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Sunday, April 29, 2018

“…Love Casts Out Fear…”

A Sermon Based Upon 1 John 4: 7-21, NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
5th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018 
(4-6)   Sermon Series: 1 John

The Odyssey, by the ancient Greek poet Homer, is one of the most enduring classics.  It is a story about human heroes who must to stand up against vindictive, petty, deceitful gods. 

The gods are very deceitful. They play favorites. They make a sport out of interfering in human lives. The goddess, Calypso, keeps the poor hero Odysseus, prisoner on her island, far from Ithaca, far from his wife and his son, because she wants him as her own.  Poseidon, the God of the seas, also keeps Odysseus from making it home, inflicting disaster after disaster on him and his men. And while the goddess Athena is Odysseus' champion, on Olympus, the gods compete with each other, using poor Odysseus as a pawn in their power struggles with one another.

It is no wonder that the Greek philosopher Socrates did not encourage his students to read these stories. He thought that the gods in Greek poetry were immoral and unworthy of respect. Like many, he gave the gods their due, probably observed the public rituals, but after that he left the gods alone.

This negative, view of the gods was fairly common in the ancient world.  Once you had offered the appropriate sacrifices, avoided violating sacred places, and did no harm to priests, you could avoid drawing attention to yourself.   You surely didn’t want to get to close to the gods, or let the gods become too involved with you.   If you did, then any ‘glory’ won would be offset by a greater measure of suffering you’d have to go through.  Getting involved with the gods was dangerous and to be avoided.

Interestingly, even though these were ‘mythical views, they made a valid point about life:  Given the fickle nature of glory and of fortune in this life, who wants to go after ‘glory’ or ‘accomplish something’ when it means that the ‘gods’ are out to get you?
Why would we view the gods as anything but capricious and erratic?

This negative, skeptical and pessimism was how the majority identified the difficulties and unpredictability of life.  Are we any different?   Doesn’t a spirit of skepticism and pessimism also dominate our day?  Don’t we preach and live ‘without authority?’  People seem to be skeptical of politics, of institutions, of establishments, of religion, and most every other kind of truth claim or authority, except, of course, their own.  And when we see what’s on the news, what’s happening in politics, or even who’s preaching on TV, can you blame them?  Can you blame people for feeling so morally hopeless, and from distancing themselves from any kind of truth, authority, or even from faith?

Several years ago, when I was pastor of a church in Greensboro, a lady made an appointment to see me.  She was not a member of our congregation, but she came and asked if I would perform her wedding ceremony.  I asked her, whether or not she was a Christian, and or a member of another church.   She answered that she was a faithful member of another Baptist Church in the area.  “Why don’t you want to get married in your church?”,  I asked.  She then went on to tell me that her pastor would not marry her, because she wanted her bridesmaids were going to have dresses on that were sleeveless, and the pastor would not allow that in his sanctuary.

Upon hearing her reason for wanting to use our sanctuary, and why she wanted me to perform the ceremony, I gave her this advice: “Ma’am, I’d be honored to perform your wedding ceremony in our church, but before we make this final, let me make a request.  You go back and tell your pastor that I’m willing to perform the ceremony, and if I do that that you, and all your family will join this church.  If you go and tell your pastor this, I’m guessing he might make an exception for your ‘sleeveless dresses’.”   She agreed, and she never came back.  Evidently, her pastor decided to perform the ceremony. 

You know, on the face of it, people may be keeping their ‘distance’ from us too, because churches can also be ‘fickle’.  Many are living their lives this way today.    People come to churches asking for funerals, weddings, and some even want to be baptized.   They want to "do the right thing," to offer some kind of appropriate religious respect, but they also keep a careful distance.  They do not want to get too involved.  As evangelist Billy Graham used to say,  ‘People have just enough religion to inoculate them from the real thing.” They want God at crucial moments in their lives or for their children, but they are wary of greater exposure or real commitment.   They seem to be playing it safe, doing what is expected, following convention--but no more.   

And in this way, some people today are acting just like the ancient pagans.  After all, good, upright pagans were never anti-religious. They accepted the gods as offered by their culture. They paid those gods their due respect--to get a blessing or to ward off harm.    Like the ancient pagans, many today want to have a little religion at important times, but they also resist allowing God any greater claim on their lives. Perhaps they do not see why God deserves any greater commitment. Perhaps they are afraid and wish not to draw attention to themselves by being either too religious or not religious enough. And, perhaps, as is most likely, they just don't see what God has to do with themselves, with their lives.

When it comes to how to address the complacency many have toward church, you wonder why they bother at all.  On the other hand, it is sometimes through a funeral, a wedding, or a child dedication when people discover that churches have value and that God is not distant or fickle, but near, present.  Perhaps they will also learn that God does care for our lives and that a relationship with God is not vengeful but gentle, warm and gracious. The question is how do we get people to move closer and to ‘test the spirits’ as John says, before today’s text.

Perhaps John is on to something universal in humanity and spiritual when he writes about the need to reduce all religious and spirituality down to love.  After John names the Christian  ‘spirit’ as the ‘spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh’ (4:2),  John has no doubt what naming Jesus as Lord should mean in the Church:  “Beloved, let us love on another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (7-8).

Let’s not make our religion or our faith any more complicated than it should be.  Let us make sure that the main thing remains the main thing. ‘If we love,’ John says, ‘’God lives in us.’  This is true he says, because ‘God is Love’.   Here, John shows us, reminds us, even admonishes about what it means to take faith in Christ seriously in any generation or in every church. To take faith seriously is to take loving each other seriously. Without this, we have no Christian faith or no Christian Church.

Perhaps, when things are going all right for ourselves, we forget that showing love is what the church is about.   We might also forget that knowing that love is our main message is not obvious to everybody, because we sometimes forget it too.  To proclaim that "God is love" is counter-intuitive.  To believe that God is love is to commit ourselves to a counter-cultural, even a radical confession, or it is pure stupidity or mad fantasy. It is one or the other. There is no middle ground here. Either we are bearers of a new truth about God and the world, or we are above all to be pitied as the greatest of fools.

