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?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
(1 John 3:17-18)
This reading was part of the lectionary for this past Sunday. It’s the portion of Scripture that I preached on. The interesting thing about this is the my sermon significantly changed between the two services. I realized that what I was preaching was not connecting with people. So I scrapped the middle part of the sermon and made other changes for the second service. That’s the benefit of being someone who preaches with no notes or a manuscript. The end result was that the second sermon was far superior to the first sermon.
As I prepared for worship this past week, this passage of Scripture caught my attention and would not let go. When this happens, I have learned to wait and see what God has in mind.
God didn’t disappoint. This past week I wrote about the ministry we do at Flying J. We make sure people get showers that need them, we do laundry with people, and we make sure people are fed. Most importantly, we get to know names and start to learn people’s stories and just sit with people – remind them of their humanity and how God loves them.
This past Thursday was no different. We had 15 people who came seeking a variety of things. We meet all sorts of people during out time there. This past Thursday, we met someone who needed some help. Today there was a follow-up. This person had pretty much nothing – except their dogs. Just a few bags with them and that’s all. No money. No place to go. No food. No nothing.
And I was drawn back to 1 John 3:17-18. This was someone in need – how could I refuse to help? We got the person set up in a hotel for the night, got them some gift cards for food that they could get for themselves and their dogs, gave contact information for longer term housing and other services, and offered a prayer with the person. Also, I told this person that we, the church, weren’t interested in just throwing some material things at them and wishing them luck. This was the start of a longer term relationship. But for right now, let’s take this one day at a time. It was time to stop the bleeding – get some food, get into stable housing, and then start to get their life in order.
The person was grateful for the help and saw this as an opportunity for a fresh start. And in many ways, it is a fresh start. In some ways, this is no different from receiving forgiveness of our sins – we get a fresh start, even when we haven’t done anything on our own to deserve it.
Last night, this person rested peacefully, in shelter, with food for both them and their dogs. Today would be a fresh start with new challenges. But they would not be walking alone.
Love is more than just a bunch of words meant to comfort and console. Sometimes, comfort and consoling are exactly what is needed. Other times, like in this case, words and speech would be empty and meaningless. In this case truth and action were needed.
At the beginning of the week I didn’t know why I was drawn to 1 John 3:17-18. By yesterday, I knew.