Love in Action

Posted on 24 Apr 2018, Pastor: Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

I John 3:16-24
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 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.
And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he 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 his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his 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 his 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.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

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?

You have heard of Bill Gates, one of the principle founders of Microsoft Corporation.
You might say that Bill Gates has accumulated a goodly portion of the world’s goods –
he is currently the second most wealthy person in the world –
but you might also say that Bill and Melinda Gates are responding in an exemplary way
to help meet the needs of their brothers and sisters around the world.
When Melanie and I visited Seattle last year, we made a point to spend time in the Discovery Center
of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It is truly remarkable how this foundation is moving the needle on such issues as global health,
economic empowerment of the world’s most poor, K-12 education in the United States.
We learned that The Gates Foundation began in 1994 while the family was standing in line
in a movie theater. Bill and Melinda were doing quite well due to the success of Microsoft,
and they were chatting with Bill’s father, a recently retired lawyer,
about how they might share their wealth. Days later, in a makeshift office in his basement,
Bill’s father began what eventually became The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Today, the Foundation invests millions upon millions of dollars every year in charitable efforts,
seeking to make a real difference, seeking to move the needle
to improve life’s circumstances for countless individuals.

Recently, Bill Gates highly recommended two books.
The first, written by his late friend, Hans Rosling, is titled Factfulness:
Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.
In the book, Rosling offers a new framework for how to think about the conditions
of the world’s population.
Rosling proposes moving away from the categories “developed” and “developing” nations,
old labels that he says have become “outdated” and “meaningless”,
and moving to talk more about four income groups, the first of which is level 1.
One billion people live on level 1, he writes. This is what we think of as extreme poverty.
If you’re on level 1, you survive on less than $2 a day, less than $800 per year.
You get around mostly by walking barefoot. Your food is cooked over an open fire,
and, if you are female, you spend most of your day traveling to fetch water.
At night, you and your children sleep on a dirt floor.
This level 1 income group is where Gates and others focusing efforts, efforts to empower and educate,
ways to move the needle to improve conditions, and they are discovering effective ways to do so.

Did you know that in the last twenty years the number of people living in extreme poverty
has been cut by half? Some of us have witnessed firsthand this type of improvement
in the Agalta Valley of Honduras, but these amazing statistics do not make the nightly news shows.
This type of information is rarely seen in newspapers. (gatesnotes.com)
There is no doubt that the world still has terrible problems. The needs everywhere are overwhelming.
Warfare, violence, debilitating poverty are constant, daily threats
for a significant portion of the world’s population. 
Even so, the population of the world is better off than it was twenty years ago! Truly!

Gate’s second book he recommends is Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.
Gates says that Enlightenment Now is his one of his favorite books of all time.
“Enlightenment Now…tracks violence throughout history
and applies it to 15 different measures of progress (like quality of life, knowledge, and safety).
The result is a holistic picture of how and why the world is (actually) getting better.”
As an example, Bill Gates offered five of his favorite facts from the book:
-Did you know that you’re 37 times less likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning
than you were at the turn of the century?
…because of weather prediction capabilities, improved safety education, and more people living in cities.
-Have you realized that time spent doing laundry fell from 11.5 hours a week in 1920,
about the time Mardia Brown was born in Korea, to only one hour and a half in 2014?
The rise of the washing machine has greatly improved quality of life by freeing up time—
especially for women. That time represents ten hours every week that can be used
for everything from educational pursuits to Sabbath rest to starting a new business.
-Did you know that you’re far less likely to die on the job than you were 90 years ago?
Every year, in the United States, 5,000 people tragically die from occupational accidents.
But in 1929—when our population was less than two-fifths the size it is today,
20,000 people died annually on the job.
Deadly workplace accidents were viewed as part of the cost of doing business.
Today, we have engineered ways to build bridges and buildings
and extract coal and run factories without putting nearly as many lives at risk.
-Here’s an interesting statistic. The global average IQ score is rising by about 3 points every decade.
Kids’ brains are developing more fully thanks to improved nutrition and a cleaner environment,
and thanks to more analytical thinking in and out of the classroom.
The nature of our world today is encouraging abstract thought from a young age,
and it’s making us smarter.
-Finally, consider the impact of making war illegal…
Before the creation of the United Nations in 1945, no institution had the power to stop countries
from going to war with each other. Although there have been some exceptions,
the threat of international sanctions and intervention has proven to be an effective deterrent
to wars between nations, (gatesnotes.com) a huge boon to economic stability and decreasing poverty.

People all over the world are living longer, they are living healthier, and they are even living happier lives
than they were 100 years ago, even 20 years ago.
The service group, Rotary International, has taken on the issue of polio
and has almost wiped it out entirely. We are going to get there.
Jimmy Carter has taken on the guinea worm and the Carter Center is making real progress
toward the very practical and achievable goal of alleviating terrible suffering from that disease.
In addition to many other efforts, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is working on reducing malaria,
which is still killing thousands of children every day, but less than it was a few years ago.
With modern medical technology and global economic connections and sufficient resources
in the hands of those motivated to make a difference, conditions of human life are improving.

