Not with word and speech, but with deed and truth 1. John's letter 3, 16-24
Dear congregation, today's sermon refers to the text we have heard from the 1st letter of John. Actually a text that is wonderfully clear and unambiguous. Is it necessary to preach about it then?
I thought to myself yes. Yes, because how often does it happen that we hear something but actually do not hear it. Hearing something but not really taking it in. Hearing in the way that we have not now actively covered our ears but that it does not get through to us.
In our modern times, this selective perception has also become a survival strategy for us. From the abundance of information, which is offered to us daily, we must constantly select and decide, what is really important now.
Well, for me this text we heard from the 1st letter of John is important. For me it is important because I recognize in it a summary of my faith. Not just in one place, but in several places. But most strikingly in the 23rd verse where it says, "God's commandment is this: we are to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and we are to love one another, as Jesus commanded us." This is nothing else than the double commandment of love, which now just trinitarian consequentially, names Jesus in the place of God. Trinitarian consistent: if we say today that God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are together the triune God, then of course I can always put one of the three in the place of God. So if what Jesus says about himself is true: I and the Father are one, then the summary of all commandments can also be expressed in this way.
Not that anyone will get stuck here for too long now:
We are to believe in Jesus because he is the Son of God. That's what this passage says, and we can say yes to that. And we should love one another. That is what Jesus said when he said we should love our neighbors as ourselves.
To me, the double commandment of love seems to be an important indication that the author(s) of the letter are trying to summarize here. They really want to bring to the point, what it is all about. What it means to believe in Christ. What it means to be a Christian. Or to want to be. And this is what I meant when I said that I recognize the meaning of this text in several places.
Right at the beginning it says, "We have known what love is by what Jesus did." It goes on to say, "He laid down his life. So we too must be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." This second part is complex, it´s not so easy to understand. Therefore, let's stay with the first part of the sentence for a moment: We have known what love is by what Jesus did. What did Jesus do? - The congregation answers (the lame walk, the blind see, etc.).
Thank you for your varied responses. From them I hear that you have really heard the examples and stories that we can read in the Bible. They did not just pass you by, but you really heard them, that is, you absorbed them.
That means we can go one step further and ask, what does it mean then to be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. It can't mean that we really have to die now, for another person, can it?
What I am hearing here is not the actual dying, but the extent of the surrender.
It is not dying itself that is the issue, but the question, what am I willing to do for my brothers and sisters? How far am I willing to love them? How far am I willing to go with them?
"Suppose someone who has everything he or she needs to live sees his or her brother or sister in need. If he or she now closes himself or herself off to them and has no mercy on them - how can God's love abide in them?"
Dear congregation, I don't know how you feel when you hear this, hear it again now in the sermon, but this statement really makes me think.
It's true, some of us are poorer and some of us are richer - but isn't it true that we can all say we have what we need to live? Not everyone has a car, not everyone has a swimming pool, not everyone has the latest cell phone, not everyone has a Hugo Boss suit - but don't we all have what we need to live? Food, drink, clothes, a roof over our heads?
And isn't a deeply pastoral question addressed here when it says, how can love remain in you if you close yourself off to your fellow human beings? When you have no mercy?
I believe that this question reaches at least as far inward as it does outward. It is not a superficial question, but goes to the depth of our soul.
The outside is helping our fellow human beings, but the inside is the capacity to love, which dies if we do not love.
John Wesley expressed this with a simple statement when he wrote: "One main reason the rich have so little compassion for the poor is that they so seldom visit them."
In general, the next sentence of our text could also be effortlessly aligned with Wesley's creed, or statement of faith. When the 1st Epistle of John says: "My children, our love must not be exhausted in words and beautiful speeches, it must prove itself real and true by our actions" what is this but Wesley's call to live a faith that is active in love?
This creed, or statement of faith, has been on my mind for some time. After all, it touches on one of the main themes I formulated at the last district meeting in March 2020: Why does it need us Methodists in Graz?
What is our identity and what is our task, our purpose?
After dealing intensively with the refugee issue since December 2020, specifically with the refugees on Greece, and now with the 5th network meeting taking place tomorrow, I ask myself more and more often if this is not our task. To take in one or two refugee families here in the congregation, specifically in our congregational office.
Of course, this is a larger project. Of course, one should not underestimate such a task. Of course, you have to plan it well and put together the resources before you can say yes.
But isn't it still our task? The task that God has put in front of our feet, that we only have to pick up to become active in love? The one that helps us remain capable of love and that keeps our faith from being lip service?
The more I think about it, the more I think - yes, it is our task, it can be our job.
And not so much because we are irreplaceable or there is no one else who would take in these refugees. But more because it allows us to quiet our hearts before God, as the text says. Or translated a little more simply: Because it does us good as a congregation.
Putting our hearts at rest means nothing other than that we can say with a clear conscience that what is possible for us - that is what we do.
We don't shy away from the difficulties, we don't shy away from the work, we don't leave it at the nice speeches, but we live the faith that is active in love.
Basically, I believe that this is also one of our strengths here in Graz. And I not only believe it, but I have also experienced it again and again. As the one who has often organized events or agreed to events, I also speak from experience. Whether it was the big Taize Youth Gathering in 2018 or the Annual Conference in 2019, I have always experienced that the congregation is there when you need it.
Granted, welcoming refugees is not a weekly action. Rather, it is an annual action. But doesn't it offer a chance to experience for a year or two that we are real? That we are serious about the love of God? That we are willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters?
Isn't there an immense blessing in store for us, just as the 1st letter of John says: "Then, dear friends, we can turn to God with confidence and will receive whatever we ask of him, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him."
Sure, it's work - but on the other hand: I get to do what pleases God. That's great! I live in God and God lives in me.
With this outlook I will close my sermon. This passage from the 1st letter of John is in several places a summary of our faith. It is an inquiry to our faith but it is linked with dimension-breaking promises. Are we genuine, is our faith genuine and if so, we can rely on God as never before.
We will get everything we ask from God. This is not imaginable. It is not imaginable, probably it can only be experienced. The question that arises with every mercy, whether now refugees yes or no, is: Do we first see the problem, or first the promise?
This is the wonderful inquiry we can take with us today: Jesus gave his life for you - where do you want to be involved? How can God's love abide in you so that you experience God living in you and you in him?
It is a promise that God has given unto you.