Community Is All About LOVE

Community Is All About LOVE

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters. 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 deed and truth. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us, for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God, and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

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 us. All who obey his commandments 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.

1 John 3:16-24 (NRSVUE)

As human beings, we have opinions, don’t we? We know what we like and what we don’t like. We have favorite foods, music, and restaurants. We know what we like to watch on TV. We know which juice box we like the best, or we take our coffee a certain way. And we even often tend to wear the same clothes maybe because we like the color and the style, or we think we look good in them or just because they are super comfy. And the truth is, it’s nice to have routines and favorites and things that make us feel comfy. But sometimes, if we want to truly learn and grow, we need to step out of our comfort zone. Now sometimes we can look at stepping out of our comfort zones as an adventure into the unknown, which can be exciting, but it can also be a little scary.

I wonder, have you ever found yourself in a situation like that, where something sounds exciting and yet maybe a little scary at the same time? Maybe it was your first day at a new school or a new job, perhaps it was your first time trying to ride a bike, building something new, or trying a new recipe. Often, we like to stay in our comfy surroundings, doing the things that we always do, right?

Well, a long time ago, when I was in seminary, one of my preaching professors told me that if you ever read a scripture reading and it gives you a funny, almost uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach, then you know you’ve found the right scripture to preach on. Now, I haven’t always agreed with this preaching professor because it’s always much easier to preach on a scripture that you know and love. But I guess when you always preach on the scriptures you know and love, you never take the opportunity to stretch and grow and learn.

Well, today is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday, and most of the lectionary readings look at God as a shepherd. Now, I have always loved sheep. They just look so fuzzy and comfy, like you could cuddle up next to them, don’t they? But for some reason, I always tend to shy away from Good Shepherd Sunday, maybe because I read Psalm 23 every week at the funeral home. Or because the shepherd is always laying down his life for the sheep and encourages us to do the same, and I’m not sure how to comfortably follow that command. Or maybe it’s because Good Shepherd Sunday comes in the spring, and there is usually some other kind of theme that I am trying to fit in, like tomorrow being Earth Day!

Well, my friends, I tried very hard to focus on Earth Day this week and to think about all the ways that we can care for God’s beautiful Creation. But every night, I was awakened by the words, “He lays down his life for his sheep.” So yesterday morning, before the sun came up, I sat at my desk and threw up my hands and said, “Okay, God let’s do this!” On the desk in front of me sat the words, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

My immediate thought was of the cross and Jesus laying down his life to show the world that God’s love is stronger than any evil, hate, or judgment that the world can give. Of course, it is an important message, for without the cross, we would not be in the midst of the Easter season today. And I know that many people, in their own way, find comfort there. But in my own faith, even as a minister, I always struggle with jumping to the cross and forgetting about the love and compassion that Jesus showed and shared while he was here on Earth. For me, Jesus came to teach us about living life to the fullest, and not to worry about dying.

Then I started to think about the way that I often introduce the reading of the 23rd Psalm at the funeral home, saying, “Our reading today comes from the Hebrew scriptures or the Old Testament, and it contains words that bring comfort to many.” And then, as I share the words of that beloved psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” I watch as many people close their eyes, allowing the assuring words that God the shepherd is with them in good times and bad to wash over them.

Suddenly, I remembered learning about shepherds and how they devoted their lives to caring for their sheep. You see, back in biblical times, shepherds spent most of their time outside, watching over their flock, even sleeping near their sheep to keep them safe and protect them from robbers and wild animals. At night, the shepherd would gather his sheep into places called sheepfolds. These could be stone walls made by the shepherds or natural enclosures like a cave. The shepherd then counted his sheep as they came into the fold, and as we have heard in scripture, if one were missing, he would leave the flock to find it. Then when all were safe, the shepherd would lay down across the opening of the stone wall or the cave to sleep, whereby laying down his own life for the sheep to keep them safe and secure. So the story of the good shepherd helps us to understand that laying down our life does not mean that we have to die, on the contrary, it is a call to live our lives sharing ourselves and what we have with others.

So I wonder, how are we supposed to care for one another? What are our obligations to our neighbors? What does God desire for our lives? How is God our shepherd still? How does God call us to be a balm for the sick and a consoling presence for those who grieve? And how are we called to lay down our lives for one another? The truth is, my friends, this list of questions can be endless, and it is not only possible but more than likely that we all have different answers to each and every one of the questions! Because God created us in individual and unique ways to care for creation and all that it is within it, using the gifts we have been given. Folks, if we all had the same gifts and abilities, then we would only know one way to love and serve the world around us. But the good news is that as a community of faith, we have an abundance of gifts and endless varieties of time, talent, and treasure to share!

Often, when people hear today’s scripture reading, they get stuck on that first line, “He laid down his life, and we are called to do the same.” We immediately think of the cross and Jesus being put to death by the evil, judgment, and hate of our world. And we think, “That’s all well and good for Jesus, but I don’t want to die.” But the truth is, my friends, laying down one’s life does not necessarily mean dying. It means sharing your gifts and caring for others. It means listening to those who feel alone and feeding those who are hungry. It means donating food and clothing to those in need and picking up trash along the side of the road.

A few weeks ago, we talked about listening to our heart songs. Do you remember–the voice we hear inside that makes us who we truly are? And I think, in many ways, it is that heart song that also leads us in our faith and guides us in loving the world as God created us to. Today, when you head back out into Maxcy Hall after worship for a cup of coffee, and a little fellowship time with friends, you may notice that there is a picture of the Earth on the far wall with a few hand prints cut out with hearts drawn on them. On the table under it, there is some construction paper, markers, and scissors. We are inviting everyone to at least trace their hand and draw a heart on it. Don’t worry, we’ll cut it out and hang it up for you if you want. But it is going to be a reminder for us over the next few weeks of ways that we can lay down our lives to share God’s love with the world in our own unique and special ways.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, I urge you to take a minute every once in a while, put your hand on her heart, and close your eyes, listening not only for the song in your heart but for the ways that God might be calling you to share your gifts with people or places or animals as you share God’s unconditional and extravagant love with the world.

My friends, may it be so. Thank be to God, Amen!!


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