Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The light of Christ's truth, 12.15.13
1 John 1:5-10
5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 3:14-19
14We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.
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. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him
John 1:14, 16-19
14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word.
We’re talking about truth and falsehood, truth and lies today. As I was figuring this sermon series and the scripture lessons out, I was not quite sure if the darkness here would be ignorance or lies. The Bible talks a lot about wisdom and knowledge, so there’s no shortage of insight we could look for in terms of overcoming ignorance and coming to know God.
There are many things we don’t know. We don’t know how long the world is going to last. We don’t know why bad things happen to good people. We don’t know how long we are going to be alive. We don’t know how to cure cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease or HIV. There are lots of important areas where we need more knowledge to conquer our ignorance and make the world a better, brighter place.
There’s a difference between ignorance and lies. My mom taught me when I was a kid that what makes a lie a lie is that someone says it on purpose. There’s a bad intention at the heart of a lie. A little beyond where our last passage ends, Jesus calls Satan the father of lies and says lies are Satan’s native language. Lying isn’t just incorrect, it’s wrong in a moral sense too.
Lies aren’t just a problem in our individual relationships. There are also lies deep in the fabric of our national beliefs that distort our vision of the world. Sometimes we know these lies aren’t true on the surface, but we hear them so often that they seep into our consciousness and mess us up without our even knowing they are there. These kinds of lies are sometimes the most dangerous, because we don’t even realize we’re being deceived.
So today we’re going to look at a few of the big lies that distort our life in the light of Jesus. Jesus comes as light in the darkness, bringing the light of truth into a world darkened by Satan’s lies.
Lie: “We’ve got it all together.” This lie comes up in many different forms. The heart of it is that we are doing fine on our own. One way we see this lie at work is in our instinct to put our best foot forward in church. When people ask how we’re doing we say we’re doing fine. We keep conversations at a surface level because we don’t want people to see what our real struggles are.
This lie is especially tricky, because we usually know it’s not true. We don’t feel like we have it all together, but we think maybe, if we work hard enough at looking like we have it together we’ll get by. That means we stress and struggle to present the right appearance while we’re terrified our whole life will collapse or someone will figure out that we are not who we appear to be.
We imagine too that real sin is something outside. We think about murderers or famous people whose moral failings are obvious. Sometimes instead of that we think about the things we imagine we have no control of. We think about the fact that we don’t have enough time or money, and say to ourselves that those things keep us from being the people we feel like we should be.
Truth: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We can’t be healed if we aren’t honest about our disease. We’ve got time each worship service to open up to God in silent prayer about where sin is tying us up. What do you ask God’s healing for? Are you keeping your relationship with God too safe? Are you just “confessing” things like, “I wish I had more time.” Or I’m sorry I said that word I shouldn’t have said.”
Are you really letting God into the places of your life where you need deep change? “God, I’m trapped by my need to be a good guy.” “Lord, I’m so caught up in having the right things and finding the right presents for my kids that I’m forgetting what your birth is really about.” “God, open my heart to the people I’m having trouble truly accepting as my brothers and sisters.” “Jesus, help me trust that you are real, that you really love me and that I can build my life on your teachings.” “I need your grace to free me from my guilt about the past.”
If we confess our sins, if we stop dancing around the edges of the real problems in our life and let God in, God will forgive us. Not only that, the blood of Jesus, the pure, loving sacrifice he made for us will cleanse us from all our sins and free us from what’s wrong with us. If we let him, Christ will change us, slowly maybe, but surely, more and more into his image.
Let’s shift gears a little bit; how about this lie: “Faith is what we believe. As long as we believe the right things, we’re OK with God.” A variation on this is when we struggle with our faith because we aren’t sure we believe the right things and we let that struggle distract us from what our faith calls us to do. Maybe you aren’t sure how much you “believe in” the Bible since it was written by humans so long ago. Or maybe the miracles Jesus did just seem so hard to believe that they block your engagement with the rest of the story. Or maybe you’re just not sure about heaven and hell. Because you’re not sure about those beliefs you can’t commit to following Jesus.
