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Love In Action

John 10: 11-18
Karen Burger

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Love in action...Our Lord's love for us, expressed in laying down his life and taking it up again for our sake.

"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?" Love in action...our love for one another, expressed in laying down our lives for one another and receiving in return the abundant life our Lord promises...

Today let us reflect on how we pass on the love of God for us shared in Jesus Christ, how we love in action. For 1 John 3:18 says: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to learning disabled children. Some children remain in Chush for their entire school career, while others can be mainstreamed into conventional schools.

At a Chush fundraising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, "Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God's perfection?" The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father's anguish and stilled by the piercing query.

"I believe," the father answered, "that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that he seeks is in the way people react to this child."

He then told the following story about his son, Shaya:

One afternoon Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, "Do you think they will let me play?" Shaya's father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya's father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging. Shaya's father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his team-mates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, "We are losing by 6 runs and the game is in the 8th inning. I guess he can be on our team, and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning."

Shaya's father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya's team scorred a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya's team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded, with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it! However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya would at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came in and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya's team-mates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher, waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his team-mate swung at the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the ball and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond the reach of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling, "Shay, run to first, run to first!"

Shaya scampered along the baseline, wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head. Everyone yelled,"Run to second, run to second." Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases toward home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing short stop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base, and shouted, "Run to third." As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, "Shaya, run home1" Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate, and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero. He had just hit a "grand slam" and won the game for his team.

"That day," said the father softly, with tears now rolling down his face, "those 18 boys reached their level of God's perfection."

When have you seen love in action? Prior to their arrest in our reading from Acts, Peter and John minister healing to a lame man. He is given the gift of walking. It was the name of Jesus that held the power to strengthen his feet and ankles. That healing, an act of love, changed his life forever. Yet it was also that act of love and others and the proclamation that in Jesus is not only healing, but resurrection from the dead, that precipitated the arrest of Peter and John. "If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed..." says Peter, "It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth..."

How often acts of kindness, acts of love are met with criticism, questioning, even arrest! Jesus was called to account for acts of kindness...for eating and drinking with sinners, practicing table fellowship with them, for healing on the Sabbath, for modelling forgiveness for a woman caught in adultery. The apostles faced the same resistance. Christians today practicing acts of kindness, seeking to put love into action toward the poor, prisoners, immigrants, persons of all races and religions, and persons of all orientations, can be accused of being "soft," be called "bleeding hearts," "naive," or even "heretics."

During these past two weeks, our United Methodist denomination held its General Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. The delegates called for a ban on a wide range of weapons, including handguns, called for an end to sanctions against Iraq, called for justice for African-American farmers and for Native Americans. But the most dramatic illustration of love in action at the General Conference was provided by the way in which the delegates and visitors to Conference witnessed to their faith and beliefs as they engaged in discussion, in "holy conferencing," and in peaceful demonstrations around the issue of whether or not to retain our denomination's stand against homosexual practice, holy unions, and ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexual Christians.

Like Peter and John, who were arrested for their acts of kindness and their proclamation of the Risen Lord, many Christians, Methodists and non-Methodists alike, chose to demonstrate and face arrest,both outside the Convention Center and the next day inside, during the proceedings. The demonstrations and arrests were an example of non-violent, civil disobedience, and the spirit was that of love for persons of non-heterosexual orientation. The demonstrators were both gay and straight Christians.

Despite the efforts to make visible the many Methodists and Christians who are not heterosexual, the delegates at General Conference chose to uphold the current stance in our Book of Discipline. Yet the spirit in the Convention Center was not one of jubilation by those whose position prevailed; rather, all who met were keenly aware of the lives affected by the decision. This in itself is a sign that we live in partnership with the Risen Lord. It is our hope and prayer that we Methodists, though we may differ on issues, are genuinely seeking to put love into action.

I would like to see a fully inclusive church. In the meantime, I see the conferencing and dialogue and study and demonstrations going on around this issue in our churches and at General Conference as an example of love in action. We must not be complacent when there are lives at stake.

Today we celebrate Mother's Day, and with this day we remember not only the countless ways that mothers and maternal figures in our lives have shared love with us, but we remember the women's peace movement that created the original Mother's Day. (insert quote from Julia Ward Howe)Mother's Day is about love in action, shared not only within the family, not only within the church, but love that has the potential to bring together the people of the world in peace. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." May we have a motherlike love and nurture, care and concern for our community and the world in which we live. Jesus said: "I lay down my life...No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord." May we offer our lives also of our own accord, offering our time, talents, devotion, and resources, to put love into action.

How will you lay down your life for others, following the example of our good shepherd? How will you love, not in words only, but in deed?