Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 16 June 2019
Reading was 1 John 3:1-3, 14-20
I remember growing up and hearing readings from the Bible about ‘hope’. And, to be honest, I thought the term ‘hope’ was a bit wishy washy – it sounded to me like ‘wishful thinking’.
And we need more than wishful thinking in our world. There are many challenges: violence; political disintegration, in Europe and other places; climate crisis. The people of our world need hope.
So what can Christian faith offer the world? What is the proclamation of hope?
Recently in the conversations with our young people about Baptism and Confirmation, I shared what the missionary and theologian Leslie Newbigin said when he was asked whether, as he looked into the future, he was optimistic or pessimistic. He responded:
I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
For Newbigin, hope is a person. Our confidence (and ability to live as people of hope) is in knowing Christ. As today’s reading affirms:
we will see him [that is, Jesus Christ] as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Hope is knowing Christ.
So, how do we know we know Christ? I want to encourage us all by sharing three ‘tests’ for how we know we know Christ. (And I’m grateful to Tim Keller for these tests.)
The TRUTH test
In the following chapter of this letter of John, he says:
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God (1 John 4:2)
Do you hear what this is saying…? “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” that’s the truth test we’re given.
Many consider Jesus a great moral teacher – but that’s it. Jesus wasn’t God incarnate. But even at a basic moral level this is inadequate. This fails the Golden Rule – to treat Jesus Christ as He would want to be treated.
What happens if you insist on describing someone the way YOU want to, regardless of what they know about themselves?
If someone comes to me and says “I like to think of you as a very lazy person.”
“But,” I say, “I’m not a lazy person. I’m known by most as someone who works hard and likes long walks.”
If they still respond “Well, I like to think of you as a lazy person”, they have the right to hold that opinion, no one is going to lock them up for that, … but that is the end of the relationship!
If you want to relate to me only as you want to think of me and not accept who I really am, we cannot have a relationship – you don’t know me.
We have to take seriously Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Word, or we will never know Him.
The OBEDIENCE test
In the previous chapter of this letter of John, it says:
Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him’, but does not obey his commandments, is a liar… (1 John 2:3-4a)
Here is how this works…
If I have a friend, whom I say I know personally and we are very close, then, I would never do anything that constantly makes that person weep; that constantly grieves that person; that dishonours them; that violates what they stand for, and love, and live for.
If you really know Jesus Christ, you wouldn’t do things, day in and day out that make him sad. If you really know Jesus Christ, you wouldn’t do those things – at least you wouldn’t do those things without realising the terrible way if affects the relationship. This is how I was describing ‘sin’ a few weeks ago – whatever damages relationship (distorting, disrupting, dislocating).
Of course, we all do this; we are all inconsistent; we all make mistakes. The obedience test is whether we recognise when we have damaged the relationship by breaking the commandments we are given, and seek the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ. Recognising we have wandered off in the wrong direction, and that we need all that God offers.
The LOVE test
We heard this in today’s reading (v14)
“14We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another.” (1 John 3:14)
We know we know Jesus Christ when we love one another. But wait, it’s harder than we might first think. Listen again to the verses that follow:
16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:16-18)
The love Christ shows us is ‘sacrificial action’.
To know we know Christ is to love in ways that bring real change in meaningful ways. To love the way Christ loves is to express our hope for the world. To ‘live and share Christ’s hope for our world’, is to be part of a movement that changes the world, with passion and compassion.