1 John 3:16-24 (NRSV)
16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 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?
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 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. 24 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.
Today is Earth Stewardship Sunday - the churchy version of Earth Day. And there are tons of passages in the Bible that relate and refer to Creation, taking care of the earth, God’s bounty and how we are to use it, and so on. I even have a Bible in which all of those sorts of passages are written in green, the way some Bibles have all of Jesus’ words written in red. I could have used one of those Earth Day sort of passages. But I had a preacher teacher in seminary who taught us that, if we use the lectionary, (which is a calendar of scriptures to use every day of the year, rotating through the Bible over a three year period) regardless of what the secular world is doing, several things will happen. One - we will not subject our congregations to hearing the same dozen or so of our favorite passages preached on all year long. Two - we will not be able to cherry pick a passage for the day that will perfectly reflect our personal feelings on what is going on in the world around us. and Three - we will continually run up against passages that we have to struggle with, just as our congregations have to struggle in their understanding. So - much as I would have loved to go to Genesis and the creation of the world for today’s message, because I do use the lectionary almost every Sunday, I chose this passage on Love from 1st John.
If you are like me, you may have looked at today’s scripture and thought, “Oh. John 3:16. I know this one.” Except, it’s not John 3:16. It’s First John, a letter, possibly from the writer of John’s Gospel and/or the Book of the Revelation to John, to Christians who were dealing with the reality of some who had left the church and whose beliefs diverged from what John believed was the Truth about Jesus - that Jesus came into the world as a human to disclose the truth about God, to deal with the world’s sins and to provide an example of how we are to live. Eternal life depends upon remaining in the knowledge of this truth. John’s message revolves around two core beliefs - God is light, and God is love. If God is light, we must reject sin and live according to Jesus’ example. And if God is love, then we must love one another the way that Jesus loved, by laying down our lives for each other, and by living in truth and action.
When I am choosing how to preach on any particular scripture reading on any given Sunday, I begin by reading the passage. Not once, but several times. And as I read I try to leave my mind open to the Spirit’s guidance, seeking the sentence or phrase that requires my attention on that particular day. It’s a practice called Lectio Divina - divine reading - which is also a good way to practice daily meditations on Scripture. Eventually, if I am paying attention, a phrase or word or sentence will almost seem highlighted, and I have my place to begin. If that doesn’t happen . . . well, let me just say I much prefer it when it does happen. I really prefer to follow the Spirit’s lead than my own thoughts on what I should preach.
With today’s passage, the focus came rather easily. “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? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
Several of us were in Woodland, California the last few days for the Annual Gathering of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Northern California and Nevada. Friday afternoon there was pre-event workshop on the Poor People’s Campaign, which is making a National Call for Moral Revival to end systemic racism, poverty, militarism & environmental destruction. Not everyone involved in the Poor Peoples Campaign has the same political views or religious beliefs - but everyone involved can see the effects of poverty and hatred in their own communities, and wants to find ways to make the kind of changes that will be of substance. At that Friday workshop I was invited to speak briefly on what we are doing in Selma - with Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life - which, for those of you who may not know, is a coalition of police, faith communities and help agencies to heal our city. It is the belief of the Chief of Police and the rest of us who are involved that only by all of us working together - loving one another as Jesus taught us to - can we effect the kind of change that will bring an end to the attraction of gangs to kids who can see nothing good in their own futures, and hope to the poor who see only that no one cares about them, to the homeless, the addicted, to undocumented children who are afraid even to play outdoors, to those with special needs who don’t know how or where to find help, to the sick who cannot afford to get medical care . . . Here at First Christian this is just one of the ways we try to do more than just talk about loving one another, but act in truth and love. Here at First Christian, and throughout Selma, we know that those of us who are blessed with enough are required to share what we have with those who do not.
And what does any of this have to do with Earth Day? Caring for the poor is more than simply feeding the hungry - which is very important and will always need to continue - but also in making sure there is enough food for everyone, which means making sure there is enough clean water to grow that food. It is more than helping individuals get medical care for chronic asthma and allergies, but also in making sure that the air is clean so that we all can breathe. It is more than finding temporary accommodations for the homeless - which we will always need - but also making sure there is affordable housing for all people, because as housing costs increase, so does the number of homeless families. It is more than participating in a clean up day once a year in April, but making sure our poor neighborhoods receive the city services they need to keep alleyways and empty lots clean so trash buildup doesn’t contribute to major health issues. It is more than planting a tree - which we all really should be doing! - but also in making sure there is funding for the forest services so that our forests can keep producing the oxygen we need to survive and protecting the animals that are a critical part of our environment. Earth Day is great, and all of the Earth Day activities, but if we are to love one another as God would have us do, we must pay attention to these things all year long. I think that if we are to live in God’s will, the world will one day look again as it did when Adam and Eve were first placed in charge, before they disobeyed the will of God. That’s why we chose this particular picture for the message slide.
Jesus came to remind us, to disclose to us, what God’s will is for us and for the world. Jesus came to remind us, to show us, what it means to live in God’s will. The Book of Genesis tells us that God put us here to care for the earth, and for each other. Jesus came to prove to us that God is love, and that if we are to love God as we are loved, then we must also love one another, we must love all of God’s creatures, just as God loves us. We can see God’s love when we look at the world around us and see the beauty God placed us in the middle of. I mean, have you driven on the roads around Selma lately? Have you seen the blossoms on the fruit trees, and the green of the grapevines, and the baby goats and sheep and cows and horses? Have you heard the birds serenading you awake in the morning? Have you smelled the roses in front of the church? Have you recognized God’s love manifest in the world around you today?
And Have you heard a farmer worrying about the bees? Have you worried when the reservoirs aren’t full, and there’s not enough water for the fruit and nuts? Or too full and in danger of failing? Have you felt helpless, listening to a child struggling for breath because the air quality is really bad today? If we are to live in God’s will, we will do more than talk about these things, and about poverty, and about hatred. If we are to love one another as God would have us do, we will act in truth, taking whatever action we can, to make the change we want to see in our world. It might mean taking out your lawn, to make more water available to the farmers. It might mean car pooling or putting in solar panels, to help keep the air a little cleaner. It might mean giving money to the people who are researching to find out what is wrong with the bees. Or voting for people who will work toward those things that you believe will make a difference in education, in housing, in health care . . . We may not agree on specific ways to care for the earth and for each other, but we don’t have to. What we must do, however, is live in the way we believe God wills for us to live.
My brothers and sisters, we live in the world that our God made for us. If we are to love God, then we will live in God’s will, and care for each other, for the world we have been given, and for all the creatures in it. Let us stand and sing together, “This is my father’s world.”