210418 – Unlovingness

Yr B ~ Easter 3 ~ 1 John 3:1-7

We’re going to be spending the season of Easter going through the love letter called 1st John. It’s actually more of a sermon – now turned into a bunch of sermons! It’s meant to be an encouragement to a church that’s having a rough go and needs some love. I thought that resonated pretty strongly in this seemingly never-ending season of Covid-tide. Our reading today begins with a heartwarming affirmation.

1 John 3:1 “What marvellous love the Father has extended to us!”
Let’s just sit with that for a second. God has extended love to us. Extended here carries the sense of a gift. God has gifted us with love. We have love because God gives it. God’s gift is love. You can say it all sorts of different ways and each one sounds better than the previous one as it washes over us in wave after wave of blessing.

Richard Rohr says, “Clearly, you are participating in a Love that’s being given to you. You are not creating this. You are not generating this. It is being generated through you and in you and for you. You are participating in something larger than yourself, and you are just allowing it and trusting it for the pure gift that it is.”

The next words in the translation we’re using today are “Just look at it…”
It’s about awareness. God gives love – look at it – see it – notice it. Not sure how? Close your eyes and breathe deeply and feel it! (deep breath) Drink God’s love in. Let it fill you up. It really is marvellous! “What marvellous love God has given to us!” In fact, we’ve been extended so much love by the Holy Mystery that we name God that we get to be called children of God. We are children of God like a hippie is a child of the 60’s – utterly and completely infused by the source that shapes our being.

1 John 3:1-2 We’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. (all of us!)
But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who God is or what God’s up to.
But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning.

‘Children of God’ is such a rich image. We’re all children, we may not all be parents but we have all been children – at least once! The problem is that not all of us had warm, loving parents. Some people’s childhoods are horrific, or at least unhappy.

But unlike our imperfect human parents God’s parenthood is pure holiness – and all those qualities of a beautiful childhood that one hopes and wishes for are present in God’s parenthood. There is nurture, there is guidance, there is the requirement of obedience, there is comfort, and most of all there is unlimited, overflowing, unconditional love. (Well, I guess there is one condition – you have to accept it and embrace it. I can give you a winning lottery ticket but I can’t force you to cash it in. That’s how God’s love works too – you’ve gotta claim it!)

And here’s the awesome part – the scripture says that all that’s just the beginning. I mean, that’s pretty much enough – that we are unconditionally loved and nurtured by the Source of all Being is pretty spectacular – but verse 2 continues saying “And that’s just the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up!”

I love that the idea that we’re children of God is not the end point of our spiritual journey, but the beginning. Being God’s child is not our goal, it’s our birthright – our starting point – our foundation. And with that as our launching pad who knows where we’ll end up! The future is unwritten – your future is unwritten, it’s not predestined and pre-decided. God hasn’t planned your life out for you. God has planted Godself at the centre of your being, and is inviting you to embrace that and run with it – together – you and God – God in you.

Listen to all of verse 2 now: “But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that as Christ is openly revealed (in us) we’ll see him (we’ll realize it) – and in seeing him (in noticing and embracing him and his Way), we become like him.”

That’s called Christ-likeness. It’s the goal of our journey – our never-ending, ever deepening goal. We’ll be like him because we are already like him – we’re family, remember. We’re children of God because God has extended God’s love to us, not because God wants something from us, or because God is being magnanimous, but because love is God’s DNA, and since we’re made in God’s image we have God’s DNA in us – like Jesus.

How many times have you found yourself noticing that in some ways you’re turning into your parent? (Like it or not!) And I don’t just mean physically – I mean mannerisms, sayings, and whatnot. That old saying “like father like son ~ like mother like daughter” is true on many levels. That may not excite you if your relationship with your parent wasn’t good. But what if the parent you’re talking about is God?!

God is your holy parent. You are God’s child.
So what does the expression “like parent like child” mean to you now?!
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
Who knows how we’ll end up, but what we do know is that as the Christ is revealed to or in us, that we’ll become like him.
We’ll become like him. That’s life-changing!

And then the writer of 1 John goes and messes it all up. Here’s verses 4 and 6 in the NRSV:

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
…In (Christ) there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

Here we were having a lovely chat about how God is love, and how we’re children of God and then wham(!) we get smacked with a bunch of downer stuff about sin.

Or is it?
I’m going to ask you to take an interpretive leap with me. In my theological worldview the word sin is very important. But to quote Inigo Montoya – “I do not think it means what you think it means!”

So what does sin mean?
In this passage it says “Sin is lawlessness.” Ok, but for me that’s not very helpful – and can be problematic.

Here’s the leap.
Instead of saying sin is about lawlessness, what if we said “Sin is unlovingness?”

For me, sin is that which is contrary to God – God’s being, God’s way, God’s character, God’s essence.
What is our constant affirmation about God? That God is Love. Capital L.
If God is love – then sin – that which is contrary to God – must be ‘unlovingness’

And therefore, to be like God – to be Christ-like – to be a child of God – is to be loving.
And logically, to be sinful is to be contrary to that – which is unloving.
How do you know if you’re like God? If you’re loving!
How do you know if you’re not like Christ? Unlovingness!

Sinfulness, unlovingness, is not once-and-for-all or all-or-nothing. It’s about orientation to God’s Way and how we do our best to respond to God’s love – by loving.
But we are oh so human. We all have our moments when unlovingness bursts out of us.
Hopefully those occasions are rare – but they do happen – to each and every one of us.

This is why I like The Message translation better for this passage. Instead of it reading so cut and dried, in or out, it reads like faithfulness ought to be.

There is no sin (unlovingness) in (Christ), and sin is not part of his program (Way, worldview, character, teaching).
No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin.

Yes. I can get behind that.
No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of unlovingness.
Not perfect, not never slipping up – but not making a practice of it.

As followers of Jesus’ Way – as children of God – as possessors of Love in our DNA – we are called to practice love, and not practice unlovingness – which is sin.

Ok. Cool. Big question: What does it mean to love?
Does that mean I have to like everyone? (No.)
Does that mean I have to do what everyone asks? (Nope.)
Can love say no? (Yes, it can.)
Can love walk by? (That’s complicated. Sometimes love has to walk by, but most times love should stay and love.)

Let me put it this way:
Unlovingness means to have a heart that isn’t troubled by such things!

Unlovingness only cares about itself, its own needs, its own concerns.
Love, on the other hand, wants the best for the other, not necessarily the best for me.
Interestingly, the word ‘love’ does not appear even once in this scripture passage – and yet for me it’s entirely about loving-kindness – lovingness!

And that’s about it. Short and sweet.
God is love. We are God’s children, and therefore we are love too. And we know that love loves. It must. That’s its essence and its purpose. Lovingness.

That which is contrary to love – unlovingness – is what theology has called sin. It’s a hard reality in every person’s life. When we love, we are expressing our true identity in Christ – and when we are unloving, we are living contrary to God.

If you’re struggling with how to love people – especially those people who are sometimes hard to love (you know who they are in your life) – then you are probably on the right track. If you were an unloving person you wouldn’t give those folks a second thought.

No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of unlovingness.
And those of us who do strive mightily to practice love?

We’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.
But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who God is or what God’s up to.
But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning.

And this is only the beginning of our exploration of 1 John through the season of Easter.
I hope you’ll feel renewed and encouraged by the journey.