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Reassure Your Heart

Updated: Apr 16


a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

April 14, 2024

1 John 3:11-19 NRSV

11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you.

14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16 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 and will reassure our hearts before him

I think most of us in a church like this know we are not a “universally loved” church. Many of you have been around long enough to have taken the phrase “THAT Church” - used as a judgment - to instead be a proud description.  Whether you call us “liberal,” or “progressive,” or something more pejorative, I think the Epistle from John speaks to us when he says, “don’t be astonished sisters and brothers, that the world hates you.”  We know there are those even in, or especially in, the Christian community who “hate” us, consider us illegitimate, or worse.  Maybe there are times we need to hear John’s words to “reassure our hearts.”


John was speaking to a group of Christians who felt they were in an “us-against-the-world” situation, too.  They had faced persecution from outsiders and from other Christians.  John begins by emphasizing that “from the beginning” the message to them has been to “love one another.”  That can sound selfish or self-absorbed, but I believe his message of love for “one another” isn’t just limited to the insiders of their community.


We should take note of two things in this letter’s argument and not ignore them.  The first is the harsh tone the writer takes almost from the beginning.  He says “we must not be like Cain” who murdered his brother.  He argues that he did it because he was evil and his brother was righteous.  He later says, “all who hate a brother or a sister are murderers, and you know murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.”  Dang, talk about putting it harshly.  John doesn’t sugar coat it at all does he?


I was raised in the south, where we say the harshest things in rather soft and tender sounding ways.  Someone does something we might call stupid, we say “bless his heart.”  Someone acts a little crazy, we say, “he mighta’ been one biscuit shy of a dozen,” or something equally soft-sounding.  Those of you who are from up north or lived up there, know they tend to have a more direct way of speaking.

I lived up in Massachusetts for three years doing my Master’s degree.  Folks up in the Boston area have a much more “to-the-point” way of speaking.  While visiting one of my youth group families they were outside trimming trees and one of the sons fell off the ladder.  He wasn’t hurt bad but his dad didn’t run to him to express compassion and fatherly love.  He looked over the rake he was holding and said, “Hey, dummy, next time try taking it one rung at a time, huh?”  Slightly harsher than a Southerner might put it, I suspect.

My point is, harsh as John’s words sound, they have a power to them like smelling salts.  They make you take a deep breath and go “whoa!”  Here’s the point I think we need to take from it.  While we might not be comfortable with such harsh descriptions of those who disagree with us, some of us might be quite comfortable thinking about, if not speaking or acting toward our critics, with murder in our hearts.  It can be difficult to hear those who disagree with us politically, religiously or in some other significant way and not have at least a bit of a desire to murder them with words if not in deeds.

But John is adamant.  “We know we have passed from death to life because we love one another.”  This is how we keep from becoming like those we are tempted to hate.  To keep loving each other – AND “others,” is the way we defend ourselves.  As we do that, we will find we reassure our own hearts.  John goes on to say “we know love by this [ in other words the way we measure what is love and what isn’t ] – that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us.”  Knowing that and believing that, John says then, “we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”  Now some might argue that this means we keep it in house.  We only love “one another,” as in those like us.  But the Jesus reminded us that if only love those who love us “what credit is that to [us], even the Gentiles do that?”

So I say the way to reassure ourselves is not to limit our love.  I like to claim that I have a “progressive” faith or religion.  I think it is well – described in – of all things - “Wikipedia.”  It says, [ from Rev. Michael Piazza, “Liberating Word,” April 9, 2024 ]:

Progressive Christianity is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, an acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to "love one another" within the teachings of Jesus Christ. Progressive Christianity focuses on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, and tolerance, often through social activism.


I hope that describes me.   Maybe fits you, too.  I refuse to allow others to murder me because of what I believe, whether it is from people who do it for religious, political, or other reasons. A colleague said this about that definition: “Progress is important in every area of life, including our spiritual journeys. What kind of progress are you making?”  I am working on progress in this area.


Here’s what I want to invite all of us to make progress in.  I want us to be better able to “love one another,” even those who aren’t “one of us.”  To do that I think we have to find a way to overcome our fears.  The fears we have about faith, life, politics and relationships can all lead to murder, figuratively if not literally.  Here’s what I mean.  When we live in fear it causes us to look at others as enemies.  If we are afraid of someone’s religion, race, politics or other defining feature we can’t love them.  Fear is rooted in not understanding, or knowing, or seeing someone as a brother or a sister – as siblings, or “kinfolk.” If we can’t love them, what John is saying is it might lead us to murder them, again, figuratively if not literally.  Fear of someone judging us as not a Christian can lead us to hate them.  Fear of someone’s politics leads us to fear they want to destroy our world, which leads us to hate and so on.  Fear leads to hatred which leads to murder and even to wars.  Love conquers fear.  If we want to make real progress we must find ways to grow in love -  to progress - to conquer our fears.


It is love that tells me I must look past my sibling’s fear of me.  It is love that tells me I do not have to accept the hatred rooted in fear from someone else.  It is love that tells me that person is afraid, and fear has no power over love.  Then John shows us the next step in overcoming that fear and that hatred.  He says, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.  He says, “how does God’s love abide in anyone who sees a sibling in need and yet refuses to help.”  The way to conquer fear, the way to find the power of love is to find the way to serve the need in the other. 


Bruce, you may say, that right-wing political or religious hater has more money than I’ll have in ten lifetimes, how can he have any need that I can serve.  Well, friend, I say it starts by recognizing that obviously their money has not overcome their fears.  The starting point of loving one another, it seems to me, is learning more about the person, engaging the person to learn more about them, not to “convert” them to our political, social, or religious viewpoints.  “Love one another” begins with connecting enough to be in some kind of relationship.  That requires the risky business of making contact with others, or responding when others make contact. This may sound silly and obvious, but think about your human contacts on a daily basis for a moment.  Can you say you never feel lonely?  Can you sense that you have people you have met who are really lonely?


The 2023 U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory report said loneliness is an epidemic in our nation today.  I believe in a Creator who made us to be relational beings.  It didn’t start with COVID, but since the forced isolation of the pandemic, we have struggled to maintain the kind of interpersonal relationships that sustain us.  I don’t know anyone who would trade having coffee with someone in person for an exclusive dose of Zoom.  But I also believe the substitution of techno-relationships for live and in person has led to an increasing trend of loneliness.  Or perhaps I’m just confessing to my overall dislike for most technology.  Still, I believe the loneliness epidemic feeds the wider mental health crisis and threatens our physical and spiritual health.


Here’s a thought for us all.  What if we set out each day to reassure someone else’s heart?  How about if we measured each day a success if we could reassure someone else that someone cared about them, if even just a bit, if even just for a moment.  I think that is a worthy goal.  And I believe in concentrating on reassuring someone else’s heart, we will discover our own heart reassured.

Love one another.  “this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,” John tells us. Our religion is really that simple.  And if we do that enough I think we will find our hearts reassured, and I think we will find thousands of reasons to give thanks to God, maybe even ten thousand or more.  AMEN.

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