That is the way of the Gospel. We are bearers of the message that God is for you, God is with you, God cares for you, and, yes, God loves you. This message should strike us--and does strike pagans both ancient and modern--as a message so good as to border on the absurd and ridiculous.   But for Jesus Christ, in this Gospel, God’s gospel, God brought divine love to our common human experience, not to trick us, not to make sport of us, not even to judge us or condemn us, but to join with us, to live fully in our common human experience, to be born, to live, to suffer, to die, all out of love--and to rise again to show that nothing, not even death, can extinguish this love. This is our hope, our calling, and our mission, that ‘nothing can separate us from God’s Love, unless we refuse it (These ideas from Stephen Carlsen, 2012).

So, can you now see how pagans, both ancient and modern, do get something right about faith after all?  To get involved with God makes a claim on your life.  When we join up with God in love, we become vulnerable not because God is mean, vindictive, or out to get us, but because in God we must open ourselves up to love and be loved.

Our epistle says simple and plain: “We Love because God first loved us.”  Our mission as Christians is to lift up love because we know love.  Now revealed in Jesus Christ—is to see all love as an echo of the love of God, to name all love as God's, and to be drawn to this love and to reflect it for each other and for the world (Stephen Carlsen).

Everything John is saying goes back to his most revolutionary statement:  "God is love".  By this John does  is not mean that God is sentimental, easy, or frivolous.  No, this is a bold confession of faith, so radical that it sounds stupid to people who are so full of the world they can’t understand anything but hate.  But in this ‘hateful’ world to acknowledge such truth demands a bold commitment and faith. And how will anyone believe this about our faith, unless they see it among us? How will anyone be convinced that beneath the pain and suffering of common experience flows divine love--how will anyone know unless we live that way?

Having been loved by God, we likewise must love, and not just to love those closest to us or those who are easiest to love; our love must extend to places and to people where love is foreign, where love is absent, where faith in love has faded or died.   To be loved by God is to be given a mission: mimicking Star Trek logic here, ‘to take this bold faith in love where love hasn’t gone before’; to those who just cannot accept it, to the destitute, the broken, to those who have lost hope, and not just to tell them this improbable truth, but to show them it is true, through our lives and actions.  No one will believe it unless they see it in us.

Maxie Dunam tells of having a beautiful carving of the hands of Jesus held together in prayer on his desk. On the base of the carving, there is an inscription based on Hebrews 7:25, which says, “The hands of the carpenter, Jesus, intercedes for us.”   Those craved, praying hands were a gift from Jeannine Brabon, a missionary in Medellin, Colombia.  One of her primary ministries is within a prison, Bellavista, one of the worst prisons in Colombia. That prison was built to hold 1500 – the inmates now number over 5,000. It has been one of the worst prisons in Columbia, holding many of the most dangerous criminals in that country.  That prison has been a hotbed of drugs, killings, suicides, and homosexual rape – the worst, most oppressive kind of existence. Inmates would have their throats slashed and laid out in the courtyard. Awful, awful unimaginable things were going on. The heads of inmates would be cut off and kicked about in the exercise yard as though these heads were soccer balls.

But something happened in that prison several years ago. About 5% of the population has become Christian – and transformation has taken place. There is a sense in which it is presently a place of peace.    Interestingly, the person who carved the hands of Jesus, which was given as a gift, was an inmate in that prison. His name was Carlos Velasquez. He carved the praying hands of Jesus from a cedar tree that had been struck by lightning. When you look at those praying hands on the left hand, you can see the black streak going up the hand and along the fingers – the black streak left by the lightning.

In a note that accompanied the gift of the praying hands, the missionary working in the prison wrote: “There is nothing struck by disaster or devastated by sin that cannot be transformed by the Master’s hands.” Then she added, “The hands that carved these praying hands once processed cocaine for one of Columbia’s big drug lords.”  Praise God! – For with God, nothing is impossible.

Now that is a powerful story within itself , but the story goes on.  This man, Carlos Velasquez who was converted in prison has been released and is now preaching the gospel. Here is a portion of a letter that missionary Jeannine Brabon wrote about Carlos: “On a bright Sunday I found myself “ten minutes away from hell.” But Carlos Velasquez came to make an eternal difference. Many know Carlos, an ex-prisoner, through his gifted woodcarvings. Released from prison four years ago, he has in the past year raised up a church in one of the most violent areas of Medellin. Three other churches have tried evangelizing the area, but the danger drove them away. In obedience to the call of God upon his life and with the support of his wife, Aleida, Carlos moved their family of six to dwell among the people of this barrio (suburb).

One night at four a.m., they were awakened by screams of anguish. They went to their bedroom window, only to witness the vivid drama of a 16-year-old slowly being murdered by gunfire in front of his family.  How would you expect Carlos’s wife to respond? “Honey, we’ve got to get out of here. We can’t risk our lives and the lives of our children this way. What can we do in this hellish place, anyway?” That kind of response would have been normal. But
With tears Aleida responded, “Oh honey, we have got to be more urgent in sharing Jesus. We have got to reach them and tell about Jesus before they die, and it’s too late.”

Carlos, amazed at this wife’s courage in the midst of evil, was strengthened to continue in the battle. . . “We desire to be found faithful with whatever He entrusts to us,” he says.  Carlos and Aleida are following Jesus in this fashion not because they loved God first, but because this God who is love, ‘first loved’ them.  It is this kind of love that can still ‘cast out all fear’. (Story told by Maxie Dunam, in a sermon, “Why Being a Christian Has Worn You Down?),.”     

Sunday, April 22, 2018

We Know Love By This

A Sermon Based Upon 1 John 3: 16-24, NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
4th Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018 
(3-6)   Sermon Series: 1 John

Israeli historian Yuval Harari’s suggests that traditional Christianity will soon cease to be.   His logic is based on the fact most Christians today use the Bible for authority rather than inspiration.   Since the Bible, in a scientific world has no realistic authority, it won’t be long, he says, until Christianity dies for lack of inspiration (left

While we may not like what Harari says, he makes a valid point.   It’s not about whether or not the Bible has any authority, but it’s about whether the Bible’s authority inspires us to live differently than anyone else.   What kills the Christian Faith more than anything else, is when we say that we believe the Bible’s message, but then merely put it back on the shelf and do nothing. 

Interestingly, a complacent faith is not a new challenge to the Christian Faith.  Back at the beginning of the modern age, in the 18th century, the great Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard already believed that traditional Christianity was dead unless it turned its energy into ‘works of love’.    “The Bible is very easy to understand”, he said.  “But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly” (From Provocations).

