21

April 2024

Apr

We Abide in Christ

How Shall We Live

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Our final week in the series, “How Shall We Live?” calls us to live out the love and joy we have found in our life in Christ.

“Get stuck in.” That’s a Britishism in case you hadn’t heard it before. It means “get to work” or “get to it” or “put your back in.” Or is that last one another Britishism? I get confused sometimes. Living over there for a while and living here most of the time, I forget which is which. I sometimes say the wrong thing in the wrong cultural environment. Do we say, “Put your back in it” or “Put your heart into it”?

Ah, that’s it. Put your heart into it. That’s how we indicate something is really important. That’s how we show that we are really committed, really involved, really connected. Right? Put your heart into it. When we really mean it, our hearts are in it. When they aren’t, when we are half-hearted or worse, then nothing happens. Or nothing of significance anyway.

And so, every now and then, you need to ask yourself if your heart is really in it. Every now and then, you have to do a test to see if this is something you are committed to doing. And this is called the “gut check. ”Yeah, okay, it doesn’t make much sense. We seem to have slipped a little bit south, haven’t we? There seems to be a tangle of body parts here. The only explanation I have is that someone has been reading the first letter of John.

How’s that for a lead-in? From tangled body parts to our scripture text for the week. Just possibly a bit of a stretch. Or is it?

Okay, the heart is a given. It is right there. All over the place. John wants our hearts in it, that much is clear. But other than that, ... Well, there is the whole-body approach in the first verse of the passage. There is the total commitment thing - lay down our lives for one another. But surely that is meant in a more spiritual than body kind of way. Isn’t it? We sacrifice a little time and a little effort for one another. That’s pretty good, isn’t it? We don’t really expect, or even call for much more than that. Do we?

Verse 17 is interesting. That last phrase – “and yet refuses help” - sounds a bit different in Greek. It reads: klei,sh| ta. spla,gcna auvtou/ (kleise ta splagchna auto). Peterson’s The Message paraphrases it like this: “but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing.” So, we moved from warm hearts to cold shoulders. But in Greek, it is even worse. The seat of emotion for the ancient world wasn’t the heart. The heart represents thought and will. When you do something with your whole heart, you are doing it as an act of will. It has less to do with emotion than it does with decision.

The emotions, on the other hand, were a bit lower. The word spla,gcna (splagchna) is actually bowels. Verse 17 says, “If we have the goods of this world, but when we see a brother or sister in need, we close our bowels against them, how does God’s love abide in us?”

Excuse me? Okay, set aside the ick factor for a moment and think about it. When that telephone call comes in the middle of the night; and as you feared, it is bad news of some sort, what do you feel? Isn’t there a queasiness in the pit of your stomach? When you hurt with those who hurt, doesn’t it hit you in the gut?

The problem is, we have learned to guard our feelings; we have learned to change the channel when the pictures of the hungry children appear. We have learned to turn the page when the paper is full of need and want and brokenness. “Nothing to do with me,” we think to ourselves. We have shut off our emotions; we have closed our bowels, says John.

The end of the third chapter of John asks for a gut check. Do we still care about what is going on in the world? Or has it gotten to be too much? Out of protection, we claim, we turn it off. There is simply too much, too much beyond our capacity to help. So, better take care of ourselves, it would seem.

Certainly, John is asking us to do something. “Let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” There is a call to get to work, to get stuck in. So, from time to time, we need to reassess our efforts when it comes to mission and service. We need to ask, “Is loving my neighbor just something I talk about, or is it something I do?” A good question, and one that we all need to be asking more often. All of us could do better, it seems.

There is another threat in this passage, at least it appears to me. John is asking us to care. What is all that stuff about the heart? Do our hearts condemn us? What does that mean? Is our heart in the right place? Are we at ease with our hearts? Maybe we should substitute “conscience” for “heart.” Maybe John is asking us to put our conscience at ease or to get our conscience right with God by caring for our neighbor.

The key to this way of living comes from an unlikely place. The key to peace of mind or ease of heart comes from obedience. Yikes. Another of those uncomfortable words. Obedience has the reputation of getting in our way or getting in the way of freedom. We worship freedom in this country; it is the reason we are willing to do terrible things as a nation. For the sake of freedom. Obedience goes against the grain. And yet John tells us that peace comes from having Christ abide in our hearts. And Christ abides in us when we are obedient—when we act out of love, when we live as Christ lived. When we follow the example of the one we call Lord, when we are obedient to the command to love as he loved, then Christ abides; and when Christ abides, then our hearts do not condemn us, even when we stand in the presence of God.

