Pastor Linda - Who Are You?
1 Peter 2:2-10
By Rev. Linda Dolby
Each of us comes here today with different experiences, different histories, different labels, different names.
Who first told me? Who first told you? Who are you? Who has told you who you are?
Was it your parents, when they shook you and scolded you and told you to behave? Or your teachers, when they told you to go sit in the corner or the hallway for stepping out of line? Was it your boss, when he asked you to do the project over again and this time get it right? Or maybe your children made you feel stupid or they looked at you as failure? Has someone added up a pile of words telling you who you are? Over-working, over eating, over-spending, under-achieving, under-giving, under-loving?
Some of us have been told that the color of our skin makes us inferior. And even though our minds know better, our hearts, our souls bear a deep wound. Some of us have been told that we aren't smart enough, good enough to amount to much. Some of us have been told, sometimes by the church, that who we are is an abomination to God. Some of us have been told, one way or another, that God doesn't much care about you. Words hurt. Words can tear us apart. I would go so far as to say that words can and do destroy persons. We say from our earliest childhood days, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me." But they do.
The Apostle Paul wrote "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Sadly, we have all learned all too well a litany of self-condemnation, taught to us by a world - and too often by church experience - that tells us that we are miserable and wretched.
There is a different story, though. It is a story that washes away all the familiar and hurtful and hateful refrains that call us unworthy and unloved. This story is written in I Peter, 2:9-10 and answers in a different way the question who are you?
"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God's chosen people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
Of course – this is who we are! This is the way God defines us. Our God sees us as chosen, as royal, as holy, as God's own beloved, embracing us with mercy and empowering us to be merciful and just. This is the true story of who we are.
When out of jealousy, cruelty. fear, or insecurity, others may call you names and utter all sorts of unkindness about you, remember who you are. You are not defined by them. You are named and claimed; chosen and called by God! Sons and daughters of royalty, holy ones, dear and delightful ones! Who, in God's name are you? You are one who belongs to God who chooses you, names you and claims you.
This is the Good News of the Gospel. We are God's own. It all comes down to grace. We know that all by ourselves we stumble and fall. But in God's eyes, we are loved, chosen, adopted, and anointed.
St. Peter wrote these words to the earliest groups of believers. He was writing to all those "chosen and destined by God." The earliest Christians needed to know who they were as God's church. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, the "called out ones."
One of the unfortunate things about the English language is that we have one word that is for the individual and the collective 2nd person - you. In French, the individual you is tu and the plural you is vous. In Spanish, tu and vosotros. Peter is writing to all the people in the church: you - together - are chosen, all of you, together, are God's priests - all of you, together\are a holy nation, God's own people. All of you, together) are church - the called out ones.
Why? Why were they called out? Why were they church? So that they might declare the wonderful deeds of God. The people needed to know who they were so they could proclaim to others who God is. That is the mission of the church: to proclaim, through word and deed, the wonderful acts of God. As Emil Brunner said, the church exists for mission as a fire exists for burning.
The great tragedy is that sometimes the church forgets and abandons its mission.
There once was a little church in Texas that was doing just fine until a huge Petroleum company asked if they could prospect on church property. The church met, prayed, and decided that it would be OK as long as 10% of any profits came to the church. Well, the company drilled and found a huge field of oil right underneath the church; and the money began pouring in. First they fixed the roof, then they carpeted the sanctuary. Then they put a wing on the parsonage and a steeple with a cross on top above the church entrance. But the money kept pouring in. Finally, they had a congregational meeting. A motion was made to divide up the profits between the members. That motion passed unanimously. Immediately another motion was made: that there be no more new members in this church.
They forgot who they were and why they existed. Contrast that church with another, St. Luke's UMC in Oklahoma City. 21 years ago, Pastor Robert Long was in his office at St. Luke's. Suddenly he heard a deafening boom and felt the building shake. He ran outside, looked to the south, and saw thick, black smoke billowing up about a mile away. He had no idea the smoke was coming from the deadliest terrorist attack that had ever happened on American soil. He did not know a two-ton bomb made of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil had blown the front off the nine-story Murrah Federal Building and heavily damaged more than 200 other buildings. He did not know 168 people were dead and hundreds were injured. But this much Long did know - people were in trouble and needed help the church alone could offer. Wiithin minutes, he and his staff were listening to news bulletins and thinking about problems people were facing and how St. Luke's could help. Since the church was near the bomb site and had plenty of space, Long phoned the American Red Cross and offered use of the building. The Red Cross accepted, and moved in by noon. Soon the church's Christian Life Center was filling up with residents of nearby apartment buildings and retirement centers that had shattered windows and cracked walls and were no longer safe to live in. Since their homes were now part of the crime scene, residents of nearby buildings were not permitted to go back inside even to get clothes and other belongings. Most came to St. Luke's with only the clothes they were wearing.