What we see in our text today is that the challenge to have an active, realistic, loving faith goes all the way back to the very first days of the church.   This is not so much a ‘faith’ problem, as it is, as John puts it, a ‘sin’ problem (3:7ff).   The major concern of John’s first letter is about whether or not the ‘commandment’ of love from Jesus (2:8ff) is being practiced and lived in the church.   John’s asks whether or not people in the church actually display love for one another.  His point for the church’s mission should be clear:  Unless we are a loving community among ourselves, we won’t have any mission impact on the world.

In our text John doesn’t mess around with getting to his point: “You will know love by this” (16).  In other words, this is what Christian love looks like.   This is the kind of ‘love’ that builds the community of Christ.  Strangely, John is actually saying that a Christian community only lives, when it is willing to die.  Only when we are ready to ‘lay down our lives’ for the sake of showing love to each other, can we rightly call ourselves ‘Christian’ (3:16).

One historian, writing about how Christianity grew so rapidly from obscurity to become the dominate faith of the Roman empires, proved that it was because Christianity ‘cared’ and was willing to risk death to show genuine love.  It was during a time of ‘black death’ or ‘the plague’, as others, including doctors were scrambling to get away, Christians dared to stay and care, without fear of losing their own lives.  They were literally prepared to ‘lay down their lives’ and this made their lives a witness to the gospel truth of Christ’s love  (Rodney Stark).

Of course, normally, we understand ‘laying down your life’ in most dramatic terms, like soldiers falling on a hand grenade for a comrade, but what about the same kind of sacrificial love also in less dramatic terms?  What about the simple terms of one person taking time to be with another, to give care to another, to write a card, or to keep in touch with another?   Christian love can be dramatic, but in most cases real Christianity can be reduced to taking another person seriously, sincerely, and genuinely.  Why should we do that?

The reason we should be ready to follow Christ’s example of loving sacrifice, is that it is the sacrifice of love that gives life its meaning.  We all need to live for something.  The best way to determine what this something should be is to answer what we would be willing to die for. We are all going to die, so what matters is that before we die, we live for something so that we die after living for something that matters and gives life meaning.   Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, was the first to analyze why some people were able to survive during one of the worst moments of world history, and others, who should have survived didn’t.   What made the difference was living with ‘meaning’, or having a ‘purpose’ or ‘reason’ to survive.   “Woe, to the person sees no aim, purpose or carrying on.   He or she will soon be lost.”  (From the Search for Meaning).

Of course, being Christian doesn’t mean we actually have to physically die, but genuine love finds meaning in life because it is always sacrificial.   As Jesus told his disciples, ‘There is no greater love, than to give your life for your friends.’  In our own lives this translates to bearing the cross to love one another.  John says we ‘know that we have passed from death into life, because we love one another’ (3:14).  To love one another is what it means to be ‘born of God’ and to live above human sin.       

John goes on to define loving, sacrificial love as not simply ‘word or speech’ but as ‘truth and action’ (18).   Perhaps we might also translate love as being ‘truth in action’.   When the ‘truth’ we ‘believe in the name of Jesus’ (v.23) becomes the ‘action’ of how we live with each other, then we know that “God’s love abides in us” (17).   Love can’t be truth without action.

A little girl was invited for dinner at the home of her first-grade friend. The vegetable was buttered broccoli and the mother asked if she liked it. “Oh, yes,” the child replied politely, “I love it!”  But when the bowl of broccoli was passed, she declined to take any. The hostess said, “I thought you said you loved broccoli.” The girl replied sweetly, “Oh, yes ma’am, I do, but not enough to eat it!”

Do we love enough to act upon that love?   This is the message John keeps repeating over and over in this short letter.   If God’s love is in us, it is not just ‘speech’ or talk, but ‘truth and action’ (18).    And before that, John has told his congregation exactly what an ‘act of love’ looks like.  John states the positive with a negative example: ‘God’s love,’ he says, can’t abide in anyone who ‘has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help.’   True love sees a need and responds to that need.  Christian love is made true, not by ‘words’, but by ‘action’.   This is the kind of ‘love’ John means when he speaks of ‘God’s love’.  It is the kind of love that can’t stand back and do nothing, but it is the kind of love that acts.

Jesus taught the need for active love in his unforgettable parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).  You will remember how a Lawyer, in response to Jesus’ command to love your neighbor, asked Jesus ‘Who is my neighbor’?  Jesus answered with the story of the ‘good’ Samaritan, as the person who stopped and acted in response a human in need.   Without turning words about love, or feelings of love, into real action,  Jesus implies, then there is no ‘truth’ to love.

A couple of years ago, the Atlantic Magazine, did a study of how some relationships lasted and others didn’t.  The answer was simple.  The relationships that lasted where those couples who found ways to turn their feelings of love for each other into simples gestures of kindness and generosity.   That article was based on the findings of a little book entitled,  “The Science of Happy Ever After”.  During the 1970’s marriages where falling apart, and the reason?  People spent most of their moments in either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mode, rather than ‘what can I do for you mode’.   In other studies,  social scientists were able to separate different kinds of couples either in a ‘masters’ group, or a ‘disasters’ group.   The difference could be reduced down to the simple ways a couple would try to connect with each other, by saying something as simple as,  “Did you see that bird flying by the window…?”  (

Several years ago there was a famous PEANUTS cartoon in which Shroeder, that piano loving intellectual, was interrupted as he often was by his infatuated admirer, Lucy. Lucy asked Shroeder, "Shroeder, do you know what love is?"    Shroeder abruptly stopped his playing, stood to his feet and said precisely, "Love: noun, to be fond of, a strong affection for or an attachment or devotion to a person or persons." Then he sat back down and resumed playing his piano.   Lucy sat there stunned and then murmured sarcastically, "On paper, he's great." 

The point that Science makes, which Lucy of Peanuts makes, is also the point that Scripture has always made:  “If I do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13: 2ff).  And what Paul meant when he wrote those words, is not simply having love, but doing love.  He goes on to insist how love must be turned into daily actions.  “Love is patient…   Love is Kind…  Love is not envious…  Love does not insist on its own way.   Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures…  Love never ends.. Love is the greatest.   Pursue Love…. (1 Cor. 13: 4-13, 14:1f).  And always, the greatest way to ‘pursue’ love, is to ‘do’ love, as John says, not just in ‘word or speech’, or on paper, but ‘in truth and action’ (1 John 3:18).

