1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Time With Young People

Have you ever been scared? What are you scared of? Some fears I’ve had include being alone without someone to care about me, losing something special, falling from somewhere high, or embarrassing myself. Other grownup fears include running out of money, losing friends or marriages, getting very sick, or seeing one of their kids get hurt.

Some grownups remember a special Bible prayer when they’re scared: Psalm 23. This psalm remembers that God is like a shepherd watching over sheep. Most grownups know a version with fancier language, and there’s something to that, but here’s a simpler version:

The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised. Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me. You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim. I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.

You could learn that psalm, or learn a special song like Jesus Loves Me or Kum Ba Yah, and let it remind you that God is with you no matter what.

There’s more to this message, but kids (and many grownups) can start here. Let’s give thanks for God’s love that is always with us. Prayer. You stay and listen or go to activity time.

 

Meditation

The second part of the message is in 1 John 3:16. It’s not as famous as another 3:16, but it’s just as good: “This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for others!” Sometimes we have to get down to basics, and this is basic: love is Christ’s life given for us, the deepest outpouring of devotion and service. That gift calls forth something from us: the same love and service given for others.

I dismissed the kids, not because they don’t need to live the second part of the message, but because they already know it. Kids naturally imitate what (and whom) they most admire. Adults, on the other hand, have to be reminded. We have a tendency to worship what we admire instead. We set it on a pedestal and deny that we could approach it. Instead of wanting to be like Jesus, we give thanks that he’s already done it so we don’t have to. We thank God we don’t have to die with him. We thank God we don’t have to share like him; serve like him; heal, forgive, and welcome others like he did. After all, he’s Jesus and we’re not.

This strikes me as kind of a “Scrubbing Bubbles” gospel, where Jesus works hard so we don’t have to. Jesus lives how God wants, because we can’t; after all, he’s perfect and we’re not. That’s true, but it tends to make the story about our imperfection, about what we can’t do or be. So we build monuments to what someone else did; we watch someone else (a pastor, choir, or saint) do what we can’t; we let them do it for us. We may watch the same story until our eyes glaze over. We may debate and decide what to think about it. Most of all, we leave the story beyond our ability. It’s really only half of worship. The first half means knowing the story really well, but we often skip the second half, which is letting it shape us – that’s true worship.

The author of 1 John calls for something more: “We too should give our lives for others.” Don’t worship someone else for giving himself away; follow him and do it yourself. The author calls us “little children,” not so much to patronize as to remind us of who we are first, which is God’s beloved, and that we’re naturally disposed to imitate God. That’s how love lives in us, when we imitate the love given to us. When we share everything we are, everything we have, everything of our lives, just as Christ does. It’s not something we have to do perfectly. It’s not even something we have to do particularly well. But we can only do it with love, with genuine generosity. That’s giving our lives for each other.

Following that road is risky. Giving ourselves away is dangerous. I think that’s why we often worship without following, because it’s safer and more predictable. Worship (or something that looks like it) can flow nicely with three hymns, a sermon, and a lovely benediction to remind us of what the sermon was. But that’s not all there is. The gospel goes one step farther. It calls us to live, serve, and share – to go farther, dig deeper, and get more lost than seems “safe.” The gospel invites me to spend more time in silence, to give away more money, to be more honest with myself and then with others, to trust more deeply in the grace that surrounds and connects us. The power of Christ’s self-giving love pushes me farther than I know how to go, farther than I can go in my own imperfection, but it goes with me there.

I know this because Jesus said, “I’m the good shepherd. I’m not the paid keeper who skips town when the way gets rough, I’m the ever-present guide and protector of your soul.” Jesus gave his own life to reveal the depth of true love, the power of God’s desire to heal, restore, and save us from every true danger. God followed through. Life was restored to Jesus who set it down, and it will be restored to us too, no matter what comes to take it away. Jesus lives the story of giving himself away in service and finding at the end that nothing is lost. He invites us to come along and find the ultimate truth of life again.

The ultimate truth of life is that God’s love is present with us forever. Our lives are forever wrapped up in God’s love, and nothing can separate us from God. That’s why we remind ourselves of God’s love when life is at its hardest. That’s when we understand what Jesus meant when he said that he would be our protector. That’s why we have the courage to go and share Christ’s love with others, because in loving service to our neighbors, we’re more united with God. That’s how this whole thing works. It’s not about our agreement on ideas and visions. It’s not even in our attempts to be nice and get along. The church works – all of life works – through love, when we set fear aside and let goodness, sharing, and peace grow us into deeper people.

It takes us our whole lives to learn this. It takes all we are to be people of God’s love, so let’s start sharing with the hope of Christ’s joy.

Amen.

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