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. 1 John 1:5-2:2 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We are continuing our look at 1st John, which was a letter written to the community of John’s followers sometime after the Gospel of John, near the end of the first century. We learned last week, that this letter was intended to affirm the divine nature of Christ, but, that mostly, it was intended to stress the tangibility, the touchability, the being in community with Christ. Specifically, the human nature Christ. That it is this humanity of Christ--Christ coming to earth in the body to be with us--that suggests to us that our faith is to be lived out in community. Not individually. But, in community.
So, today, we have our second lesson from 1st John. As we think about this lesson, we are going to think about this together. This will be more of a participation sermon! More of a conversation between us. And, perhaps, between all of our ideas and thoughts, we may come to an even greater understanding of this passage than if I simply stood up here and preached a one-way sermon. Because we are so much greater together than we are individually. So, I hope and I invite you to feel free to join into conversation with me around today’s reading.
To begin with, we just heard a reading that is chock full of metaphor. What is a metaphor? (Dictionary definition: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. Or a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.) It’s when we transfer some of the meaning of a word or a phrase to something else.
What are some examples of metaphors? These can be from scripture or not.
I am the good shepherd. (Jesus in John’s gospel.)
All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. (William Shakespeare)
Chaos is a friend of mine. (Bob Dylan)
So, metaphors are things that are used to help us better understand something. Would that be a fair description?
In today’s lesson, there is a very famous metaphor that is used for God. “God is light.” What meaning does this particular metaphor for God have for you? What are other examples of metaphors for God that you can think of or that we find in scripture? (I am the gatekeeper. I am the bread of life. Etc.) Why do you think the Bible writers use metaphor so much? (To help us better understand the nature of God.)
So, if metaphors are used in scripture to help us better understand who God is, then, I’m going to do a little demonstration using the “God is light,” metaphor to understand what this might mean for us in our lives as disciples.
(Hold up flashlight.) What is this? Flashlight. What is it used for? To help us see better in dark places or in darkness. What are some other things we use to help us see better in darkness? You have an example of something that was given to you as you entered the sanctuary this morning. Candles, lights, or nightlight.
So, now, I’m going to tap into those who were in the Kerygma class this past spring. In that class, we went deeper into the Gospel of John. In particular, at the start of our study, we looked at specific words and their meaning as they were used by the gospel writer. The epistle of 1st John was likely either written by the same author or group of authors. So, many of the meanings from the gospel of John are transferable to the letter of John.
So, Kerygma experts, how did the author of the gospel define the word “light”? As goodness. So, if “light” means “goodness,” then what is “darkness”? Right, the absence of goodness, or, in one word, “evil.” Let’s go back then to the very first sentence in today’s Gospel lesson and replace the words “light” and “darkness” with “good” and “evil.” Does someone what to read it with those replacements? This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, the God is good and in him there is no evil at all.
How does this change, or does it change, your understand of who God is? Has anyone ever said this to you, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”? Do you see how bogus that phrase is? It’s bogus because it suggests that God gives us evil things, but never anything more than we can handle. If the nature of God is good and if there is no evil in God at all, does God really send evil to us?
This leads us to the second point of today’s text. It’s the part that applies to us as people of God. It’s a pretty strong and pointed message for us. I’m going to read it this time from The Message paraphrase:
“If we claim that we experience a shared life with God and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth--we’re not living what we claim. But, if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.”
As Lutherans, over and over again our focus is that we are saved by faith through God’s grace. This is absolutely true! But, what this often led to is a disconnect between our faith--what we say we believe--and our actions. If we truly have faith, 1st John says, then our faith--our embodied faith where Jesus is incarnated in our very hearts. Then our faith requires us to live with integrity.
Integrity. That’s a big word. What does it mean? There is a consistency between words and actions. When we do what we say we will do. Or when we do what we say we believe.
When we say we will do something and do it, that is integrity. When we say that God desires we love our neighbors and we go out of our way to help someone, that is integrity.
But, when we say that, as believers, we are to care for the poor or the marginalized and we act in ways that harm them, then, quite simply, we are lying. And, even worse, if we say we have faith and then walk in darkness, but then say it is light, we “double err.” That’s what Luther calls it. Two evils: to err and, then, to defend error.
My friends, faith is not faith if we don’t live it out. And not just to our family and friends and those people we like. But, particularly, to those we don’t like or to those who we don’t think deserve it. That is an embodied faith that is living with integrity. A faith that walks the talk.
It is not easy. And we often fail, don’t we? The good news is the promise at the end of our lesson today. “My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don't sin. But, if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins. Not only ours, but the sins of the whole world.”
This is our comfort. That, as we go about our lives together and seek to truly live out our faith with integrity, here in this place and in our neighborhood, we have the promise that, when we fail, God will be right there to pick up the pieces. To pick us up and forgive us. Because God has given us God’s Son as our advocate. Our own public defender. Our Savior who has dealt with our sins and with the sins of the entire world.
Thanks be to God, who, loves us so much that, even when we fail, God clears us of guilt and frees us to try one more time!
Preached Sunday, July 1, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: 1 John 1:5-2:2 (John 1:29)