But how do we determine the ‘truth’ or ‘action’ of love that is needed?    John goes on to say that discerning the right kind of loving ‘action’ can be as simple as ‘following our heart’.    This is what John explains next, when he says,  ‘we will know that we are from the truth (or of the truth) and will reassure our hearts whenever our hearts condemn us…..” (19-20).  

This sounds negative, but it’s not meant that way.   What John is saying is that since God’s word of truth is in us, if we see someone in need, and do nothing, our hearts convict us of what how we are not responding, and convince us of how we should respond to a brother or sister in need.   Think of that Homeless man from North Carolina who was on the news last Thanksgiving.   He was down on his luck and homeless in a large city, when he saw a woman in need on a dark road.  He told her to stay in her car while he took her gas can and used his last 20 dollars to buy her some gas.   

To thank the homeless man for his generosity,  the woman and her husband put up a ‘Go Fund Me Page’ to raise 10 thousand dollars.  Just a few days later,  they had over 300 thousand dollars of pledges.   What this story reminds us is that all of us, already know what true, loving action means.  Again, as Kierkegaard said, “The truth in the Bible is very easy to understand’, if, that is, we want to understand it.”  

When John speaks of our ‘hearts’ being ‘reassured’ and not being ‘condemned’, he is not merely speaking of the individual heart, but following the ‘heart’ that that is shaped by the community where we live to learn how to love.   When we live in loving, caring, compassionate relationship with others, our hearts are shaped by that community and our love is sharpened to love, even beyond that community, so that love grows and flourishes, even in an unloving world.

This kind of loving community in Christ gets its ‘inspiration’ not simply from what the community or the crowd wants, but John says here, that this a community that is ‘inspired’ by it’s ‘belief in…Jesus (23),  and obeys ‘his commandments’ so that by ‘abiding in him” we reveal that ‘he abides in us’ (v.24). 

Here, at the end of this text, we have come full circle.   Here, we find the answer to the question of whether or not Christianity has a future.  John reminded his readers long ago, that the Church only has a future if the authority of the Bible inspires us to act in loving ways toward each other.  This is what John means as he concludes by referring to the ‘Spirit that he has given us’ (v. 24).  The ‘loving ways’ we are to show each other are not ways only based on our own interpretations of what love is or what love means, but the love we show and share is love that is based ‘his commandments’ and upon our ‘abiding in him’ and ‘him abiding in us’.  

Toyohiko Kagawa, a Japanese man, became a Christian as a teenager. It cost him dearly to love the Lord, because his family disinherited him. They did not want a Christian in their traditional Japanese family. Yet, Kagawa persevered in his newfound faith.

After years of study in Tokyo, he returned to his hometown of Kobe. He was concerned for the poor of Kobe, so he lived in a six-foot by six-foot hut in one of the worst slums in the world. He worked to establish the first labor union in Japan among shipyard workers. He also founded the Farmer's Union. His efforts did not always meet with the approval of the authorities. Twice he was arrested because of his efforts on behalf of the working people. His ‘abiding’ faith in led him to see the face of God in the faces of the poor and oppressed people of Japan.  He established credit unions, schools, hospitals, and churches throughout Japan on their behalf.

In one of his writings, Kagawa expressed this: "My real experience of religion came when I entered the Kobe slums. Everything in the slums was ugly: the people, the houses, the clothes, the streets -- everything was ugly and full of disease. If I had not carried God beside me, I should not have been able to stay.  But because I believed in God ... I had a different view of life ... My job was to help these people ... A gambler, dying, said to me that he was going back to his Heavenly Father. Then for the first time, like a flash, I was convinced that any person, even the most depraved, is able to grasp the God’s love when it is shown in action. (From Toyohiko Kagawa, Love: The Law Of Life),  pp. 13-14.

A community of faith who ‘abides in him’, obeys ‘his commandments’,  and ‘loves one another’  will continue to thrive, and survive, because the more we live and love like this, the more people can ‘know’ God’s love and we will know that his ‘eternal life’ is abiding in us (15).  Amen.  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

A Sermon Based Upon 1 John 3: 1-10, NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
2nd Sunday of Easter, April 15th, 2018 
(2 of 6)   Sermon Series: 1 John

