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Sermon for Sunday 22 April 2018


1As {Peter and John} were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. 5On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead — by him this man is standing before you well. 11This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”


PSALM Psalm 23

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. 3He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his name’s sake. 4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. 6Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


SECOND READING 1 John 3:16-24

16By this we know love, that {Jesus Christ} laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 19By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.


GOSPEL John 10:11-18

11{Jesus said,} “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”



There is a ridiculous old story, I’m sure many of you have heard, about a fisherman who was enormously successful. Each morning he would take his small boat out on the lake and within a few hours he would return with his boat loaded with fish. People got curious, how did he do it? One day a stranger showed up and asked the man if he could go along the next time he went out fishing. The old fisherman said, “Sure. Meet me here tomorrow morning at 5:00 and we will go out.”
The next morning the two of them made their way through the early morning mist to a small cove where the fisherman stopped the boat and cut off the motor. The stranger wondered where the man’s fishing equipment was. He had no rod and reel. All the stranger saw was a small net and a rusty tackle box. Slowly the man pulled the tackle box over to himself, opened it, and took out a stick of dynamite. Taking a match, he lit the fuse of the dynamite, held it for a moment and heaved it into the water. There was a terrific blast.
Soon he was dipping up fish in his small net and filling up the boat. After watching for a while, the stranger reached into his hip pocket and pulled out his wallet. Opening it up, he flashed his game warden badge. Somberly he said, “You’re under arrest.” This didn’t seem to rattle the fisherman. He reached back into the tackle box, pulled out another stick of dynamite, lit it, held it for a moment while the fuse burned on down, then handed it to the game warden. “Now,” he said, “you just gonna sit there, or are you gonna to fish?” That’s the question I think applies to our second reading: “Are you just going to sit there or are you going to fish?”
In our appointed epistle lesson for today we read, “Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Let’s face it, anybody can say “I love you”, but words can be cheap. As my father used to say, actions speak louder than words. When it comes right down to it, it’s our actions that count. Now to be fair, the matter isn’t simply “either…or.” I don’t believe that St. John meant that what we say doesn’t count. Paul reminds us in Romans 10:9 that, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” What we say is important too.
Father John Powell tells about a beautiful friendship between two brother priests which ended in tragedy when one was hit by a car and killed. When told, the other ran to the scene, broke through the crowd of onlookers and police, and kneeling at the side of his friend took the lifeless form in his arms and cried out, “Don’t die! You can’t die! I never told you that I loved you.” There are times when our words are important.
In the delightful Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye asks his wife Goldie, “Do you love me?” She thinks he’s lost his mind. She answers in a song: For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow, after twenty-five years why talk about love right now?” Most of us understand that sometimes we must talk about love. But talk isn’t enough.
Our epistle writer isn’t telling us not to say, “I love you.” We have to read the previous verse to understand his word of counsel. In verse 17 we read, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Then he adds, “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” In other words, there are some people who talk about love but who do nothing more.
Several years ago, there was a famous PEANUTS cartoon in which Shroeder, that piano loving intellectual, was interrupted as he often was by his infatuated admirer, Lucy. Lucy asked Shroeder, “Shroeder, do you know what love is?” Shroeder abruptly stopped his playing, stood to his feet and said precisely, “Love: noun, to be fond of, a strong affection for or an attachment or devotion to a person or persons.” Then he sat back down and resumed playing his piano. Lucy sat there stunned and then murmured sarcastically, “On paper, he’s great.” That’s the kind of love that the apostle John is writing about. Love on paper.
Long on sentiment, short on action. Sometimes we have to ask, “Are you gonna sit there or are you going to fish?” There are some characteristics of Christian love that we need to consider this morning. St. John gives us some standards for knowing if our love is genuine Christian love and the first is, Christian love is always in keeping with God’s commandments. Consider this truth carefully. Several times in this passage the writer speaks of “keeping (God’s) commandments.” This is an important admonition.
The word love, of course, has been gravely cheapened in our time. In the 1960s and ˜70s, it became fashionable for educated people to embrace what is known as Situational Ethics. I don’t want to misrepresent this viewpoint, but in a nutshell the teaching of situational ethics is that there is no longer any absolute right or wrong in life. The only way that we can know what’s right or wrong, in any given situation, is to apply the rule of love. (After all, didn’t Jesus teach us that love is the great commandment?) Therefore, we should always ask, what is the loving thing to do? Working from this philosophy many ethicists concluded that, therefore, there might be times when adultery was “right” or lying was “right” or even murder was “right” because somehow at the time it was “the loving thing to do.”
Now I do want to be very careful. Situational Ethics came as a corrective to excessive legalism and made its contribution. However, it didn’t deal with the remarkable power of the human brain to rationalize almost any situation and to turn almost any action into a loving action. The most bizarre example occurred in connection with the infamous Charles Manson family. Most of us remember the awful slaughter at the home of actress Sharon Tate in 1969.
