Yr B ~ Easter 3 ~ 1 John 3:1-7
I think the most compelling part of the resurrection story is how the Spirit of the Risen Christ somehow appears to the defeated, dejected and dead disciples and breathes new life into them which propels them into the world to do likewise. So before I pick up todays reading I want to poke at this a bit more.
Please remember that we are talking in symbolic and metaphoric terms and not literal terms when we say things like “Jesus breathed into them” – or that God breathed life into Adam, or that the Spirit breathed life into the dry bones in Ezekiel. It’s a colourful way to describe a deep spiritual truth. The fresh breath of new spirit is exactly like the first breath of new life a person takes. It’s like they’re born anew.
Born anew is what Easter’s all about. Easter is not just a day or a thing that happened to Jesus – it’s a season, it’s a spiritual rhythm, it’s the way we let go of what was and embrace the new.
I wonder if this whole image and metaphor started because the ancient Jewish people were searching for a way to talk about our relationship with God that transcended the typical biological explanations of human beginnings. In many cultures the myths of their origins include a physical birth from the deity. But our forebears had an understanding of God that went beyond flesh and blood – a transcendent yet immanent Presence.
Genesis says humanity is created in the image and likeness of God. Unlike the mythological Roman gods who came from the loins of Zeus, Yahweh created humanity “out of dust – out of the earth” – a remarkably progressive idea that hints at evolution! Then God breathed life into humanity which animated and – literally – inspired us.
It is the sharing of God’s Spirit – the breathing of God’s Spirit – that brings us to new life and makes one God’s child.
The one who gives birth is a parent.
God births people through Spirit.
So Adam is described as the son of God.
And Jesus is described as the son of God.
And guess what? So are we!
1 John 3:1 See what love God has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
See what love God has given us!
We just can’t get away from wonder, can we!
See this wondrous manner of love – so amazing, so loving, so absolute and all-encompassing that God views us as “children of God” – and that is what we are!
Think about that for a minute. We are God’s children. You don’t earn being someone’s child, you just are one. You can turn away from the love and the relationship but it doesn’t stop the parent figure from loving you and knowing you as their own.
The parent/child relationship idea is key to understanding our faith. With God and Jesus it’s parent/child – but I think we have tended to interpret our relationship with God as more like master/servant. But that’s very different. It’s more like employer/employee – and even if you absolutely love your job and would give your heart and soul for it there is a clear difference between that and parent/child.
The bible clearly says that we are God’s children – and here we get it twice in two verses.
God is our parent. You are God’s child.
What bond do you have with your parents or children?
What connects you?
What can break that bond? Nothing!
1 John 3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when it is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
What a wondrous verse! We are God’s children now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed!
That’s how it is with kids. When they’re kids you don’t yet know what shape their life will take. It hasn’t been revealed yet. You hope they’ll take after you, maybe not in your work but in your character, but you don’t know.
What we do know is this… (but before I tell you we have to fix some grammar.)
(And please forgive the male God-language here, it’s just easier to navigate.)
In Greek they don’t use pronouns like we do so there are frequently times when you have to make a decision whether a pronoun is implied. In verse 2 the editors chose to add “he” but that was a theological choice, not a grammatical one. Listen to the difference:
What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. – It clearly suggests that it’s God or Jesus that’s being revealed, but that’s not explicit in the Greek grammar.
Here’s the whole verse with a neutral grammar:
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when it is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
Now the “it” refers to what we will be. This makes more sense to me.
When ‘what we will be’ is revealed, in other words when we mature and we become the people we are becoming, we will realize that we are like him, like God, for we will finally see God as God is.
There are echoes of 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
So, when ‘what we will be’ is revealed we will be like him.
What does it mean to be “like” God? Or to be “like” Jesus?
You’ve heard the expression “like father like son” – Well, if Jesus is God’s son and we are brothers and sisters in Christ then we are logically the siblings of Jesus and that means “like son like us” – so it also logically follows that “like father like us!”
It has been said that God has no grand-children, only children.
We are children of God. Being children, whether biological or adopted, means we should expect to have a family resemblance!
As children we take on the characteristics of our parents.
How many times have you looked in the mirror and saw your parent staring back at you?
How many times have you said something and heard your parent talking?
Now, we can try our hardest to turn away from our parents’ influence – and frankly sometimes that is a good thing, not every parent was great at the job – but no matter how hard we try we cannot escape our parents’ imprint upon us.
We are imprinted with our parents’ characteristics.
Now let’s extend that idea – we are, to use biblical language, created in the image of God – which means we have God’s characteristics imprinted upon us too!
Our life question is ‘what are we going to do with that imprint’?
It’s hard for us to wrap our brains around being like God, but we can surely have a good sense of what being like Jesus would be like! In theology it’s called Christlikeness.
It’s one thing to like Christ – like saying you admire him, or like clicking a thumbs-up on Facebook – but it’s another thing entirely to be Christ-like.
This is our calling.
Think you’re being called to be nice and do good?
Think again. That’s only the start.
You are being called to be like Jesus.