Hundreds of volunteers came to help the Red Cross care for the 300 temporary residents, preparing more than 2,000 meals a day for those living at the church and for rescue workers who were risking their lives searching for trapped survivors. Church members brought blankets, pillows, clothing and other essentials.
When the pastor was asked how he accounted for St. Luke's responding so faithfully, he replied that reaching out and caring for people was at the heart of the church's culture. "St. Luke's is more than a century old," he said, "and if you look back through our history you will find that our people have always believed we are called to be involved in the world and to care for one another. When a disaster happens, our people jump into action."
When asked if he asked the trustees for permission before inviting the Red Cross to make St. Luke's their disaster response center, Long said it never occurred to him. "We had just built our new Christian Living Center and redecorated our fellowship hall," he said. "Suddenly clothes were hanging from our chandeliers. People were eating everywhere, our carpets were getting trashed. About $5,000 worth of our kitchen equipment went out of our building and was lost in the chaos. But, I didn't have one member come up to me and say, 'Oh my gosh, Pastor, look what's happening to our facility.' Nobody was complaining. Everybody was saying, 'This is what we are here for."
St. Luke's not only provided a place for people to eat and sleep. The staff and scores of members sat with people who were grieving and listened to them tell who and what they had lost and express doubts about how they could live through it. "We didn't offer easy answers or pretend to be fixers," explains Long. "We just listened with loving hearts. I was fascinated by how much this meant to people. Later we got numerous letters from those who had been here. What they thanked us for most was not the food or the lodging or the clothes, but for our people who came and sat and listened. Many of them said, 'It was so nice to have somebody listen to me. It helped me so much. I didn't feel so alone."
That's what it means to be church - one with open hearts, open minds and open doors. That's who we are - on a mission from God. Pastor Long concludes: "The most important thing a church can do in advance of a disaster is to plant the seed and nurture the growth of a caring community that understands that the call of the gospel is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, listen to the lonely, and express compassion in every other way possible to everyone."
Who are you? You are accepted, loved, belonging to God. Who are we? We are God's people, accepting, loving and inviting others, through word and deed, to belong to God too. That's who we are. That's our mission. May it be so. Amen.
Jesus is Love
Scripture: 1 John 4:7-12
By Pastor Tracey D. Leslie
Frank Sinatra sang, “Love is a many splendored thing.” At the very least, love is a multivalent concept; a term recklessly used and often abused; often as misunderstood in the Church as in the broader culture.
In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen writes:
We know how limited, broken and very fragile love [can be].
Often… beneath the pleasantries of daily life there are gaping wounds
that carry such names as abandonment, betrayal, rejection,
rupture and loss.[i]
Since Easter, I have been preaching a brief, 3-part sermon series from 1st John. On Easter I preached the resurrection account from the gospel of John. In that narrative, Jesus speaks to Mary on Easter morning saying, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”[ii] All throughout the gospel and letters of John, we are reminded that the coming of Jesus is intended to restore our relationship with God and to open to us the possibility of loving one another in the same radical and sacrificial way God loves us.
In the second creation account in the book of Genesis, we’re told that God comes into the garden to walk with the man and woman at the time of the evening breeze.[iii] We’re given an image of the intimate fellowship God shares with the man and woman. It is a fellowship that is broken when the man and woman rebel against the Word of God – eating from the tree of life – because they distrust God’s Word and God’s intentions for them. And so the gospel of John opens with these words, “In the beginning…” John’s story of Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, is the account of a second genesis, a new beginning, a fresh start initiated by God to restore that fullness of fellowship, intimate fellowship, with his people; a fellowship steeped in love.
