Speak Now - Week 5: "Life In The Son"
Today is the Sixth Sunday of the Season of Easter, and it's also is the final installment of our sermon series on the New Testament book of 1 John entitled "Speak Now."
Throughout this study, we'll be focusing on what it means to not only follow Jesus but also how to speak about our faith in life-giving ways.
As we identified last week, the problem that we have in our culture right now is that when someone says "I am a Christian," it's hard to tell exactly what that means. So many people in our culture have negative feelings about Christians and what they believe Christians stand for.
And the reasons they have these negative feelings is because the people who are speaking the loudest in our culture about what it means to be a Christian have completely lost the plot. My hope is that this series will help give us the tools and the empowerment we need to speak up in love about what Jesus has done for us.
Last week Pastor Britta referenced a hymn that you all also sang during the worship service, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love." I've always found that hymn so convicting because whenever I'm singing it, I'm reminded of all the ways other than love that people identify Christians.
So many Christians, churches, denominations---they are known by what they oppose, who they judge, who they exclude, by what they boycott, protest or rail against. But love? Not so much.
I think a more accurate way to rephrase the refrain of that hymn to better reflect our current cultural situation would be to say, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Shirts."
Christians love to create witty, memorable Christian shirts.
I decided to do a little digging to find some particularly memorable Christian shirts--that will totally identify someone as a Christian when they wear them.
Don't you wish it was that easy? Just put on a shirt, and be a Christian.
The problem that we face as Christians is that we've become so busy trying to prove to people that we've got all the answers that we aren't listening to their questions. And the questions that people are asking are the kinds of questions most Christians don't seem to have an answer for.
"Where is God when things are falling apart?"
"What kind God would let that happen?"
"Why do so many of Jesus' followers not seem to be following Jesus?"
It doesn't have to be this way. It's time for us to reclaim the narrative from those who have lost the plot. Our story--the Christian story--is bigger and better than we've been telling it.
It's time for us to speak now about how God is offering eternal, vibrant, abundant life right here, right now. It's time for us to start living like we've been redeemed. It's time for us to become living, breathing, loving examples of God's great grace through Jesus Christ.
And we all have a part to play in this incredible story. You have a part to play.
In fact, what I want us to know, what I want us to hold on to throughout this entire sermon is this one incredible and life-changing fact:
You at your best is the only proof of God's love that anyone will ever need.
Our conversation partner throughout this series has been the epistle of 1 John, which was a letter written by one of the early Church leaders in the late first century.
This leader, whom scholars refer to as "The Elder," wrote this letter to a group of Christians who were struggling to understand exactly what it meant to be a Christian.
The Elder wanted them to ignore the noise around them, the teachers who were leading them astray, and just focus on the basics of their faith: namely, the love of God through Jesus, who lived, died and was raised from the dead.
Let's read 1 John 5:1-6:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.If you've been following along throughout this series, you may have noticed that a lot of the passages we've been reading seem to sound the same. And even within the passages themselves, there are repetitions and cyclical patterns.
In other words, the Elder wrote the same thing over and over again. This can be a bit maddening as you are trying to read it as we've discovered. But what the Elder was doing was trying to answer the deep questions that these late first-century Christians were struggling to answer.
Question: "Where is God when things fall apart"
Answer: God is in all, through all and is all--and all God is... is love. And we know this because of the way that Jesus lived, the way that he loved, the way that he was present with his followers, demonstrating the true heart of God.. which is nothing but love.
Question: "How do we know what God is like?"
Answer: We don't have to wonder what God is like, we just have to look at how God has loved through how far God was willing to go in order to rescue those whom God loves. Jesus took on the worst the world had to offer, defeating sin and death so that we might live without fear, without dread. So we might have eternal life.
And the eternal life that God offers through Jesus is not just a future promise, it's a present reality. This is what the Elder reiterates over and over again. This isn't just about going to heaven when you die, it's about bringing heaven to earth right now.
Even the word that the Elder uses for "life" here in the text is a Greek word full of possibility. He uses the word "zoe" which refers to the kind of life that death cannot destroy. The kind of life that resists fear, hatred, bitterness... all of the things that suck the life out of life.