In John 14:12 Jesus said “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”
So you’re not just called to be like Jesus but to do even greater things! Wow!
But you can’t do it on your own.
You have to draw on your family resemblance.
You have to draw on the character of God that is imprinted upon you – because you’re God’s child – because God or Christ or Spirit has breathed new life into you.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when it is revealed, we will be like Jesus, for we will see him as he is.
What does God have in store for you?
What is God revealing for you to be?
What is the best you can imagine yourself being?
Here’s a provocative thought: contrary to conventional wisdom you are not called to be the best “you” you can be – you are called to be the best Jesus you can be!
Isn’t that awesome!
Imagine a whole church full of Jesus’.
Imagine a whole denomination full of Jesus’.
I feel like Oprah – you’re Jesus, and you’re Jesus, and you’re Jesus…everybody’s Jesus!
Has it kicked in for you yet?
Oh crap, I don’t feel all that much like Jesus! In fact, sometimes I feel decidedly un-Jesus-y!
You are not alone! The un-Jesus-y part has a theological name too – that name is sin.
Ok, here we go! Sin is one of those words that carries a truckload of baggage with it. Some of you may not be able to let go of that baggage and open up to a renewed meaning of this word, but I hope you’ll try.
In Greek sin is hamartia which literally means “no share”.
If you sin it means you have no share in God’s Presence at that time, because you have a big share of something less.
1 John 3:4-6 are notoriously hard to understand verses.
4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that Jesus was revealed to take away sin, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins (!!); no one who sins has either seen him or known him.
Now listen again with substituting “no share” for “sin”.
Here’s a brain bender – what I’m teaching you is actually more literally true than the way we all learned it.
4 Everyone who has no share is guilty of lawlessness; dropping your share is lawlessness. 5 You know that Jesus was revealed to take away our sense of having no share, and in him there is no letting go of his share. 6 No one who abides in him drops their share; no one who maintains no share has either seen him or known him.
We all have a share in God’s loving Presence! Always! But we have to embrace it.
Unfortunately, instead of having a share the word sin has become synonymous with doing bad things. But sin isn’t your actions it’s more your state of being. [pet peeve!] I wish we would never use the second “s” – never say sins but only ever say sin.
Now, because we’re God’s children, because we’re Jesus’ brothers and sisters, because we’ve been breathed upon by the Holy Spirit and been resurrected – and if you didn’t have at least a sense of that you wouldn’t be here today – Spirit drew you to this place this morning!
– ok, so because we’re God’s kin, like Jesus we have the capacity not to sin! – to not drop our share.
However, despite our capacity as God’s children we’re probably more like God’s teenagers!
Teenagers have a great capacity to be adults, but they are often easily drawn off course, distracted.
They bristle at authority.
They want to do it their own way.
They think they know better.
It’s not evil, it’s immaturity.
Come to think of it adults can be most of those things too we’ve just learned to hide it better!
Be careful. I didn’t say we had the capacity never to make mistakes or do bad things. I’m talking about our state of being.
We have the Christlike capacity to turn our being to God’s Presence and remain there. Jesus lived a sinless life because he never wavered from God’s Presence. And for us, to embrace and live out our Christlikeness means that we stay focused on God’s Presence and when we slip up and get lazy with mistakes we reflexively turn back.
That’s Christlikeness – not never making a boo-boo, but always turning back to God’s Presence.
The more and more mature a follower of Jesus you are the less and less you get lazy and make dumb mistakes and the more and more quickly you turn back each time.
The falling short part is pretty much inevitable.
The Christlike part draws you home.
You have “no share” when your values, your will, or your behaviour are contrary to the imprint at the centre of your being – when you are not being Christlike.
You have “no share” when you rebel against your family resemblance and characteristics.
How do you hold on to your share and not fumble it?
You abide in Christ.
You embrace your inherent Christlikeness.
You take your family characteristics and make the most of them.
My wife and I were both music majors at university, so it’s no surprise that our kids are both musicians too.
But that didn’t happen by accident. It had to be nurtured.
Years of lessons and countless hours of practicing allowed them to take that musical potential that was imprinted upon them and grow it into something wonderful. If they had turned away from the lessons and the practicing they would have had “no share” in the music-making – and that would be sinful!
Our spiritual parent has imprinted us with love, but it has to be nurtured.
We have to take lessons,
we have to practice,
we have to throw ourselves heart and soul into taking that gift and making the most of it or we’ll risk losing sight of our share.
What happened in the upper room after Easter morning?
A bunch of God’s teenagers who had love imprinted on them experienced Something More, and breathed in new life, and let go of their hold on death and defeat, and turned and embraced their share of God’s loving, living Presence.
And then they gave their whole lives to growing in Christlikeness – in making the most of their family resemblance.
And along the way they stumbled, and got distracted, and missed the mark, but they never lost sight of God’s Presence, and they never let go of God’s Way.
That’s what it is to abide in Christ.
That’s what it is to grow in Christlikeness.
That’s what it is to “go and sin no more.”
See what love God has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know God. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when it is revealed, we will be……like Jesus, for we will see him as he is.