Choose the Jesus Choice- Sermon for April 25, 2021 from Pastor John

Sermon for April 25, 2021


     Rev. Al Lingren teaches theology at Garrett Theological Seminary, a Methodist institution. With years of schooling and equipped with a Ph.D he readily could field tough questions from his students. But he was stumped when his own son, ten years old asked, “Dad, what is the toughest thing God ever tried to do?” Lingren could marshal the forces of his brain for a scholarly answer, but how to answer his young son? So he came up with a solution: throw the question back to his son saying “What do you think it was?” The boy said, “Since taking science in school I thought the creation of the Universe would be hard to do. In Sunday School we talked about some of the miracles in the Bible and I thought resurrection from the dead would be plenty hard. But after thinking about it some more, I decided the toughest thing God ever had to do is to get us to understand who God is and that he loves us.” The answer is insightful reminding us of God’s constant work of getting through to skeptical human hearts.

In the first letter of John we read a great deal of the love of God. You may recall last Sunday’s reading from this letter, “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God and that is what we are.” And the first verse of today’s reading said, “We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us.” To understand God as best we can as human beings is to look to Jesus. Jesus proved the love of God for us by offering up his life on the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice means God’s will is not to destroy a sin-burdened world but to reconcile the world to God. The cross assures our sins have been taken away, and taken away means God’s judgment for sinners is not condemnation but salvation. Salvation, forgiveness of sins, the love of God are never earned but given as gifts to be received by faith. The confirmation class came up with kind of slogan: “We believe to receive”.

Our lesson today would add to this and we could come up with another slogan: Jesus came from heaven above to teach us love down here on earth. I would not say it is an easy lesson. We heard the love of God revealed in Jesus who laid down his life for us. And the text continued, “and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” That sounds hard, and it is. The meaning is to die to the self and look after the needs of one another. In the Gospel of John, during Holy Week, specifically Maundy Thursday, we heard the gospel reading of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. It was quite a lesson and Jesus explained “If I, your Lord and teacher washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example.” The example is not to literally going around washing one another’s feet. The lesson is humble service, service is the practice of love for one another. Jesus said further to his disciples: this is not an option, but my commandment I give to you, that is to love one another just as I have loved you. By this the world will know you are my disciples.” Jesus’ love is behind it all. Jesus did not stop washing our feet, that is reaching us with servant love, after he rose from the dead and returned to heaven. According to the Gospel of John when Jesus died on the cross his last words were “It is finished” with the meaning he is never finished with us. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit to center our daily lives in Jesus to know we are loved beyond measure, and to respond with love for one another. I once knew a girl who was so happy to start piano lessons. But after a couple of months she quit. She did not like the regimen of daily practice. To love as Jesus is a life-long work, or it is better to say a life-long gift trusting Jesus to work through us for the sake of others.

The reading today had a question for us to ponder, “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 to help?” The literal translation is quiet earthy, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees his or her sister or brother in need and closes their innards—intestinal fortitude—on them; in other words to close off any compassion for others in need. In Eugene Peterson’s modern translation reads “what happens when you see someone in need but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing? God’s love disappears and you made it disappear. I was struck by a comment I read “If the day comes when the Christian church is as loving as its Master, the world would beat a path to our door.”

You may recall the name of Daniel Berrigan. He, along with his brother, Philip, were catholic priests who became well-known for their protest against the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But then he began volunteering at a place called St. Rose’s Home, a fifty bed facility housing cancer patients who were terminally ill at no charge. He did so because he felt something was missing from his life of teaching, writing and social activism. He did not go to this facility as a chaplain with his clerical collar. He came in old clothes ready for whatever service was required or helpful, often holding the hands of the dying, listening to them, learning from them, and as he said, “to be found in the right place when the Lord comes.”

Did you know that your heartbeat is as unique as your fingerprints? Every person on earth has a different heartbeat pattern, or cardiac signature. After reading that I could not help but think of a hymn “Christ, Your Heart Compassionate” written by seminary professor Herman Stuemple. In this hymn is the prayer, “O Christ, create new hearts in us that beat in time with yours, that joined by faith with your great heart, become love’s open doors. We are your body, risen Christ, our hearts, our hands we yield that through our life and ministry your love may be revealed.” In Holy Communion we receive the heart of Jesus, the fullness of his love that is the life-giving rhythm of forgiveness of sins, salvation and the strength to serve. Luther wrote “When you have received the sacrament of Holy Communion you must in turn, share in the misfortunes of the fellowship. Here your heart must go out in love and learn that this is the sacrament of love. As love and support are given to you, you in turn must render love and support to Christ in his needy ones.”

With the love of Jesus received in Holy Communion may our hearts be assured before God. In our text we heard, “Whenever our hearts condemn us God is greater than our hearts and God knows everything.” As human beings we indeed fall short of loving one another as Christ loves us, but Jesus never falls short in his grace. After all Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us, and took it up again in the resurrection. God is greater than our sins, God is greater than our guilt. The Psalm today assured us that God is with us even in the darkness of times. The Psalm today assured us that God pursues us not with punishment or perdition but with goodness and mercy. God promises that as his children we are ever at home with God, to ‘dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ As the Good Shepherd Jesus calls us to listen to his voice, a voice of belonging, blessing, and boundless love.

Last week at Trigs, as I came into the store, a cute little girl in a Scout uniform asked if I would like to fill a bag with grocery items for the Vilas Co. Food Pantry. The list of items needed was printed on the bag. When I left the store I had filled two bags and I was so proud of myself. But when I got to the car I realized I had forgotten to pick up medication from the Pharmacy. So I went back in the store and another scout came up to me and asked if I would like to fill this bag for the Food Pantry. Somewhat curtly I told him “I already have filled a couple of bags”. The kid looked disappointed. As I drove home I felt disappointed with myself. Why did I not take the bag and happily fill it up again. The items requested were not expensive. And you could fill the bag with as many or few as you wanted. I had fallen into the trap of thinking, “I have done my share so leave me alone”. But as we heard in the text, “when our hearts condemn, God overrules our self-condemnation. Instead of condemnation we have the Holy Spirit who encourages us to help those in need.

The late Civil Rights Leader John Lewis wrote his memoir titled “Walking with the Wind”. This Georgia congressman would come home during congressional recesses and walk the streets of Atlanta, not the ritzy part but the parts reduced to poverty. He said I see the homeless and helpless, the anger and violence, the drugs and despondency, and it is tempting to close our hearts and think “it has nothing to do with us.” But it has everything to do with us. We have a choice. We happily choose the Jesus choice, “Not just love in word and speech, but in truth and action. And if our hearts do not condemn us we have boldness before God, to ask and receive from God whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded. All who obey his commandment abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”