1 John 3:1-7
In this Resurrection season, we need to be mindful of how we represent the Resurrected Jesus to ourselves, our neighbors, our co-workers and the world at large. We are an Easter people, a people who are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus to bring hope and love and eventually transformation to the world. John’s first letter is a letter to one of the first generations of Easter people. His message to them is also a message to us.
In his letter, John is admonishing us to walk with God as Jesus has taught us. John writes that there are two types of Christians: those who obey the teachings of Jesus in their living and those who claim they do but really don’t follow Jesus. I called the former Resurrected Christians and the latter Lost Christians.
Apparently there was dissension in the community to which John was writing. He gives an example of those Christians who claim to live in the light of God but hate their brother or sister. He tells them that they cannot be living in the light if they hate another of their fellows. He goes on to write that a lost Christian is in the darkness, walks in the darkness and does not know the way to go.
In our modern age, many Christians have become lost. They have succumbed to the world’s standards. They either ignore what Jesus taught or, what is actually worse, claim Jesus taught what they want to believe or want us to believe. A common attempt at this is the claim that Jesus wants us all to be successful and thereby prosperous. So we have the prosperity gospel that turns striving for our own success into a teaching of Jesus. Yet no where does Jesus promise us success or material prosperity. Indeed, Jesus called us to lift up others first and to give what we have to those in need. Often those Christians who succumb to the world’s expectations and demands often find that their souls and spirits become deaden to the suffering and joy of the world around them.
John warns us that these Lost Christians not only live in the world but also of it. That is, they preach, in the name of Jesus, a way of life contrary to Jesus’ teachings and life. There teachings and beliefs are based on the expectations and teachings of one or the other beliefs that float around are society. Some preach selfishness: that it is a virtue to be selfish. Some preach that the wealthy are wealthy because they are blessed and the poor are poor because they are not blessed. Some preach that Christianity is the one and only true religion. He warns us not to succumb to these worldly preachers, but to continue to follow Jesus as the Bible teaches us. Such preachers, whether they are media preachers or just your next door neighbor, can be quite persuasive. After all their basis of belief is the world around us – a world we can see and touch and experience, and seemingly understand.
John makes this distinction between the Lost and the Resurrected with the metaphor of light and darkness. He says that “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining [2:8b].” Resurrected Christians live in that shining light, but those who have strayed continue to live in the darkness.
There are many Christians who have been resurrected from this graveyard of worldly standards. They have learned and practice the teachings of Jesus first. They apply Jesus’ teachings to the world around them, rather than applying the world’s standards to Jesus. Common examples of this are people who reach out to strangers in need or who advocate for people who cannot advocate for themselves – all at no gain to themselves.
He goes on to teach these Christians that though they live in the world, they must not be of the world. This is to say that what Jesus taught us to do must take priority over what the world says we should or must do. Jesus’ teachings and life are our primary basis for defining our lives. And in this way we learn to apply Jesus’ teachings and examples to the world around us. Thereby we are transformed by Jesus and offer our neighbors an example of a transformed world that is a better world.
So what is a Resurrected Christian? A Resurrected Christian knows that the world alone cannot be our sole teacher. A Resurrected Christian lives in God’s light and lives life in the light. The light is the ability to see the world around us through the eyes of Jesus, not through the eyes of friends, or the media, or the government, or even the church. No longer is our sight clouded by the world’s demands, biases, and expectations. Rather we see our lives and the world around us through the eyes and acts of Jesus.
And what do the eyes of Jesus see? The April 9, 2012 edition of Newsweek had an article by Andrew Sullivan entitled The Forgotten Jesus. He points out that Jesus gave us radical ideas, but yet very practical: “…love your enemies and forgive those who harm you; give up material wealth; love the ineffable Being behind all things … give up power over others…” And confront injustice with courage, love and non-violence. So called social issues, such as homosexuality and contraception are far less important than caring for people. Compassion for the least is central to Jesus’ teachings.
How then do we live as a Resurrected Christian? We can start by nurturing our faith. We can everyday lean on God to live life today as a model of righteousness, honesty, and civility. We can be patient. We can be thoughtful. We can be forgiving. We can be supportive of those we encounter today.
But then we can push out further beyond our everyday life and listen closely to the world around us. There’s a lot of noise, but in that noise is the quiet whisper of God pointing beyond our individual life to where we are needed and where we can help. And Jesus’ teachings are our guide. Where in your neighborhood are those in need? Some are simply in need of a kind word or a shoulder to cry on.