As Christians, we have interpreted – over the centuries – the reason for the coming of Christ in a very narrow, restrictive way. We often think of the purpose for Christ’s coming as only being a sacrifice for our sins that removes our guilt and condemnation so we are able to go to heaven when we die. Yet, we have neglected the fuller, broader – more immediate – meaning of Christ’s coming: to renew the image of God in us and to restore us to a right relationship – here and now in this life – with God and one another; to love perfectly so that fear is destroyed, put to death by love. Because of Jesus, we’re welcomed into the eternal family of God; with God as our heavenly parent, experiencing one another as siblings. So, the introduction to John’s gospel offers this promise: “to all who [have] received [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”[iv]
With the coming of Jesus, we are offered a new way of life; being guided through each day of that life by Jesus, the Light, who illumines our path along this journey; a journey that is distinguished most of all by the experience of love, familial love.
I want to say that again because it’s so important: With the coming of Jesus, we are offered a new, eternal way of life; being guided through each day of that life by Jesus, the Light of the world, who illumines our path along this journey that is distinguished first and foremost by the experience of familial love. And so, I entitled this brief sermon series Jesus and John: Life, Light and Love. John communicates the message that Jesus is the source of life, light and love; a love that redefines who we are in relationship to God and one another. We are children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ joined to God and one another through love.
And so this morning, we examine the nature of this love that Jesus makes available to us. It is a love that is dramatically different from the love experienced in our broader society.
Love, as I’ve already mentioned, is a term that is recklessly tossed about in our culture; a term frequently misused and abused. Years ago, when my dad was still alive, he was visiting our home in Gary. My dad really enjoyed being with our dogs and he asked me this question: “Do you think your dogs know what love is?” I replied, “Well, I tell them I love them and, whenever I do, it’s while I’m doing something kind to them – petting them, praising them, feeding them, showing them affection. So, they probably have a better understanding of love than some people… whose understanding is distorted when they are told they’re loved by a person who abuses them, belittles them, neglects them, shames them or exploits them.” Friends, the love God offers us is of a dramatically different quality than what we often see expressed in grotesquely distorted ways in the world around us.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve given a little bit of background into the setting of the congregation addressed by 1st John. But this morning I want to say a little more. This congregation has experienced a schism so dramatic that it resulted in a church split. Those who are no longer a part of this faith community are judged by the writer to be in error; well, beyond error; they’re judged to be sinful. And let me pause for just a moment here to review what I said last week regarding how sin is defined by the author of 1st John. Sin is defined by the way we relate to God and to one another. So, sin is a negative response to, or a rejection of, the presence of God in Christ AND sin is a failure to act lovingly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. So, sin in John is not a list of “do’s and don’ts.” Sin in John isn’t about violating a moral or ethical code per se. Sin is a relational term. Let me say that again: in John, sin can never be defined in a vacuum. Sin is a relational thing; it is all about how we choose to respond to Jesus and to one another.
1st John paints the portrait of a family dispute; a dispute in which one side is clearly shown to have despised and disrespected those familial bonds. Most of us, I imagine, have a family member – perhaps not an immediate family member, but a second cousin, great niece, whatever the case may be – who has distanced his- or herself from the family. She or he chose, at some point, to live in such a way that they show no regard for family. They have no sense of commitment, or obligation, to family.
And that is what has taken place in the Church family to whom John writes. Family, by the way, was the primary metaphor for Church in the first century. Sociologists call it fictive kinship; the experience of a familial bond without shared genetic material. And it was not a human invention. In all of our gospels, Jesus clearly inaugurates this family that comes to be known as “Church.” As I’ve already mentioned, he does in John, when he proclaims his followers to be children of the heavenly Father and his brothers. We also see this idea expressed in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive on the scene while Jesus is teaching a crowd. He’s told that they are there to see him and he gives this response to the crowd gathered around him: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”[v] In other words, “All y’all around me are kin. Welcome to the family.”
But some members of this early Christian community have embraced a heresy related to Gnosticism. Gnosticism devalued the material world. It was a philosophical school of thought that sought to escape the world of flesh, of physical matter. Because flesh was devalued by Gnostics, they refused to believe that God would ever take on human flesh. They claimed that Jesus only appeared to be human: that that was our perception, not reality. Now, beyond this being bad theology; it played itself out in a way that destroyed Christian community. It led its adherents to claim that, since the human body, flesh and blood, had no value to God, it should not hold value for us. Adhering to such bad theology resulted in bad practice; in a sinful lifestyle; a lifestyle unresponsive to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ. And so, remarkably, they neglect members of their family in the name of Jesus. What a horrible heresy! Love for these Gnostics was a philosophical ideal or concept; it had no implications, no application to the material world. But the writer of 1st John makes it crystal clear: love is not some abstract principle; love is about what do and say and how we live. Love means being responsive in real and tangible ways to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Love is more than the inspiration for good poetry or dime-store romance novels. Love is my commitment to take care of you and your commitment to take care of me. In chapter three of 1st John, we read the author’s pressing question: “How 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? Little children [that is, children of God], let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”[vi] From the very beginning, the message of Jesus was a message of love; love not in theory, but in practice.
