Sermon – Light in Love and Love in Light 1

Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 John 1

Farmville Presbyterian Church

April 7, 2024

– Finding ourselves honestly as a sinful people


Believe it or not, everyone who claims to follow Jesus as the Christ does not agree with each other.  Do you believe me?  We are a group of diverse people defined by disagreements.  There are a number of old, historic faith traditions that have persisted through the years among different peoples because they have gone in different ways.  This is the Catholic and Orthodox churches and others.  We are called Protestants because we PROTESTED, i.e. disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church.  Among the Protestants, we Presbyterians emerged distinct from other Protestants like Lutherans and the Reformed Churches.  Among Presbyterians, we have split with other Presbyterians so that there are maybe 15 different kinds of Presbyterians in America.  In other words, there are more Christian denominations than you can imagine.

Sounds like there is a lot of disagreement out there, doesn’t it?  Yes, we have gone our separate ways from other followers of Christ Jesus from time to time, but we have also recognized that there are commonalities and similarities that are greater than our differences.  I could serve as a pastor in an Evangelical Lutheran Church, a Reformed Church, a United Church of Christ, or in a Moravian-Reformed Church.  Technically, I could also be a pastor in a Korean Presbyterian Church, but I am not really all that eligible because I don’t speak Korean which is probably a prerequisite.

I am truly grateful, indeed, truly, truly grateful, when we are able to find common ground in important things so that people might come together and work together and live together and grow together even if they do not agree on everything.  For all its faults, the PCUSA exists because two separate traditions (UPCUSA and PCUS) saw past their differences and became one.  The linchpin, the heart, the foundation, yes – the crux, of our agreement as followers of Christ is Christ himself.  Here you go.  This should not be a shocker, but this is also why we would have a hard time sharing unity with folk like the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe in Jesus, just a different Jesus than we do.  Their idea of Jesus doesn’t square with ours.  He is not the same god in their way of thinking, and that makes it tricky.

Now imagine that very issue happened more than 1900 years ago.

Last Sunday, we gloried in the wonder and power of the Easter event and the Resurrection of Christ.  It was a grand day here and even more back then – truly amazing to have your world turned upside down in the glory of God.  What we did not see and you won’t see in any of the biblical accounts, though, it that “everyone lived happily ever after.”  Everyone did not leave the Resurrection of Jesus with the same ideas.  After Jesus the Christ appeared to his followers, they began sharing wonderful Good News.  New people got the message and shared it, too.  Still more people also began thinking about the Good News in new ways and tried to understand the Good News as it made sense to them.  Paul is one who would dispute new and different gospels in the early expressions of faith communities, and you see this warning in his letters.  Maybe Jesus died on the cross but he was just a man that God had blessed.  Or maybe Jesus never died on the cross.  Or maybe the cross was never necessary.  Or maybe Jesus was more like an angel.  Or who knows what….  In isolated pockets of ancient Christian faith, you can imagine how easily it might have been to wander off in different ideas.

That is exactly the situation in 1 John.  People disagree.  People disagree about Jesus.  People disagree about what Jesus means to us.  In the sixty-ish years since Jesus’s death and resurrection, groups changed and ideas grew.  The gospel is not something that naturally makes sense anyway.  It defies what we expect and how we have always known the world to work.  It still confounds us today, and that makes it hard to really follow Jesus as change agents of his Kingdom in this time.  The gospel is radically different from the world.

In 1 John chapter one, it is all about sin.  That is the division, the disagreement, the divergence.  The author, who is either John or someone writing in his name from his community, is worried about this group of Jesus followers who have developed some different ideas about Jesus and our life in God.  The author wants to stay in fellowship with these people, but their attitude toward sin is making it hard.  Let’s see if we can relate.

Apparently, someone has decided that if they are in the light of God, living in God’s goodness and love and perfection, that sin is no longer a problem.  If you think preachers don’t talk about sin enough anymore today, you would have never heard about it in this community.  It sounds like they earnestly believe that once you are in God, you are not capable of sinning anymore.  We don’t really know why.  Maybe they think we don’t do bad things anymore if we are in Christ or that God’s grace means we cannot do anything bad.  Who knows?  But this might not be too far off from what some people think today.

There are plenty of folk out there who are convinced that all they need to be is nice or basically good.  As long as we don’t murder or have a literal idol or an extra spouse or rob a bank, we are ok.  It does not matter that we are ugly on social media sometimes or take a little bit here and there from work or mislead others to help us get out of an uncomfortable situation or fudge numbers on taxes.  Help me out here: how bad does something have to be to be considered a sin?  It is all sin.  Yes, that’s what I thought.  Do we ever quit sinning?  No, I didn’t think so either.  Do we still need to ask for forgiveness?  Yes, all the time.  That’s why we Presbyterians are so adamant about that Prayer of Confession that many of us don’t take very seriously.  If we delude ourselves into thinking that we do not need to ask for forgiveness, that we don’t REALLY sin, then the truth is not with us, and we are not in the light of God.

Light has always been so important to biblical language.  It represents what is good and pure and right.  Light is an easy connector to God.  Of course, being in the light and walking in the light would mean being in God and walking according to God’s ways.  If we say we are people of the light, then that must mean that we are like God and do not sin.  If we live in the light, then that must mean sin doesn’t mean anything to us.  Sin is old life, dark life.  We are in the light.  That is all behind us now.  The author of John says, “NO, NO, NO!!!”  Being in the light or walking in the light DOES mean that you are in God and with God and of God, but it also means that we are HONEST before God.  Light exposes things as they truly are.  If we are going to be in the light, he says, then we have to admit that we are absolutely still sinners.  That’s when we find God’s grace and love – in the gift of forgiveness.

Truly friends, knowing God means knowing forgiveness.  The moment we lose touch with our need for forgiveness from God or each other, we are living a corrupted life of pride.  God does not need any of us to be perfect before coming to the heart of God.  We do not need to be perfect before we embrace the light.  We are given the perfection of Christ because we need it.  The moment we no longer need it is the moment we no longer need Jesus.  Needing Jesus is at the heart of who we are and what we do.

It is not always easy to admit it, though.  We all genuinely need Jesus more than we want to confess.  The founder of Presbyterian thought, John Calvin, believed we are thoroughly and completely tainted by sin, that we are incapable of doing anything without sin playing a part.  It is impossible to be completely good or pure or right in anything by ourselves.  That’s the way I was raised, and it makes sense to me.  Even in my most selfish acts, I am still pulling some pride in there or self-love or some other less flattering emotion.  We cannot have pure motives as long as we are worldly people.  We cannot have pure hearts as long as we are people who sin.

The big thing, however, and the beauty of the Easter message, is that we are not owned by our sin.  It does not define us.  We are a people of grace and love, first from God and then to others.  We have received forgiveness and continue to receive forgiveness; we have given forgiveness and will continue to give forgiveness.  As we have received, we also will give.  That is following Jesus 101.  Do for others as has been done for you.  Forgive us our debts as we forgive others.  It is all connected.  But don’t pray it if you do not mean it.  John is warning us today.  If you want to be honestly in the light of God, then we admit how much we still need the grace of God in Jesus.  We sin today; we sinned yesterday; and we will sin tomorrow.  But we are in the light of the risen Lord who takes our sin, who frees us from our sin, and gives us hearts of forgiveness.  It is beautiful to walk in the light of God to whom be the glory.  Amen.