A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
July 1, 2018
1 John 2:1-14
Last week we heard the first chapter of 1st John. Today we get most of the second chapter. And the theme of koinonia, or fellowship, that began last chapter continues in this one, even if the word does not appear here. This chapter takes the consequences of not being in fellowship with one another— of saying we are right with God when we are not loving our neighbor—and describes it with theological language.
I know how much we love to talk about sin, first thing in the morning.
The Greek word that we translate as sin means to “miss the mark”. However you define or understand sin, perhaps it is a helpful reminder that there are spiritual consequences to our broken relationships, and to pretending that we’re right with God when we’re not right with each other.
We can’t keep pretending that the only thing that matters in life is getting our ticket punched for heaven. If we aren’t looking around and seeing our neighbors, or the people on the other side of whatever fence we want to build, or our enemies, as people whose lives matter too, and people whom God calls us to care for and about—then 1st John says we’re missing the mark.
“Whoever says, ‘I am in the light’, while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.”
I had a conversation recently with someone about Pope Francis. She said she wasn’t a fan of his, because she wished he’d focus more on “saving souls”. And I thought about his ministry with the poor, and his reaching out to the people who have been often ignored by church and society, and the way he washes the feet of prisoners, etc and I thought, “Isn’t that what saving souls looks like?”
When we help lives here, now—we acknowledge souls God has already saved. When we stand with people who are marginalized and excluded—we acknowledge souls God has already saved. When we work for better living conditions, and opportunity, and justice—we acknowledge souls God has already saved.
“Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling”.
We are to obey God’s commandments and to do the best we can to be like the God we claim we serve. And to show us how that looks, we have an advocate from God, Jesus. God came to earth in the form of a human infant, Jesus of Nazareth, who knew human pain, love, struggle, and loss. He showed us how to be like God in the way he interacted with people. 1st John says, “Whoever says, ‘I abide in him’, ought to walk just as he walked.”
We aren’t going to get it right every day. But it is still what we’re called to do.
In this chapter, Jesus is referred to as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. There are many different ways, over the years, the church has understood the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross (atonement). Atonement is the way we make right our relationship with someone, whether our neighbor, or God.
Atonement means At One Ment, something that unites. When we speak of Jesus’ “atoning sacrifice”, we mean that his death has already united us, with God and with each other.
What is left for us to do is to remember that. To live into it. To keep making things right.
There’s a show on Netflix that I like to watch called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. In the show, 5 men, who all happen to be gay, do a makeover for someone. It’s reality TV to be sure, which means reality isn’t always on the screen. But who doesn’t want someone to come in and redo their home, teach them how to cook, buy them a closet full of cool clothes, offer life coaching, and give them a make over and a facial? Sign. Me. Up.
In the first episode of this new season, they go to a little town in Georgia to makeover an African American woman, Miss Tammye. As one reviewer summed it up:
“Not only is she a teacher who goes to visit sick children after school, but she’s also very involved in her church and wants the Fab Five to complete their community center rather than redoing her house. She’s also a cancer survivor who just lost her mother to cancer a year ago and is trying to get her gay son who just moved back home to return to the church.”
Miss Tammye didn’t respond well when her son came out at age 14. He left their small town, he left church. He struggled. He eventually came home. And she recognized that if her faith was ruining her relationship with her son, that somehow she was missing the mark, so she changed her views, and did some atoning with her son.
At one point in the episode she said, “you can’t antagonize and evangelize at the same time”.
It was also transformative for some of the guys who had gone to help her. Gay men entering a black church in small town Georgia is not guaranteed to be a safe experience, and one of them couldn’t even go into the building because of the loss he’d suffered when his faith community rejected him. At the end of each episode, each one gives their makeover subject one last piece of advice. In this one Ms Tammye reversed it, and she blessed each of them.
It will surprise none of you that I was crying when she stood up in her church and spoke about the transformation of her relationship with them, and more importantly, with her son.
Preach, Miss Tammye!
It’s human nature, I think, to focus on fixing other people’s behaviors, rather than our own.
Connie Schultz said:
“My mother said being a Christian is about fixing yourself and helping others, not the other way around’’.
This is what 1st John is about. It’s a reminder that God does the saving. We do the helping and the loving. We remember we belong to each other.
Brene Brown, talking about her book Braving the Wilderness, said,
“We’re in a spiritual crisis, the key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection. That connection — the spirit that flows between us and every other human in the world – is not something that can be broken; however, our belief in the connection is constantly tested and repeatedly severed. When our belief that there’s something greater than us, something rooted in love and compassion, breaks, we are more likely to retreat to our bunkers, to hate from afar, to tolerate bullshit and to dehumanize others.
Addressing this crisis will require a tremendous amount of courage. For the moment most of us are either making the choice to protect ourselves from conflict, discomfort, and vulnerability by staying quiet, or picking sides and in the process adopting the behavior of the people with whom we passionately disagree. Either way, the choices we are making to protect our beliefs are leaving us disconnected, afraid and lonely.”
It’s on all of us to fix this mess we’re in. This week there were more mass shootings. And then last night, a man stabbed 9 people, six of them children. Most if not all of the victims came to our country as refugees, to escape violence in their own country and seek a better life in our country. This happened at an apartment complex not far from my house, not far from here. (A Go Fund Me page has been set up here, if you want to contribute to help these families.)
We forget atonement is at one ment.
It’s on all of us to respond to hatred with love. The end of this passage says “I am writing to you”…and then he lists young people, specifically. He lists parents, specifically. He lists little children, specifically. We need to do this work together. Which means we need to be up close and in conversation with people we don’t understand and maybe don’t even want to understand.
A friend (thanks, Kathy Reed!) took this photo outside an art museum in Auburn, Alabama:
It’s a sentiment from that book by Brown.
As we come to the Table this morning, to celebrate communion, we celebrate the way God moved closer to us and made us family. Children, young people, parents–all of us brought into God’s family.
So let’s move closer.