Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
Love In Action
1 John 1.1-2, 18-24, 4.10-12
May 20 2007, Prayer/Action/Witness for Colombia
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when Christ is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before God whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey God’s commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey Christ’s commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.
Does anyone here remember your own baptism? Do you remember the hands and the water, the prayers, what you were wearing, how you felt? Do you remember the words that were said? In many churches, after a child has been baptized the pastor says “see what love God has for us, that we should be called children of God—and so we are.” It’s a wonderful thing, to be children of God. To be part of God’s family, to be part of the communion of saints, to be part of the church community.
What’s less often said at baptisms, at least of infants, is that it’s not always easy. We rarely say anything about call, about mission, about ministry in the tough places, when we have a cute baby up front. But it’s there. Baptism is a symbol of grace, it’s true. But it’s also a symbol of our calling. “If we love one another, God lives in us.” I think we often toss this kind of language around—Jesus living in our hearts, being Christlike—without thinking about its implications. After all, it’s kind of a tall order—to love one another, everyone, and so be the bearers of God’s image in the world.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this, of course. Way back in Genesis it says that God made humankind in God’s image. Since the beginning, we’ve been God’s image-bearers. But now here’s John telling us exactly what that means: when we love one another, even the people who are hard to love, even the people who don’t want to be loved, even the people who make us angry or persecute us or who do ridiculous things—then people can see God in and through us.
This is what we’re baptized into. This is the call symbolized at our baptisms, the call we renew every time we take part in a baptism here, the call claim at confirmation—as we will at 11 this morning as we celebrate the claiming of this call by 20 youth. This is a call extends through our whole lives. When Martin Luther put his hand on his forehead and reminded himself “I am baptized,” he remembered not only the amazing gift of grace, the incredible privilege of being part of God’s family, the love that was there for him before he could love back, a love he could never repay. He remembered also the call to share that love, to bear God’s image, to, in some sense, pay it forward.
How many of you have seen the movie “Pay it Forward”? It all begins with a class assignment—to do something that will change the world. Seventh grader Trevor decides that his project will be to help three people. These three then are not to pay back the favor, but instead pay it forward by helping three more people. Eventually the whole world will be helping each other. Trevor helps three people and at first he thinks it’s all a failure. Only later does he find out that the world has indeed changed—his idea has spread and other people are even taking credit for it! Unfortunately, he never gets to see the extent of the results of his idea or the way he helped his three people. Even so, I think Trevor had it right. He extended love to people who were hard to love, to people some would have said weren’t worth it, and at great cost to himself. “When we love one another, God lives in us.”
I think Trevor, and the people in the movie who take up the Pay it Forward movement, are a great example of loving not with words or speeches but in truth and action. The world, Trevor says, is not so good. When he tells his idea to his class, they laugh at him, saying the world’s problems are too big, that people blow off the honor system, that he’s envisioned a perfect world, a utopia, that can never exist. But he does it anyway. He puts love into action.
Trevor takes a look at the big picture of the world, and he does something. Today people around the country are taking a look at a smaller part of the picture and trying to do something. In Colombia, there are 4,000 people being killed every year because they work for human rights. There are 4 million people displaced from their homes—15,000 so far this year—by violence and because of aerial fumigation of coca plants, which also kills legitimate crops and causes a variety of health problems. The civil war in Colombia has been going on for more than 40 years. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s dangerous and depressing. Many of those assassinated for their work for human rights are Christian leaders who insist on helping displaced people, who insist on speaking out when the government silences or kills people, who insist on telling the stories of those who have been victims of human rights abuses.
It’s a big, big problem. One that’s hard to imagine how we can have any impact on at all. And so, as we do so often when faced with tragedies like this, we do nothing. Many people in this country don’t even know what’s going on in Colombia. I had no idea the scope of the problem, the length of the war, or the numbers of people involved, until this past Wednesday when I started to do some research. The only conflict that has produced more displaced people is the war in Sudan. In both Colombia and Sudan, as well as numerous other places in the world, people are being forced from their villages by the army, by the guerillas, by the rebels, by paramilitary groups—all of whom need bases, need children to be soldiers, need supplies, need food, need shelter. These groups go into a village and often they kill the men, take the children into their army, and do as they please with the women. Lucky ones get away and survive by living in the jungle, always hungry and always afraid. What can we do about it?
I read a story this week about a Colombian Presbyterian pastor. Paramilitary soldiers swarmed his town at dinner time and ordered the men to the town square, where they would all be executed. They all lay face down in the square. Jesús Gómez, the pastor of the Presbyterian church, lay with the other men, frozen with fear. One of the soldiers, who knew Jesús and respected his work in the area, leaned down and whispered in his ear, “Pastor! Don’t just let them kill you. Make a run for it!” Jesús says it was like coming out of a trance. He began to run, and when he did others, including the children, also began to run. Though the soldiers shot into the running crowd, many got away. 14 people were killed that day. There had been 70 men lying in the square, waiting to be shot. 56 men, plus women and children, were saved by that soldier putting love into action, even for just one moment.
Sometimes all it takes is one person. The Colombian churches have asked for American Christians to come down to accompany their people. Those who work for human rights are often at risk, but if they are being accompanied by a foreigner, especially an American, they are much less likely to be assassinated. So for the past several years, the Presbyterian Church has been training people to do just that—to take a month or two out of their busy lives to go literally walk with a brother or sister in Christ. It’s dangerous, it’s costly…it’s love in action. In just two weeks, Ann will be leaving for Colombia to spend a month putting her love into action. I suspect many people will see God as she walks alongside the Colombian people.
Now it’s true, this is not the approach everyone will want to take. But there are other things we can do. It may sound trite, but we can pray. It may feel like doing nothing, but it is not. Spend some time praying for the people of Colombia, for peace and justice to come to a troubled land. Also don’t underestimate your voice in our government! There are postcards downstairs you can send to your representatives. Put your love into action.
At the end of the movie, Trevor reflects on his Pay it Forward idea and how difficult it is to even imagine the world could be different. (play scene 1.48.40-1.50.42)
I think what Trevor is asking, and what John is asking us to do in this letter, is to see the world as children of God—to see the world as God might, and to share the love we have received. To imagine that things can be different, to not give up our praying and our working until God’s kingdom is as real on earth as in heaven. That’s the baptismal call—to go out and share God’s love with the world, to put love into action.
May it be so.