Almost two dozen years ago, in 1994,  a campaign of vicious genocidal slaughter began in Rwanda. In just three months, 850,000 Rwandans were killed.
Baptist Theologian and ethicist David Gushee asked how such brutality could have occurred in "the most Christianized country in Africa." Churches, seminaries, schools and benevolent organizations were scattered all over the country. Ninety percent of Rwandans claimed to be Christians. "And yet," Gushee writes, "all of that Christianity did not prevent genocide, a genocide which church officials did little to resist, in which a large number of Christians participated, and in which, according to African Rights, 'more people died in churches and parishes than anywhere else.'" (David P. Gushee, "Church Failure, Remembering Rwanda" in The Christian Century, April 20, 2004, p. 28)
Pondering the failure of the church and Christians to prevent Rwandan genocide, we are reminded that Germany was a pervasively Christian nation, yet the vast majority of German Christians were loyal to--or at least silent in the face of--Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Christians were complicit in the Holocaust.  White South African Christians were the architects of apartheid.  Most American slaveholders were Christians, and America was predominately Christian when the Indians were push off their land onto reservations.  Also, we must not forget that during the Crusades, Christian soldiers, marching behind the banner of the cross, killed thousands of Muslims and Jews.
Who knows how much damage has been done by Christians who have failed to live by the ways of Jesus?  Reflecting on Rwanda, David Gushee concluded with one more sobering note: "The presence of churches in a country guarantees nothing. The self-identification of people with the Christian faith guarantees nothing. All of the clerical garb and regalia, all of the structures of religious accountability, all of the Christian vocabulary and books, all of the schools and seminaries and parish houses and Bible studies, all of the religious titles and educational degrees - they guarantee nothing."
Why is that?   Why is it that saying you are Christian, or wanting to be a Christian does not make you a Christian?    The answer comes directly from our text today from First John. 
Near the end of these verses, John reminds the churches what being God’s children means.   He strongly asserts that, “no one who abides in him sins…”(6).  Before that John also argued, “…”He” (Jesus), “was revealed to take away sins…” (5).  Then, as the final part of his argument, he concludes with all pastoral tenderness, in verse seven: “Little children, let no one deceive you.  Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous” (7). 
The argument John makes is simple, almost too simple.   How in the world can a person live without sin?   Is this realistic?    And this is not all John says.  He continues with an even stronger tone, saying: “Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil….”(8).  Why would the nice, elderly pastor talk like this? 
No one knows what specific situation, sin or sins, which motivated John to write, but he gets more personal and direct than others New Testament writings.  While the apostle Paul named himself ‘chief of sinners’ and wrote about receiving God’s grace and living in by the Spirit, John seems to say that you can actually overcome sin altogether.   This chimes a distinct tone from the rest of the New Testament. 
Either John speaks ideally, or he is referring to specific sin that resulted in a constant sinful attitude of constant rebellion against God in the churches he addressed.   By the content of this letter, there seems to be a kind of ongoing destructive and specific behavior that threatened the life of fellowship in the churches (CH Dodd).  It sounds like John’s is a pastor who is confronting the hard kind of truth that can occur in free, open, voluntary churches, because not everyone who claims to be Christian obeys Jesus' command. 
In chapter two (1 John 2:7ff), John names this command as the primary command of love, specially Christ’s  “to love our neighbors as ourselves" (Matt. 19:19).   The greatest threat to the mission of the church in the world is that some who name Christ as Lord still haven’t fully understood the lesson of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which teaches that ‘Everyone is my neighbor’. 
The truth is, we can never be sure of the motivations that bring people to church.  As one pastor in Asheville told his congregation: “We are here in worship for more reasons than we know, probably for more reasons than we can imagine.  Besides, Christian people are influenced, not just by Jesus Christ, but by social, economic and political systems and by assumptions, ideas, loyalties and feelings that are at odds with the core of the gospel” (Guy Sales).  In other words, it cannot be assumed that Christians are actually following Jesus.  Unfortunately, everyone who says they like Jesus do not always live or love like Jesus.
The “right” and “righteousness” God wants us to have, John clarifies, is to love like Jesus loves.  The central theme of this letter is that ‘we shall be like him’.   John believes that a new age has arrived, when humans can reach their full potential in Christ’s love.  That is the clear message of our text: "When he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is." God intends to work in us, with us, and on us until we fully reflect the spirit and character of Jesus.  John believes our hope in Christ’s perfect love should be perfecting us now.      
It is urgent, for the sake of the church and of the whole world, that we are people who are unswervingly committed to obey the loving way of Jesus. People who are using the energy of their lives to become more and more like him will be agents of reconciliation and understanding, of healing and hope, of love and mercy in this world where people can get lost in hate and hurt. To put it simply, "Jesus people" will make the world a better place.  We make the world a better place because we love each other, and we show the way to the only hope the world has, which is God’s revelation of perfecting love in Jesus Christ
It is with a great declaration about God’s love, that John begins this text.  “See what love the Father has given us…!”   This exclamation brings an important question into focus:  What do you do and I do with the love that has been given to us?  Love can be hard to talk about. Feelings can be difficult to express, even to those we love.  While words of love are important, the most important thing is what we do with it.  

Building on Christ’s ‘commandment’ to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ in John’s gospel (John 13:34), this letter clarifies that ‘Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light,…But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.”  (2:10-11).   Since God has lavished his great love on us in Christ, there is no excuse in the church for people not learning how to love.   John reminds believers that if they have God’s forgiveness, they know him, have conquered the world, and God’s word abides in them, they should love each other (1 Jn. 2: 12-17).   Love is not only the great commandment, but displaying God’s love is the greatest work of the church.

If I understand what John implies about love, is that being able to love is a gift.  Love does not automatically come our way.  People can be ‘wired’ to be unable to feel, know, or express love. 

Think of the notorious Charles Manson, who died at the end of last year after years in prison.  He had a warped mind, and he was a person unable to love, who attracted other sick people into his ‘family’ of hate and violence.  If you research Charles Manson’s life story you will find a child born to a 16 year old mother who was in and out of jail.  Manson was named ‘no name’ at birth and never knew his father. Living without love at so young an age, Manson spent much of his school life in truancy and reformed schools, and his young adult life was spent in and out of prison.  The one moment of time he was able to spend with his mother, he called the ‘highlight of his life’ until she abandoned him again. This proves that, while Manson wanted love, the lack of love was starving his moral soul to death.

If you were to get into the mind of other serial killers or mass murderers, and if you analyzed their backgrounds, in most every case you will see people who have not known or are unable to love.  Such people have been permanent damaged in their soul, so that they live as people of hate, all because they lacked the gift of love from parents, from homes, or from society.  This is the kind of ‘darkness’ John means must be challenged by the light of love among God’s people.  Love is not just a matter of religion, or a volunteer option of morality, but love is a matter of light or darkness which for the church and for the hope of the world is also a matter of life or death.

So, here is where it all comes together for John.  He says that because the Father shows his love to us, we are now part of a God’s family, which means, we are God’s children, now 3:2).8  Since we are loved, we have the gift of love, so we have the great prospect of having our lives transformed by God’s perfecting love.  John’s point is that this ‘perfecting’ by love begins now.  Now, we are loved.  Now, we are God’s children, and now, we are to be loving toward each other and becoming like Christ in his love.

Guy Sales, pastor of First Baptist Asheville, says that growing up in a Baptist church he “got the impression that God was mainly concerned about life after death.”  He thought that “nearly the whole point of salvation seemed to be to stay out of hell and get into heaven.”   But he adds, that if that was true, “conversion would ideally have been followed, not by baptism, but by a funeral”.  But that is not what happens, Baptism is a sign of death, but it is a sign of a kind of spiritual ‘death’ to self that should led us to live a new life in the light of Christ’s love. “God's concern is that we become like Jesus Christ-people who live with a passionate concern that the will and way of God be done on earth as they are in heaven.”

