4th SUNDAY OF EASTER
1 John 3:16-24
Let me start this morning with a few words about the Lectionary. As you know, the lectionary is the list of readings that specifies what lessons are read on which days. The Lectionary for Sundays runs on a three year cycle, so we refer to Year A, B, or C. In year A we mostly read Gospel lessons from Matthew, in B from Mark, and in C from Luke. Then we start over again.
Since there is no year assigned to John, lessons from John appear in all three years at various times. The Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are narrative stories about the life of Jesus, while John uses the life of Jesus to construct a much more theological exposition about what the life of Jesus meant. John was written latter than the other three.
During Easter season, the story of Doubting Thomas is always read the Sunday after Easter. The third Sunday is always a story of one of Jesus’s appearances to the disciples after the resurrection. The remaining four Easter Sundays, beginning today all use readings from the Gospel of John, in all three years. John is largely used as commentary on the other gospels, an explanation of what they are supposed to mean.
Today might be called Good Shepherd Sunday, as I’m sure you noticed from the Psalm and the Gospel, but this year I want to focus on the reading from the first letter of John. Probably written by an elder of the Johannine community, certainly later than the Gospel of John, this letter is really a sermon or a letter of advice to the community.
The opening line echoes the Gospel reading this morning: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
Then comes this haunting question: “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?” I say haunting, because so many people in the world live on about $2 /day. And even in this great country, where we use so many of the world’s resources, the number of people going to bed hungry at night is shocking! And that number is still growing.
One of the problems with quoting facts and figures about people in need is that the problem just seems so overwhelming we’d like to forget it. So first remember that no one has to solve all the problems or even any one problem on a large scale. Think local. Do what you can for the people around you.
There are two aspects of giving to others that I’d like to explore. One has to do with the source of our giving. I know that we all give generously to lots of charities. Are we giving just what’s excess to us? Or are we giving of our substance? By that I mean are we actually giving up something ourselves in order to share with others?
When I give decent but old clothes to the clothes Closet, I’m giving what I no longer have use for. I think that’s different from buying a new shirt and donating it instead of keeping it. When I take my contribution to some charity off the top at the beginning of the month, it’s different than if I give them what’s left over the end of the month.
I’m not sure I can explain that difference, but it’s like the widow who gave all she had versus the rich man who gave such a small proportion of his wealth. Just think about this when you consider your charitable gifts.
Secondly, I want us to think about the purpose of our giving. I’m assuming that our purpose is a Christian one, rather than serving our own egos, but am looking beyond that. Do we give just to make up for the shortage that the other party has or are we giving to change the system that created their shortage in the first place?
Giving to make up their shortage is good, and its impact is immediate. The problem is that we probably have to go on giving for some length of time. You know the old saw, give a man a fish and he can feed his family today; give a man a pole and teach him how to fish and you feed his family forever.
This is what makes solar cookers, or micro loans, or giving animals more effective and more appealing than stocking a food shelf. And of course, if we think that solving the world hunger problem is overwhelming, can you imagine what it might take to change the systems, the governments, and the politics on the ground that created the hunger in the first place?
Jesus directly confronted the powers and systems of his day that kept the poor folks in their place, and we know what happened to him for his trouble. It’s no wonder most of us want no part of standing up to the powers that be in protest. It’s dangerous to speak the truth to power in that way.
But at the same time, I want to remind all of us that we have a weapon that was not available to Jesus. We have a vote, and we do not put ourselves at risk when we exercise this power. Whether we think of the School Board, the County Board, the City Council, the state legislature or the national elections, we have a voice in what happens here. We have the chance to vote for those people whom we think will do the most good. Yes, but the most good for whom? For me? For my family? Or for the whole community, the whole state, or the whole nation?
Are we willing to give up some stuff in order that others have a better chance? Do we only support those who will make our lives easier, or do we support those who will consider all of society? Do we support what’s good for the schools only so long as we have children in school, or do we always support what’s good for the schools, because that makes a better community?
It’s an election year and we’ll hear way more about it than we want too, much of it useless information. It is easy to say, “Bah! Humbug! A pox on both your houses!” But that’s clearly a cop-out. Much better to turn the TV off and do some research on the essential issues. And I hope that the question you’ll be asking is this: “Which candidate for this office will make this community better? A better place to live, a better place to raise a family, a better place to work, a better place to grow old. Most important of all, which one will make it a better place for everyone who lives here, not just some.
Yes, I know, Jesus said, “The poor will always be with us.” And I’d say there will always be criminals, whether of the smash and grab sort or the Wall Street sort. However, I’m convinced that the numbers of both would be much less if the middle class were larger.
David and I worked at a soup kitchen several times in the Chicago area. The last time we were there, we saw at least four or five people in line wearing nice kacki pants, Columbia jackets, and boat shoes. And they were not there to scam the system. They had fallen into dire poverty so recently that their wardrobe hadn’t caught up.
“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.” Walk in love as Christ loves us. AMEN