No Love Without Risk
April 25, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 10:11-18 Acts 4:5-12 1 John 3:16-24
Would you risk your life to save your kids?
It’s a question that every parent understands and it’s one that Jonathan Honey, a father of three from Carbon County, Pennsylvania answered last week as he died trying to save his family from a house fire. One child jumped from a second-floor window and was caught, barely, by a neighbor that jumped to meet him in the air, Kierstyn, the mother jumped out of a window cradling and protecting their baby, and Jonathan rushed into the house, found the third child, and put them in a closet before being overcome by carbon monoxide. Kierstyn and the children are all in the hospital with broken bones or burns, but Jonathan lost his life trying to save his family.
It’s tragic, but nearly every parent has imagined what they would do in a similar situation, and nearly every one of us know that we would, without hesitation, risk our lives to save the life of one our children. It difficult as it is to think about, we accept this reality, and we understand that there is no mystery to it. We would risk our lives for our spouses or for our children… because we love them. Our lives change when we have children. We do everything differently. We grocery shop differently, we drive differently, we dress differently, we spend our money and our time differently, we do without things that we like, that we want, and that we are accustomed to having so that our children can have the things that they need. And we do all these things, we turn our adult lives upside down, because we love them.
And it is that understanding of parental love, and risk, that Jesus uses to describe God’s radical and sacrificial love for us in John 10:11-18 when he says:
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
After thousands of years of Jewish and Christian influence, in the twenty-first century, we miss the radical nature of what Jesus was saying. The gods of the world, in the cultures that surrounded Israel were selfish, arrogant, violent, and uncaring. The gods of the Philistines had routinely demanded that parents sacrifice their children for the fertility of their fields and good harvests, the gods of Greece and Rome considered humans to be inferior, unimportant, and without consequence except for use as pawns as they battled against one another. It was common in many of the world’s religions to consider human worshippers to be resources to be spent rather than treasure to be valued. But in that culture, and within that understanding of the relationship between gods and humans, Jesus proclaims a radical idea that he, and Israel’s God, love us in the sacrificial and selfless way that parents love their children. Jesus says that he, like a true shepherd, is willing to lay down his life to protect his sheep.
And in Acts 4:5-12, Peter also preaches that because our God is a god of compassion and love, his disciples and followers are willing to risk their own security to care for those in need. Luke writes this story:
5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Peter and John are legally detained by the authorities and forcibly brought in front of the high priest, his powerful family, and the rulers, elders, and teachers of Jerusalem. All the movers and shakers and powerful people were there. And the question that they ask is, who gave you the power, or permission, to heal a man who was born lame? Peter knows that these men have the power to convict them, punish them, or imprison them if they don’t like their answers. This is a speech that is filled with risk. And yet, Peter does not mince words and without hesitation, proclaims that they have been dragged into court in retribution for an act of compassion. Peter goes on to preach and proclaim the name and the power of Jesus Christ and states, unequivocally, that there is no other name than Jesus, there is no other man, and no other god, on the face of the earth that can rescue humanity before God.
Peter and John knew that healing the lame man carried risk. They knew that telling the truth in front of the power brokers of Israel risked their health and their freedom. But Jesus taught and demonstrated that love and compassion were always worth the risk.
And in his letter to the churches and believers in Asia, John explains this idea of love and risk in more detail in 1 John 3:16-24 saying:
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
John boils it down to the simplest of terms. Jesus demonstrated to us what love is supposed to look like and Jesus gave up his life for us. That example means that that we should be prepared to give up our lives, for the people around us. We must be prepared to risk everything for others. We can’t hold too tightly to any of our material possessions or even to our own lives. If fellow believers are in need, we cannot just heartlessly keep what is ours and allow them to do without. Instead, we must be prepared to risk, to give up some of our possession, some of our creature comforts, some of our rights, or whatever else it might take to meet their needs because Jesus has taught us, and shown us, that this is what true love looks like. Loving with our words and making grand and eloquent speeches is not enough if we don’t risk the things that we have and demonstrate our love through our actions.
Love, real love, true love, isn’t an idea and it isn’t just a feeling.
True love is an action.
And because actions have consequences, we can’t play it safe.
There is no love… without risk.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/nvhcnF-CUd4
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.