All of us, I imagine, have heard the cliché “pretty is as pretty does.” In other words, real beauty is more than skin deep; it is revealed by our actions. Prettiness is seen in the things we do. Well love, my friends, is as love does. Love is revealed in our behavior toward one another.
You know: here in America, the Church continues to decline. Not just the United Methodist Church; in recent years, even independent, non-denominational churches are in decline. And research has shown us that most of those who are un-churched don’t have very good impressions of church folks. Many consider us judgmental or hypocritical. Many consider us more interested in the establishment than in people. Many equate us with particular political positions. And many consider us irrelevant. And that is terribly, terribly sad. Now, truth be told, the media doesn’t always paint us in the best light. And, truth be told, some of those un-churched critics have never given us a try. But, truth be told, sometimes the way we treat one another doesn’t do much to dislodge their negative stereotypes. Sometimes the way we treat one another is no help in changing their opinion because sometimes we behave as if church is nothing more than a place we go on Sunday to get our fix of “the holy” for the week. Sometimes we treat one another as casual acquaintances and not as the family Jesus calls us, in fact commands us, to be. Sometimes our interactions with one another are merely polite or even indifferent. But Jesus doesn’t invite us to make his acquaintance. Jesus invites us into his family with the reminder that God is love and that his love reaches perfection/ completion, reaches its ultimate goal, whenever we show love toward one another.
Friends: when we name ourselves “church,” we define ourselves as God’s children and as one another’s brothers and sisters. When we name ourselves “church,” we’re not supposed to mind our own business and be polite, casual acquaintances. When we name ourselves “church,” even those outside the family ought to be able to look at us and say, “Why just look at how those Christians love one another.”
Legendary preacher Fred Craddock shares this story from his own life:
My mother took us to church and Sunday School;
my father didn’t go. He complained about Sunday dinner being late
when she came home. Sometimes the preacher would call,
and my Father would say, “I know what the church wants.
Church doesn’t care about me. Church wants another name,
another pledge, another name, another pledge. Right?
Isn’t that the name of it? Another name, another pledge.”
That’s what he always said. Sometimes we’d have a revival.
Pastor would bring the evangelist… and my father would say the same thing. Every time, my mother in the kitchen,
always nervous, in fear of flaring tempers… And always
my father said, “The church doesn’t care about me.
The church wants another name and another pledge.”
I guess I heard it a thousand times, [writes Craddock].
[But] one time he didn’t say it. He was in the veteran’s hospital,
and he was down to seventy-three pounds.
They’d taken out his throat, and said, “It’s too late.”
They put in a metal tube, and X-rays burned him to pieces.
I flew in to see him. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t eat.
I looked around the room, potted plants and cut flowers on all
the windowsills, a stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed.
And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat,
on that was a flower. And all the flowers beside the bed,
every card, every blossom, were from persons or groups
from the church. He saw me read a card. He could not speak,
so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line
from Shakespeare. If he had not written this line, I would not tell you
this story. He wrote: “In this harsh world,
draw your breath in pain to tell my story.”
I said, “What is your story, Daddy?”
And he wrote, “I was wrong.”[vii]
[i] In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen. Crossroad Publishing Co.; 1989. P. 40.
[ii] John 20:17b
[iii] See Genesis, chapters 2-3
[iv] John 1:12
[v] Mark 3:34-35
[vi] 1 John 3:17-18
[vii] Craddock Stories by Fred Craddock; ed. Graves and Ward. Chalice Press. 2001; p. 14
Jesus is Light
1 John 1:5-10
Preached by Tracey Leslie
I have always been a bit of a city slicker. When I was in elementary school I went to church camp one summer. My dad was the camp dean of “Rustic Camp.” Now if that sounds to you like it wasn’t quite the right fit for me, you’re right. But I was also an introvert and a homebody so it was helpful to have my dad with me at camp. We spent the night in tents. The tents were these concrete slabs with bunks on them, covered by canvas tent material. The tents were nestled in the woods, along with a couple of outhouses and the dining hall… which was a large building with running water, showers and flushable toilets, thereby making it my favorite building. Any indoor group activities took place in the dining hall. One evening we were to go on a night hike. I realized the air was getting chilly and I was going to be cold so my dad encouraged me to take a little buddy with me and walk down to my tent to get a sweatshirt.
