Throughout the Easter season, and here we are in the fourth week of Easter, we have been working our way through the 1st Letter of John as our second reading each Sunday. 1st John, much like the Gospel of John, is a bit wordy, and the simplicity of its argument can easily get lost in the repetitiveness of the book. But it is a very simple point the author is trying to make: God is love, and that divine love was born in the person of Jesus, who, through his teachings and his actions, and most importantly his death on the cross, showed us what love looks like. This guy Jesus, we knew him, and he transformed us to love others just as he loved us. Everything else in the book more or less falls out from this basic point. You could even understand this letter to be a reflection or meditation on that new commandment that Jesus gave after he washed his disciple’s feet: love one another as I have loved you.
For much of the book, 1st John is quite concerned with those who say they love, they use that word, perhaps even a lot, but they don’t show that love. It reminds me of the classic 1980s movie, “The Princess Bride.” One of the characters keeps repeating the word, inconceivable, inconceivable anytime someone does something that doesn’t go his way. Finally, one of the characters says back to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” These folks that 1st John is concerned about may have been using the word love, but it does not mean what they seem to think it means. Nothing in how they live their lives actually embodies that love. They hoard their belongings, they seek security over relationship, they refuse to help. Like in that old adage, “actions speak louder than words, “ 1st John encouraged the people to whom he was writing to love fully and truly. Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
It is the same thing Jesus teaches us in the story of The Good Samaritan. When asked to flesh out the meaning of the commandment to love your neighbor, Jesus brilliantly expands the question by making it about caring for a stranger. It is the same thing Jesus teaches us when he feeds the five thousand. When the primary hunger of the people moves from spiritual hunger to physical hunger and the disciples want the people just to go away so they can take care of themselves, Jesus takes it on himself, with the generosity of a young child with a measly five loaves of bread and two fish, to feed the multitudes—and there were even leftovers.
It is the same thing that Jesus taught on the cross. It was not enough simply to tell the people to love, he had to show them what love looked like embodied on the cross, the most painful and shameful sentence possible. Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
In our Gospel today, Jesus also shows us what love looks like when he compares himself to a good shepherd. Unlike that hired hand who flees when the wolves come, the good shepherd protects the flock, even at risk of his own life, foreshadowing his own crucifixion. Jesus becomes a living embodiment of Psalm 23, leading us to green pasture and still waters, reviving our souls, and protecting us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus becomes the living embodiment of this love. Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
God is love. God’s love was shown to us in Jesus Christ. God’s love abides in us as his followers today. We are to share that love with others. Faith is not just about beliefs and words, faith is about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work loving. Faith is worshiping the God who is love, but faith is also embodying that love by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and caring for the sick. On this Earth Day, we would do well to remember that loving action also includes protecting this beautiful creation that God has entrusted to our care. Not just for its own sake, even though that’s a good enough reason if you ask me. God said creation was good, and we should concern ourselves with things that God says are good, but because the impact of environmental degradation affects us. Pollution transforms green pastures into valleys of shadowy death, with the impact felt most acutely by those with the fewest resources to handle it.
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 author of 1st John asks today. It is a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious: it doesn’t. We cannot say that we love if we do not embody that love in truth and action. We cannot profess God’s love with our mouths if we don’t roll up our sleeves and get to work loving as well. That is what we are trying to do here at St. Mary’s. Embody that love of God in action. That is why we feed the hungry at the Saturday breakfast; that is why we open our doors to people struggling with addictions who come to dozens of twelve-step meetings we host here. Did you know that every month we feed about 600 people at breakfast? That there are over 2000 people who come to twelve-step meetings? That is God’s love embodied. We embody God’s love in pastoral care visiting people in the hospital. We embody God’s love in educating our children, like our teachers are doing downstairs in the Sunday School right now. We embody God’s love in how we worship. We embody God’s love in every decision we make that honors the dignity of every person and cares for God’s creation. We embody this love, and this love is life itself.
In the section between last week’s reading and today’s reading in 1st John it says, we know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. In love we find life. This makes absolute sense when we think about it, for if God is love and we are made in God’s image, then we are only fully alive when we embody that love to others. Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. Let us roll up our sleeves and embody God in everything we do here at church and out in the world, at work, at home, at school, in the doctor’s office, in the park, driving the car, riding the bike, taking the bus, embody God’s love. Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.