A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Easter 6 ~ 1 John 5:1-6
This! If you’re into social media at all you’ve probably encountered “This!” It indicates importance and emphasis and authority! Often it appears with an arrow pointing either at another post or comment. It’s saying “Hey! Look at this! This is really important. This is, IMHO (in my humble opinion) worth reading again. This comment really ‘gets’ it. This says it better than I could. Out of all the other noise here ‘This’ is the best insight. This is truth! This is what it’s all about!”
A few years ago we would’ve said “Word!” or “Truth!” In the book of psalms they said “This!” by using the word “Selah!”
Selah! Truth! Word!
So, now that I’ve set that all up, what is the “This!” in this scripture passage? Well, in just 6 verses we actually get 4 “This”-es. And I think “This” will help us in tackling this passage which is generally accepted as being really tricky, and dense, and circular, and confusing, and hard to understand. So let’s see what “This” is all about! Hopefully, “This” helps.
1 John 5:1-2 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey God’s commandments.
To paraphrase – Everyone who trusts in Jesus and makes some sort of confession of faith like “I believe” or “Jesus is Lord” has been born of God, is a child of God.
And how do we know whether we love those children of God? By THIS – by loving God and keeping God’s commandments!
Ok, which commandments?
There’s the big 10 that Moses did with the tablets and the mountain thing, there’s the 613 laws of Torah, and there’s our big 3 that we find in Mark 12 and John 13 – to love God, love people, and love one another.
That’s what we mean around here whenever we say love, love, love (like we will in the offering prayer today).
And who are God’s children again? Those who’ve made an affirmation of faith of some kind.
In other words, us.
Look around. You’re surrounded by children of God – by people who have claimed the love of God and claimed God as parent, or father, or even Holy Mystery.
And THIS is how we know we love these people according to verse 2 – by loving God and keeping the commandments.
In other words, by love, love, love.
Then the writer of John says it again, just to make sure we don’t miss it. In addition to loving God’s children we learn how to love God too.
1 John 5:3
For the love of God is this, that we obey God’s commandments. And God’s commandments are not burdensome.
THIS! To love God is to obey God’s commandment to love, love, love.
Is that burdensome?
No, it’s not burdensome, but it’s not easy either.
What’s the measure of knowing if you love God or not?
That you love others and love one another!
But be careful here. You may have encountered people who think that Christianity’s all about being a do-gooder. It’s so much more than that.
In fact, the first proof or measure is that you love God!
So it’s about spirituality, and worship, and prayer, and openness, and noticing God’s Presence everywhere and always. None of those are “works”, but they’re the core of it all.
The second proof or measure is love of others.
That’s the doing good part.
And the third proof or measure is to love one another.
That’s mutuality, friendship, support, care, accountability. None of those are works either.
So the only way you can say that the proof or measure of a Christian is in their works is if you take those 3 great loves and ignore 2 of them – which clearly shows you’re not a Christian!
(Are you still with me?)
For the love of God is THIS – that we obey or keep or practice God’s commandments to love, love, love – to love God, love people, and love one another – to be in communion with God, to be compassionate toward people, and to be in connection with the people you’re journeying alongside (one another) – to worship, serve, and support.
Here’s a question for you.
Why does it matter if we love God?
This passage is very concerned with communicating to us how we’ll know if we’re loving God, or what the measuring stick for loving God is, but it doesn’t say why we need bother.
You’ll know you’re loving God when your life is marked by worshipping, serving, and supporting.
Ok, but so what?
What if I don’t worship and serve and support? Then what?
Lots of good people don’t worship, serve, and support and they seem to be doing ok.
What has loving God ever done for me?
How does worshipping, serving, and supporting help me?
It’s not like we believe that God is going to smite us or punish us for not loving God.
And we don’t worship, serve, and support to earn points so God will love us more.
That’s also insane – and just terribly wrong theologically. So why bother?
5:4 For whatever is born of God conquers (but in the sense of overcoming or being stronger than) the world. And the victory that conquers the world is this, our faith.
