I JOHN 3:16-24; JOHN 10:11-18 

June 27, 2010


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            Sometimes on a Sunday morning while sitting in the sanctuary, or having cookies  on “Cookie Sunday” and having a cup of coffee downstairs I wonder, “Do we realize what we have gotten ourselves into in the church?”  

            I say that because I am often reminded of Annie Dillard’s tongue-in-cheek, yet truthful, description of church life.  In Teaching a Stone to Talk, she writes:


            I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?  The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.  It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.


            What indeed have we gotten ourselves into?  Especially, what have we gotten ourselves into when it comes to our one another directive for today?  This is a crash helmet, signal flare, lash us to our pews one another directive!

            We turn today to the last “one another” passage in our “One Anothering” sermon series.  We started way back in January, and we’ve fought snow storms, and snow drifts, and wind and rain, and cold temperatures, and now blazing hot temperatures to be here, and now we come to the end, with perhaps the toughest of all the “one anothers” in the New Testament.  Listen to John’s words one more time:  We know love by this, that he laid down his life life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

            Most of us know a lot about love.  We’ve fallen into it from time to time, and God knows we’ve received far more of it than we’ve ever deserved.  We’ve felt it, and even given it, and we’ve devoted ourselves to trying to grow in it, to living it.  Then we come to another kind of love: “Jesus love,” a riskier, more dangerous to our health and safety kind of love.  As John said,  He laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

            Now there are certain professions like military personnel and police officers and firefighters who, in the course of their work, have a higher probability of having to lay down their lives than the rest of us, but the biblical admonition is not confined to people with high risk jobs.  We are all told to lay down our lives for one another, so let’s try to “unpack” this concept of “laying down one’s life for one another” this morning.

            Fortunately, in addition to John’s letter today, we also have John’s gospel, which takes us back to the source for this one another directive.  The source, of course, is Jesus.  Jesus describes himself as “the good shepherd [who] lays down his life for the sheep,” as opposed to the “hired hand,” who runs away in the face of danger, leaving the poor sheep to fend for themselves.  If you haven’t dozed off yet turn with me to that reference, to John 10, beginning in verse 11.


            I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away - and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because the hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.  And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.  I have received this command from my Father.


            Let me state the obvious.  Jesus laying down his life for us, paying the ultimate price, is the standard, the high-water mark of Christian discipleship.  We are to be willing to pay the same price for one another.  We are to have that commitment to one another, that kind of sacrificial love for one another.  As I said earlier in the message, “What in the world have we gotten ourselves into here?” 

            After all, this is not natural.  Self-preservation is natural, not self-sacrifice.  Maybe I’m being too autobiographical here, but the truth is I’m into self-preservation more than self-sacrifice.  At least, this kind of love is not natural unless, of course, you really, really, really love someone.  On April 27th of this year a massive tornado tore across seventeen Mississippi counties, and Yazoo City resident Sherry Carpenter is still overwhelmed by her personal loss.  Her three grandchildren were in their house, not their grandmother’s house, but their own house, when the tornado picked it up and smashed it to the ground.  Their mother, 30-year-old Nikki Bradshaw Carpenter, covered them with a mattress and then laid on top of it to protect them.  She was found dead but her sons survived, sheltered underneath the mattress and the wreckage.  We are willing to lay down our lives for people we really, really love, but would we do this for one another?  Steve, would you do this for me?  I’m not sure I would do it for you.  I would probably do it for Trudy, and my children, and grandchildren, but Steve I’m not sure I would do it for you.  It’s not natural.  We don’t come equipped with sacrificial love, unless it’s for someone in our very small inner circle.

            What in the world have we signed up for? 

            So, this kind of love, laying down our lives for one another, is not natural.  As a result, laying down our lives for another is impossible without a massive infusion of God’s Spirit.  The good news, of course, is Jesus not only calls us to love sacrificially, he also equips us to do it.  Hopefully, we will never be placed in a situation where we will have to literally lay down our lives for one another.  But if that time comes, we may be surprised by our courage. God promises to give us the strength, the courage to do it. 

