Saturday, April 21, 2018

Doing Is Believing: Reflections on 1 John 3.16-24

Doing Is Believing
Reflections on 1 John 3.16-24

RCL Easter 4B
22 April 2018

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

3.16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.  17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

            18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.  19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

            23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them.  And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

(1)  Recently a video of Pope Francis at an outdoor public audience was posted to my Facebook page.

(a)  A young boy approaches the microphone but is too frightened to ask his question.  A Vatican official leads the boy to the Pope who leans closely to the boy and the two have a quiet conversation.  Towards the end of the conversation the Pope embraces the boy tenderly for quite a long time before he returns to his seat.

(b)  The boy, whose name is Emmanuel, had just recently lost his father who was not a believer.  Emmanuel wanted to know if his father, who had had all four of his children baptized, would be in heaven.

(c)  The Pope’s answer was simple:  God judges us by our actions.  He assured the boy that his father had revealed a heart of love and that God would not refuse a heart that showed the same love as God has shown to the world.

(d) I have no doubt that there will be Christians throughout the world, Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic, who will find fault with the Pope’s response to this young boy.  But they must be Christians who have not read 1 John.

(2)  For simplicity’s sake, let’s call the writer of 1 John the ‘elder’.

(a) In today’s reading the elder responds to an age-old religious question:  How do we know if someone has genuine faith?

(b) The elder’s answer is simple:  When we reduce the Christian life to its barest minimum, true Christian life consists of (i) faith and (ii) love.

(c) Faith is more than intellectual assent to a doctrine or a particular set of doctrines; faith is the commitment of one’s body, mind, soul and strength to a particular way of life.

(d) But this definition of faith could be used to describe someone who believe in a racist agenda or a totalitarian agenda.  This is where the second dimension comes in.

(e) Love is the choice to act as God acts. We who claim to be disciples of Jesus of Nazareth know how God acts; we have seen it in the life and teaching of Jesus who is Emmanuel, ‘God with us’, ‘God in the flesh’.

(f) Earlier the elder writes “Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.” (1 John 2.9-10)

(3)  So how do we know if someone is trying to live a fully Christian life? [1]

(a) We cannot love God and ignore those in need.  To be a Christian is to be a person for others.

(b) True love is love acted rather than love spoken.  It is more than simply telling others they are in our thoughts and prayers.  It is love that is always seeking an opportunity to act as God acts.  

(c) And how God does God act?  

(i) God blesses --- blessing as discerning and naming the presence of the Holy in daily life. 
(ii) God absolves --- absolving as liberating others from whatever binds them. 
(iii) God consecrates --- consecrating as making holy every moment of life.

(d) Active love is the sole basis of Christian assurance.  If we want to know if we are living a faithful Christian life, then we need ask if we are living as much as possible as (i) a person for others and (ii) a person who always seeking opportunities to act as God --- blessing, absolving, consecrating.

(4)  Our life of discipleship is not without dilemmas, doubts, failures and conflicts.

(a) But dilemmas, doubts, failures and conflicts can be faced in faith, can be embraced in love.

(b) To ‘abide’ in Christ means persevering in faith and love --- even when easier paths are open to us.

(c) To ‘know’ God is to know God’s presence --- standing with us, strengthening us, in the midst of our dilemmas, our doubts, our failures and our conflicts.

(5)  Let the last word today be one from a writer some call the ‘conservative’ Paul [2], a writer influenced by Paul of Tarsus, but writing some years after Paul’s death as the early Christian community struggled to be faithful in Greco-Roman society:

3.12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [3]

(6)  The person who does this lives in faith and love, abiding in Christ and knowing God.  

[1]What follows has been shaped by comments published in Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year:  Year B(1993), 252-253.

[2]Borg and Crossan, The First Paul(2009).

[3]Colossians 3.12-17

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