The Message translation says it this way, “Every God-begotten person conquers/overcomes the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith.”
What overcomes or is stronger than the world?
This! Our faith!
“This” is the victory that overcomes the world.
“This” is the power that comes from loving God.
“This” is the thing that enables us to face challenges.
You love, love, love – you worship, serve, and support – because it strengthens your inner being, it empowers your life, it fortifies your personal resources, it positively shapes your outlook and approach to life – it helps you conquer or overcome the challenges of life in this weird and wonderful world we live in – because by worshipping, serving, and supporting you let the Holy Spirit work on you and more and more you start to resemble Jesus.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that people of faith never get discouraged, and it doesn’t mean that people of faith don’t face insurmountable challenges that sometimes get the better of them. It simply means this – that if you’re a person who really does give your life to loving God, loving people, and loving one another then you’re almost certainly a person who will face life’s obstacles with steadfastness, passion, conviction, verve, and hope. Because you’re not alone!
Faith isn’t a ‘get out of all trouble’ card.
Faith is a ‘strength for the journey through the valley’ card.
And do you know who goes into the valley? Everybody.
I truly believe that people of faith have more resources to not only move through that valley, but to do so with grace, and peace, and yes, even joy.
5:4 For whatever is born of God conquers/overcomes the world. And the victory that conquers the world is this, our faith.
Then the section closes off with another “This!”
1 John 5:5-6 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
I know it sounds a bit confusing, but it’s really just emphasizing that Jesus really was human – born of water and blood, just like every one of us. There was a school of thought back then that said Jesus was just a spirit all along who appeared human but wasn’t. The author of 1st John is making sure we know that they understood Jesus was really human – flesh and blood. It might also mean that Jesus still comes to us by water (baptism) and blood (eucharist or communion – as in the wine).
Either way, those that put their faith in this Jesus guy receive the means to overcome the world.
That doesn’t mean you win all the time, but it does mean that you have deep roots and strong support to help weather the storms of life.
And you know, of course, what probably the greatest challenge of all to overcome in life is?
Our selfishness. Our self-centredness. Our self-importance.
Maybe that’s why it was so important to remind us that Jesus really was human too – so we could see that those things really could be overcome.
Before I finish I’d like to circle back and notice something that bookends this passage.
Verse 1 says, Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.
And verse 6 says, Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Belief in Jesus is pretty central to this whole passage. It’s a phrase we hear all the time.
And every time it comes up in scripture I say the same things: that believing in someone is about trusting in their personhood, and giving your heart to them. Before a loved one is about to do something important we look them in the eye and say with all our heart “I believe in you!”
Not I believe these 5 things that you said, or that these 6 stories about you are true. That’s all head stuff. That’s not what it means to believe.
No, the kind of believing we’re called to about Jesus is that deep heart stuff.
It’s trust, it’s accepting, it’s openness to, it’s love.
To believe is to belove.
We call that movement a “confession of faith”. Long after these scriptures were written people started writing creeds that summarized how a lot of people felt about Jesus – but they were never meant to be a head test – they were always meant to describe a movement of the heart. Much later the church twisted it even more until it became a gate that if you didn’t have all the right answers you weren’t allowed in.
It’s sad, really – because it’s light years from what Jesus was all about. In the first few centuries of Christianity there were not yet any creeds to give assent to, no orthodoxy to adhere to – but do you know what their main confession of faith was?
This! And it’s only 3-words long: Jesus is Lord!
Jesus is Lord! Jesus is central.
Jesus is the greatest influence.
Jesus’ way is my way.
Jesus is the one I follow.
Jesus is the one I strive to be like.
That renewal, that movement of the heart, that Easter resurrection in my own being sets everything else in motion.
If Jesus is Lord in your life then money can’t be, and possessions can’t be, and selfishness can’t be, and indifference can’t be.
If Jesus is Lord in your life, then you are committed to his path.
And what does that look like?
This! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
This! Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
This! Love one another as Jesus loves us.
This! Love, love, love!
So much this!