            There is, however, another aspect of this laying down one’s life for another.  By that I mean, dying for others isn’t the only thing that laying down one’s life means. If we look carefully at what John is saying, we see that he has a broader understanding of what it means to lay down your life.  He says, We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.  But note the very next sentence.  The very next sentence is, 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?


            In other words, there is the ultimate sacrifice for one another - as the Good Shepherd does for his sheep - and then there are the daily, weekly, monthly opportunities to lay down our lives for one another. 

            Fred Craddock’s mother understood this.  Fred Craddock, a great preacher from the previous generation, says that when he was a kid, he often came down for breakfast only to find a strange man sitting at his kitchen table.  The men were often dirty, ugly, and poorly dressed, and they scared young Fred.   His family lived near railroad tracks and men, whom people called “hobos” in Craddock’s day would come begging along the tracks and take whatever they could get.

            Fred said, “Mama, who’s that in our kitchen?”

            “His name is Henry and he’s hungry.”

            “Where’d he come from?”

             “From the railroad tracks.”

            “Weren’t you scared?”

            “He’s hungry.”

            “Well, I’m scared of him.”

            “Well, he’s hungry.”

            We talk a lot of talk about love – loving people and being compassionate.  In fact, the first one another passage in this series was “love one another.” People, however, will always be looking to see if we act on what we profess, if the sacrificial love of Christ really lives within us, on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. 

            I think of a man’s grandfather who was a very religious Scotch-Irish Presbyterian living in Ireland.  Every Saturday night his grandfather had devotions and knelt down at the dining room chair and prayed fervently as he prepared for the Sabbath and morning worship.  Then his grand father moved to the United States from Ireland, and he came with an intense dislike for Catholics.  His grandson doesn’t remember his grandfather ever saying a good word about Catholics.  His grandfather inherited a good bit of land from his family, as well as an intense disdain for Catholics, and ironically, he eventually sold the property he inherited to the Catholic Church so they could build a nunnery.

            Once, when they went to visit his grandfather in the States, his younger brother asked his dad, “If grandpa dislikes Catholics so much, how come he sold his property to them?”

            The dad answered,  “Son, why don’t you ask grandpa about that!”

            The mother immediately jumped in to say, “Don’t you dare ask him that!”

            You see, generalized statements about love don’t carry much weight.  We have all met people who claim to “have Jesus in their hearts,” but don’t act that way to others. People will always be looking to see if we act on what we say, if we daily, weekly and monthly lay down our lives for one another.  

            So let’s summarize to this point.  First, we are called to heroic self-sacrifice.  We are called to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for one another, which would be impossible if God did not infuse us with a massive dose of his Spirit when the moment of sacrificial heroism came.  Second, this one another passage also directs us to lay down our lives on a daily basis by making sacrifices for those in need.

            Now, there’s one more thing I want to say about this one another directive and then we are done with this message and this series.  Laying down one’s life for another does not mean we become doormats.  By that I mean, laying down’s one life is a choice.  As Jesus said about his life in the Good Shepherd passage: No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.  I have received this command from my Father.

            Jesus explicitly states that his decision to lay down his life is freely chosen and intentional.  His life is his own to lay down or take up.  He submits to the Father and to no one else, not even to Pilate, the representative of the all-powerful Roman empire.

            It is good that the church is known as a place that helps people and that Christians are known as persons of compassion, but there are plenty of people who will take advantage of us, and over the years I have learned to be cautious in responding to those who pop in off the street.

            In one situation while serving at another church, I refused to give a man the $50 he said he needed for a bus ticket out of town.  His story had followed a pattern I’ve come to recognize as a probable fraud.  I offered him a $10 gift card at a grocery store that the church had pre-bought instead, in case he was genuinely hungry but he waved it off.   He was angry.  “You call yourself a Christian,” he yelled.

            I do call myself a Christian, although often I’m not always a good one, and here’s the important thing:  Jesus did not allow himself to be taken advantage of.  Laying down one’s life for others does not mean being their doormat.  Life is something to be laid down or picked up.  It is never to be given to others to walk on.  It is a daily choice.

            Well, that’s it for today.  Next Sunday we begin a new series on the “Big Ten,” no not the new Husker football conference, but the Ten Commandments.  I hope to see you then.  Amen.