Some are more desperate with loss of home and job and healthcare. Listen to what Jesus did in his life. He embraced the hurting stranger who needed help. He didn’t preach a sermon on faith and spiritual food. Rather; he offered a helping hand for food for the stomach and shelter from the elements.
You know you are resurrected when you realized that all human beings are children of God and your sisters and brothers, and that they are all humans no matter who they are or what they have done. You know you are resurrected when you no longer see a human as a statistic or a cause of trouble, but a brother or sister. And you learn what Jesus knew, that there is a vast number of forgotten people who are ignored by society: the impoverished, the elder without family, the prisoner, the traumatized vet, the stranger in a strange land, and on and on. Jesus made them visible in his time. A Resurrected Christian makes them visible in our time.
Jesus tells us of the Great Judgment in Matthew [25:31-46] when Jesus separates us into the goats and the sheep. He will announce that the sheep are blessed and the goats are condemned. The Resurrected Christian is a sheep: humble and without self-serving demands. She or he labors in the fields of need and love and righteousness, not for their own sake but for the sake of everyone. And like the sheep, you may not even realize how much your small constant efforts really mattered. But Jesus will remind us that we helped him when he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, homeless, sick and in prison. And we have done that for him each time we helped one of our sisters and brothers who were hungry, thirsty, a stranger, homeless, sick or in prison.
But the goats, the Lost Christians, ask whenever did they see Jesus hungry, thirsty, a stranger, homeless, sick and in prison? They can’t imagine Jesus suffering and so think there is nothing to do.
And this is where so many Christians become loss. They forget the Great Judgment and do not see the people made invisible by our society. And today we can see a divide in the faith again. Christians, some very prominent, go astray and justify what they want to do or how they believe by claiming it is Jesus’ teachings. They claim that Jesus was offering us success and prosperity, or that God hates homosexuals, or that God objects to contraception, or Jesus will lead us in a great crusade against Terrorist, aka Muslims, and so forth and so forth. Yet never did Jesus preach on these. Indeed, Jesus called on the wealthy to give of their wealth to the least of us. Jesus embraced everyone and I believe today he would be embracing gays, Muslims, atheists and everyone else. And Jesus was profoundly interest in women’s well-being. And Jesus definitely would not wage war for any reason whatsoever.
And so we come to our passage today, where John assures us that God loves us. John writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God and that is what we are.” By making the teachings and acts of Jesus the very center of our lives, we can partake of the love of God. We know we are never bereft of the divine love and divine support. Our faith grows and deepens each time we reach out to the invisible, marginalized people. Our faith grows and deepens each time we offer a simple act of kindness and each time we stretch a bit to help someone else. And by that faith we really, truly know that God exists, the God is personal, that God is with us, and that God will not abandoned us.
Indeed, though we will suffer at times, we know that it will pass, because God will guide us out of the darkness, back into the light. Our Resurrection gives us the foundation and anchor for our faith. God provides the rest.
But sadly, Lost Christians will often miss the love of God. God loves them too as God loves everyone and the entire creation. But a Christian who ignores Jesus’ teachings will never know the depth of God’s love for as God loves the least among us, God loves us as deeply.
But John implies that living this Resurrected way will be challenged. You will be out of the ordinary stream of society, in it, but not of it. You will not join in with the chorus of criticism for the immigrant people, or the chorus demanding the destruction of this group or that group, or the chorus condemning those who they do not understand. You will be an outlier.
John tells us, “[t]he reason the world does not know us is that it did not know [Jesus].” And by this statement we can say that this is so, not because the world is not Christian, but because the world does not see the invisible, marginalized people. The world around us, from our neighborhood to the global world, is centered on power over one another and on greed of the few taking from the desperate many.
But John also promises, “When he is revealed, we will be like him, for we see him as he is.” John is promising that eventually the world will turn around, that power and greed will succumb to compassion and justice. And the Resurrected Christian is in the vanguard birthing that age into the world.
Truth be told, though, each and everyone of us live somewhere between being lost and being resurrected. Now in this Easter season we need to turn from lost ways, of slipping into self-centeredness or fear or anger or impatience, and be mindful of our day by day faith. Now is the time to be found by God, resurrected again into the love and hope of the Divine. Now is the time to see the world as Jesus sees it. Now is the time to no longer be of the world, but in it as a devoted laborer in the fields of righteousness.
Think about it …
God’s grace and love be with you …