May 6, 2018
We have been focusing on the epistles readings from 1 John since the Sunday after Easter. They are very focused on love of God and love of others. Today's reading is not much different. I am going to look at just the first and the last verses from today's reading and we will go in a little different direction.
Verse 1, Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. In fact, I'm going to divide this in two. One of the more famous verses in the bible comes from John's gospel when Jesus is meeting with Nicodemus, the Pharisee. Jesus tells Nicodemus, 3: 3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” When we assert our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are born again, born of God, born into the family of God.
Now for the the second half, everyone who loves the parent loves the child. I'm afraid I have my doubts about that. I hope I'm not the only one that has wonderful friends whom we love dearly and whose children are brats. Some time ago I saw a wonderfully politically correct way to refer to these brats. We call it a medical condition, Behavioral Regressive Attitude Trauma; BRAT. Okay, that's my nastiness for today.
The watger and the blood. The first thought here may be back to the cross. In John's account of the crucifixion, Pilate wanted to be sure the men were all dead, so, “one of the soldiers pierced (Jesus') side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) FF Bruce explains that John told this in both his gospel and epistle to assure us that Jesus was truly human. There was an early teaching by a man named Cerinthus making the rounds that Jesus was not always the Son of God. He taught that Jesus was an ordinary human being until he was imbued with Son-ship at his baptism when the Holy Spirit descended on him. Then the Son-ship was removed before he went to the cross. They taught this because they couldn't see any way that the Son of God could be born to a human; nor could the Son of God ever be killed by humans. And so this theory was created to explain how Jesus was born and died as a human but lived his ministry as the Son of God. It seems a little far-fetched to us today, but most all of our present day doctrines came about as humans tried to understand the ways of God. And this is why John has this verse, with “water and the blood” reminds his readers that Jesus was fully human and fully God at his baptism—the water—and on the cross—the blood.
The water and the blood are often taken to refer to our present day sacraments; water with baptism, blood with communion. But that is not what John is referring to here. He is correcting false teaching in the early church.
We need to be aware of what we believe and why we believe. It is an unfortunate truth that we still struggle with some of the smallest elements of doctrine. It seems awfully easy change churches today over small differences.
There was a man who was stranded on a desert island for many, many years. One day, while strolling along the beach, he spotted a ship in the distance. This had never happened in all the time he was on the island, so he was very excited about the chance of being rescued.
Immediately, he built a fire on the beach and generated as much smoke as possible. It worked! Soon, the ship was heading his way. When the ship was close enough to the island, a dinghy was dispatched to investigate the situation. The man on the island was overjoyed with the chance to be rescued and met his saviors as they landed.
After some preliminary conversation, the man in charge asked the man on the island how he had survived for so many years. The man replied by telling of his exploits for food and how he was able to make a fine house to live in. In fact, the man said, "You can see my home from here. It's up there on the ridge."
He pointed the men in the direction of his home. They looked up and saw three buildings. They inquired about the building next to the man's house and he replied, "That's my church - I go there to worship on Sundays." When asked about the third building, the man replied, "That's where I used to go to church."
We have no problems finding reasons for divisions in the church or in the world of politics. There's nothing new under the sun; we've seen political discord before. Most know the saying about history, 'Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.' I read a fascinating article Christian Century. It was part of their regular feature called, “On Media.” They cover various forms of media and relate how they speak to society today. I was intrigued last month when they reviewed two videos, and the review was titled “What They Knew When”. They are both historical dramas that deal with recognizing the divisions as they occur. One was called “Slow Burn” about the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. The other is “Babylon Berlin”, imported from Germany, set in the time between the two World Wars. In both, the reviewer, Kathryn Reklis, relates how the people seemed to ignore facts that are obvious to us now, in hindsight. “Across the board, she found that Nixon's supporters believed the Watergate hearings were a liberal conspiracy to take down a strongman who was willing to clean up the country.” Most of us see things differently through the perspective of time...but see some similarities in the political environment in which we now find ourselves.
About the film on Germany, she writes, “The show challenges our confidence that we can easily distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. A group of young socialist demonstrators wins our sympathy with their appeals to equality and dignity in the face of class inequalities. But as their socialism morphs into Nazism, we recoil.”
She concludes “Both suggest that one of the most important things to learn from the past is just how hard it is to take the measure of an age when one is in the middle of it. (We need to pay) attention to our own moment without imagining we know how the story will end.”
Coincidentally, I received a copy of a new confession of faith composed by a cross-section of denominational leaders. It calls us to pay attention to our own moment in history. And it is mindful in some ways of the Barmen Declaration which the Presbyterian Church has added to our Book of Confessions. The Barmen Declaration was written in 1933 by church leaders in Germany worried about the direction the country was headed. No matter which side of the aisle you are on today, there are worries about where our own country may be headed. We don't have time to go into great detail, but I do have extra copies if anyone is interested. Here are their basic statements which I will read then try to summarize their explanation with maybe a little taste of my own:
- “We believe every human being is made in God's image and likeness”. We are told this in the very first book of the bible and yet we want to divide ourselves by race. That is not in God's plan and racism denies the call of Christ to love our neighbor. As we have studies John's epistle, he is clear that love is from God, love is an action, love is a command:
- “We believe we are one body.” We are reminded that there are no divisions in Christ, in Galatians, Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ( Gal 3: 28) Sexism; abuse of women, children, the vulnerable; oppression of the powerless all are ways our world divides those without power and those with the power.
- “We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself.” Throughout the world, but in America as well, the most vulnerable are not being treated well. Political targets, refugees, the poor, the marginal in society face attack on many fronts. We as the church need to keep the plight of the needy in our sights and work for justice and peace.
- “We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives.” From false news to outright lies by our politicians, the truth has taken a beating in recent years. We have the right to expect our leaders to treat us with the respect of honesty. We have the responsibility to be honest in our own lives.
- We believe that Christ's way of leadership is servanthood, not domination.” Elected officials are called to public service, not to tyranny. We need to keep the checks and balances of democracy in place and enforced. Authoritarian rules is a danger to our democratic history.
- We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples.” Our churches and our nations are part of an international community. National interests are not to outweigh the good of the world community. “America first” is not a theologically correct way to view the world community. We as a world face the problems of global poverty, environmental damage, violent conflict, weapons of mass destruction and deadly diseases.
This was a very different sermon for me. But we are facing issues that divide us. Poverty, violence, abortion, immigration, wealth distribution, health care to name a few. In our call to love others we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. We live in a divided world but we are not without hope as we act responsibly in obedience to Jesus. All are under God's watch. John gives us hope as well as instruction, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” Let's go forth and love God's children in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hymn: God of Grace and God of Glory 420 PH