Throughout the season of Easter we have the opportunity during worship to hear a series of lessons from the letter of I John. In many ways I feel that these readings and this letter is very timely. Whenever I read I John I feel like it is speaking to our own time and place. So what is going on?
Well, this community of faith is in crisis. The issue is over the question of the humanity versus the divinity of Jesus. This is an issue that was eventually resolved by the early church. But what is particularly important to us I think is not so much who was right and who was wrong about this particular issue but rather the behavior of the members of this community and how they chose to relate to others during this conflict. Especially how they related to other Christians who disagreed with them. And what we see does not look good. This community was divided over the issue and one group took the position that anyone who disagreed with them were not real Christians and could and should be ignored and treated with contempt. Only the true Christians – the ones who believed all the right things - deserved to be treated with respect and love. Only the true Christians were welcome. And so they not only set themselves apart from the wider community of the world, but they also pulled apart and were hostile to the other Christian believers with whom they had disagreements. As far as they were concerned to interact with those who believed wrong or accepted beliefs they considered sinful, or who were even tolerant of these things was to taint themselves and make themselves unclean in God’s eyes. This fear of wrong doctrine and of others forced them into their own little corner where they huddled together in their fear and spewed forth their hate. The love of Christ, which had given them new life and a calling to share this love had, by this fear turned into hate.
This is what the letter of I John has to say about this:
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (I John 4:16-21)
There is obviously no effort to be tactful or subtle here. This is laid out for us in pretty stark terms: if you hate, or support hate you have separated yourself from God. If you pull yourself apart from others, looking for special treatment or refusing to interact with those who don’t believe like you do, then you have separated yourself from Christ. I think we all need to take this seriously. The behavior of those who claim the name of Christ lately has been an awful lot like the behavior of these believers to whom the letter of I John is written. Hate and fear are the words that characterize a lot of this behavior.
The issues are perhaps no longer theological so much, but it hardly matters. The point is the same whether the issues are ethics or politics or theology: hate towards those with whom we disagree is not appropriate; self-righteous anger which leads to false witness is not acceptable; fear that blinds us is unfaithful and not acceptable. Star War’s Master Yoda sums it all up with this famous line:
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
The letter of I John would agree. Hate and the products of hate are rejected out of hand.
So what are we to do? We don’t have to agree with everyone, but we do so in love. Because that is the bottom line – Love!
7Beloved, 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. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. (I John 4:7-12).
Or, in the words of an old camp song: … and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
Will they? It is to this we are called!
The audio of this sermon can be found on the "media" page at wartburgparish.com