April 25, 2021 | Elim Lutheran Church Ogden UT
1 John 3:16-24 & John 10:11-18
Life. It is full of things that make us nervous and anxious. We have times of joy and excitement when all is good. But hard times come. Circumstances and events can quickly turn foul. Then we find ourselves adrift at sea with no rudder and no sail. And we are afraid. We want to believe and be positive. We want to claim we are strong in faith and that nothing can shake our confidence in God’s ability to care for us. But we struggle.
You may have heard the story of a young boy who was afraid of the dark. He was also afraid of storms in the night. One dark, stormy night his mom discovered this little boy by her bed side. He was shivering with fright and cold.
“Mommy,” he said, “I am afraid. Can I sleep with you tonight?”
His mom assured him that all was well, letting him stay for a little bit. But then she told him he needed to go back to his own bed and bedroom. She reminded him of how close their rooms were. She also reminded him of God’s love and said, “Jesus is with you. You are okay and safe.”
“I know Jesus is with me. But I want Jesus with skin on,” was his son’s response!
Jesus with skin on. That is what we long for too. There are times when we need and long for that personal presence and assurance.
George Floyd died last spring as Derek Chauvin placed a knee on his neck and a knee on his back as George lay with his hands handcuffed behind his back, face down on the pavement. As Mr. Floyd lay gasping for breath he called out to his mother. And Mr. Floyd died without intervention. Was Jesus there? Where was God?
Where is God when children die suffer and die, or are abused and mistreated? What about all the people who have died in all the ravages of war and violence through the ages? Or the countless victims of all the crimes of slavery and brutality where no one intervened or seemed to be able to make a difference? What about the millions killed in gas chambers, interment camps and so called ethnic cleansing that has mar and defined our human history?
Where is God in all this? You might recall a book entitled “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” written by Rabbi Kushner. His premise is that either God is all loving or all powerful, but couldn’t be both. If God were both God would intervene and rescue the at-risk and vulnerable. Since God seems silent and invisible God cannot be all loving, or if all loving God cannot be all powerful. The big problem, the challenge is why does evil go unchecked and unanswered?
Have you ever questioned that? Have you ever lost faith in your struggle to make sense of all this? Many have!
If our faith—our faith in Jesus based on God’s revelation to us through the pages of Scripture—cannot answer that then maybe we should question our faith. Maybe we should question the existence of God. Can God be both all loving and all powerful at the same time and allow suffering to go on?
But consider this. The Bible does wrestle with and answer the question of evil and God’s response. God does care. God has taken action and is actively involved in our world. Jesus who is God-in-human-flesh is tangible proof. Jesus, true God and true human came into our broken world and defeated sin, death and the devil—all evil and all brokenness through His life, death and resurrection. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. That is the core of our faith.
Jesus, in our Gospel reading tells us that He is the Good Shepherd. He is not a hireling, a hired hand, who has no investment in or care for us. Jesus willingly came into our world and took on our brokenness. He laid down His life for us. He victoriously destroyed all evil. He took up His life again as our victorious Lord and Savior. And, Jesus—God—is actively involved in our world in mysterious ways we cannot see, but also in visible tangible ways.
Consider what Jesus says about the Church.
“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 and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
He is describing the universal “holy Christian Church” that transcends time and space. We tend to draw lines and build walls that exclude and separate those different from us. God’s love is larger than our narrow, frightened focus. Jesus’ flock is much larger than you or I know.
What we do know is this: that our Lord Jesus commands us to love each other the same way He loves us. He gave His life for us. He died for us. How much do we love each other? The other? The different? The ones who don’t fit our comfortable box of normal and okay? Jesus’ death and resurrection are love-in-action that breaks all the walls land barriers we erect. He calls us to follow Him in doing the same!
The author of 1 John tells us that we need to put feet to our love. We need to love through our hands and checkbooks.
“Little children, let us love, not in word or in speech, but in truth and in action” (1 John 3:18).
In the verses preceding this “love in action” verse, John tells us to share the world’s goods with those in need. He does not tell us to judge those in need as lazy or shiftless. He does not condone our calling those different than us terrorists or rapists. He does not give us permission to judge others’ worthiness of help or love. He does not approve of our caving in to fear and “circling the wagons” in self protection. God through John tells us to share what we have and make our love known through our actions. Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk.
We are Jesus’ hands and feet. We are Jesus-in-the-world, the body of Christ. If we want to see God as not caring and indifferent to the suffering that goes on around us we need to wake up and realize God is amazed at our indifference and calloused uncaring inactivity.
We want Jesus with skin on. Indeed! We want God in the mix. We want an answer to unchecked evil. And God has! God has acted in and through Jesus. God has given us His indwelling Holy Spirit. God has taken away the barriers that divide us form God and each other and given us the gift of forgiveness and new life. Now God is waiting for us to act on what we have received. We are Jesus’s skinned out flesh, His hands and feet, heart mouth, ears, eyes, etc. That takes courage and motivation. God grant us both!
In Jesus’ name. Amen!