In her autobiography, Gertrude Stein described an exchange she had with Pablo Picasso. Even though he had painted a portrait of her, he did not immediately recognize her. Stein wrote: "I murmured to Picasso that I liked his portrait of Gertrude Stein. Yes, he said, somebody said that she does not look like it, but that doesn't make any difference, she will."
You and I are supposed to be living in the light of love that is growing into the image of Jesus.  Even though their may be days we do not seem to be very much like him, we will be one day ‘be like him’. In the end, as Carroll Simcox beautifully put it, "You and I shall be our real, complete selves for the first time ever. We think of ourselves now as human beings. We really aren't that - not yet. We are human becomings… If you are living in Christ, believing in him and trying to follow and obey him as the master of your life, you are by his grace, becoming ever more and more like him." (Carroll Simcox, in James W. Cox, ed., Best Sermons 5. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1992).
To say that God is in the process of making us like Jesus Christ does not mean that God is cloning us into exact replicas of Jesus of Nazareth.  The wonderful and gracious truth at the heart of the gospel is that the more we become like Jesus, the more we become our truest selves.  "To be yoked to Christ is to be a soul companion so we become the authentic person God intends for us to be” As we discover deeper dimensions of Christ-likeness, we uncover more and more of our honest-to-God selves (Don Wardlaw, in Thomas G. Long and Neely Dixon McCarter, eds. Preaching in and out of Season, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990)  .
How can we become as fully human as Jesus? Genuine transformation is not a self-help exercise or a do-it-yourself project. It is God's work. Transformation happens as God convinces us we that we are loved-that, like Jesus, we are God's beloved children.  It is God’s tender and strong, reassuring and challenging, nurturing and empowering love that makes us who we are and who we will become. God's arms of welcome and affirmation are always open to us. We are God's children. We are loved.

It is this kind of love that was missing in Tina Turners’ relationship with her husband Ike that she sang about in the song that I titled this message after.  The brokenness in his abusiveness toward her, in spite of him pretending to be a Christian, caused Tina to leave Ike, and the Christian faith, as she turned to deal with pain in Buddhism.  That’s what happened when the church fails to realize what love has to do with it.  Love has everything to do with it, or Jesus means nothing.  But because Jesus does mean love, when we live in him, and give ourselves to him, Jesus means everything  because God is love.   This is the kind of love that not only changes everything, it also changes us. Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Not Settling for Less

A Sermon Based Upon 1 John 1: 1-2:2, NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
2nd Sunday of Easter, April 8th, 2018 
(1-6)   Sermon Series: 1 John

Have we been settling for less in our lives?    

Late last year, when many women were declaring abuse from notable men, my first immediate thought was ‘what took them so long’?   I’m not saying anything against those women.  I’m upset about what happened to them.  I don’t blame them.   I think it is unfair how our society has been dominated by powerful and abusive men. 

But can’t you also imagine how many years those women lived their lives while denying to themselves what had happened to them?  Can’t you imagine living all those years knowing you were treated unfairly and wrongly, even abused, but to you feared to say anything?  Can’t you also imagine how long our society has been satisfied to sweep such bad behavior under the rug, to be less it ought to be, even pretending to be something it isn’t?   Beginning with Bill Cosby, and continuing with Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacy, Roy Moore, Charlie Rose, and also recordings revealing this same mentality in the President of our United States, we are very much a society that lives beneath its aspirations and claims of goodness and greatness.

So, what’s new?  Haven’t we always been people like this—people living beneath our potential and possibilities?   Isn’t it part of the human struggle to be people who will, if given a chance, settle for less than who we have been created to be?    A blog at Psychology Today warns that if we aren’t careful, “we can become an accomplice in our own dissatisfaction with our lives when we settle for less...”   But “when you begin to make decisions that reflect what your desire and need from your life and your relationships, you will begin to feel better about yourself.  The better you feel (about yourself), the easier it becomes for you to reject mistreatment.  When you resist the need to settle you will be rewarded with (new) opportunities.

Those are good words, not just to help women know how to resist being mistreated by others, but they are good words for all of us.   We all need to make decisions and live our lives in ways that we receive what we need in both life and relationships.   We need to learn to live so that we can feel better about ourselves; so we can stop settling for less than the ‘the life we deserve’, as the psychologist says.

Interestingly, long before we had modern psychology to help free us from human shortsightedness, we had, and still have, the Bible.   Today we begin a series of messages from one of the most eloquent parts of this Bible, the letter of 1 John.   This small book will be out guide through the remaining six weeks of Easter, until Pentecost Sunday. 

The Bible, particularly these opening verses of First John, has a very important angle on this psychological reality of living beneath oneself.   The Bible labels this ‘sin’.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”(1:8).  

Now, let’s all take a deep breath!  This is some very strong language, especially in a society that thinks that it has outgrown the need for such direct language like this.    What I must say here, in light of all that has been being revealed about our society these days, ‘Welcome to the real world?’   It is exactly the real world, that the Bible hasn’t been hiding from us, and was written to keep us talking about all along.   This is the real world of human falleness, human brokenness, and yes, even human evil, and “sin.”   “For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Rom. 3:23).   This may be the important, and most realistic assessment of human existence.   We are all sinners.  “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).  Sin can, and will, kill you.  This language is the most fundamental, observable, and realistic declaration of the Bible.  

Such honest, candid, and direct talk is difficult for many people today.  Especially when people suffer great emotional and relational pain, people may try to avoid any kind of difficult, painful talk.  We can imagine this like when we were children, and wanted to avoid having our mother’s put healing ointment on our cuts or wounds.  I said: “Mom, please don’t get the red stuff!”  But there is healing power in this ‘burn’, by mother would remind me.   I still didn’t want it.  I didn’t want the hurt.  That’s our natural, human resistance to pain, even the pain of doing what it takes to bring healing. 

Back in 2009, when I had several surgeries on my foot and it became infected, there was a large hole that would not heal on the side of my foot.  It was infection.  It was resisting the antibiotics and would not heal over.  The doctor took a small swabbing stick, and stuck it directly into the large whole and stirred.  It looked like he was stirring cake batter, but this was inside my foot.   The pain was almost unbearable for a few moments.  He told me this ‘stirring up’ of everything, would promote healing.   It did, but hurt.  It made mom’s ‘red stuff’ like a ‘walk in the park’.

