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  • Rev. Annie McMillan

“Love in Truth”

John 3:16 is a favorite verse for many, summing up our theology as we proclaim

with Christ: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever

believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is a beautiful piece of what

we believe, but 1 John 3:16 has a special place in my own faith: “This is how we

know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our

brothers and sisters.”

There’s something radical about this love. I mean, when was the last time you

considered putting yourself in harm’s way to benefit someone else who was neither

blood family or a close friend? But maybe this means even more than a willingness to

die for someone else. Before this section, 1 John says: “This is the message that you

heard from the beginning: love each other.” A few verses later, he says “We know

that we have transferred from death to life, because we love the brothers and sisters.

The person who does not love remains in death.” And then we come to the passage we

just heard, “This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought

to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if someone has material

possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but refuses to help, how can the love

of God dwell in a person like that? Little children, let’s not love with words or speech

but with action and truth.”

Laying down our lives means more than being willing to die. In her Working

Preacher Commentary, Dr. Janette Ok makes sense of this section by noting, “‘Laying

down our lives’ resembles what Paul says in Philippians 2:4: ‘Let each of you look

not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’” Dr. Ok later shares about a

pastor she knew “who lived modestly but was in the habit of giving generously[. She

asked him] how he determined the amount he gave to [a relief agency and a

missionary connected to her church.] He answered, ‘I give until it hurts.’”

Can we say the same? Early in my ministry, I preached on this text, and I found

this story from some missionaries in Haiti.

[There was a couple who] served for 12 years as missionaries to

Haiti. Among various other ministries…, they discipled a few

young men who [went on to] lead various churches and ministries.

One participant in this was a shy young man named Miltador.

Miltador showed a heart to obey even the most radical instructions

of the Bible. Like most Haitians, Miltador lived in poverty. He did

have one possession that many Haitians did not. Miltador owned a

cow--a feat that may not sound all that impressive to us, but one

that would give Miltador's family an opportunity for ongoing

nourishment from the cow's milk and ongoing income breeding

the cow and selling its calves.

Miltador came into possession of the cow after several years of

work. A local farmer hired Miltador, then just a boy, to take care

of a calf. Each morning and evening Miltador retrieved the calf

from the neighboring farm, found a place for it to graze, then

returned it to its home. Miltador cared for the calf, with no pay,

until it had grown and could be bred. When the farmer finally

bred the cow, the farmer gave Miltador a calf--his only payment

for years of work.

As this discipleship group, including Miltador, studied through the

New Testament, they came to 1 John 3:16-18. …

The next week, when Miltador arrived at discipleship group

meeting, [the group leader] casually asked about his cow--was it

healthy? Miltador hung his head, "I don't have the cow anymore,''

he confessed. …''My brother has been sick and needed to see a

doctor. He had no money to pay a doctor. Last week you told us

that if we have material possession, and see our brother in need,

but don't help--how could the love of God be in us? So I sold the

cow and gave the money to my brother so he could see the


We might think that Miltador’s response was drastic. Couldn’t he have sold the milk

to provide for his brother? His actions seem impossibly radical, and perhaps foolish. Yet

he did understand the underlying message that is so hard to grasp.

Words alone are not enough for John; to love in love in deed and truth means that

any words have to be followed up with actions. This morning’s lesson puts together

God’s love for us, our love for God, and showing love for others. We won’t always get it

right; there will be times when we turn a blind eye to another in need.

When that happens, our hearts might condemn us. I know there have been times that

I’ve focused on things I’ve done or said that are past, worrying over what I should have

done instead. We so often condemn ourselves as we fret and fixate, anxious about actions

or inactions. But we know that God is greater than our worries. This is how we know that

we belong to the truth and how we set our worries aside and rest in God’s presence: God

is bigger than our worries and knows everything. So I find comfort that “Even if our

hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.”

Let us strive to live out 1 John’s words: “This is his commandment, that we believe

in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us.” And we

can be assured that as we seek to act in love, we “dwell in God and God dwells in [us].

This is how we know that he dwells in us, because of the Spirit he has given us.”

Thanks be to God.

Alleluia! Amen.

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