Any 4th grader can probably give you a basic understanding of photosynthesis.
For those of us who are somewhat removed from the 4th grade, let’s review. Photosynthesis is the way green plants use the energy of sunlight to create food to sustain life. To my way of thinking, this process is not only a miracle, it is also a metaphor. The obvious metaphor is that we also use the energy of God’s Light to sustain our spiritual lives. The fact that an unintelligent green plant can harness the power of the sun and create its own food is miraculous. It seems even more miraculous that stubborn, sinful, self-absorbed human beings have the ability to draw power from the Light of God and use it to generate spiritual food that leads to eternal life.
The Letters of John were likely written just before 100A.D. to a divided Christian community. They open a window for us to see what we might learn from these Christians. John’s First Letter was written to those members who were left behind when another group chose to split and leave the community. The letter is filled with encouragement for them to remain faithful to “what was from the beginning.” It is a reaffirmation of John’s Gospel that began: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God.” Once again, John wants us to understand that Jesus was God, is God, and will always be God; yet, Jesus is also human – born of a woman, living among us, and fully understanding what it means to be a human being. This is the difficult truth that John has been preaching all along – the high Christology that sets Jesus with us and yet apart from us; one of us, yet God for us. This is the question that divided the early church. They argued over who Jesus really was and let those arguments divide them. What they missed in those discussions was what Jesus meant for them and us. They missed the grace, the love, the Light, and the Life that came to us from God through the Living Presence of Jesus Christ.
As I was preparing this message I began to think back over the sermons I’ve delivered over the past several months. We started out the New Year talking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Then we spent 6 weeks on the subject of prayer; communicating with God. Our Lenten series challenged us in many ways, but it was designed to help us look at Jesus through fresh eyes and push back against some of the long-held stereotypes of the church. Following the Rebel Jesus became harder for us as we approached Easter. On Easter Sunday we realized that telling the story of Jesus is easier than we thought and it’s something we simply cannot be afraid to do. I bring all of this up because what I have come to notice is that God seems to be leading us as a church to re-claim our fundamental understanding of Jesus and what it means to be His disciple. I have simply been following the Lectionary and allowing God to lead us into the conversations that God wants us to have.
I look at what is going on in our community, in our country, and in our world and I have to wonder if God even recognizes Creation anymore. I see so much hatred and violence and extremism. Stubbornness and self-serving agendas dominate our culture and seem to drive how we view one another and how we treat each other. Sometimes I cannot imagine how people who call themselves Christian could be a part of what is going on the world today. Then I look at this letter from John; a letter that is written to Christians who are having difficulties with each other and with their culture. There are people in that church who don’t get along; they disagree over fundamental issues and petty issues alike. They get mad at each other and pull away. They show division to those outside the church, which makes outsiders wonder if they want to be part of that group after all. They become “pharisaic”; they are rigid and stubborn; they are self-serving and extreme.
And what does God do about it? God offers forgiveness, mercy, and grace; God sends Light so that we might have life.
John’s letter this morning is not only addressed to those 1st Century Christians, it is addressed to all of us. This letter calls us to remember the very beginning of God’s story. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God.” This is all about Jesus. What John is trying to tell us is that none of the self-serving bickering is important; none of the arguing is important; none of the extremism is important. All that matters is Jesus.
Jesus was there at the beginning; Jesus was here to walk through our humanity with us; and Jesus will be there in the end…That is what matters. When we fail to obey the commandments Jesus gave us – “Love God. Love one another.” – Then we fail as disciples. I believe we must be more honest with ourselves about where we are failing to live out these commands. Jesus did not say, “Love the neighbors who agree with you.” He said: “Love your neighbor.” Maybe the problem is recognizing who those neighbors really are. Particularly in this increasingly smaller world, our neighbors are in every country on the planet; they are every nationality and religion; they are every economic class and speak many languages.
When we enter the conversation on immigration reform we must also remember that Jesus told us to love our neighbors and welcome strangers. We must remember that this world is not our home and that God’s people have always been sojourners and strangers in foreign lands. When we consider issues like welfare reform, food stamps, and health care, we cannot forget that Jesus told us to feed the hungry and care for the needy. When we discuss and form our opinions on issues like gender equality and same sex relationships, are we not obligated to recognize that Jesus did his best ministry in the midst of controversy, with hurting people – people who were shunned by their religious culture?
I want us to hear three things in today’s scripture text.
- The reality of the physical presence of Jesus brought God’s glory and truth into the world.
- When we claim a relationship with God we commit to “walk just as he walked.”
- When we stumble into sin, as we inevitably do, we have Jesus to speak in our favor.
There is certainly a challenge in this text; but there is a lot of hope as well. The challenge is always doing our very best to live the life that Jesus modeled for us. The hope is that Jesus is there to help us and defend us when we get it wrong. Near the beginning of this letter, the writer clearly states the message he is trying to convey to us: This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” If God is light, then God’s children must live in that light; when our relationship with God is right, there is no room for the darkness of sin. The obvious challenge is the reality of our humanity and our inability to avoid sin. We step out of the light when we forget how Jesus taught us to live and how he showed us how we should treat one another. We step into the darkness when we judge others or make decisions that cause others to be treated without dignity, mercy, and love. We walk away from God when we decide that any human being is valued less than any other human being.
And what does God do about it? God offers forgiveness, mercy, and grace; God sends Light so that we might have life. The best part of this letter comes near the end of today’s passage: “But if you do sin,” (really – WHEN you sin) “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.” That is the message of hope – that is the Good News of Easter…Jesus offers himself as an intermediary with God on our behalf. Jesus is God’s way of helping us heal from our brokenness and reconcile with God. AND – Jesus offers this same grace to ALL PEOPLE, not just us. That is what John is calling us to in this letter – remember back to the beginning of everything. Remember that Jesus was there then and he is here now. Remember that all God ever wanted was for people to have a right relationship with God and with each other. Remember the greatest commandments: “Love God…Love each other.” “This is how we know we are in him. The one who claims to remain in him ought to live in the same way as he lived.” In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.