This "zoe" kind of life is the kind of life that lets you get a taste of what it's like when God gets what God wants when the shalom the peace of God rests on all things and all people.
The Elder goes on to declare that our love for God and our desire to keep God's commandments to share the love we've been given is proof that we love. And this love grows out of a relationship--a real relationship--with God that is made possible because of Jesus.
This kind of love is only fully expressed in a relationship as well. The Elder repeatedly calls upon these early Christians to love one another within their community... to love their sisters and brothers outside the community... to be in a relationship with the world around them.
Far too many Christians spend so much time and energy railing against the culture around them. I think the Elder would have said to them, "How can you ever hope to influence something that you claim to hate so much?"
He also informed them that the idea of conquering or overcoming the world isn't the same as winning--at least not in the way that most people would identify winning. Lots of Christians mess this up. They assume that their job is to overcome the world, to conquer it by force, to win the war.
But the Elder wants to place emphasis in his letter on the cross.
The question and answer, put in that way, introduces a paradox. How do you normally overcome an enemy? By force, of course. By power, by superior weapons of war, by will to dominate. The Elder offers his surprising answer: by the cross. The cross is victory.
This would prove to be a hard lesson for many Christians in the first century. It required such backward thinking to see power and victory in the death of Jesus.
But when we get this... When we start to figure out that our job, our calling is to overcome the world with our better story of God's radical love... When we begin to realize that eternal life begins now and we should be living abundantly and fully right where we are instead of focusing so much on whatever happens next...
That's when we'll begin to live a zoe kind of life... that's when we'll begin to be at our very best... and that's when people will find what we're sharing absolutely irresistible. That's when people will begin to see that the answer to all of their questions about God is simply... love.
Because you at your best is the only proof of God's love that anyone will ever need.
So how do we make this real? How do we live our lives in such a way that we are at our best?
There are three things that we need to embrace if we're going to make this happen.
First you make this real, you are at your best when you stop acting like a Christian and just be one. Maybe you've been sort of a Christian. You come to church 1.6 times a month, which is the average. You give a little of your time to it. You may volunteer here and there when you have nothing better to do.
168 hours in a week---what are you doing with the other 167?
How many of them are you really and truly dedicating to following Jesus?
Here's the thing, deep inside you long for more. You know that you are not at your best. You know that there is a bigger story--your story. You want to take off the Christian t-shirt and just live like a follower of Jesus once and for all.
If you've had your toe dipped into the Christian pool, maybe it's time to jump in--just do a cannonball and get it over with!
Second, you make this real, you are at your best when you give up all of you in order to gain more of Jesus. This looks like you, surrendering the outcomes of your life. Giving up worry and anxiety about the future. It looks like you, living in obedience to God's command to love, and letting that love permeate your life. It looks like you being less like you and more like Jesus.
It doesn't look like you, afraid and full of anxiety.
How your kids are turning out...
Whether you have enough money...
What you are going to do with your life...
About your relationships...
If you've been walking around filled with worry, dread, and fear. If you've been avoiding the present because you are too busy regretting yesterday and worrying about tomorrow---it's time to give it all up, to empty yourself of yourself so you can be filled with Christ's perfect love that cast out all fear.
Finally, you make this real when you live a life of radical mutuality. What does this mean? God is all about community. In fact, as Christians, we believe that God so believes in and values a community that God chooses to express Godself in terms of three.
We call God Trinity because God exists in the relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit... community, unity in diversity, deeply relational.
And we are called to be in a relationship with one another, with our world, with all of Creation. And sometimes this means that we have to love people that are hard to love. We are called to care for our world in radically loving ways. We are called to live in unity with our sisters and brothers in Christ.
This might mean that you need to reexamine your political views...
Your ideas about who is included/excluded...
Your notions about the world around you...
When we step into this, when we figure this out we become the people that God dreams for us to be. We become truly human. We are at our best.
It's time for us to embrace our calling as Resurrection People. It's time for us to speak now about our faith and the kind of life our faith is leading us to live--eternal, abundant life that is marked by undying love.
Because you at your best is the only proof of God's love that anyone will ever need.