When we walked into the tent, we heard something. We both stopped and looked at one another. It was a strange sound… kind of like a faint scratching on the canvas. I shone my flashlight in the direction of the sound and there was a little field mouse crawling into our tent… no doubt looking for crumbs from the snacks we ate in our bunks… although we were warned not to. When I saw that mouse, I let out a shriek and – instinctively – did a very foolish thing. I hurled my flashlight toward the mouse. Lucky for the mouse, I threw like a girl and it had nothing to worry about. But I did. As my flashlight thudded onto the concrete slab, out went the light. My little friend and I went shrieking and running back up the path toward the dining hall.
In these Sundays of the Easter season, we’re looking at scriptures from 1st John. During the 9:15 Sunday School hour, we’re engaging in a study of John’s gospel; specifically, the signs or miracles we find in John that make clear to us who Jesus is. I know I’ve mentioned before that sometimes we take a very odd – and really inappropriate – perspective on interpreting scripture. We examine the bible like we would a history book or a science document. But scripture is different. It’s not intended to be history or science in the way that we define those disciplines today. Rather, our bible is filled with stories that teach us the truth of who God is, who we are, and what God desires for us in our relationships with God and with one another.
In the gospel of John, we are introduced to Jesus as the Son of God, the Word of God – at one with God – he took on flesh and came to live in our midst to reveal God to us and – through his death, resurrection and gift of the Holy Spirit – to offer us the experience of living in fellowship with God both here and now and into eternity.
In the book of 1st John, some of the concepts or themes introduced in the gospel are further developed. For our class on the gospel of John, I’ve put together a glossary of Johannine terms (I have extras if you want one) because John uses certain words and terms in very distinctive ways.
Last week I spoke about the gift of eternal life Jesus offers us. Sometimes when people speak of eternal life they equate it with going to heaven when we die. But eternal life isn’t just about getting into heaven when we die. The gift of eternal life is meant to be experienced here and now. And if we have received that eternal life through Jesus, then the way in which we live here and now will be different and distinctive. It is described metaphorically in 1st John as “walking in the light.”[i] It is fellowship with Jesus who is the Light of the World.
So, today we focus on that key Johannine term – light. Like life, light might seem like a fairly straightforward concept. But it comes with a very distinctive meaning in John. Jesus, who is the source of life, is also the source of light. In John’s gospel, Jesus says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me with never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”[ii]
Now we all know that “light” can be thought of metaphorically. We have clichés like “he saw the light” – meaning that something was suddenly recognized or comprehended. But in John light implies more than changing the way we see something or even the way we think about something; walking in the light is about changing the way we live. Light – the light that is Jesus – is what guides us along the path of life. I was very fortunate as a child that I didn’t trip or fall or get turned around in the woods when I thoughtlessly extinguished my light. We need to walk in the light; meaning that we need Jesus to guide and direct the way in which we live.