What works against these efforts is selfishness, and fear, and lack of compassion.
We will talk more about fear next week.
Lack of compassion may have something to do with how we have become hardened
to the conditions around us, to the conditions around the world,
by the sheer volume of bad news we absorb every day.
But selfishness, self-centeredness is a matter of the heart,
and perhaps no one is better situated to address matters of the heart in each succeeding generation
than the Church of Jesus Christ. Lori McMahan, your work teaching children to sing praise to God
is changing the world, one heart at a time. You are teaching the children to be God-oriented,
other-oriented, instead of serving self alone. Thank you!

Perhaps the most significant question for today’s Church is still: “who is our neighbor”?
If we shall love our neighbor as we love ourselves, who is our neighbor?
Who do we consider to be brother and sister?
Some of you will remember the quote that Ken Hughes lifted up when we began Threshold Ministry:
“Am I my brother’s keeper?, he asked. No, I am my brother’s brother.”

Our text for today asks: “Who, seeing that brother or sister is in need, refuses to help?”
Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable makes it clear that even Samaritans
were to be considered brothers or sisters to Hebrews.
Jesus’ healing of the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter broadened the circle of the disciples’ concern.
Jesus’ compassion for the servant of the Roman centurion changed people’s minds
about the assumed limits of our concern.
All of which is to say today that Palestinians, at least in the Christian mindset,
are to be considered brothers and sisters to Israelis.
Kurds are to be considered brothers and sisters to Turks.
Young men walking the streets in hoodies are to be considered brothers to young men
walking the streets in blue uniforms.

You might say, but I’m not a Bill Gates! I don’t run a billion dollar foundation.
I cannot make much of a difference. I only do (fill in the blank).
Do you remember the anonymous quote that went around the internet a few years ago?
If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people,
with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, there would be:
80 persons living in substandard housing, 70 would be unable to read, 50 would suffer from malnutrition.
Only 6 people would possess 60% of the entire world’s wealth
and all 6 of those would be from the United States.
When you consider our world from such a compressed perspective,
many of us are truly among the world’s most fortunate.
If you woke up this morning with more health than illness,
you are more blessed than the million who won’t survive the week.
If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment,
the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 20 million people around the world.
If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death,
you are more blessed than almost three billion people in the world.
If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep,
you are more wealthy than 75% of the world’s population.
If you have some money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish on a your dresser,
you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
If you have a college degree and own a computer, you are among the top 1% of the world’s population.
(By Lou (Linda) December 17, 2011, blahblahblog.wordpress.com)

As meager as they may seem some days, most of us in this room have some measure of resources,
and daily we make critical decisions about housing, transportation, travel, and food,
decisions that affect the economy, decisions that ultimately affect the lives of our neighbors near and far.
We would have to be deaf and blind not to be aware of the needs around us,
unware of the critical needs of suffering human beings, both locally and globally.
Yes, we are sometimes overwhelmed by human need.
Too much exposure can cause us to shut down, to be hardened to other human beings.
But we have learned that the problem with world hunger is not lack of food.
The world produces enough food to feed every man, woman, and child in the world.
Nor is the problem one of distribution, the experts tell us.
There are adequate resources available in the world to accomplish the distribution.
The problem is one of priorities; the problem is one of will.

If your baby wakes up hungry and crying, you get out of bed.
If your dog or your cat has not been fed, you refill the dish.
If your spouse or your child needs to go to the doctor, you move mountains to take care of their need.
The question is not do we help others. Of course we help others! Every day we help others!
The question is rather: where do we draw the line?
What if we expanded our circle even just a bit?
What if we gave one more hour a week, or a half a day a month, to make a difference in someone’s life?
What if we gave just a bit more, another percentage or two of our income,
for the sake of the needs of others?

United Methodist Bishop and popular author Will Willimon spoke at a conference about tithing.
For him, tithing means that the “world hasn’t gotten hold of all of me yet”.
He called tithing, giving 10%, an “act of rebellion against a consumerist culture”,
standing up to a culture of consumption that encourages us to spend, spend, spend for ourselves.
Consider your last will and testament.
When your will is read by your decedents, what will you teach them by your testimony?
Will your last testimony show compassion and concern for the needs of the world?
For the work of the Church? For some helping effort that stirs your passion?
Or will your last words be focused solely upon your nuclear family?

This weekend, we celebrated Earth Day by having a paint recycling event.
While we are making much progress in addressing environmental concerns,
in improving healthcare, and in reducing debilitating poverty, we still have such a long way to go.
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has resources, who sees need, and yet refuses to help?

When Doug Oldenburg, the former President of Columbia Theological Seminary,
took over the finances of his parents as they grew older,
he knew that they had been solid givers to the church,
but he had no idea they were giving something like 20% of their income to church and other charities.
When he asked why, they replied that they had all they needed.
Their children were fine, there were still sufficient assets to be passed down,
and it brought them great joy to be able to give, to feel like they were making a bit of difference,
especially in their later years when they could no longer volunteer as they used to.

Friends, our nation has resources. Our community has resources. Our church has resources.
We see the needs around us and around the world.
How can we refuse to help?
As the I John text encourages: Let us love, not only in word or speech, but in truth and action.
God’s love will abide in anyone who has some measure of the world’s goods,
and sees a brother or sister in need, and chooses to help.

Amen.

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
April 22, 2018