A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 29
April 2012

Texts for the Fourth Sunday After Easter (Year B)
Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1
John 3:16-24
, John 10:11-18

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.(1 John 3:16)

Corporal Matthew Croucher
was a British Royal Marine reservist
serving in Afghanistan in 2008 when he did an extraordinarily selfless
thing. L/Cpl Crouch literally laid down his life for his

During a night operation in Helmand province, L/Cpl Croucher felt a
pressure against his leg and then heard the characteristic sound of a
grenade falling to the ground and arming itself. He knew immediately
that he had triggered a booby trap. With seconds to react, Croucher
chose, not to run, but to fall on the grenade in order to save his
three comrades.

“The shrapnel would have gone off with a shotgun effect and spread,
so I probably would have been hit anyway if I tried to get away. So I
thought the thing to do was to get on top, I thought I didn’t have
much hope anyway but it might give others a chance.

The first thing I did was dive on my front, I think I had seen that
once on Soldier, Soldier, but then I realised that wasn’t going to
work, and I twisted on my back. And then I lay there thinking how long
will it be before it goes off. Then there was the loudest bang I ever
heard, a flash of light and I was flying through the air.”

Crouch was amazed to find himself alive and mostly unhurt, and
found his comrades “very grateful”. He was awarded the George Cross,
one of Britain’s highest awards for valour, and was praised for his
“extraordinary bravery, self-sacrifice and devotion to duty”.No one in the military is expected to throw themselves on a live
grenade to save their comrades. It does occasionally happen, and not
with the fortunate result
that L/Cpl Crouch enjoyed, but it’s not
expected. What is expected of soldiers is that they will understand
something of the idea of self sacrifice, not just in the big, dying
for one’s country sense of the term, but most often in the small,
everyday actions that make living through hardships with others

When I was on my basic training course, I often saw small examples
of self-sacrificial behaviour, such as one person helping another sort
out their kit, or taking a watch for someone who was too tired or too
sick, or generally just putting their own needs a distant second to
the needs of others. And, to be fair, I saw the opposite. I saw
people who consistently ignored the needs of others and put themselves
first. We used to have a phrase for these guys, that they would be
the ones to “leave you wounded on the battlefield”. In a strange way,
though, these guys did us a service, by showing us that a collection
of selfish individuals can never function as an army. For an army to
function, you need enough people who get the idea of selflessness,
whether in small ways or, in rare moments, in big ways like L/Cpl

In today’s second reading, a preacher of the early church, who may
very well have been the author of the Gospel of John, is trying to
explain to fellow believers why they are no longer just a collection
of selfish individuals, but are now part of a larger organization
called the Body of Christ. As part of this organization, their job
is to continue to show the resurrected Christ to the world and to be
his presence in the world. This presence is what First John means
when he says that
“we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us” (1
John 3:24).

What deoes 1st John mean when he talks about this Spirit? First,
he’s talking about what the church would come to call the Holy Spirit,
the third person of the Trinity which is the gift that the resurrected
Jesus gives the disciples when he appears to them in John’s gospel
(John 20:22), as we heard in church in the gospel for Second Easter.
This Spirit, which connects the Father and the Son, also connects the
faithful in communion with God the Trinity and with one another, so it
is a spirit of community. Second, he’s talking about the Spirit
which raised Christ from the dead, so it is the Spirit of life and
creative energy that comes from God, and which allows the church to
share in the resurrected life and presence of Christ. Third, it is a
spirit of self sacrifice, in that it allows us to get past our old
lives of sin and death, and to be new creations in Christ. It’s the
third sense that I want to focus on for the rest of this talk.

What do I mean by a “spririt of self sacrifice”? First John says
that “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we
ought to lay down our lives for one another.(1 John 3:16), and we hear
a similar phrase in today’s gospel when Jesus says that he is “the
good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). So does
that mean that to be a good follower of Jesus, we need to be ready to
die for the sake of others? Well, yes, in part. The story of
Christianity is full of people who quietly and generously gave their
lives for others, though you don’t have to be a Christian to act this
way. The story of L/Cpl Crouch that I shared with you earlier is not
a Christian story but an army story. Croucher acted for his mates,
pure and simple, which is not to diminish his heroism, but simply to
be real about it.

One hopes that soldiers, or anyone else for that matter, can act
with total selflessness in moments of crisis, even at the cost of
their lives, One hopes, but one knows that it doesn’t always work
that way. Not everyone is equipped for or capable of selfless
altruism. Being a follower of Jesus, however, means that we don’t
rely on ourselves, but rather fix ourselves on the one person who was
able to give himself for others, and not just for a handful of mates,
but for all others. This is the point of the good shepherd language
in today’s gospel, because Jesus is pointing to his uniqueness, as the
one person who can and who has saved us, the sheep. The distinction
he makes between the good shepherd and the hired hand is about the
responsibility, even the love, which God feels for us. A hired hand
is just a caretaker, but a good shephered is a friend. Jesus points
to this later in John’s gospel when he tells the disciples that “No
one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s
friends” (John 15:13). He goes on to say (Jn 15:14) that he is no
longer just their master, but is also their friend, and he goes on to
lay down this expectation of them: ‘This is my commandment, that you
love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).

The story of L/Cpl Croucher is useful because it underscores the
point First John is making about what happens when we live in
connection with others. First John is not talking about an isolated,
“me and God” kind of relationship, but of our relationship with
others. In fact, he suggests that we don’t really have a connection
with God if we don’t have a connection with others: “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?” (1 John 3:17). Being a
follower of Jesus means that we live for others more than ourselves,
whether that is sacrificing our money, our time, our ego, or our
physical life. It means “dying to self” as our baptismal service puts
it, and living for Christ and for others in a way that fulfils what
Jesus meant when he said that he came so that his followers might have
life, and have it abundantly.

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.(1 John 3:16)

I suppose one could read this text as a grim call to duty, but I
suggest that we try to see it as liberating, in the sense that God’s
friendship frees us from the tyranny of our obligations to the self,
and opens the door to new connections and relationships with others,
and new places to encounter God’s spirit by participating in God’s
friendship with the world. That seems to me to be a useful
amplification of the idea of having life abundantly. And who knows
but whether the grenade that looks so threatening might prove to be
alive, grateful, and thanked by others?

0 Responses

  1. Good sermon Padre. A sergeant of mine once opined that "me feinn"ers (me feinn being Irish for "myself alone") are also of use, as they gave an example of what was not to be done.

    He said of one particular specimen, "Say what you like about [Smith], he certainly brings the unit together."

  2. I'm quoting you in my sermon for 13 May. It's just one paragraph, so don't let it go to your head! Oh, and I will not be paying royalties.