Sunday, January 31, 2021
“Beloved” Sermon Series
Scripture: Genesis 4:1-16 & 1 John 3:11-24
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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Rob’s introit is the theme song from the show “The Mandalorian,” the latest spin off from the Star Wars universe. If you’re a Star Wars fan I highly recommend it and it’s worth the monthly subscription to Disney Plus. I won’t go too much into detail about the show, but the main character, the Mandalorian, who simply goes by “Mando,” belongs to a people group known as the Mandalorians, who were some of the fiercest warriors in the galaxy. Mando is a loner, but remains committed to the Mandalorian creed simply described as “This is the way,” which includes fiercely protecting fellow Mandalorians.  But living according to “the way” is expanded for Mando when he finds himself as the guardian and father figure for a young creature known as “the child,” but better known in pop culture as “baby Yoda.” Mando grows to deeply care for and love the child as if it were his own, to the point that he is willing to risk his own life for Baby Yoda’s safety and even seek out the Jedi, a sworn enemy of the Mandalorian people. But Mando is willing to do so as the Jedi are the only ones who can keep the child safe from those who want to capture him. It’s a great story of how far one will go for those they love. Love is John’s central message in 1st John, as is how we are supposed to exemplify that love. But he’s not referring to a love that can be found anywhere on earth, but a love that exists beyond us. He begins our passage this morning by saying: “This is the message you’ve heard from the beginning: ‘Love one another.’” It appears, however, that many in John’s congregation weren’t doing a great job of loving each other well. In fact, it seems they were pretty hateful toward one another. In a dramatic take on the situation, John cautions them to not be like Cain, who out of hatred and jealousy killed his brother, Abel. It’s most likely they weren’t murdering one another, but John opens up the idea of “murder” to include feelings of hatred toward someone. John isn’t the only one to do this. Jesus in Matthew 5 states if one is angry or insults a brother or sister they are liable to the same judgement as a murderer. Apparently there were people outside and inside of their church who acted out of hatred toward these believers. To those who acted out of hatred and went as far as to insult a fellow believer, John wants them to view any hateful feelings or speech  as being just as serious as committing a murder. Just as he gave an example of ultimate hate, John gives an example of ultimate love. He contrasts the action of Cain with the action of Jesus. Jesus showed his love by laying down his life for us. He goes on to encourage them to follow suit and lay their “lives down for one another.”  Laying one’s life down for another is a once- in-a-lifetime act of heroism, so John brings the concept of “laying down one’s life” down to earth. One way to love others is to pay attention to those lacking basic needs. To paraphrase verse 17 how can someone with so much wealth see a brother or sister in need and refuse to help? John urges his congregation to do some self reflection about whether or not they’re driven by hatred or living out of Christ’s love. When we act of Christ’s radical love for one another we get a glimpse of what eternity is like. But John knows this kind of love isn’t possible by just our own sheer will. The radical love of Jesus Christ is only possible through Jesus Christ. And the only way we can make sure it’s Christ’s love working through us is to first believe in Jesus Christ. This is why John says in verse 23: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.” When we believe in who Jesus is, then we are able to experience his love. Through his love we are called to love and serve others, for Jesus’ love pushes us to action. As John says  in verse 18: “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” If we truly know the love of Christ then we will take action, as action is a sign of transformation. If we aren’t acting out of Christ’s love for others then we’ve somehow missed the boat. If we aren’t actively loving and serving our neighbor, and what I mean by neighbor is not just the people who physically live next door to us, but anyone in need who may live in our community, state, country or even the world, then we aren’t truly abiding or resting in Christ’s love. Eugene Cho is a pastor and current director of Bread for the World, an interdenominational ministry in DC that works closely with our nation’s lawmakers to address hunger in the US and beyond. When he was a college student in CA he tells the story about a mission trip he went on to serve the homeless. “Serve” and “mission” were used broadly because what ended up happening was they’d be paired with another college student and their goal was to strike up a conversation with any homeless person they’d meet on the street. When it felt right in the conversation they would ask: “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” And most of the time they’d say “yes” or they’d be convinced to accept Jesus as their Savior. All of these conversations ended with heartfelt prayer, but at the end of that trip, something did not sit well with Eugene Cho. He realized that the homeless men and women he met may have come to know for the first time, or it was affirmed once again that Jesus loved them, but they were still homeless and lacked basic needs. It’s really hard to focus on how much Jesus loves you when you’re not sure if or when you’ll have your next meal. For decades the goal for many Christians was to have a “personal relationship” with Jesus.” While I understand the premise for that statement as it conveys how much Jesus cares for each one of us so deeply, the problem is that it implies that your faith only includes you and Jesus and no one else. That just isn’t true. To have a relationship with Jesus involves being in relationship with others. Otherwise there’s no need for the church. To have a relationship with Jesus involves being in relationship with those Christ has called you to serve. Because again, otherwise there’s no need for the church. We as a church are to be collectively serving others in need within our own church and those who don’t belong to First Pres Grand Haven. Some churches are criticized for not doing enough in action to help those in need. These churches are criticized for focusing too much on nurturing one’s individual faith journey and developing one’s understanding of Jesus Christ, but not following Christ’s command to serve those in need. Other churches are criticized for being just about helping the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, but there’s no mention of Jesus Christ as the vision for why they serve others. I understand the criticism of both types of congregations, but to over correct and swing the pendulum to the other side of the spectrum is not the answer. The answer isn’t to get rid of all small groups and education opportunities because you want to do more service in the community or vice versa. Both are needed. What all churches need to do is to constantly ask themselves if they are doing both? Are we offering spaces to form Christ-centered community where we can learn together about the love of Jesus Christ,  how to abide in his love and provide ways to put Christ’s love into action by serving others? I also want to acknowledge that we are currently living through a pandemic, making it impossible for many of us to serve in ways we’re used to such as leaving our homes to help pack food at Love in Action’s warehouse. Praying for those in need is in itself an action. Praying and learning about who else Christ might be calling us to serve. And we’re not called to serve just those we feel comfortable serving. There are no limitations in 1st John nor anywhere else in scripture regarding those we’re called to serve in Christ’s name. Wherever there are cries for injustice we need to listen. It’s not our place to judge anyone’s situation by writing anyone off as being “lazy,” “disillusioned,” or writing off their cries of oppression as misguided. Maybe during this time we’re called to learn about why certain people feel oppressed. To try and understand their situation. Whether it’s through conversation, listening to those who are hurting, or doing further reading from truthful sources. The fact of the matter is that we’re not called to serve only those who look or think like us or who belong to the same political party as we do. And that can be uncomfortable. But abiding in Christ’s love has never been about comfort. More often than not Christ calls us out of our comfort zones to show Christ’s love by serving those most choose to avoid. This is after all what Jesus did, and with Jesus and through Jesus, we can do the same.