(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on July 24, 2016)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:1-2:2, TNIV)
1 John spoke to me this week, as I thought of all the things swirling around that seem overwhelming to me. We can’t seem to get through a day without news that shakes us, that brings us fear and heartache. The political divide in our country is deep and wide.
And while we’ve done really hard and good work as a church over the last year, it’s been draining and tiring, as we’ve tried to come to grips with what it means to be a community that sees important things very differently. On top of that, there are many in our community who are facing serious health crises. Yearly Meeting sessions this week seem daunting.
What is our hope in these distressing and challenging times?
With all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, I believe the only hope is Jesus. Today, amid my own discouragement and unsettledness, in the face of a world that seems to be trying to buck us off like a steer at the St. Paul Rodeo…I celebrate these words from 1 John: It’s Jesus. It’s Jesus!
These words in 1 John are so simple and so deeply profound and they are the heart of the good news that we share with each other and with the entire world.
“That which was from the beginning…” This very phrase echoes the opening words of Genesis, of the Hebrew Torah, where it says: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This very phrase echoes the opening words of the gospel of John, where it says: “In the beginning was the word.” It all begins with what had no beginning. Everything begins with God.
The heart of our message as Christians is that the very God who created it all, also took on a body and became human. That which always was, God, has been heard, has been seen, has been touched by grimy, sweaty, blood-stained human hands…hands like yours, hands like mine.
God is knowable! Touchable! Visible! This is our message, our hope; this is what we proclaim. Our Jesus is nothing less than God from the beginning. Our hope is that God is not far away and remote. Jesus came to earth, and that isn’t all! The gift of God’s Holy Spirit is God’s presence for us here and now.
I’ve asked myself this week: what of God have I seen with my eyes? What of God have I heard with my ears? What of God have I touched recently? What could I proclaim to you?
I have watched fear and anxiety leave people as we have prayed together for God’s protection. I have listened to hymns of hope and trust around a death bed, I have heard cancer patients speak their hope and trust in God no matter the outcome. I have touched people for whom I’m praying and felt a physical sense of the Holy Spirit moving through my hand. This is what I have seen, heard, touched and proclaim to you.
I have seen faces in my mind out of the blue, heard a message for them and texted it. We then together marveled at the Spirit’s timing and encouragement. This is the work of God that I celebrate with you today.
I have heard difficult words about myself from people I respect, words which have driven me to examine myself, have moved me to repentance. This is the work of God I proclaim to you.
God is still knowable today. God is still active today. Not always as easily or as quickly as I would like. Not always with a message I am ready to hear. But it is always for my good. It is always truth.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this, I too proclaim concerning the Word of life. Jesus has appeared, eternal life has appeared. Thanks be to God!
The appearance of eternal life in the flesh of Jesus Christ is for a grand purpose, to create an eternal community that is worldwide in scope and eternal in time.
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
The fact that our God-from-the-beginning at one time in the past walked around in a touchable body is not the only part of our faith. It is also what is possible now and forever because of it. There is fellowship, communion, life, acceptance, and relationship with God: Father, Son and Spirit. We’re invited in! We are welcome!
So much of our anxiety and struggle comes from a fear of being alone. “My loved one might die and leave me alone.” “I might say what I think, and find out others disagree and I am alone.” “I keep trying to share my needs but no one seems to notice and I just feel alone.”
So much ache comes from fear of being left out and alone. And the message of 1 John, the message of Christianity is: Jesus came so that none of us would be alone. Jesus did all the work of the incarnation and the cross to make it possible for us to have fellowship, communion, life, acceptance, and relationship…to have all of that with God AND with each other.
This is the life-changing, world-altering message! It’s Jesus. It’s Jesus and all he has done to make community and fellowship with God and each other possible.
But the world seems so dark right now. So hard right now.
Verse 5: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
Jesus is the light of the world! That is our message, that is our hope. We can trust that this language here in 1 John is fully aware of and alluding to the gospel of John, where it says: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
God’s light cannot be overcome by the darkness of this world. This is the promise, this is the hope, this is the reassurance when we are overwhelmed by darkness. God is light! Our God-from-the-beginning already became human in Jesus Christ and put an end to the power of darkness and death. Our message is that it’s already been done!
For the people this was originally written to, the group of churches around Ephesus where John had influence, there was a lot of conflict and difference.
Some were saying Jesus was only a human being. They were mostly Jewish, and knew there was only one God, Yahweh, who was cloud and fire and Spirit. Jesus, they were so sure, had to be only human; and the Jewish law was needed to keep sin and darkness at bay.
Others were saying Jesus was God, completely other, and only appeared as a human being. They were influenced more by the Greek and Roman philosophy of the day, which saw Spirit and flesh, good and evil as opposites and completely separate. For them, our behavior wasn’t all that important, because we’re creatures, part of the flesh, the opposite of spirit and goodness. The best we could hope for was to trust in God to make everything right in the end.
1 John challenges both of those perspectives. God DID become fully human, touchable, actual flesh and blood like you and me. Jesus is fully God AND fully human, and it is Jesus–not the law or our actions–it is Jesus who wipes out the darkness of our world.
Because of what Jesus did, we should strive to walk in the light. What we do matters. But it is Jesus who conquered all the darkness, and it is Jesus who is our Advocate.
So no putting the blame out there only. No putting the blame just on those other people who bring sin and darkness and pain to our world.
We’re all part of the problem. We can’t claim we haven’t sinned, can’t claim there are not times when we walk in darkness. But God is light! Something is wrong if we walk in darkness but try to live in God’s light. And there is only one solution. It isn’t blame. It isn’t trying harder. Our hope for ourselves, and the way God wants to change the world is through Christ:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
This is the hope, the promise, the remedy that is promised to the entire world…to even those we consider our worst enemies. You and I cannot control how other people respond to God’s instruction to confess, and Jesus’ promise to forgive. But we can and we must let God examine us, poke at us. Not because we’re unloved until we get it right! Rather, God already loves us and wants us to be in right relationship with people and God, so we must let God show us where we need confession, forgiveness, and healing.
Do you have things to confess and have forgiven today? Do you need faithful and just Jesus to purify you? Today, every day, is a chance to put this promise into practice. [PAUSE]
This is written so that we will walk in the light, so we will not sin. But, thank you Jesus!…if we do, it’s Jesus who sticks up for us. It’s Jesus who stands by us. Praise the Lord!
Right at the end of the section I read today, 1 John 2:2, there’s a challenge.
This hope of God’s light surrounding us, this hope of being forgiven and purified…verse 2 challenges us to remember we are not a special, chosen, exclusive us.
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world!”
Clearly it hasn’t changed the whole world yet! But this community that Jesus came to create, this eternal community of Jesus followers and God’s very self…this community and this forgiveness of sins is for the whole world. We can’t keep it for ourselves, or limit in. It is a crazy extension of God’s grace and love.
God loves you and me in ways that go beyond all imagining! Jesus is at work, never resting, never stopping, always advocating for light and right in this broken, dim world we live in today.
Jesus calls us, forgives us, purifies us so that we can walk in the light…so that we can make the kind of community in which anyone and everyone can see and touch the living Jesus and bask in God’s presence, too.
May this wondrous miracle of Christ’s community have a home here, at Newberg Friends! It’s Jesus’ church. It’s Jesus’ power. It’s Jesus’ hope that we offer to each other and to the world.
Come, Lord Jesus! We need you.