First Reading Acts 4:5-12
Epistle Reading: 1 John 3:16-24
Gospel Reading: John 10:11-18
Sermon: “Love is an Action Verb”
English is such an interesting language – it drives people crazy trying to learn it as a second language, because we say things with so many idioms and use similar or nearly similar words to mean very different things. For instance, when I say the word “To”. You have to rely on other factors to figure out whether I meant a number, a direction or meant to imply “also”. An example: Yesterday, I went to the store to buy two cans of soup and bread too. It’s enough to drive us crazy too! Love is another such word. It can be used a noun: such as when talking about Love for one’s country, or for your spouse or a child; or love for a particular food or entertainment, it might even be a tennis or squash score – love, 15. Love can also be a verb; “Do you love me?
Now verbs can be active or passive. The simple sentence “I love you” is active whereas “You are loved” is passive. In the active voice, the subject “does” the verb, where in the passive voice the subject is acted upon. Now the purpose of these seemingly random grammatical thoughts is not to bring up visions of lost hours in English composition class, but rather to start us thinking about how we use the word “love”. As we said, it gets used in many very different ways – it might describe an emotion, it might describe excitement or passion or yesterday’s dinner. But in today’s text from first John, it describes a way of life and a pattern of behavior.
John, the elder, writes to urge his readers to live faithfully and lovingly. Last week’s reading assured us that we are gifted with the wonderful, loving title of Children of God – not because we deserve it, but because God’s grace has decreed it. He went on to encourage us to then live worthy of that name. Now, John proceeds to describe the love of God and our response to that love. He doesn’t give us a dictionary definition of love – instead he defines it by what it does – how it acts. Its not a passive emotion – it is active and visible. Listen again how he begins this section: (1 John 3:16-18 NIV)  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
Love, the way John uses it, is known in action. How do we know that God loves us? Because of what God has done – God sent Jesus Christ into this world. Its one of those wondrous little ironies that John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 have the same thought even though the chapter and verse divisions were added long after they were written: John 3:16 (NIV) says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 1st John 3:16 (NIV) says “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
Jesus describes himself that same way in today’s gospel reading: (John 10:11-15 NIV)
 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
What’s the difference between the hired hand and the shepherd? Love for the Sheep. The hireling says – hey – minimum wage doesn’t pay for me fighting any wolves! I’m out-a-here. The Good shepherd – read here “the ideal shepherd” or the “model shepherd” or the “faithful shepherd” – the “good” shepherd is different – for him, the sheep are loved and worthwhile, he is willing to put his life on the line for them – willing to invest his own self – blood, sweat and tears for them. He protects them, nurtures them and gathers them in. He leads them and prepares the way for them. That’s how we know he loves the sheep and that’s how the sheep know they are loved. Nobody went and stuck a microphone in the shepherd’s face and said “So tell us mister – How do you feel about sheep?” It can be seen and discerned by watching and seeing what happens.
When I read 1 John 3:16 for you before, I actually stopped before the end of the verse –
It began: (1 John 3:16 NIV) “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” But it continues – “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” It seems the measure of love is the same for us. Now normally, when we talk about of someone laying down their life, we think of a hero – and the words are said in awe of a soldier or a rescuer who dies attempting to save others. Self sacrifice is certainly a true test of faithfulness and love. But not only martyrs and heroes love. For us everyday Christians, self sacrifice should be ordinary – not just extraordinary. John didn’t have in mind just singularly grand acts for heroic Christians, but an everyday commandment for everyday Christians. John says that self sacrifice should show up in everyday matters – 1 John 3:17-18 NIV  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
True, some self sacrifice might mean physical death – if we stand against violence, hatred and injustice, there is a real danger that our love might lead us into harms way. In every age, faithful Christians have acted from Christ-like love and gone where they did not have to go, suffering what they could have avoided. But usually the stakes are lower.
The principle is the same, but laying down our lives will be more ordinary – putting aside our own priorities and interests to look out for the interests of another.
We lay down our lives when we make time for others – to listen and pray together – or to cook and take food or take them to a doctors appointment. I’ve had the privilege of watching several of you this last week do these things. You deliver Meals on Wheels, You opened your hearts for a family that hasn’t been active in this congregation for years to feed and welcome them as we buried Julianne Parker Thursday. You have invested time in children and elderly alike. Love is active, love shows. When we lay down the completely normal human desire to live for ourselves and live for others – we love as Christ loved. When we allow the love of God to redirect us and point us toward the needs of theirs we are laying down our lives for the life that God intends us to live.
These are not passing emotional moments – these are decisions of the will based in gratitude for what God has done for us. That’s where we are headed next week as we continue in our journey through 1st John: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). God has actively, visibly loved us in the person of Jesus Christ, therefore – we know what love is and respond to that love by loving others.
Perhaps you noticed that John is pretty hard on Christians who say they love Jesus but don’t live out that love. Faith and love come bundled together in a single gracious package. The reformers that laid the foundation for our theology said that Faith alone is al that is required for salvation, and that much is true. However, it is also true that saving Faith is never alone. It comes wrapped in and around a core of love. When God creates saving faith in our hearts, God also creates active love. Faith in Jesus transforms our hearts so that they become self-giving hearts.
James asks us to consider this situation (James 2:15-18 NIV)  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
Its the same message that John has for us. The truly good news for us is that when we act lovingly, we can be assured that nothing-less than the love of God in Jesus Christ is flowing through our hands. Jesus is the embodiment of the love of God and is both present in our giving to others and receives our love in the doing. How do we know this? Jesus said: (John 13:34-35 NIV) “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus also says (Matthew 25:40 NIV) ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
John closes this section this way: (1 John 3:23-24 NIV) “… this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” The very Spirit of God dwells with us, in us and works through us. The Spirit goes by many names – The Advocate, Comforter, Teacher, Encourager, The one who prays for us, and empowers us. But we know it best by the love of God that is poured out in our hearts and reaches out in our hands.