John is calling for a gut check. He wants us to put our hearts into it. He wants us to abide in Christ. He wants us, out of obedience to the Lord of our lives, to let our whole lives reflect his life. He offers us peace, of the deepest most secure sort. But it isn’t something that comes halfheartedly. He reminds us that Christ wants all of us. Mind, heart, guts - all of us.

SERMON ILLUSTRATIONS

(Note: Please confirm all appropriate copyright and licensing information, and provide necessary attribution before using these images in your worship setting.)

1. Politician and environmentalist Gaylord Nelson saw an oil slick from a plane and used his power to launch the global Earth Day movement.

Seeing things from a new perspective allows new information to be revealed to us that may change our views on things and lead us to action for love. Our scripture from the first week of the series references walking in the light and the truth that is revealed in light. The story of the first Earth Day is similar to this. In 1969, Gaylord Nelson was flying in a plane above the Santa Barbara coast and saw a massive oil spill there, threatening the lives of many thousands of creatures. From that vantage point, new information was revealed that called people like Gaylord Nelson into action. The next year, he organized thousands of people around the world to take action for Creation justice, which became the first Earth Day. Nelson perhaps would not have sprung into action and created something with that incredible legacy of being a fifty-year-long, internationally celebrated and observed event, had he not had the experience of having a new truth revealed to him and taking it to heart. The experience of seeing the damage and destruction called him into radical action because of his love of Creation. What is required of us when we come into the understanding of a hurting world, wherever that might be revealed to us? What change are we inspired to make to work toward that goal of joy being complete not for one individual or one community, but for all of Creation?

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/49503002894@N01/4710168879 Attribution: by Kris Krüg on Flickr.

References:

Guest writer Rev. Kristina Sinks, Evanston, IL (ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi, Odawa [Ottawa], and Ojibwe Tribes), is a provisional deacon in the California-Nevada Annual Conference. She also leads the Worship Team of the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement.

2. The Spirit calls us to radical action for love of God’s kin-dom and all Creation.

Can you think of folks in your life or in the public sphere who’ve had a radical shift in their behavior because of a certain revelation or experience? Christians and non-Christians alike throughout history have been called into radical activism and even martyrdom for the sake of something they believed in deeply. At its best, radicalization or a conversion experience leads us into actions of deep solidarity and love for the kin-dom of God. [Share an example below with your congregation that would be most relevant in your context]

  1. Christian civil rights leaders like John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. put their lives on the line to challenge deeply entrenched racism and win justice and civil liberties for themselves and their people—even if they weren’t able to see this come to fruition.
  1. Young activists like Greta Thunberg have been boycotting school on Fridays to protest global political leaders’ lack of action on climate change. The intense fear, grief, and anxiety brought on by learning about climate change has moved many young people to join these actions since 2018. Often, these young folks take action on social media to raise awareness and invite more young people to participate (e.g., Leah Thomas on Instagram).
  1. In 2016, Indigenous activists at Standing Rock, North Dakota, physically put themselves in danger to protect the sacred sites and natural resources threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thousands gathered to physically protect that piece of God’s Creation that was under attack, many motivated by faith.

Whether Christian or not, these folks loved their communities and God’s world so much that they felt they had to take radical action in their own lives to make necessary changes. These activists are radicalized by love into non-violent action. If the Spirit of Christ is alive in us, what major change would take over our lives that would indicate that God is present and moving among us? If the Spirit is a creative force, perhaps we are called to make some creative shift in our lives or our work to truly live out Christlike love. Now, not everyone can or should be a radical activist and risk injury or arrest for the sake of loving Creation or one’s neighbor. But this Scripture and the prophecy revealed to us ask us to deeply consider what we are called to do based on what has been revealed to us. If we understand the intensity of the risk of climate change, we must be open to a certain call to move into radical action for love of Creation and love of God, who abides in all Creation. If “they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” how then shall we live? How will we bear fruit in the face of climate devastation if we are faithful Christians, and how will we heed the call of God to love all Creation?

a. Image Sources: Civil Rights March, Warren Leffler, photographer (from the Library of Congress, no restrictions); Climate Strike, by Matt Hrkac on Flickr; Standing Rock Protest by Leslie Peterson on Flickr.

References:

Guest writer Rev. Kristina Sinks, Evanston, IL (ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi, Odawa [Ottawa], and Ojibwe Tribes), is a provisional deacon in the California-Nevada Annual Conference. She is also involved in the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement.

In This Series...


Second Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes

Colors


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In This Series...


Second Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes