But Elizabeth and I maintain a small stockpile of bottled water in our home. Not a lot; usually no more than half-a-dozen cases.
The reason why we do this is because of an experience I had when I was a teenager. One day, out of the blue, we lost both power and water service at the same time—and the water was out for four days.
My parents always made it a point to store extra water in the house. Because of that, we made it through the week with little difficulty.
That experience has stuck with me—and that is why we do what we do. Water is one thing we know we can't live without.
When I look at our water reserve, one question always comes to mind: “if we were without water—for a long period of time—am I obligated (as a Christian) to share my water supply with those who need it?”
This question arises out of the most fundamental of all of God’s commandments: the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. We don’t obey this command as a condition for God to love us, because God’s love is without conditions… We love others because Jesus first loved us…
We were sinners who needed redemption and forgiveness; Jesus saw our need, and he gave his life because that was the only way that we could be saved.
And Jesus’ death on the cross shows us what love really is:
It’s more than just speaking kind words; it’s more than just being nice... Jesus saved us by laying down his life for us.
And since Jesus laid down his life for us—we ought to lay down our lives for one another…
The reality is that we will probably never find ourselves in a situation in which we would have to die to save someone else... But that does not make this command any less lofty for us to obey.
There is still a kind of death that we all must die if we are to live in the love of Jesus Christ.
If we are to live for God, we must die to the god that we make of ourselves. Self-interest cannot take priority over other people’s needs. We must be identifying others’ needs—and meeting others’ needs—with the very same urgency as we attend to our own. It’s not that we’re putting others’ needs ahead of our own; instead, it’s our needs and others’ needs being one in the same.
This is why it would be wrong for me to keep all my water to myself while my neighbors suffer thirst. I wouldn’t have to give it all away—but I can’t keep it all, either…
As someone who is loved by Jesus Christ, I am obligated to share my livelihood for the sake of my neighbors.
Self-giving love is never easy. There are costs to loving others in this way. It is the scarcity of our time and resources that always makes self-giving love a challenge. Love means giving generously out of our livelihood; the means through which I become able to live the life I want to live. In the case of a water shortage, I’d be giving away some of the water that I would need to survive.
And there are other risks to self-giving love as well:
There’s always the chance that our loving actions will go unnoticed and unappreciated—and that nothing good will come from our efforts…
And there’s the question of whether or not we can truly make a difference—since there is so much need in the world, and we have so little to give…
The command to lay down our lives in love for our neighbors is a challenge in the Christian life equaled by the challenge of believing in a God whom we cannot see.
But we don’t meet these challenges by our own strength alone… We believe—and we love others—because of what Jesus does for us.
We are here today because God’s Holy Spirit has brought us here, to feast on the all-surpassing love of Jesus Christ that comes to us in Word and Sacrament. God’s Holy Spirit has dwelt within us since the day of our baptism, and that Spirit makes us one with Jesus. As Christ’s self-giving love flows into our lives, we are transformed.
The self-giving love of Jesus makes us one with our neighbors in need. And God’s Word makes a radical promise to us today: that promise is that God will give us whatever we ask in order that we may obey God’s commands and do what pleases God.
By that promise alone, we are free to die completely to self-interest—because we know that it’s not up to us to take care of our needs. Because Jesus is one with us, and we are one with him when we live in his love, God will take care of our needs. We can give generously of ourselves; we can share with others those things that we always thought we could never live without. We will not count the cost—because we don’t need to. We have God dwelling within us—so what more could we need?
We never know what tomorrow will bring—but we will always have God with us.
God knows our needs—and will give us whatever we need so that we can live as one with Jesus. And we can give our gifts with the knowledge that God’s love is the power that can heal this world.