God taking shape before us

How does the Gospel of John shape our faith?  The first letter of John gives us some clues.

Full Text: 

God taking shape before us

March 12, 2014 – I John 1:1-4

 

            I had a colleague in Appleton who came to our text study.  There were a few different times that Tom raised a particular question that always intrigued me.  I can’t say we always came up with much of an answer, but it was a question that was evocative for me.

            We would be talking about the text for preaching for the upcoming Sunday.  And Tom would say, “What would the community look like that lived this text?”

            Now with some texts it was easier.  With straight teaching texts – especially with texts of ethical teaching – it wasn’t so hard.  With some of the stories of Jesus when he was showing us how he wanted us to live, it was also a bit easier – not only the stories he told us, but also the healing and feeding miracles. 

With the gospel of John it was harder.  So much of John seems to be esoteric teaching – conversations where we’re not sure where Jesus is headed, the great “I AM” statements – all of which are really a call to believe that Jesus is the true Messiah of Israel and of the world.

One of the things that makes this question important is that we have lived so long with all four gospels that it’s easy to forget – even for me! – that in the early church, among the earliest followers of Jesus, each gospel was written for a specific community.  So, a community would have only one gospel – Matthew or Mark or Luke or John.

So, what would the community look like that lived this text – the gospel of John?  Or, to put it another way, if we only had the gospel of John, what would our church and our life as Christians be like?

I think that I John is a record of early Christians seeking to do just this – seeking to live out the gospel of John, seeking to live according to this story of Jesus.

The connection between the gospel and the letter are heard right away.  The opening lines of I John echo the opening lines of the gospel.  This section of the letter is shorter and simpler.  There are themes in the prologue of the gospel that are not present in the letter.  But I think the opening wants to develop a similar resonance with its hearers.

Here are the opening words of the gospel:

In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being was life, and the life was the light of all people.

And now the opening words of I John:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…

I don’t believe that those who are behind this letter – the “we” who are writing – were actually present during the life of Jesus.  Nevertheless, the Word who is Jesus is very real to them, tangibly real.   And it is from this experience that they write.  The “word of life” that they are declaring and that they have experienced is not the Word made flesh, but rather the word of proclamation, the good news about Jesus, who is life, who has become tangibly real, transformationally real.  They have experienced transformation in this word.

The letter goes on:

… we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

 

They are writing in this way, in part, to establish their authority.  But they are also writing because they want to share this with their hearers.  They want their hearers to share in the same communion they have with the Father and the Son, Jesus.  This communion brings them joy, but sharing with others will increase their joy.

What is of first important is this: our relationship with God.  Everything is built from here.  This is what the Gospel of John makes abundantly clear.  And the Gospel also makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is at the heart of this relationship.  Everything Jesus does is designed for the purpose of bringing us back into relationship with God. 

 

So, I’d like you to imagine for a moment (feel free to close your eyes) that there is a table in front of you – a somewhat small, circular table.  There are two figures seated there. These figures are God the Father and God the Son.  You don’t need to imagine lots of detail.  That can remain unclear.  What is abundantly clear to you though is the tremendous love between the Father and the Son.  It is an undying love, a love which goes on and on and has no ending.  Yet the two figures are not lost in each other’s love.  They are no fixated on each other.  They are turned toward you. 

Now you see that there is a third figure – also part of this love – standing on your side of the table, holding out a chair.  This is God the Holy Spirit, inviting you to take a seat and enter this circle of love.  So, you sit down.  You are held in their gaze.  You are bathed now in this love.  Nothing else matters.  It does not matter what you have done in the past.  It does not matter what will happen to you in the future.  You are immersed in this infinite love that is the source of life.  You feel as though you are the only person in the universe that matters to God right now.

And yet, there are other people in the universe.  Love that is not shared is partial.  Joy that is not shared is incomplete.   So, take a moment to include others in this circle – others who are close to you, others who are far away, others whom you know well, others whom you know only a little.  And amazingly, as you include others in this circle, it does not limit the love that is shared.  It increases it.  It expands it.

 

Our relationship with God is the starting point for everything else.  It is the ground of our own faith.  It is the basis of our community of faith.  It is what shapes who we are and what we do.

It is also where the gospel of John begins and it is where the first letter of John begins. Let me read it again, this time from “The Message:”

From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands.  The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen!  And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.