April 8, 2018
During the Sundays of Easter, except for Holy Humor Sunday, I will be preaching from the epistle of 1 John. So I think we should know a bit about this book and its author. A lot of biblical study in the last 200 years seems to be trying to prove that things are not as they appear in the scriptures, including who wrote what. But the authorship of John's writings is pretty well accepted across the board. John was an apostle; the “apostle Jesus loved” is how he is identified in his own gospel. He was the youngest of the twelve, possibly just a teenager when he first followed Jesus.
If you remember learning about the disciples in Sunday School, you may recall that John had a brother in the twelve as well, James. They were the sons of the fishing magnate Zebedee. And they had a nickname, “The Sons of Thunder.” All of the disciples were killed for their faith, martyred; all but John. He lived to a ripe old age, sentenced to exile on the island of Patmos from where he wrote the last book of the bible, the Revelation. He spent his last years serving the church at Ephesus where he died.
The story of our author John. He wrote five books of the bible, his gospel, the Revelation and three epistles; first, second and third John. We are studying first John. I said it is commonly accepted that John wrote it, but we are not sure to whom it was written. It may have been to the church at Ephesus or it may have been a general letter written for many churches to share. It differs in many ways from Paul's letters. We've noted before that Paul begins his letters by identifying himself as “Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul offers grace and peace in Christ's name. John goes right into his subject, in fact he never even writes his name in his epistle. Here's his first line, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes,” There is an echo here from his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John describes in his epistle the Word, the God he wrote of in his gospel, which was from the beginning of everything and Jesus who was God personified on earth. And he tells us that this is an eyewitness account. “We have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it”. John walked with Jesus, he talked with him, saw him at his best and his worst; saw him after the resurrection. And he gives us an eyewitness account about Jesus, our Savior.
An overview of the book shows us that John's two main themes were the love of God revealed in Christ and how that looks lived out in the life of a believer. This first chapter uses the contrast of light and the dark to help us see these themes. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” Jesus used the light metaphor often. “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8: 12) (John 9:5) While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Light is associated with God from the very beginning. In Genesis 1, we read that God came into the darkness, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” You can read that the sun isn't created until day four, yet there is light from the very beginning. We could say, God was the light. Jesus was the representation of God on earth and so he was light. From John's gospel, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Darkness cannot overcome the light. If it is dark outside and your house is well lit, opening the door doesn’t let in the darkness. But if your house is dark and you open a door to the light, the light immediately overcomes the darkness.
We remembered the assassination of Martin Luther King this week. He used light and darkness in his message as well, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” If we have the light, there is no darkness in it, and so there is no sin. John makes clear that the perfection of Jesus is represented by this light. And he calls us to walk in the light. Now don't you think that that is an impossible request? Who can be perfect as Jesus is? And yet here is John telling us to walk in the light as Jesus is in the light. And Jesus makes a similar request of us, Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Pretty intimidating. And it may be something that causes us to keep Jesus at arm's length. How can we possibly live up to this kind of command?
Let's consider what living in this perfection, this light, might look like. Does it mean no mistakes? And you know it can't because we can't be perfect; even if Jesus tells us we ought to be. Does it mean no sin? No, scriptures are clear that all sin. So where does perfection come from? It is from walking in relationship with Jesus; not in perfection but in relationship. Our perfection, our righteousness is imputed upon us; ascribed or attributed to us through the righteousness of Jesus. I know, that is religious talk. Let's simplify a bit. When we enter into relationship with Jesus, God looks upon us and sees, not our sins and shortcomings (which are very real), but God sees the perfection of Jesus. We are justified by faith, and the simplest way to define our justification is this: God looks at us 'just-as-if' we'd never sinned. We have sinned, but in Christ , God sees righteousness. In Christ, we receive justification; in God's eyes, it is just as if you never sinned.
Here is another way to look at justification, if you look through a piece of red glass, everything looks red, through a piece of blue glass, everything is blue and so on and so on. When God looks at us through the Lord Jesus Christ, he sees all in the white light of Jesus. No longer does the darkness of sin show in God eyes, rather the light of Christ is our new appearance.
