Fourth Sunday Of Easter
April 24-25, 2021
I John 3:16-24
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
In my Bible, next to the verse of Joshua 1:9, I have the name of Ron Degeleu, with the date 12.16.03. I had visited with Ron on that day and had used that passage in my devotion with him. The next day was going to be a huge day for Ron and his family. He was scheduled for a kidney transplant and his own son was the donor whose gift of his kidney would allow his father to live. Without the transplant Ron wouldn’t be able to live for much longer. As we spoke we spoke about the sacrifice that his son was making for him. The passage I read was, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
When I think of that day and the days to come back in December of 2003 I think of the phrase, “All In”. Ron had to be all in with months of testing, doctor’s visits, and the preparation for such a major surgery. That was also true for his son and his family. It was to be a long surgery with a long recovery and some possible challenges for him and them. But they were confident and they boldly took those steps forward.
All In. Do you know that such a word applies to us? As disciples of Jesus we are called to a life that is not reserved or complacent but one that is fully committed to God and His purposes for our life. The “All In” that I will speak about today is that we are committed to deep and beneficial love. John, in this epistle, this letter, says, “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. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (I John 3:16-18) True love doesn’t stop with intentions, hopes or good wishes – it actually does something.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, is direct about being all in, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
Recently I see folks getting angrier quicker and becoming offended faster. But the way of Jesus for all who would say that they are His followers is much different. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) In this epistle consider what is being said:
- This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (I John 3:11)
- We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. (I John 3:14)
- Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (I John 4:7-8)
Now, who are we to love? Who do we take into this circle? You know, I like you. You good singers sing loud. You lousy singers keep quiet. When I think of it, we have shared some hard times and we have had some of the best times, together. I like you. Some of you are Scandinavians – even better than that, you are the best of the best – you’re Norwegian. I like you.
But those others – I don’t know about them. Some people aren’t nice, they can look different, vote different, think different, and hold other opinions that I don’t hold. The heck with them, right? Who needs them?
This “All In” thing about love is pretty hard to do. This command can’t apply to those people who aren’t like me or us!! Right? We’re not really supposed to love them? Right? Sometimes Jesus says all the wrong things. Jesus had the audacity to say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Love that person who is a pain in your rear-end. Love the person who gets under your skin. Love the person who nobody can stand. Martin Luther said of this, “He who is learned should serve him who is not learned; he who is rich should serve him who is poor; he who is sensible should serve him who is foolish, and so on. ” (AE 30:279)
All In!! Love. All In!! Faith. In our reading it said this, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he has commanded us.” (I John 3:23) God wants our heart to be fully established in Jesus. Jesus was asked this question and then gave this answer: “What must we do to do the works that God requires?” To this Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
Faith. Trust. Absolute confidence. God has answered our need for forgiveness of sins and the surety of everlasting life and He has given us the dwelling of God’s Holy Spirit right now in our hearts. Jesus and His truth have made us “all in”.
This past Tuesday I visited Donna Dennis in the memory care unit at Mill Vista Lodge at Windcrest. The last time I saw Donna was in February of 2020, but now they are allowing visitors once again. As I got to the fourth floor I was quickly greeted by a friendly old man who wanted to know who I was. I told him that I was John Larson and that I was Donna’s pastor. What church? “Lutheran.” And then, this man, who is supposed to have memory issues, quotes verbatim, in German, Martin Luther’s famous line in his “Here I Stand” confession.
500 years ago Luther stands before the most powerful men in the world, who are demanding that he withdraw his writings and beliefs. But with utmost confidence he says,, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason (I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other), my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”
All in with love. Jesus gives us no other route. All in with trust in the love of God, the truth of His Word and the confidence that we have a faith that is grounded well.
We are all in with Him and His will, and with Him and our faith, because He is “all in” with us. This, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is Good Shepherd Sunday. The gospel is from John 10. “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. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:14-16)
His love, the love from Jesus, is deep and permanent. John would describe this God who comes to our side like this, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:9-10) God was “all in” to make us His, to cleanse our souls and to promise us eternal joys.
I’m amazed at how meaningful the Christian life can be. Deep love blesses so many. I’m amazed at how strong the Christian faith can become. Deep faith allows us to stand, confidently, in Jesus. And I’m humbled with how the Lord of all made us His priority and gave His all to claim us as His own.
All In!! That is what a Christian is and does. That is who our God is. Amen!!