We Declare – April 8, 2018

We Declare

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

I John 1:1-2:2

April 8, 2018

Main Idea:  Jesus brings us life together.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Easter Sunday was just one week ago and we are still coasting in the afterglow of that glorious celebration.  At my house, we are still eating ham, chocolate and jellybeans (although not all at once!).  So now what?  How do we live out the reality of Easter? What does it mean to declare ourselves followers of Christ? For the month of April we will be exploring the First Letter of John which was written to a community struggling to discern how to be in relationship with Jesus, with God and with each other.  This letter profoundly and beautifully lays out how Jesus brings us, brings the world, together in love.  The title of this sermon is “We Declare” and as we ponder this text this morning, I encourage you to be thinking about what you would declare about Jesus your Christ.

In our Bibles, there are three Letters of John which were written to the community from which we received the Gospel of John. In these three letters, and especially in the first letter, we find the theme of unity in love.  Within this community there was conflict regarding the interpretation of the Gospel of John; specifically around the understanding of Jesus’ humanity and what that meant for the community’s life together.  Our Monday Bible Study has been reading the Gospel of Thomas which emphasizes the knowledge of Christ over the Incarnation and it may be that the conflict within John’s church was about similar understandings.  The people who lived with Jesus; his disciples and early followers had no doubt as to his humanity.  They saw him, they knew him in the flesh and they tried to follow what he taught them.  But as the time passed after the resurrection, some folks became more focused on his divinity, this led them to downplay the crucifixion and ignore Jesus’ teachings.  The Roman world was full of gods who sometimes pretended to be human and the pagan philosophy that the spiritual world was good and the physical world was bad influenced many people’s understanding of Christ.  As long as they gained the secret knowledge of Jesus’ divine nature there was no need to change their behaviors nor reach out to others because everything of the earth was no good anyway.  This tension regarding the human and divine nature of Jesus continues to this day.  Some Christians embrace Jesus as a human ethical teacher but have problems with the idea of his physical resurrection.  Other Christians focus on Christ’s divine sacrifice while downplaying his ethical demands. The First Letter of John’s approach to this conflict is to emphasize Jesus’ physical reality and to lift up love as the community’s unifying principle.  John declares that Jesus brings us life together.

The letter begins with bold declarations reminiscent of the Prologue to the Gospel of John and the beginning of the book of Genesis.   “We declare to you what was from the beginning and what we know through all of our senses: what we have heard, what we have seen, what we have looked at and touched.  We declare, not just what we think but what we have experienced, that Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus the Christ, “the word of life” who reveals to us God and who invites us to fellowship with God and with Christ.  This fellowship is eternal life, not simply life after we die, but abundant life now and extending into eternity.  We declare this to you so that you may also be in fellowship with us, and with God, and with Christ, thereby making our joy complete.”

To share the experience of Christ within their community and with the world was the hope and the purpose for which John wrote this letter.

After this beautiful introduction, John then lays down the premise upon which the rest of the letter rests. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” (1:5).  Jesus’ life, his teachings, his death, and his resurrection all proclaim that God is light and love and truth.  Evil, sin, and death are not of God.  Do we accept this premise?

Based on this premise, John then leads us through 3 If-Then examples to show what fellowship in Christ means.

The first example – “If we say we have fellowship with him, while walking in darkness, we lie.” (1:6) Wow! Right off the bat, John exposes hypocrisy.  In John’s community these were the people who denied the humanity of Jesus and his teachings.   Today, these are the folks who claim to be followers of Jesus but who not only make no attempt to follow his teachings but who work against the will of God.  These are those who claim that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior but who actively work to exploit the poor, oppress the vulnerable, and generally care only for their own wellbeing.

But ….If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”(1:7) and we are cleansed from sin.  It is our actions which reveals the light of God within us, not simply our words.   It is our actions guided by love which strengthen our bonds of community. Even if sometimes we make mistakes, our relationship with Christ and with each other is not broken. Our life together continues to grow.

