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Sunday, January 3, 2021
Scripture: Psalm 51:1-12 & 1 John 1:5-7
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce
Happy New Year! And let’s rejoice that it’s no longer 2020. For many, however, 2020 surprisingly brought about good things. I read about Cheryl Lockhart from AZ who wrote: “The one good thing that happened this year is that after 47 years of marriage, I learned to appreciate my husband.” Lockhart describes her husband as “quiet, a reader and a bird watcher who takes pictures of clouds. Someone that many find dull because he doesn’t talk much, but smiles and listens.” She describes herself as someone who lived a life of overcommitment filled with book clubs, volunteering, social clubs and rescuing animals. In March that all ended and her life became in her words: “not dull, but interesting, not rushed, but calm.” She spent time with her husband marveling at the night sky, naming the butterflies on their milkweed, baking bread and walking their dogs. She writes: “The clubs, concerts and crowds have disappeared, and I have found serenity and companionship with my loving husband, the perfect man I married long ago when I was too busy to notice.”
I also read about a pair of siblings who live on opposite coasts who wanted to get back in touch with their love of art and with one another. They began to meet weekly over Facetime where they painted together and got caught up on each other’s lives. The majority of the “surprisingly good things that came out of 2020” stories are about renewed or strengthened relationships. These feel good stories were about people whose gratitude was renewed for the most important relationships in their lives.
In 1 John, John wants his audience and ultimately us, to reflect upon the importance of our relationship with God. This winter we will go through the book of 1 John in which the main theme is about God’s all powerful love for us. John really wants us to grasp just how wide and deep God’s love is for us which is why time and time again John refers to those he is writing as “beloved,” which is why we’ve titled this sermon series “Beloved.” John explains that “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” Through Christ we are God’s beloved. We are loved by God. And if we are truly to have “fellowship,” or in other words a relationship with God, then we need to believe that we are indeed loved by God.
The problem was there were people in the church who didn’t believe in who Jesus said he was. They could not accept the fact that Jesus was both human and divine. If Jesus was God as a human, how could God become human while still remaining God? From their perspective God would’ve had to give up being divine in order to become human. God could not have lowered God’s own self to be human and still be God. It may be difficult for us today to understand why this was such a hard concept to accept, but this was a prevailing belief in much of the ancient world. To keep the gods separate from humanity allowed for the gods to be uninvolved in change, suffering or (even more degrading) shame. If God became human then God would also share in human weakness. The culture at the time wanted their gods to be all powerful, which meant they needed to be completely untouched by human failure and frailty. As a result they did not want to accept Jesus as completely human, but believed he just appeared human. To be human is to be weak and fragile, and why would we want a god who is like that! But it is in weakness and ultimately in death, that Jesus demonstrated God’s all powerful love.
In his homily during Prince Henry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, the Right Reverend Michael B Curry explained that what Jesus began was “A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world – and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself. I’m talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world.”
Rev. Curry goes on to say that in Christ we see that God’s love “…is not selfish. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.”
He goes on to give examples of how God’s love can change us and therefore change the world:
“Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.
Imagine our neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine our governments and nations where love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children. ‘Cos when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.”
In order to accept any of this as possible John argues that one must accept that Jesus is both human and divine. That yes God had the audacity to lower himself to become a human to live and walk among us. To experience human frailty and weakness yet remain without sin. In Jesus we see God voluntarily experienced human suffering, pain and even death because God loves us. If we believe this then we can’t help but be changed. But we are only changed if we accept the lengths God was willing to go for us, and God did so out of love.
And when we do we are walking in the light. To not believe in the lengths God would go to be with us is to remain in the dark. To not accept Jesus was both God and human is to keep stumbling in the darkness. And John urges us to leave the darkness and come into the light.
We too tend to walk in darkness. I don’t think it’s because we have the same problem as those in John’s church who did not accept Jesus as both human and divine. But we do have a problem of believing in Christ’s love for us. I think we want to believe that out of love God came to us as Jesus Christ. But I think we have trouble believing that God really does care and the events of 2020 have only fueled those doubts. How many times have we brushed off the notion of praying for ourselves when we think of so many others who are currently worse off than us? Stop and think about what you’re telling yourself. What you’re essentially saying is that God doesn’t care about you. God’s love is big enough to encompass our problems and the problems of those who are in a much worse position. God is God after all. We should be praying for those who are worse off and God may also be asking us to help them, but we can do that and be honest to God about our own needs.
If we don’t think God cares enough about us to listen to how we are struggling with not being able to see our elderly parents, to gather with friends over lunch or worried about how our kids are being affected by the pandemic, then we really don’t believe in the the all powerful love of Jesus Christ. We are choosing to remain in the darkness. But we weren’t made for the darkness.
We were made for the light. But we can only be in the light if we believe in who Jesus says he is and believe in who Jesus says we are. We are God’s beloved and we know this because God sent his beloved son to us. To walk with Jesus in the light means we come before him just as we are knowing full well we need his love to comfort, redeem and change us. To be fully honest about who we are including all of our struggles and where we need his forgiveness. And when that happens we will be changed. Believe you are God’s beloved, not because of anything you did because you didn’t have to do anything. But because Jesus Christ has chosen and will always choose to love you.