Friday, April 6, 2018

The Way, the Truth, the Life: Handing on the Tradition (RCL Easter 2B, 8 April 2018)

The Way, the Truth, the Life
Handing on the Tradition

RCL Easter 2B
8 April 2018

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

1 John 1.1-2.2

            1.1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

            5 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.  6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but 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.  8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

            2.1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

(1)  Seventy years after the first Easter the Christian communities around the Mediterranean Sea were beset by internal and external conflicts.

(a) The Roman imperial authorities had just begun what would be a series of persecutions aimed at suppressing a religious movement that claimed that a Jewish rabbi from Nazareth was Lord not the reigning Caesar in Rome.

(b) Even though a Jewish revolt that took place around the year 70 cehad been put down, the Temple in Jerusalem destroyed and the Jewish leadership dispersed throughout Palestine, the Persian Empire and various cities within the Roman empire, the Jewish leadership in exile did their utmost to expel the followers of Jesus from Jewish synagogues.

(c) But a more serious threat to the ‘Jesus movement’ was to be found within the various Christian communities themselves.

(i) Some of these communities were still locked in conflict over whether one had to follow the Jewish law in order to become a follower of Jesus.

(ii) Other communities were fighting over governance issues, that is to say, who were the legitimate successors to the apostles and how were Christian communities to be governed.

(iii) The increase of the number of non-Jewish believers brought into the Christian communities the beliefs, practices and habits of the wider Greco-Roman culture.

(2)  In what we now call Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, there were a number of communities whose origins lay in the leadership of John, the ‘beloved disciple’, whose experience of the risen Jesus shaped what we call ‘Johannine Christianity’.

(a) This way of following Jesus of Nazareth was shaped by the Gospel according to John.

(i) Eternal life is both a present reality and a future hope.

(ii) Creation is the stage where the forces of darkness seek to overcome the light of God made known in Jesus of Nazareth.

(iii) Matter, the physical stuff of creation, matters to God, so much so, that God dwells among us in the person of Jesus who is the living Word, who eats and drinks, laughs and cries, lives and suffers as a human being.

(b) For many Greco-Roman believers, schooled in various philosophical approaches to the world, the physical world was an obstacle to true spirituality.

(c) To counter these views the writer of the First Letter to John sends a theological ‘memorandum’ to the Johannine communities on behalf of the leadership.

(d) His exhortation is quite simple: Hold fast to the tradition that you received.

(3)  For us, living two thousand years later, the question of Christian tradition is still widely debated and, to be truthful, the source of division between the many Christian paths that exist in the world.

(a) Tradition is the process of handing from generation to another, from one group of people to another, the beliefs, practices and habits that have the potential to enable a person to grow into the full dignity of the image of God found within each one of us.

(b) Tradition is not static; it evolves in response to the realities of each human culture that receives it --- ‘the living faith of the dead not the dead faith of the living’.

(c) Christian tradition has at its heart four central beliefs.

(4)  Belief 1:  All that exists is the work of God, the Holy One, the Source of all life and being. 

(a) Creation is not an accident but an intentional act of God who chooses to make room for other beings.  

(b) Creation remains a mystery to be unfolded and explored.  

(c) Each generation, every culture within each generation, uncovers pieces of this vast puzzle of God’s purpose.

(5)  Belief 2:  In Jesus of Nazareth we have a unique and incarnate example of what it means to be fully human, some who is born in the image of God and who lives in God’s likeness.

(a) In Jesus we see how we can live in imitation of God, the choices and attitudes that enable us to be agents of God, co-workers with God, in times and places of our own lives.

(b) In Jesus we become ambassadors for God who live and work for reconciliation, to heal ancient wrongs and restore lost hopes.

(6)  Belief 3:  God continues to work out the divine purposes for us and for all creation through the work of the Holy Spirit.

(a) The Spirit leads people to know the way, the truth, the life revealed in Jesus --- not as the sole possession of his followers but the birthright of every human being.

(b) The Spirit nudges Christian and non-Christian alike to do justice, to love mercy and kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

(c) The Spirit inspires artists and scientists, musicians and writers, ordinary men and women, to do extraordinary things.

(7)  Belief 4:  Self-giving love, what the New Testament calls agape, is the necessary attitude in order to discover the way, the truth and the life.

(a) Agapeseeks the good of the beloved rather than the self-interest of the lover.  It is costly; it requires patience; it risks loss.

(b) Agapeis the choice that God made in creating the universe, choosing the companionship of love over divine solitude even at the risk of experiencing the heartbreak of unrequited love.

(c) In Jesus God chose solidarity with humanity in order to re-direct us towards life and away from self-destruction.

(d) In the Spirit God does not conceal the mystery of creation from us but  leads us, step by step, into knowledge and, one hopes, genuine wisdom.

(8)  This is the tradition that has been passed on to us through generations of believers, through the Scriptures proclaimed and interpreted in various languages, through water, bread and wine blessed and given in order to create witnesses to this God who creates, who restores, who animates all that is, seen and unseen.

(9)  This is what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands --- the word of life --- the tradition we have received, the tradition we are called to pass on.

(10)  Thanks be to God for such a tradition!

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