Not surprisingly, the opposite of walking in the light is walking in darkness and in John, darkness is associated with sin. But here, once again, we need to stretch our understanding and assumptions. Often we think of “sin” in moral categories; a moral infraction; a violation of ethical code. So I frequently hear people speak of the need to teach children the Ten Commandments – a list of do’s and don’ts. But the sin of which John speaks goes far beyond a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts. Sin is a lifestyle choice and John keeps his understanding of sin to a very short list. Sin is a negative response to the presence of God in Christ AND sin is a failure to act lovingly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now, let me break those down a little bit more. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh; Jesus is one with the heavenly Father. He says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”[iii] Unfortunately, often in the Church, we use Christianity as a dividing line between ourselves and people of other faiths who we identify as having rejected Jesus. But we fail to recognize that receiving Jesus is not a one-time decision. We are given the opportunity to decline or receive the guidance of Jesus each day. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is still revealing himself to us. And so, we would do well as people who define themselves as followers of Jesus to begin each day with a prayer to recognize Jesus and to walk in his light throughout that very day. We are not followers of Jesus simply because we believe he existed. And I would even contend that we are not even followers of Jesus solely because we believe he was the Son of God. We are followers of Jesus when we purposefully seek his guidance; believing and trusting that he can and will light our path so we can walk in the light and not walk in darkness. There is a very old, on-going tradition in the Church called the Daily Office that begins the day with Morning Prayer. One format I have for it includes a hymn with this verse directed as prayer to God: “Direct, control, suggest this day; all I design or do or say. That all my powers, with all their might, in thy sole glory may unite. Guard my first spring of thought and will and with thyself my spirit fill.”[iv] So sin, John teaches us is not simply some thing we do that is a moral infraction; rather, sin is a lifestyle choice we make – and one might even say, make anew – each day to either seek Jesus to light and guide our life’s path or to set out on our own in the darkness.
But secondly, sin (walking in darkness) – John says clearly – is a failure to show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now let me be clear. We speak of darkness, scientifically, as the absence of light; but we should not think of love as the absence of hatred or disdain. Love, John tells us, is also a lifestyle. John instructs his readers: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”[v]
I said a little bit last week, but I will mention again today, that John’s community, this Christian congregation, has suffered a split, a schism. Some have left this congregation because they refused to accept the humanity of Jesus. They practiced a form of Gnosticism called Docetism; an early Christian heresy. No need to remember those names, unless you want to file them away for a future game of Scrabble, but here’s what is important to remember. By denying that Jesus was God with flesh, they could undermine the value of the physical human condition. And that was a very convenient theology if they didn’t want to be bothered by needing to do things to help their brothers and sisters in Christ. If you are hungry and I deny the value of our physical bodies by claiming that Jesus never would have been bothered by taking on human form, then I don’t need to be responsive to your hunger. I can get off scot free. No fuss; no muss. I’m done.
Now, I know I have given you a lot of information this morning. But I have one more thing and this one will really blow your mind, alright? Stay with me. In the gospel of John, the disciples don’t need to wait until Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit. In the gospel of John, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples before he returns to heaven, before he ascends to the Father. And as he breathes the Spirit on them, this is what he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now, some Churches have interpreted those words to means that only official religious people, like priests, can pronounce forgiveness. But, if we read the whole gospel of John and the letters; if we understand now what sin is; well, I don’t think that’s what that means at all. Here’s what I think it means: that our interactions with one another, the way that we live out our faith in community, becomes the proclamation of Jesus to people. How we live out our faith with one another either repels people from Jesus or attracts them to Jesus. Now, if that sounds like a big responsibility, it is. Friends, Church is not a place you go and it is not an activity you attend. Church is who we are in fellowship with Jesus and one another; living out eternal life as we walk in the light of Christ. When people see us loving one another; that proclaims the love of Jesus. If we are not spending time with one another outside of worship, we are not the Church… at least not according to John. If we are the Church, then we’re going to notice if someone has a need and we’re going to try to meet that need. If we are the Church, then we’re going to know if someone has a concern and we’re going to pray together. If we are the Church, then we’re going to know if someone has a joy or blessing and we’re going to celebrate with them.
To walk in the light of Christ is to have fellowship with God and with the people of God. If we are not regularly seeking out God’s presence and guidance for our lives, then we are living in the dark. And, if we are not seeking to be in active fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the folks who are sitting around you this morning, then we are living in darkness. Friends, if we want to see Trinity grow, it’s about walking in fellowship with Christ and one another. If we love one another in blatant, obvious ways, people will find that irresistible. Kristi Tippert, host of the radio show, On Being, has just released a book in which she writes of those who have stepped away from organized religion today. She says, “I think what they want is a consonance between what people believe in and how they live, what they believe in and how they treat others. It’s a real faith in the original principles of [our faith] traditions. That how you treat others always trumps any dogma or any position on an issue.”[vi] Friends, let us walk as children of the light, following Jesus as we love and serve one another.
[i] John 8:12 & 9:5
[ii] John 8:12
[iii] John 14:9
[iv] From The Daily Office in Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God by Patricia Brown. Published by Jossey-Bass; 2003; p. 199.
[v] 1 John 3:18
[vi] An audio excerpt from Becoming Wise: an Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. Krista Tippett.
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