This is the sermon I preached at Harvest. The passage is 1 John 3:11-19.
As it's Harvest today, here's a quick quiz. Hands up; first hand up with the right answer gets a Harvest bar.
Question 1: What grows in fields that is one of the main ingredients of bread? (corn / wheat)
Question 2: During the Jewish harvest festival, people weren't allowed to live in houses. What did they have to live in instead? (tents / tabernacles)
Question 3: What do the Americans call their Harvest festival? (Thanksgiving)
Question 4: One of the things Americans do at Thanksgiving is they act out the first harvest festival some of the settlers had in America. But when is the first harvest festival in the Bible? (Cain and Abel)
Question 5: How did it end? (Cain kills Abel)
Now that's a bit disturbing, isn't it? The first harvest festival in the Bible was with two brothers, Cain and Abel, both farmers, and it ended with Cain killing his brother.
That's because there are two ways to give – two ways to give, and the passage we read earlier talks about them.
The first way to give is the way Cain did. Cain gave because he was a good person. He gave, but he didn't love. He gave because he thought that would show he was a good person, and then maybe God would accept him. Cain gave because he was good. And what happened? God wasn't pleased with him, but he was pleased with Cain's brother Abel. So Cain got angry and ended up killing his brother.
You see, sometimes when we give, the giving is really about us. It is us saying we are good and generous and decent. And the shock of the first harvest festival is that God isn't pleased with Cain. So Cain gets angry because he thinks God owes him one. But we can't make God like us by being decent people. Giving stuff at harvest doesn't mean that God accepts us. Cain giving at the first harvest festival was meant to show how good he was, but actually showed how evil he was, because he ended up killing his brother. Giving because we are decent people actually ends up showing that we aren't.
The other way to give is the way Jesus gives. At the Jewish harvest festival, people were meant to give the best of what they had, and the first bits of their fruit and so on. And that's what God did. He gave us the best of what he had to give, he gave Jesus. And Jesus gave himself for us even though we're not decent people. That is how we know what love is. That is the way we should be giving – not giving stuff because we're decent people and to show that we're good, but giving ourselves, because God is good and that's what he did for us. And so we give our money and our stuff not to earn God's favour but because we have already given ourselves to God who has given everything to us.
So when we see our brothers and sisters in need, like we have done in the video, we have pity on them, and we give to them because nothing we have is ours any more – it's God's, and he loves them. And we don't just love them with the things we say, we actually do something about it. And yes, it's the people in the video, but it's also one another in this congregation. It's brilliant when I see people really giving of themselves to look after each other here, and I'm going to be even more encouraged when I see that even more.
Because if we're actually doing that, says John, that's evidence that we're really Christians. It's God's love shining through us.` It's like putting a candle into a candle jar.
God's love shines out like a light. And when that love is inside us, it shines out. It's God's love shining still, but it's shining through us and it maybe looks a bit different because of our situation and what we're like, but that light shines. And if we see the light shining in people, that tells us there's a candle inside. When we see people loving one another like Jesus does, that shows us that they really know Jesus – that they've really got that light inside them – that they really know they're loved and accepted by God, and so they are loving others.
Not loving others because they should, or because it's the right thing to do, or to try to make God happy with them, but loving because God's love is living in them.