Susan Atkins was one of the participants in that scene of almost unparalleled carnage. When she was asked about the rationale behind the brutal murder of Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant at the time, Miss Atkins is said to have smiled and cooed, “You have to have a real love in your heart to do this for people.” The deputies said that Atkins seemed grotesquely sincere. Obviously, this is a radical example, but the principle is sound.
We must always be careful, anytime someone tries to tell us that something is the loving thing to do when it conflicts with the commandments of God. Jesus never said that the commandment to love makes the Ten Commandments obsolete. He simply said that all the law and prophets depend on love for God and love for humanity (Matthew 22:40.) Our epistle reading tells us that to love God is to keep His commandments. True Christian love is always in keeping with God’s commandments. The second truth we need to remember is, Christian love is always “in mission.”
There is no love for God that’s not coupled with love for people. The self-righteous, self-centered, “Lone Ranger” kind of Christian is basically no Christian at all. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. I don’t suppose that there’s any creature more repulsive to God than the self-satisfied saint who prides himself on his piety and religiosity and turns his nose up at his next-door neighbor. If you think I’m exaggerating, consider Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees.
It wasn’t the Jewish faith that offended Jesus. He was Himself a Jew. It was those who used their religion as a club, to elevate themselves, by beating down others. These were the people who were the object of His great scorn. Equally as offensive, however, in Christ’s eyes are those nice, sweet Christians who have good intentions about real service to the world, but never really seem to get into action. Consider our obligations to the poor and dispossessed of this world. A major portion of the world’s wealth is concentrated in so called “Christian” nations. What better plan could God have for meeting the needs of the unfortunate of this world than have his people to share out of their abundance?
The story is told of a Christian lady who was visiting Ethiopia; that land that has known so much suffering and despair over the centuries. She saw the small children with the swollen bellies of malnutrition. She saw people by the thousands suffering from disease and the results of drought. She said that she was in such despair that she “felt like screaming out at God.” Then she realized that God “was screaming out at (her).” The truth is, we are God’s plan for the caring for the unfortunate of this world. God chooses to work through us. Therefore, we need to regularly ask ourselves, are we going to sit there or are we gonna to fish? Christian love is always centered in the needs of others, whether they’re around the world or across the street. The third thing we need to understand is, Christian love is always a response to God’s love for us.
St. John links our ability to love to our faith in Jesus Christ. This too is important to see. It has become fashionable in recent years to emphasize the importance of selflove. Often, we hear that we cannot love others, if we don’t love ourselves. Admittedly, there is some truth to that, but there’s also a grave danger. What is it that makes us loveable?
Is it our sparkling personalities or our shining faces? Is it our moral righteousness or our giving spirit? If you said, “Yes to any of these questions than I’m not sure you understand the true nature of humanity. Deep within the heart of every human being, is the potential for unspeakable evil. That’s the one lesson of all history. If we could see into the heart of most people, we’d probably find the potential to be un-loveable indeed. There’s only one way that we can truly love ourselves and that’s to acknowledge that we love, because God first loved us. Look around and you can see the results of decades of emphasis on selflove.
There are far too many people who are so into themselves that they’ve lost the ability to truly love others. What we need to see, is our own unworthiness, in stark contrast to God’s great love for us. Then, and only then, can we properly love ourselves. That’s why, even in this Easter season, when we celebrate the empty tomb, that we dare not lose sight of the cross. We simply cannot understand what real love is, until we see the suffering Christ giving His life to redeem us.
The Greek word that we often employ to express God’s love is “agape.” Somewhere I heard about a congregational delegate to a church assembly who kept hearing the word “agape” used but had no idea what it meant. He didn’t want to show his ignorance by asking, so he found a dictionary and looked it up. For the word agape, the dictionary said it meant “with mouth wide open.” He didn’t realize that he was looking at the definition for agape. However, when we understand the cross and the wonderful love which is expressed there, we will stand there with our mouth agape or wide open.
It’s amazing that in spite of our unworthiness, the God of all creation loves us each as His own children. That’s what gives us the ability to love ourselves as well as the ability to love others. The people I know who are the most loving are also those closest to the heart of God.
I was reading about English explorer William Perry and his crew who were on an icy vessel exploring the vast nautical wasteland of the Arctic Ocean. At one point they felt that their investigation would be best served by heading further north, so they charted the stars and made a treacherous journey northward. Marching across ice flows, they crept along for hours and hours, and finally, nearly totally fatigued, they stopped. Hastily they took another bearing on the stars, only to find out that they were further south! How could it be? It didn’t take long to find out.
They’d been walking on an ice flow that was travelling south faster than they were walking north. There’s something about life today that can pull us away from our consciousness of God in much the same way, if we’re not careful. As our heart grows cold toward Him, our patience thins toward others. What is Christian love? It’s love that acknowledges the commandments of God. It’s love that acknowledges that we cannot love God if we cannot love our fellow human beings. And finally, it’s love that is a response to the love of God made manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the faithful Christian, love isn’t just a word we use, it’s also seen in our actions and deeds. So, one could say, Christian love isn’t something that just sits there. It fishes!

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