Even among those of us who hold up the Bible as the most important, painful, but also healing revelation of truth, still find it easy to avoid the truth and denial such a plain and simple appraisal of human life.   But ‘we’ need to realize, John was writing to churches.  He was not writing to perfect people called Christians, but he was writing to real people, people who were still sinners, but were trying live better, to become Christ-like, so they needed to be reminded again, that even in the most painful place and most painful truth,  this is exactly the place we can also find our greatest place of healing and hope.    
It can be hard, very hard, in a society that has gotten so used to pretending to be something we aren’t, where people can hide their private lives and flaws behind their public lives and successes, to go to this painful place of truth, and receive this biblical message that ‘sin’ is in any and all of us.   But we need to also see that John is not offering us a pity party, nor is he trying to create emotional distress, for the sake of inflicting pain and suffering.  No, the primary message of John is that he is preaching a message of ‘cleansing’ hope.   Before he unloads the world ‘sin’ on his readers, he tells them that there is healing and hope.   He says, “the blood of Jesus….cleanses us from all sin (v.7a).”

The ‘cleansing’ of our hearts from ‘all sin’ and brokenness, is the main reason John is writing this letter.   John says, “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete’ (v.4).   The expression we would use today might be that he writes so that we can find ‘joyful fulfilment’ in our lives.   It is only by acknowledging exactly what our human problem is, that we can deal with the problem, and understand, even today, what Jesus has done, and what the death and life of Jesus still means, to help us get clean and find redemption from the sin that can still destroy us.  Just as we can’t avoid talking about sin, all our sin, when we talk about the sins that still destroys lives, we also shouldn’t avoid talking about what Jesus’ death and life means for the ‘cleansing’ and the ‘conquering’ of, what the Bible names as ‘unrighteousness’ (9).  

Strangely, and I mean very strangely to us----because of how our world, and even how we too in our church, often avoid the truth---the Bible starts bringing us ‘joy’ and ‘fulfilment’ by taking us to the hardest, most painful, but also this most realistic place.  It says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”   It says even more strongly, “If we say that we have not sinned…his word is not in us.”   But it also says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. (9)   

What the Bible means here is that you can’t take a great step forward, until you first take some difficult steps back.  You can’t find healing without some pain, and you can’t find great joy, until to face and find the truth.  And the greatest truth is not your sin, nor is it my sin, but the greatest truth is that ‘he who is faithful and just will forgive….and cleanse…’ (9).  We must never forget that this is the greatest truth.    The reason sin must be admitted, is not condemnation in us, but it is commendation of the Christ is for us, so that no one, and nothing can be against us.   This may sound to good to be true, but you can’t receive God’s great healing truth, without honest facing of the hard truth.  This is what both the Bible and the psychologist mean, when they say,  ‘our joy’ should be complete’ or we must ‘resist the need to settle for less.’   The ‘more’ life has for us, can still be found, when we God’s ‘more’ given to us,  God’s ‘all’ given to us,  yes, even strangely ‘expressed’ as given to us  in ‘the blood of Jesus His Son, who ‘cleanses us from all sin’ (7).

Do we still need such violent ‘language’ like this to help us understand how much God loves us and wants to cleanse and heal us from our sin and brokenness?   This is part of the discussion that is currently going on in theological schools and universities in America and around the world.  Can the violence that Jesus suffered at the cross really be part of what God has done to reveal his forgiving and redeeming love?  

If John were to answer the question as to whether Jesus’ suffering, pain and death can bring healing and life, John, and the gospel, would answer, without hesitation, ‘yes’.  What about us?  How can the church still say, preach, and promise, in a world that remains just as sinful and violent as ever, that there has been and still is, healing and salvation in the terrible ‘pain’ and ‘dying’ that Jesus suffered on the cross.  How can we preach, ‘by his bruises (stripes), we are healed’ (Isa. 53:5), when people even think the Bible has settled for less, and when the healing doesn’t seem to be here, even in the Bible?  

Even among those of us, who take the Bible at its word, how do we explain such language in a world that believes it has moved beyond the need for all this violent, bloody religious language?   How do we talk about ‘the blood of the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:9) when the dominating world thinks it has moved beyond talking about sin and talking about God demanding blood, the killing of lambs, and even God the Father murdering his own Son, so that we can all be saved.   The world now thinks it is nicer, better, and kinder than the God would establish a plan of world salvation, though the violent death a man, we call God’s Son.   Who would want to believe, accept, or settle for any religion that has at its center such an ugly, cruel, agonizing, violent loss of blood, and death?

While it is a ‘hard’ discussion to have, it is still the hard truth, the Bible does not avoid.   John’s letter does not try to hide the hard truth, and is even bold enough to name this  ‘hard truth’ ‘the word of life’ (1:1).   John says ‘we declare to you’ not what we ‘made up’, but ‘what we have seen and heard’ (2:2).   Even in ‘what we have seen with our eyes, looked at, and touched with our hands’, we have ‘fellowship’ with the ‘Father and with this Son Jesus Christ’.   Even in this ‘blood of Jesus his Son’ and in this violence in Christ’s cross,  there is ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (2:2).

Now, there is something very ‘real’ about this kind of Jesus, and this kind of talk, even if we don’t like it, and we shouldn’t like it.  If you learn to like this biblical talk of ‘sacrifice’, of ‘blood’ and of ‘suffering’ at the cross, we are taking it the wrong way.   The salvation is not in the violence.   God did not do the violence.   God did not murder Jesus.   This is to understand what the gospel says all wrong.   You mistunderstand the ‘blood of Jesus’ when you take it as a demand for violence (redemptive violence), so that God can or will forgive sin, and you can also misunderstand the ‘blood of Jesus’, when we start to celebrate this language as good, great, and saving, without understanding that it is not God, but ‘human beings’ who also have the ‘blood of the innocent’ on our hands.   John is celebrating the cleansing power of the blood, but there is no cleansing in blood, without confessing ‘our sins’.   The blood is shed, because of human sin, not because of God’s wish.  God gave his Son as a ‘sacrifice’ only because humans life and human sin, puts this demand on a loving, forgiving, and faithful God.

There is, of course, much to be discovered in the biblical message of sin, confession, forgiveness, and cleansing through ‘the blood of Jesus his Son’.  There is as much truth about humanity to be discovered here, as there is truth about God’s faithful love.   What John wants us readers to know, and what we must never avoid, is that at the center of our redemption, our saving, and our cleansing, is the real, difficult, hard, and unavoidable truth.   Jesus died.  Jesus suffered.  Jesus bled out.  But because our God is ‘faithful and just’ he will ‘forgive our sins’.  Just as God gave forgiveness, and revealed his forgiveness and the atonement of all sin through the death of Jesus, God still reveals his forgiveness and the atonement of any sin, even while we are sinners, because, ‘Christ died for us!’

