1 Jn 3:16-24 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith
April 22, 1018
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
1 John 3:16-24 The Message (MSG)
16-17 This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.
18-20 My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.
21-24 And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
It is often said that religion is a means by which we comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.
It is ALSO often said that preachers preach that which they most need to hear.
In fact, Katrina and I were meeting with a beginning lay-preacher the other day. Now, this woman is a WONDERFUL pray-er … and she’s on the brink of learning to write her own complete SERVICES, not just the prayers. She looked at us when we talked about her praying ability and she said, “I only pray what I need to hear and what I think the people need to hear, too.”
Katrina and I looked at each other and started to laugh because that’s exactly what WE do when we’re planning a service. We really pray and think about what we think everyone needs to hear from the scripture provided for that day.
Lately, God has been sending us a lot of messages about justice and doing the work of the Kingdom of God no matter who we are or where we are in our lives.
But all this week – at both THIS service and the one on Thursday at Sonray Fellowship – it’s this passage from 1 John that is calling out to me for all of us to think about and reflect upon. So maybe it’s a message that God has for ME and it’s coming by way of me preaching it to YOU. LOL
In particular, it’s the sentence in verse 20: For God is greater than our worried hearts … and knows more about us than we do ourselves.
THINK about that for a minute … God is GREATER than our worried hearts … greater than anything that troubles us. Greater than FEAR … greater than ANXIETY … greater than our SADNESS and despair. GOD is greater.
And God knows more about US than we can ever know about OURSELVES!!! Sometimes my kids will wonder how I can KNOW them so well … and I used to wonder that about MY mother, too. So, to THINK that God knows us even better than we can know ourselves is – I don’t know – STRANGELY comforting, I think.
I’m reminded of Psalm 8:4 (KJV): “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” Who am I, God, that you are mindful of ME?????
Well, that’s the age-old question, isn’t it?
And for us as the Body of CHRIST … this little wee kirk that we call our Fellowship of Faith … or our LARGER body that we know as South Presbyterian Church … the same question arises: who are WE that God is mindful of us … and yet … He (or She) is …
We are known.
We are blessed.
We are comforted.
We are … LOVED.
Okay … so … this last week has been a whirlwind.
If you were here last Sunday, you met Kathryn Threadgill from the PC(USA) denominational headquarters. She’s young, isn’t she? 35. And what poise and grace.
But also, what WEIGHT is being placed on her shoulders to help the 10,000 — ten THOUSAND – Presbyterian congregations around the country to change how they look at church … to realize and REMEMBER that Jesus never told us to go out and build great buildings to worship him in.
HE didn’t think HE should be worshipped at all … it was all about GOD to him.
And HE said that whenever two or more gather in his name, then he would join them and be WITH them. All it takes is two people to have a church. Two people.
That’s kind of the principle behind the Acts of Faith model of ministry. You don’t need fancy windows or gold-leaf candelabras. You don’t need a huge organ or ostentatious environments.
What you need is a desire to be open to the Holy Spirit and a couple of people sharing their love of God.
In her few days with us Kathryn experienced SEVEN Acts of Faith — worship services, book groups, Monroe Milers, and table fellowship that wouldn’t quit. I think that we really touched her LIFE. I think that she found us all UPLIFTING when so much of her work is focused on churches who will not let GO of some of those things in order to save their own LIVES. Churches are DYING because they can’t THINK about letting go of their beloved sanctuaries and fellowship halls …
They should all just come and worship with US.
WE’D show them how we can have deeply meaningful and spiritual worship in common, everyday places. Right?
Many of these churches think they have to find a way to make what they’re doing more popular with young people.
But friends … it’s NEVER gonna happen.
Why would anybody want to go into an old, dark building – or even a NEW building – if they don’t hear something that strengthens them for living their lives?
But THIS message – that God is greater than our worried hearts … – THIS message FLIES!!! It flies for ALL of our world because right now, the whole WORLD is filled with worried hearts.
Whether we’re talking about the state of OUR government, or we’re looking at Israel and Palestine … we all have worried hearts.
