When I was in college I had this friend who was a great person, but who didn’t always do what she said she was going to do. If you asked her to meet you for dinner at 6 she would show at 6:45. If you asked her to help you move, she’d forget. If you needed something she would swear she would come through for you, but she never quite did.
The last straw came when another friend needed a ride to the airport. She showed up an hour late and the other friend missed her plane, after that point we all agreed that while we loved her, we couldn’t trust her to do what she said she was going to do.
We’ve all heard the expression “talk is cheap”. The flip side of that is actions are priceless. The person who does what they say they are going to do is, with good reason, trusted and respected. The one who doesn’t, not so much.
The writer of the passage we read today knew that. First John is a letter written not to those he hoped to convert, but to those who already believed. It’s a letter telling them how they should act as Christians. It’s essentially an early letter on Christian ethics.
John writes, We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 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? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth…
In other words, talk is cheap. Actions mean everything.
I love that phrase about loving not in “word or speech” but instead in “truth and action”. It means the measure of who we are as Christians is not what we say on Sunday mornings or whether we wear a cross around our necks or anything like that where we profess our faith by words or symbols. The writer would agree that when it comes to beings Christian talk is cheap.
But action isn’t. John asks how those who have been given so much can see a brother or sister who needs help and turn their back on them. He asks how we can see the example of Christ who loved us so much that he gave everything for us, and then turn our backs on those who need the same kind of love. John tells us this is our measure of the Christian life: not what we say, but how we act.
We don’t always get it right. None of us do. We may have the best of intentions, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s hard. When we actually have to give up our time to go volunteer at the food pantry or Habitat or anywhere else,we may sometimes find other things to do. When we are asked to open our checkbooks and help out, we might rationalize that we really would rather use that money for something fun. After all, we worked hard for it. When that friend comes to us needing someone to lean on, we might make excuses on why we can’t get together.
We’ve all felt that twinge when we’ve said one thing and acted in another way. We know it’s not our best self, or who we really want to be. And so we resolve to do better. And while none of us is perfect, we try. And that’s a noble endeavor, to try to make sure your actions reflect who you say you are. For us Christians that means making sure our actions reflect the love of a Christ who first loved us.
But have you ever noticed that a lot of people don’t trust Christians? I’ve been at dinner parties before where someone, before they knew what I did, has made a comment about all clergy being con artists and all Christians being hypocrites. They talk about all the bad things that have been done in the name of our faith: wars, discrimination, the treatment of women.
I get it. When I was growing up in the 80’s it seemed like every month there was another televangelist being hauled out of their house in handcuffs, or tearfully confessing to something on the evening news my parents watched. Even as a kid I knew that some Christians did one thing while saying another.
I’m not alone. A lot of folks think all Christians are hypocrites. And the truth is this: we are. We are, not because we are Christians, but because we are human. None of us is always the person we want to be.
But our job as Christians is to try.
We aren’t perfect. We know that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be the sort of people we say we are on Sunday mornings. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to be people not just of words but of actions.
That matters for our life together as a church. A church should ideally be the kind of community where without us saying a word about what we believed, you would know we were Christians. That old song says, “they will know we are Christians by our love”. It doesn’t say, “they will know we are Christians because we say so.”
That has implications for our church, and for any church. It means we should exist not just for ourselves, in fact, not even primarily for ourselves, but for others. It means that when we measure who we are as a church community, we should start by asking what we have done for our neighbors, and for those who would hope to see the love of Christ.
That’s not always easy. And yet, if we are going to claim the title of Christian, it’s not optional. The world has plenty of Christians. It needs more followers of Christ.
And so my question to you is this: how are we going to be people not of word and speech, but of truth and action? How are we going to be the people that our world needs us to be?
I think we as a church are already doing a lot tomake sure we are not just paying lip service to the Gospel. We have missions we support. We give generously to the greater church. We open our doors to those who ask. And we have more ideas in the works.
But just as our community is always changing, God’s call to us is evolving as well. God is opening new doors to us so we can better serve our neighbors and our world. We have been talking about new ideas in the committee meetings of this church, and I’m excited about what God is doing with us.
But here’s the thing. God isn’t just calling the deacons and the trustees to action. God isn’t just working through them, though eyre doing a great job. God is working through each one of us here today, including you.
I know God has a plan for every person here today. I know God has brought you here not just for worship, but for service. The love of Christ may have gotten you here today, but God doesn’t want your Christian journey to end here in a church pew. God has something greater in store for you.
The journey every week starts here. Think of your pew as your launching pad. Here we say, and sing, the words of our faith, we get ready to become people of action. And when you leave here, you go out into a world that needs that action. It’s a world that needs followers of Christ, not just Christians In name only.
The good news is you’re not in this alone. We are a community of people who want todo just that. We want to be people of action, not just words. But we need you, and we need everyone who comes through our doors. You are all a part of God’s call on this church, all a piece of the divine puzzle, and all important. God is ready to do great things in this church. Are you ready for God to do great things in you as well?i hope the answer is yes. For all of us.
I’ll end with this. Last week I was looking at the calendar and realized that as if this Wednesday I’ll have been your pastor for two years. I’m about to sign a new contract for another year as your pastor, just as I do each year.
But the great thing is that you don’t need to sign a contract like that to serve God. You don’t need to be a pastor, or to preach, or anything like that. What matters is not the words on a paper, but the covenant that is written on yiur heart and where it takes you. God has called me here to be your pastor, but God has called all of you here for a no less important reason as well. God has called us to be a community of action together, and we each have a part to play. May God bless us in this next hear of ministry together, and always. Amen.