Again, what John wants us to know, throughout this letter, is that this is the ‘real Jesus’.  We must never settle for less than the real Jesus, is we want find God’s cleansing and healing.   I had a professor in college, who could not stand to hear songs in Baptist hymnals about the ‘blood of the lamb’ or about the ‘sacrifice’ of Jesus on the cross.   He thought that we needed to move beyond this language.  He sincerely believed that this kind of language could cause us to continue to promote violence, hate, and demand pain and suffering, so that God would love, God could save, and God might forgive.  When I first heard that professor, going after the language I grew up with, I was shaken and confused.  I wondered,  “Why would this guy not like a song, like ‘There’s Power in the Blood’?   How could he be a Christian professor and strike out biblical language and songs about Jesus’ blood and sacrifice?

What I have since realize, is that that professor, was not so much against the language of ‘blood’ and ‘sacrifice’, but he was trying to help us see how we can misunderstand and misuse it.   It’s kind of like misusing sex in our world.   Sex is not bad, and we must never make it bad.  But sex is sacred, just like our talk about Jesus’ sacrifice and Jesus ‘blood’ must remain sacred, special, language.  

If we want the real Jesus, and not to settle for less than the real, true, suffering and saving Jesus, we have to continue to talk about the ‘hard’ stuff, like the blood, the sacrifice, and the violence of the cross.   But, at the same time, my professor’s approach was mistaken, but his warning was right.   We must be careful to respect, understand, and not misuse this very sacred language of the cleansing ‘blood of Jesus’.  

When John speaks of the ‘blood of Jesus’,  we must realize that this does not mean that Jesus had to die so that God could ‘use’ or ‘abuse’ Jesus in our place.   The Bible does say that Jesus died for us, and took our place and died in our place, but Jesus Jesus did not suffer a violent death because God wanted this.   God did not make Jesus’ suffer to love us, but God was in the suffering and dying of Jesus Christ, making his love, the love he already had for us, clear and plain in Jesus Christ.   “Even while we are sinners,  Christ died for us.”  “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.”   The language of this cruel blood sacrifice not the language of what God did to Jesus, but it is the language of what God was doing in Jesus; it is the language of suffering love, not because God demands the violence, but because God’s love does not stop, will not stop loving us, even when we hurt him or we hurt each other.  At the cross, God reveals to us that his love does not stop,  even when we reject this love or when we reject God’s truth.  God’s love does not stop, but can be revealed, even in the ‘blood’ of Jesus’ cross, ‘if we will confess our sins’.   The blood works, because God is in the Christ of the Cross, and this God is ‘is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanses us from all sin’ (7). 
This is still ‘hard’ and ‘painful’ language, but is the ‘truth’ of what happened in Jesus’ death and sacrifice.   Jesus did not die to start a religion of ‘blood’ spilling and violent sacrifice, but Jesus gave his life, shed his blood, and met the violence in the world head on, for being the final, last, and ultimate ‘blood’ sacrifice, ‘once for all’ (Hebrew 10:2,10). 

This is what John means when he says ‘the blood cleanses us from ALL sin’ (7).   Notice that John does not say that Jesus’ blood excuses us from our sin(s), but John says that ‘if we confess our sins’,  this God ‘who is light and in him is no darkness at all’ (5), will ‘forgive’ and will ‘cleanse’ us ‘from all unrighteousness’.   The point John now makes is that, if we don’t want to settle for being less, that we can be, we must not settle for any less Jesus, than this true and real Jesus who suffered, and for any less life than the life that does not settle for the right kind of life.

It to declare the message of this ‘right’ kind of life, for both the church and the world, that this letter of John has been written, and can still be read, understood, and be challenging to us.   John opens his letter, declaring, ‘the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…’.    ‘We declare what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us….’   ‘We right these things, so your our joy may be complete.’  Then, after all this amazing, bold, language, John gives us the most practical outcome of his message, ‘If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking (or living) in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.’   In other words, when we lie to God, we are lying to ourselves, and we are living a life that is less than ‘what is true’.  “But,”  he concludes, ‘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’ (7).  
I find it most interesting, most revealing, not what this text says, but what it doesn’t say, and how it doesn’t end.   John does not major on that when ‘we walk in the light, as he is in the light’  we will have fellowship with him, with God, or with Jesus.   John is not this, because God has already done, what needs to be done, to establish fellowship with us.   No, the great problem that remains in this church, and in many other lives too, is that we still need to ‘have fellowship with one another.’   It is the life in the light that is the real life that we should aim for, and we must never, ever settle for living any less kind of life, than the kind of life ‘confesses’ our sins, both to God, and also to each other.  Any life without confession of sin, is a life also lived without forgiveness of sin, and this is always, settling for a less kind of life.

When the news about North Carolinian news reporter, and Duke graduate, Charlie Rose’s sexual misconduct became public, it was astounding to watch his female co-hosts struggle to reveal and know the truth about their co-anchor.  Charlie Rose had helped to bring ‘real news’ to America on CBS This Morning.   But now, the ‘real news’ was coming out about Charlie Rose.   His co-anchor,  Gayle King, expressed her feeling,  “I’m not OK”.  “This is not the man I know, but I’m on the side of the women!... “Charlie Rose does not get a pass!”  What do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something that is so horrible? How do you wrap your brain around that? I’m really grappling with that.”

We are all, always grappling with that, and with the reality of human sin, failure and brokenness.   But John challenges us, instead of denying our sin, to confess our sin, and to allow God’s healing ‘faithfulness’ and ‘justice’ to bring God’s life-giving ‘word’ of ‘light’ and ‘life’ to us.   I could imagine that even Charlie Rose, who was a world-renowned reporter, after what was done in darkness came to light, was not just trying to ‘wrap his brain around it’, but he was also trying to find a way to unwrap his heart from it.   The only way through the pain of sin, is to confess and to be cleansed by God’s heart of love for us, even while we are sinners.

Do you want ‘walk in the light’ as ‘he is in the light?   Do you, do we, settle for a life of not doing what we know we should do, and not doing what we should do?   To begin to walk in the light is to stop deceiving ourselves.   Self-deception never leads us to life.  When we settle we settle for less than the love and forgiveness God has to give, and when we settle for less than the life we still have to live,  this is to miss the ‘joy’ that will make life full again.   Amen.