Whether we’re honoring Earth Day today (and are maybe more mindful of the environment and what’s happening to our planet), or we’re looking at the state of violence in our communities … we ALL have worried hearts.
Whether we’re concerned with North Korea or the atrocities in SYRIA … We. ALL. Have. Worried. Hearts.
And it doesn’t have to be EXTERNAL things that weigh us down. 1 John talks about debilitating self-criticism. Substitute anxiety … depression … FEAR… even with THOSE things, GOD is greater than our worried hearts.
So why doesn’t the world seem to feel any BETTER?
Why do we have to hire someone like Kathryn Threadgill to take on the worries and the upsets of 10,000 church congregations???
Why, if God is able to DO all of this, do people not USE God to do all of this?
Well … I think the answer is found in one simple thing … we don’t know how to tell the story and talk about God in a way that has meaning for other people.
No … I’m serious.
I think that most of our lives many of us spent so much time trying to memorize Bible verses or to be the “good little girls and boys” so that Jesus would love us … that we totally missed the message: We are ALREADY loved … no matter WHAT!
We have totally MISSED the fact that the Good News ISN’T the fact that he lived and died for our sins – which, of course, is what some churches and MAJOR televangelists around the world want you to pay MONEY for – the Good NEWS is the fact that he is still HERE … his Spirit … his LOVE … his PRESENCE is still HERE to teach us how to get ALONG with each other … to REMIND us of how much God LOVES us … to calm and reassure our worried hearts.
In his letter, John TELLS us that we can’t just TALK about love; we have to PRACTICE it. And what greater love IS there than to share the TEACHINGS that bring us this peace that passes all understanding? And then he says that when we DO that:
It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it.
21-24 … once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and HE lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.
This Spirit is why Kathryn came here.
It’s why she’ll come back again, I’m sure.
It’s why I’ve been asked to go away next Sunday for two days … and talk with 50 new Presbyterian ministers from across the entire Northeast … 8 states … New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The Synod of the Northeast. And these are all ministers in the first five years of their ministries – MANY of whom are called to be WITH these dying churches. How unfair is THAT? Beginning pastors who can only get a job with declining churches because the more established pastors are too scared to let go of their cushy jobs (SOME of them … not all … I’m probably not being fair) and THESE churches are the very ones who NEED experienced pastors to help them pilot through these times of discernment and transition.
Anyway … I have been asked to go and spread the word about what South is doing and how we are changing the whole way we look at church. So I won’t be here next week. Katrina will preach.
But while I’m gone, I will be at Stony Point, a retreat center owned by the PC(USA) down on the Hudson – and I will be there on May 1st which is my tenth anniversary as the Pastor of South Church. Can you believe it?
I’m very reflective about that these days.
I look at what we are all DOING together in our TWENTY ministries … our 20 Acts of Faith … and then I look at the opening of today’s reading: 16-17 This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love … Boy … ain’t THAT the truth. I dare say that every single person in each of our Acts of Faith continues to come to a new understanding of what it is to be loved by God.
John writes: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves.
Every time our Session meets and wrestles with money, how to maintain and pay for what we’re doing here, they remind each other that this is what it is to be part of the Body of Christ – the work that WE do serves the rest of the Believers wherever THEY are, too.
And now to know that two of our five worshipping communities have been recognized by the national church and named as part of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities INITIATIVE … it is AMAZING to me. This stuff is REAL. This believing stuff … this holding-on-to-each-other stuff … this we-CAN-make-a-difference stuff.
It’s all real. In the words of our late friend, Barb Binder … “It’s all real.”
And it’s greater than our worried hearts … it’s greater than our failures … it’s greater than our fears.
“Greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world” (I Jn 4:4) – ANOTHER quote from I John … a chapter later than today’s reading.
Friends, we are richly blessed.
Let’s find a way to share that blessing – that knowledge – that MESSAGE with others.
And throughout the week … let’s continue to pray for Kathryn … for these new pastors in our denomination … for those who are doing the hard work of transformation and revitalization … for our Session and Deacons … and for each other.
Amen, and amen.