Message Manuscript of “What I Heard in Line at the Post Office “ 1 John 3:16-24
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2015
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I was standing in line at the post office on 70th Street the other day and heard someone a few people behind me venting out loud about the fact that there was only one person working at the counter while our single file line was at least twenty people deep. Someone next to her in line agreed and the two began having a conversation about the problems with the U.S. Postal Service, our government (which was far too big in their estimation), Obama, Obamacare, no more prayer in schools, the scarcity of jobs, and on and on. The most disturbing comment was one about poor people and how they are lazy and just live on welfare. One of them was extraordinarily loud, which made all of us in line a part of the conversation. A woman in front of me turned around and looked like she was going to tell her to pipe down back there, but she chimed in and said she should come to a meeting with her that evening, where things like that would be discussed. It sounded like a religious meeting of some sort. The way they were talking, they must have assumed we either all agreed with them or just didn’t mind their diatribe. I bit my tongue while thinking of how of how Jesus himself was poor and probably was the object of upper class disdain just like that of the people standing behind me in line. I also thought of how unchristian these people sounded, making judgements about the kind of people Jesus was always going out of his way to help and love.
We are provided an effective and simple description of Jesus’s activity in our 1 John 3:16-24 reading this morning, of how, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” It fits right in with our other readings today relating to the them of Good Shepherd Sunday. The Call to Worship from Psalm 23 is a familiar reminder to us that the Lord is our Shepherd and of how God looks after us with goodness and mercy. The Gospel of John reading informs us of how Jesus referred to himself as the Good Shepherd, one who lays down his life for his sheep and one whose sheep know and follow his voice. What John has written in his letter gives practical application to his readers, including us today, of how the laying down of one’s life for another is the true litmus test for determining real love and relationship with God. In other words, they could tell if they were truly connected to God based on how they were connected to one another. If they truly loved God, they would truly love each other. If they truly loved each other, it would be visible in how they were laying down their lives for one another.
I’m thinking it would be interesting for us to use this as a litmus test for Christians today. As we look at Christianity today, especially as it exists in our nation, how would we do on this test? Making things even more personal, what about using the test on our own lives? As you look at your life, does your love pass the test? Are you and I able to see where we have laid down our lives for one another or does the record of our lives show that we have had amazing belief and even a remarkable attendance of worship on Sundays but what is missing is the one crucial thing that matters most to God: laying down our lives for one another?
Wait a minute, we say, that’s a matter of interpretation, isn’t it? What may look like love for others may be different for each of us. Like this morning, I gave up my parking space for someone else. That counts, doesn’t it? There was one doughnut left—and it was chocolate with sprinkles—and I wanted it, but made sure someone else got it. Ok, these are probably not what we would offer as proof or our love, but we may reason with God in much the same way. Do we, in our individualistic and consumeristic culture, really know what laying down our lives looks like? Perhaps we need some help. Apparently, the churches John wrote his letters needed help with this as well. So, John didn’t just stop after his comment that “we ought to lay down our lives for one another”; he got specific. He wrote, “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.” This sounds just like what we heard from James last week. It sounds—and looks—just like Jesus. The laying down of their lives was be evident in how they met one another’s needs. And it was, notable to the historians of the time who recognized how the Christians were the only ones who took care of strangers dying in the streets with diseases and who took care of each other as brothers and sisters. Their loved was laid down. It was remarkable.
That’s how our love is to be today. Laid down for each other and for the world. And our model is just the same as the one they used–Jesus. Our understanding of helping each other is to be based on Jesus’s system, not on our favorite economic system or influenced by our political party of preference. If your view of helping others is determined more by a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” philosophy rather than an “I will lay down my life for you” methodology, you need to spend some more time looking at Jesus. If your comments at the water cooler are about how poor people are lazy and just need to get off welfare and work, then you have not spent enough time with Jesus. If you don’t see the problem of making healthcare affordable and accessible to poor people who die of things you can afford to have treatment for, then you weren’t paying attention to how Jesus and the disciples spent time healing the sick. In short, if your love doesn’t look like a cross, then you are using the wrong model.
Here at Church for the Highlands, you and I have ongoing opportunity to love one another and the world around us. We are a group of people who organized ourselves around a common mission of blessing the Highland neighborhood with the love of Jesus, through Volunteers of America and community partnerships. The key to our work is doing it with the love of Jesus. The look of our love is to be Jesus, becoming more and more evident within our church family as we care for one another and to our neighborhood as we lay down our lives for it. It happens when we lay down our money, giving to the church so that we can help each other when in need as well as assisting people in the community. It happens when we lay down our time, volunteering with one of our programs or with Highland Center Ministries. It happens when we take the abilities God has given us and use them to develop our community, to create jobs for the unemployed, esteem for the downtrodden, freedom for the indebted, and hope for the hopeless. It happens when we see that we are a part of the solution God has planned for people in need and that being passive about the needs of each other and of strangers runs counter to our understanding of the good news of Jesus.
Did you see the video that was making the rounds this past week in social media? It was of a man in a wheelchair waiting on a subway. Something in happened and his chair went of the platform and onto the tracks. A few people from the crowd jumped in to get him in the nick of time. It sounds like what happened in 2007, when a man had a seizure and fell onto the tracks. In a city where people have been known to look the other way when someone is in distress, one many jumped onto the tracks to grab the convulsing man and duck into a weather drain just before the train would have run over him. He was hailed as a hero and was rewarded by Donald Trump and Mayor Bloomberg. When interviewed on Ellen Degeneres and Letterman, the man said the following, “good things happen when you do good. I just did it because I saw someone in distress. Someone needed help.” Elliot Sander, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, called Autrey’s rescue “a death-defying act of bravery. We truly have not seen anything like this…. He was at the right place at the right time and did the right thing.”
That’s where God wants us to be—in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. Laying down our lives for each other and for our world.