on our own –  we can’t do it on our own in a large way like Bonhoeffer or even in the small, daily ways that we can sacrifice for others.  We will never be able to love God and love people in a sacrificial way without remaining in God.  We must seek God, to live in such a way!  We can’t make ourselves love people and we can’t by sheer force of our wills be able to sacrifice ourselves for others.  But the closer we draw to God, the more we are able to see God’s people the way that he does!  The more we reflect on God, the more we become a reflection of God.  Our actions must be rooted in love, not in a sense of duty.  So, I wonder.  I wonder if we love God enough to love God’s children – I wonder if we are even close to laying down our lives for our brothers and our sisters.

The problem is that most of the time my own desires get in the way of loving this way.  Sometimes my own prejudices and judgmental attitudes get in the way.  And I’ve realized that lots of times, I don’t even have my eyes open to the needs around me.  I’m not even looking.  I’m not praying for God to show me how to love others.

I have realized that I judge others instead of loving my brothers and sisters in need.  I judge some as not worthy of my attention or God’s love.  And I hold my brothers and sisters accountable for the need they face.  I feel like they don’t deserve my sacrifice.

And basically, I find that it is just too hard to love like that. It’s uncomfortable.  It’s costly. And I would rather enjoy my life than lay it down.

But here’s the amazing thing.  Here’s the unexplainable thing. Have you ever felt joy when you have sacrificed for another?  How many of you have felt an overwhelming need to sacrifice in some way for another and then experienced great joy when you did?  How many of you have felt blessed by God when you sacrificed for another?  Have you ever felt like you got way more from the sacrifice than the object of your love got from it?

Bonhoeffer seemed to face his own death calmly and with great faith and hope.  He continued to preach about God’s love even when Hitler arrested him and threw him in prison, acting as pastor for prisoners of all faiths.  And even his death did not silence his testimony of love and sacrifice – because here we are today – thinking about his actions and talking about the way he laid down his life!

Our actions speak louder than our words.

Love is sacrifice – not words and speech, but actions and truth.

So may our actions reflect the light and the love of God in a world that is dark.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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