Truth: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
The Christian faith is about love more than anything else. That means, first,you can struggle all you want with the beliefs of Christianity. Honestly, if you keep working on living your faith, putting your values in action, while you read or listen to scripture, those beliefs will either become clearer to you or they’ll become less important.
My biggest struggles with my faith were about biblical truth. I worried that I couldn’t be a Christian if I wasn’t sure about everything the Bible says. The more I focus on the heart of the gospel, which is God’s amazing love for us, the less I worry about the details of whether Jesus really fed 5000 people with loaves and fishes. Interestingly too, the more I read the Bible and practice my faith, the more I see that the Bible speaks the truth even if I don’t think everything necessarily happened the way the Bible tells it.
God’s word speaks truth about what love means. It tells how a community should work. It reminds us that God wants to bring the world back to wholeness and peace. Don’t let your questions about what the Bible says distract you from what you know scripture calls you to do. Honestly, it’s not that complicated: Love God, which basically means open yourself to the creator, higher power, savior, Spirit, and make those deep values the actual priority in your life instead of just a side note, and love other people in a real and meaningful way.
God shows us the best image of love in Jesus’ life and death for us. That doesn’t mean we’re called to act like martyrs, but it does mean we are called to sacrifice our comfort for others. The more we do that, the more we will find freedom and grace in community.
What we believe is important, but it’s always evolving. Where our faith really matters is in how we put it into action. The details are less important than the center. Do your actions, the day to day way you live your life, reflect that love is the center of the universe? Take one step closer to that goal today and another tomorrow.
Lie: “I’ve got to get mine/I worked hard for what I have. So people who don’t have much need to work harder.” There are lots of variations on this one, but the basic idea is that our economic success is what gives us value or shows our value. Related to this is the idea that hard work is how we succeed and get ahead in the world. Like most deeply destructive lies, this one has some truth to it. Hard work is important and good, but there are people who work harder than you do who are much less successful.
Also related to this lie are other lies about how our society values people. One lie is that our society is a level playing field. In fact, prejudice and injustice are still alive and well. Women are paid less for the same job as men. Racial and ethnic minorities face serious barriers to success that white people don’t even have to think about. The people at the top in society make the rules, and those rules almost always benefit the people who make them.
Truth: “How 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? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” It sometimes seems easier to just go along with the rules of the world that we have learned. It’s easier to let prejudice slide or allow the unpopular people to be bullied or ignored. The powers in the world we see are too strong, so it’s easier to just go along to get along.
The truth is that God loves all of us. Each of us is equal in God’s sight and at the same time, there is a special place in God’s heart for the poor and oppressed. That’s a big part of the story of Christmas. God didn’t choose a palace or a wealthy family for Jesus’ birth. Instead, the Lord of creation was born to poor parents in a stable. The truth of the gospel is that God sees the world differently than we do. God sees each of us truly, no matter what lies we tell others or even ourselves. God loves each of us and wants us to repent and be free from the lies that keep us enslaved to the world’s injustice, hatred, prejudice and fear.
God calls us to put our love and faith in action by reaching out to others. We’ve got some great opportunities to do that with our angel tree and Christmas baskets. We can also do that by supporting our work with Cameron and by supporting the work of the church as a whole. Laurelton is not the most efficient charity in the world, but we are a place where people can come together from different backgrounds to form real community. That community needs resources to function and we can all be a part of that.
Amidst all the lies that we tell ourselves and that our culture tells us, Jesus breaks in as light in the darkness. He says as we continue to follow him, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” As we break free from the chains of false expectations and false demands, we step into the truth of loving community and a world being made whole by God’s amazing love. This Advent we prepare for the coming of God’s perfect love in the form of a baby. So with trust and honesty, let us make space in our hearts to welcome the Christ child.
Thanks be to God.