The second example – “If we say we have no sin, we lie to ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1:8)  In John’s community there were some who believed that once they knew the secret truth of Jesus, there was nothing in their life that was sinful. Everything was okay! Everything was permitted!  The genius of sin is that it can so easily be rationalized away.   “What’s the big deal?  I deserve to treat myself.  Nothing is wrong in my life.  I’m fine, really.   I have nothing for which to apologize.   The suffering of others is their own problem, it has nothing to do with me.”  Of course, the problem with lying to ourselves is that our facade of strength and health becomes weaker and weaker as our rationalizations and troubles grow.  We become a brittle hollow shell.

But…If we confess our sins, Jesus who is faithful and just will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1:9)  It is when we admit we have made a mistake, when we admit weakness that we can grow and move forward.  It is only when we acknowledge our limitations that we can develop true strength with God at our core.  Jesus does not wait to catch us in sin, like a police car waiting on the highway.  Jesus invites us to recognize our mistakes and take responsibility for our actions.  In this way we are restored to right relationship with God and with others.

The third example – “If we say we have not sinned, we make Jesus a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1:10) Now nobody wants to make Jesus a liar but “To deny the reality of our sin is to deny God’s saving action in Christ and the love of God that sent Christ into the world. To deny our sin is to deny that God is love.” (Craig Satterlee, christiancentury.org).  If we say we have not sinned we are saying that we have no need of Christ and that the selfish, hurtful actions that we have done are perfectly reasonable and are what is to be expected from everybody.

This is not what God intends for the world.

Instead, we have Jesus our Christ who lived, for real, and died, for real, and lives again among us, for real, so that we can be reconciled with each other and with God.  He makes it possible for us to grow in love and truth and light.  He makes it possible for us to learn from our mistakes, to reach beyond our comfort zones, and to care for more than just ourselves.  He makes it possible for us to have life together.

John says that Jesus is our advocate and “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Jesus is the bridge, the outstretched hand of God, inviting us, imploring us to let go of the lies we tell ourselves, to turn away from all that separates us from God and to turn back to God who loves us and loves all of creation. This is the essence of the Good News.

So on this Second Sunday of Easter what do we declare?

As a Baptist, I am hesitant to speak for all of you. But, as your pastor,  I will lift up declarations on our behalf and you can voice your assent.

We declare

That Jesus our Christ is alive and moving through the world

That Jesus brings us life

That Jesus brings us love

That Jesus brings us truth.

We declare that Jesus calls us out of our self-deceptions and sin.

We declare that Jesus our Christ empowers us to share life and love and truth with each other and with the world.

Let us pray,

Word of life, we thank you for the life you have given us, the love and truth through we live.  We thank you for your Spirit which empowers and sustains us.  Help us to continue to grow together and share your Good News.  Amen.

Notes and Quotes

God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

“ It is not God’s anger that must be assuaged, but our rebellion against God.” (Charles B. Cousar, FOTW Year B Vol. 2, p. 399)

“The joy of fellowship within the Father and the Son makes fellowship with the community of faith possible.” (Debra Carl Freeman, FOTW Year B Vol. 2, p. 397)

“Joy is best shared when the community comes together face to face.” (Debra Carl Freeman, FOTW Year B Vol. 2, p. 397)

“God is no fool, and Jesus didn’t give his life for us to continue living our lies” (C. Clifton Black, workingpreacher.org)

“Easter is God’s refusal to leave the world in the lurch.” (C. Clifton Black, workingpreacher.org)

What does it mean to have Christ as our Advocate? How is Christ our entreater, the one who comes alongside and calls us forward?

“In the view of I John, the truth is not simply something we think or believe, it is something we do.” (Audrey West, workingpreacher.org)

MLK – 50 years

We declare to you

           what was from the beginning

           what we have heard

           what we have seen

           what we have looked at and touched

           concerning the word of life – this life was revealed

We declare to you

           the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us

We declare to you

           what we have seen and heard so that

           you may have fellowship with us

           our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

This is the message we have heard and proclaim to you

We can’t be strong when we refuse to acknowledge our weakness.

Don’t sin but if you do, we have an advocate – JC

Atoning sacrifice* – define

JC is the atoning sacrifice for us and for the sins of the whole world.

We required the blood.  God does not.