You know as well as I do that you are not going to leave church today and be perfect this week. But you can leave the church under the righteousness of Jesus. And in gratitude and in loving service and in obedience we live the best life we can. Darkness, sin, interferes with our relationship, and if our life is more darkness than light, God gets crowded out. God allows himself to be crowded out for he doesn't force any of us to obey, to walk in his light. It is our choice. But we do have help. Seek the Holy Spirit's power to overcome the darkness.
God calls us to walk with Christ so we are living in the light. John wrote, “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.” Fellowship, relationship is destroyed when we walk in the dark. But...John goes on, “if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Here's the word fellowship again. First it was fellowship with God in Christ, here it is fellowship with one another as we walk in the light—in Christ. Side note, the Son cleanses us from all sin gets back to the that justification thing. John does go round and round and keeps reviewing what he has written.
But let's consider fellowship and light. We like to talk about our fellowship here at church. But we should always be aware that the fellowship here is not the same as the fellowship at Lion's Club or the PTA. We have a specific source for the basis of fellowship; Jesus Christ, the light of the world. And so if we play cribbage in the church fellowship hall, it is not the same as a cribbage tourney at the Legion. There is the understanding that it is different. We don't get too competitive, we don't shortchange anyone in points, we are patient with each other; it is fellowship in the spirit of Christian love. Coffee hour is not just a social gathering, it is where we find out about Dr. visits and family concerns and personal situations. And those conversations are often carried home to be lifted up in prayer. That is light. Caring for one another with the love of Christ.
But there is another step we are to take when we consider the light, we are to share the light with the world. That's why studying God's word is so important. So much of the faith community drifts along with general ideas of God without learning what God teaches us. Study God's word so that that light you present in the darkness is truly God's light. Then you are not hiding the light, but shining it into the darkness. Jesus said in Luke 11:36 “if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.” Fill your life with light and let the light shine on those around you as it has shined on you. Jesus put it this way, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. (Matthew 5: 14, 15) We have a responsibility to know what we believe, why we believe it and that what we believe is theologically correct.
Speaking of lighting a lamp under a bowl, a circus owner was walking down the street in a tourist district and saw crowd of people around a table watching a show. On the table was a pot turned upside down and a duck tap dancing on it. The circus owner was so impressed that he offered to buy the duck from its owner. After some haggling the owner agreed to sell the duck and the pot for $10,000.
A couple of days later the circus owner returns to the owner. “Your duck is a rip-off!” He says angrily. “I put him on the pot in front of a big audience and he didn’t dance a single step!”
“Well,” asked the duck’s former owner, “did you remember to light the candle under the pot?”
This is not what is meant by putting your light under a bowl. The light of Christ is to affect how we live, just as that candle affected how the duck danced. We come to church, we read the bible, we converse with God in prayer to keep that candle, the light shining hot and shining bright. Hot to keep us motivated, brightly so it shines beyond ourselves. Letting our light shine means living the life you profess when you are in church out in the world the other six days of the week. I've quoted ex-executive Presbyter Sue Coller before, she said that Sunday may well be the least important day in our walk with Christ. Living in the light all week long is the most important part of our Christian walk.
John concludes this first week's reading talking about sin. We've talked about being perfect as Jesus was perfect. Jesus never sinned. But John then wrote this, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” We lie if we claim perfection is the absence of sin. When darkness creeps in and temptation overtakes us, all is not lost. “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus cleanses us from unrighteousness, making us righteous, justifying us in God's eyes. Again, we circle back to John's theological point; justification by faith.
John adds this, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Lot's of theology here. But I like to say when we pray that we have an advocate for us; Jesus advocates for us in our prayers, but here we are told he advocates for the forgiveness of our sins. And this is a very inclusive statement... the forgiveness extends to the whole world.
Let's see if I can narrow all this to a good three point sermon. One, God is light-goodness perfection, holiness and we are to live in this light. Two, fellowship is key to our Christian walk-fellowship with God and with each other. And three, when we do stumble in the dark, when sin gets between us and our fellowship with God, Jesus is there for us. Jesus offers forgiveness, Jesus advocates on our behalf, Jesus cleanses us from sin and justifies us...and we live in God's light again...and for forever.
Hymn: This Little light of Mine