Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reflections on I John for Lent


Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  I John 4:7-10
Throughout the season of Lent at our 12:30 mid-week Lenten prayer service we are meditating on the Epistle of I John.  Like many of the epistles in the New Testament, this letter was written to address a specific situation that had arisen within a specific community.  The community is believed to be the community that had risen up around the beloved disciple John.  By the time of the letter scholars believe John had died and the community was now struggling with division and conflict.  Specifically a serious conflict had arisen over the question of whether or not Jesus was really human or if (as the break-away group was proclaiming) Jesus was only divine and that Jesus only seemed to be human.  This may have been the first recorded instance of this disagreement, but it would not be the last.  This question of the relationship of the humanity and divinity of Jesus, and whether Jesus was human at all would continue to be a major conflict in the early church (it is still with us, by the way) and would lead eventually to the formation of the three great creeds – the Apostle’s, the Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds.  The technical name for the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human is docetism.
Apparently this conflict within the Johnnine community had gotten out of hand.  The docetist faction had pulled themselves apart, so as not to be “tainted” by “incorrect belief.”  And not only that, but it appears that they had adopted a very hostile attitude to all of those who disagreed with them.  The writer of this epistle addresses all of the issues – lovingly, but firmly.  From the beginning of the epistle he makes it clear that to assert that Jesus only seemed divine or that Jesus was only pretending to be human is a denial of the heart of the Christian faith.  If Jesus was not fully human then there is no Christmas, no incarnation; and the death and resurrection itself becomes meaningless.  The humanity of Jesus is essential to our salvation and our faith, without that then Jesus becomes yet another divine deity who pretends to be human and accomplishes nothing of importance.  It is through the incarnation of Jesus - the humanness of Jesus that God enters into our human experience, and is able to be present with us in the midst of the darkness of our human lives and thus to redeem and to offer salvation to us from within it.  First John asserts in the very first verse of the 1st chapter his affirmation that Jesus was fully human, which echoes the earlier Gospel of John from the same community: And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us….  
Jesus is fully human – God enters into the human experience through the birth of Jesus and saves us from within our humanity.  Jesus is fully divine – Jesus is God incarnate and thus fully divine.  The power to save, to extend God’s grace is dependent on Jesus being both 100% divine and 100% human – all at the same time.  How is this accomplished?  I do not know.  It is a mystery and I am content with mystery.  What I do know is that my own experience is of a Jesus who is both completely divine and completely human.  In this way I know that God is with me in the light and in the darkness – in joy and in sorrow – at times of bitter despair and in times of exultation and celebration.  How have you experienced the humanity and divinity of Jesus in your life?  This is the question for the Lenten journey.
Lastly, John also makes it clear that our calling is not to be “right.”  But our calling is to love, as God loves us.  That if we allow mystery to be a part of our faith experience there are going to be things that we do not agree on and things that we do not completely understand – and this is ok.  At the foundation though there must be love – God’s love for us, which is revealed in Jesus and which calls us to open our hearts in love to others.  May this Lent also provide an opportunity for us to contemplate the amazing love and grace of God as shown forth in Christ and may it lead us to love of others.

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