Look at Yourself; You Are the Church

1 John 3: 16-2

JOHN 10: 11-18

April 21, 2024

This is how we know love.” Did you hear those words in today’s Scripture lesson? A Biblical description of love … not Paul’s enduring words about love’s essentials written to the church in Corinth that we have recorded in First Corinthians chapter 13 teaching us about God’s expectations that love must be focused on patience, kindness, unhappiness when there is injustice, and more. Nor are John’s words repeating the Torah’s call to God’s people to “love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”

I have always found it interesting that John’s placement of the words “This is how we know love” followed by the phrase, “Jesus laid down His life down for us” in what we call his first epistle, actually a letter to early Christians living in what is today’s Turkey, ended up being calibrated in our Bibles as FIRST JOHN 3:16.

John did not create chapters and verses in his writing: in His Gospel, in his three epistles or in Revelation all of which eventually became part of our Scriptures. He did not ask for these readings to be shown as 3-16. In fact, the Bible did not have chapters until the year 1227 when a man named Stephen Langton decided that it would be easier to read the Bible if there were chapters delineating the words in the Bible’s 66 books.

If we are to examine who we are as people of faith today’s Scripture lesson from First John 3:16 should be one of the essentials … if we are to make the necessary determination of how we are to live our lives for God or perhaps how together we are to form the church I can’t think of any better starting point than First John chapter 3 verse 16 combined with the Gospel of John’s chapter 3 verse 16, which most of us memorized from the King James’ translation, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Purely coincidental but there we have it two JOHN 3:16’s with solid meaning for us.

I’d also toss in the teaching of Jesus Christ about not judging folks for their faults, their mistakes, and their human frailties, when defining what the church is supposed to be. You know loving all equally before finding reasons to be critical of another. Essentials of faith that run counter to the world’s lust to blame, be bitter, and to divide. The church of Jesus Christ should be embracing the doctrine of forgiveness because the last time I checked … as one of my cardiologists recently reminded me, ‘no human is perfect … no one has died and come back to life except the One named Jesus.’

We all need to believe; the membership of God’s church needs to believe but also be loving and forgiving and understanding reflective of our belief. In fact, God’s mission in Christ wasn’t wrapped up in identifying faults and shortcomings but in salvation. Jesus told Nicodemus that “God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” If we were each judged for our faults and our sins … yikes … we’d never have a chance.

The church’s starting point … that empty tomb … the cross where Jesus took my multiple sins and yours … God’s call to humanity to believe, to unite, to be the church that lives out the teachings of Jesus comes from that realization that Jesus Christ not only laid down His life for us but that He is Risen <<He is Risen Indeed>>

Church is about community. God’s call to God’s people is to come together to worship and that church has a mission of carrying out God’s truths in the world; “We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters! Let’s love with action and truth. This is His commandment that we believe in Jesus Christ AND love each other. This is how we know that He dwells in us.”

The challenge is to ensure that God dwells in God’s church … that the church reflects God’s teaching through Jesus Christ. That the church takes the psalmist’s call for everyone and everything to praise God seriously. Rejoice always in the Lord!

And, we need to remember and to look again at ourselves because we are the church.

And, then there was yesterday. I was woken to a text message that Colonial Manor United Methodist Church was on fire. The first words of my day. I rubbed my eyes and read the wake-up text again. I immediately thought of Pastor Walt Mander and Kathy who love that church so much. I texted him. I thought about the members of that church I know and those I don’t know. I thought about my friend Joe Casey who had served as their treasurer and financial guru for several years after I asked him to help that church. I wondered how bad the fire was … was anyone hurt … what will become of the church. Thankfully, Pastor Walt reported to me later in the morning that the newer part of the church had not suffered any real damage from the fire but the old part had … visual memories gone.

Frankly, almost immediately after my mind took me through those thoughts and I had reached out to Walt … I started singing. Singing the hymn that I had already chosen for us to sing this morning. “I am the church … you are the church … we are the church together. All who follow Jesus … all around the world … yes, we’re the church together.”

And, then that in-your-face line from the second verse … THE CHURCH IS NOT A BUILDING … the church is not a resting place … THE CHURCH IS A PEOPLE.

I know those would not be totally comforting words to anyone from Colonial Manor as the smoke of the fire dissipated. Christine Brennan reached out to me as the morning moved along. Her husband had served as Colonial Manor’s pastor for a number of years and today is the anniversary of Gary’s death. She was devastated and mentioned the thrift shop and the food bank. And, so many memories in that building … so many special moments of life but friends those memories were created by individuals, by human beings engaged in the ministry of the church for God and Jesus Christ.

It is true that a building and its contents reflect and bring back those wonderful memories just pause and look at our beautiful sanctuary. These stained glass windows. This precious cross and altar table. Pews you have sat on through the years and perhaps pews your parents sat in once upon a time. The stained glass over our entrance way that reads METHODIST EPISCOPAL, which was the denominational name in 1908 when these doors were first opened. I remember the first time I walked through the doors and perhaps you do too.

Truthfully this structure is a building … there was a church building on these very grounds that was built in the 1850’s but later torn down … it too was a building and those who tore it down and built this building were people … people of faith with memories of what was … memories of that first St. Paul’s church … people of faith who were dedicated to not having a club house but about BEING the church.

Together we need to once again realize that together WE ARE THE CHURCH …. YOU ARE THE CHURCH … I AM THE CHURCH … think of the special people whose connection in your life has been church. Family, friends and pastors. People you have fed the hungry with, gone on mission trips with, taught Vacation Bible School with, sung with, prayed with, studied God’s Word with, laughed with and worshiped God with … not the building but the people. Worship and faith … a God-connection perhaps only on Sunday’s but hopefully much more.

God’s church on earth only succeeds, only carries on the teaching of Jesus Christ if we accept that all who follow Jesus all around the world need to believe and then act as if WE ARE THE CHURCH TOGETHER.

And, last night driving down 130 from Collingswood I heard Stephen Still’s beautiful tenor voice singing … “[1]When you see the cross for the first time … you understand why you came this way. Cause the truth you might be running from is so small but it’s as big as the promise of … the promise of a coming day!”

No, Stephen Stills words were not intended as a song of faith but as I heard this song I once again realized that people like you and me represent the cross of Jesus Christ in the world. It was people like you who brought the cross to me and caused me not to run away but to run towards the promise of God. Promise of a coming day! To run towards the good shepherd who would embrace and hold me in the tough times of my life … the sad times of my life … the times I fall and slip and struggle to get up.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd … the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. I must lead them … they will listen to my voice.”

And, the song continued as I drove through Camden … “think about how many times I have fallen … what heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten. I have been around the world looking …. Who knows love can endure and you know it will.”

And it comes back to who we are … who God is … who represents the cross on this Sunday in April and what we are willing to do with it all. God’s enduring love!

Friends, the church is not a building but the church is a people who understand that God’s enduring love is evident through Jesus Christ. No matter how we fall … we need to go into the arms of the shepherd and in today’s world we the church need to be the shepherd … we need to be the voice of God … we need to be the loving neighbors …

Look at yourself … you are the church … and “this is His commandment that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love each other as He commanded us. Those who keep His commandments dwell in the God and God dwells in them. This is how we know that he dwells in us because of the Spirit He has given to us.”

The Spirit … the church … we have so much to do … let today be the day we again step up to live as if this is our priority and that God’s love for us matters to us. AMEN

[1] Southern Cross written by Stephen Stills, Rick Curtis, and Michael Curtis

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