THAT IS WHAT WE ARE
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When we first started outlook at the letters of John we heard this quote from Martin Luther on 1 John – “This is an outstanding Epistle. It can buoy up afflicted hearts. Furthermore, it has John’s style and manner of expression so beautifully and gently does it picture Christ to us.” This is one of those passages that buoy our hearts. This is simply good news from John for the beloved friends to whom he is writing and by extension us. This is simply joyous news as we consider who we are in Christ. Let’s ask God to help us we prepare to hear it.
I want to propose that what John is calling our attention to this morning is our identity. We ’ve spoken about how this writing is a call on the part of John to steadfastness. A call to persevere. A call to be steadfast in this whole Christ following thing. We’re reminded this morning that we’re called to do this as we wait. Our faith looks back and our faith looks ahead. Christ has appeared. John has written of what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands. Christ will be revealed again. John encourages remaining in Christ. Abiding in Christ until that day. Holding fast. Standing firm.
“And now little children, abide in him so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame at his coming.” John looks forward just as gathering around this table looks forward to what’s compared to a wedding feast. This is what we await.
Of course, waiting can be hard. We talk about living in the in-between time of the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that has been established in the person of Christ and a Kingdom whose full establishment we wait for. Waiting can be difficult of course. In the meantime, the first streaks of the new dawning of the Kingdom have appeared. We’re called to walk in this light. We’re called to reflect this light. To be heralds of the Kingdom if you like, as we wait together.
So as we wait we’re called to remember our identity. We’re called to remember who we are. There are many different ways that we might answer that question “Who are you?” What defines us? We define ourselves by many things. Our names, which can be quite meaningful. Our job is a big identifier for many.
The family to whom we belong. John tells us here to remember the family to whom we belong. Our primary identifier. The thing to be valued above all other things. The thing in which we find our value.
It’s important because we hear messages and face pressures that tell us to find our value in other places and other things. How much money we make. What we buy. How productive we are. There was a rally at the recent TIFF which was in support of having more women represented in film. This can only be a good thing surely. One of the organizers said something though, that gave me pause. She said, “We judge our value by seeing ourselves reflected in the popular culture.” The merits of having equal representation aside, one’s representation in the popular culture should not be where we are finding our value.
Where is the follower of Christ to find his or her value? In this – being born of God. There are things for us to do in following Christ of course. We’ll talk about that in a little while. There are things to do. There is an imperative in following Christ. Before that, though there is God. Someone has said that before the imperative there is the indicative. There is who God is. There is what God has done and is doing and will do. What is this thing then that God has done?
He’s adopted us into the family.
We’ve been born of him.
John has used other imagery and language when it comes to how we relate to God. He’s talked about knowing God. He’s talked about being in Christ. He’s talked about being in the light. He’s talked about abiding. Remaining. Now he’s talking about how God relates to us. He’s talked about God loving us(2:5) and our loving one another (2:10). Now he turns his attention to God’s love for us.
He does this in a brand new way. We’ve heard God being referred to as a parent. The prophet Hosea put it like this “When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt, I called my son…. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” Jesus uses the same kind of imagery in the Lord’s Prayer. God is compared to a father in the parable of the lost son. The waiting father. God’s love is referenced in places like John 3:16 – so famous – and in sayings of Jesus like “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
All these threads lead to this explicit statement on John’s part. A statement that buoys our hearts. A statement that invites us to stop. To contemplate. To listen. To look. To see. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God…” The message isn’t new but the way John is putting it is brand new. See what love the Father has given us. See what great love the Father has lavished on us. Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us. What manner of love. The word here for what kind or what manner literally means “from what country.” From where could such a love come? Only from God. Let us not lose a sense of wonder about this. Let us stop and look. May God give us eyes to see.
That we should be called children of God. This is a result of a gift. This is grace. It’s not because of anything we’ve done to deserve the gift. We are not born anew into God’s family because of anything we’ve done. It’s an excellent metaphor really. Babies are not born through any effort of their own. They’re born as the result of a lot of effort on the part of others. We are not to be self-congratulatory about being called children of God. It’s on the part of Christ and the manifestation of God’s love in Christ who has made it possible for us to be called children of God.
It’s not only something we’re called of course. It’s not simply a title. We know that titles alone can be fairly meaningless. John adds “… and that is what we are.” A straight-up declaration of this wonderful truth. That is what we are. This is what we become when we respond to the marvellous gift of God’s love. Oh how God loves us!
There is a tension here of course. “The reason that the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” We’ve spoken about how John was reacting to those who had left the church. Those who were teaching and living something apart from what had been heard from the beginning. We’re not so much dealing with opposition in the church or schisms. We’re maybe not dealing so much with personal opposition. Canadians are very tolerant after all.
What meaning does this have for us today? We might think of the overarching messages that we hear in our world. Some of the foundations on which we’re encouraged to base so much of our lives. Consumerism. Individualism. Forces that try to tell us that our identity is based on something else. That our ultimate value – ultimate meaning – is to be found somewhere else.
So we’re called to remember the family into which we’ve been adopted. We’re called to remember whose children we are. “Beloved” is how John starts his next phrase. Remember that you are beloved. I never quite took the meaning of this when you’d hear a preacher at a wedding or funeral start with “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” It’s a reminder to those gathered that they are beloved of God. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” There are things we don’t know. This is another thing about the Christian life which we must make very clear. We must be quite humble about our not knowing. There are many who say that they know how Christ’s return will happen and when and so on. We need to be humble about our not knowing and recognize that we see through a mirror dimly now.
At the same time, we must always look to what we do know. “What we do know is this; when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Christ will be revealed. We will see him as he is. We will be like him. We will be like him. We will be changed. This perishable body will put on imperishability. This mortal body will put on immortality. We’re God’s children now. This transformative process is already underway. Paul put it like this in his 2nd letter to the people of Corinth “…we are being transformed into the same image (that of Christ) from one degree of glory to another for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)
This is our hope. This is what we look forward to with confident expectation. Is this your hope this morning? If so let it be cause for joy. For thankfulness. For peace. If it’s not you’re invited to make Christ your hope. To respond to this gift of love with thankfulness and count yourself a child of God.
To be made pure in him. To purify ourselves. This language comes from ritual practice. Purification rituals. We’re not that familiar with them. We read about them in the OT. Washing. Clearing the house of leaven before Passover, that kind of thing. Purification rituals that pointed ahead to the purification of our hearts that Christ would bring. That the Holy Spirit would bring. The answer to the Psalmist’s prayer to create in him a clean heart. There are things for us to do. Yes, there are. Hold onto this hope. Hold onto this confident expectation and purify yourselves by, as one writer put it, living in response to God’s love and in obedience to Christ’s commands.
To love one another as God loves us. To be living reminders to one another that we are dearly beloved of God. Someone first told us about the good news of Christ. Someone first showed us God’s love too. In doing so to become more like him. To leave ourselves open to the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in us. The rituals in which we take part together – worshipping, gathering around the family table as we did last week. Turning to God in praise and thankfulness. Starting our day with thankfulness. Ending our day with confession and a plea for mercy from our Heavenly Father who is merciful and whose children we are.
We gathered around this table last week. One of Christ’s commands was to “do this in remembrance of me.” In remembrance of how we have been made children of God. In recognition that it is in Christ that we are made one. In expectation of that table, we will sit around one day when he is revealed, when we will see him when we will be made like him. Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of his love. As we follow Christ friends may we be coming to an ever greater knowledge of who we are in Christ.