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The Third Sunday of Easter
Micah 4:15; Psalm 98; 1 John 1:1-2:2; Luke 24:36-49
John is dealing with a particularly insidious heresy in his letters, it seems. From the earliest times there has been those who claim to be Christians, but who end up rejecting the key beliefs that characterize our faith, sometimes out of ignorance, but often persisting in stubbornness.
The heresy John is dealing with caused a schism in the churches he is writing to, and it strikes at things that are foundational to our faith. John is committed to using his authority over the churches of a whole region to say, no, these contradicting doctrines are false: The Gospel is that Jesus came in the flesh, died for our sins, and by believing in him we have fellowship with God and with one another. It is so important to note this last part; bad theology destroys community, destroys faith. John is not just some theologian trying to explain why they are wrong logically, but a pastor, and when he writes condemning these beliefs, it is so that those who receive this letter “may have fellowship with [him]” and he says, “so that our joy may be complete.”
From these first few verses, we can get a sense of the belief he is rejecting:
- They were rejecting that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was truly flesh.
In contrast, John makes it clear, he was “made manifest to us.” This word manifest means a thing that was hidden that was revealed; God the Son himself, revealed not in his spiritual glory, but through becoming the human Jesus of Nazareth. They touched him with their hands, saw him with their eyes. Jesus Christ was truly a human. His blood was real. His death was real. His resurrection was real. One cannot die on behalf of humanity if they are not truly human, and Jesus truly was, while also being truly God. He bled, and died, and rose again, so that the penalty for our sin could be met, and our life following death could be achieved.
- Speaking of sin, the second false belief seems to be that they thought they had no sin, that they had gotten past the point where they sinned. This is also destructive, because first of all it isn’t true. We can grow in holiness, yes; we can become better people, yes; but sin is a rot deep within us, something far more sinister and entrenched than we can imagine. The moment you believe you have transcended sin, the sin of pride fills you. And John is saying no, that isn’t the case. Jesus saves you, but sin still lies close at hand, and it is only by staying in the Way of Light that we can keep from it.
Sin is so terrifyingly sneaky. They can be huge, of course: Murder, theft, racism, sexism, hatred. But sin can be so absurdly small too, wearing us down, like a drip of water that over years, undealt with, drills a hole right through a rock.
Sin can be taking the larger bowl of ice cream, selfishly, because you believe you deserve it more. It can be our own pride and self-importance, being so glad “I’m not like that person.” It can be our self-pity that wallows in how miserable our lot in life is, which just another form of self-centered pride. It can be our obstinate refusal to forgive a wrong. It can be our delight in gossip, spreading half-truths and winking knowingly about “those people.” It can be our fear, not the kind that says, “there’s a bear, run!” but the kind of fear that says, “the future is unknown and I don’t trust God to get me there.”
John says we can walk two paths. One is the Way of Light, and one is the Way of Darkness. God is pure light, and no darkness can survive, can penetrate or dissolve that Light. It is pure and indestructible, the Light that swallows black holes. John says, “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;” But then he says, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves! So which is true? Both.
The Way of Light isn’t about not sinning, in and of itself; it is about keeping our eyes on the path forward, on the source and destination. It is not a negative, about cataloging our sins as we commit them; it is about being so absorbed into the Light, that darkness is snuffed out when it reaches us.
In a word, Walking in the Light is to have faith that Jesus came in the flesh, died for our sins and believing that in him we have fellowship with God. To Walk in the Light is to keep our eyes on Jesus, who is our salvation. Now, we will still sin, going off towards the Dark; what should we do then?
Ever since I read it as a child, I have always particularly loved this one story in the Hobbit. Before the dwarves pass through Mirkwood, a deep, dangerous forest, they are told “stay on the path!” The dwarves, of course, do not; they see what seems like a strange, magical feast in the forest, and so they stray. They end up not being able to find their way back because, duh, a dark magic forest. They almost end up becoming meals for very large spiders as a result. They are saved, of course, by the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, but if they had just listened, none of it would have been necessary.
For us, there is always a way back. Do we sin? Yes, in other words, we make a misstep off the path. The correct response? Confess your sin, John says, own it, and know with all confidence that God in Jesus Christ forgives it. Confession is not just psychologically restorative, but it heals the breach between us and God, us and each other. It is an exercise in faith, in trusting the God who has shown us how much we are loved.
Jesus made the way. The Light is before us. False teaching, the dark powers of this world, and our own sin will all try to lead us astray into Darkness. We are told here, by John who witnessed the Risen Christ, the Embodied Savior who defeated death, that we too are victors over Death. We are told by John, the witness to the resurrection, that the Way of Light is simple: Know Jesus, follow him. By following Jesus we are in fellowship with God. And by being in fellowship with God, we too are in fellowship with one another, we are the Church, his people. We have each other to walk with on the Way. We don’t tread the path towards the Light alone, and we can help each other when we stumble off into the Dark. Today, we must have faith. Today, we must believe what we have been given. Keep your eyes fixed ahead. Believe in the love of God because he has shown us in the most powerful way possible. Believe that the bodily Christ died and rose again, and that in him we have the promise of eternal life. Walk in the Light by faith in Christ, and know no Darkness.
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