Sermon – Light in Love and Love in Light 5

Isaiah 44:1-8; 1 John 5

Farmville Presbyterian Church

May 5, 2024

– Finding a witness for what’s true


This week we come to the end of this series on 1 John.  It is an interesting letter, and I hope that comes out in the sermons.  It is difficult to gauge how well sermons are received.  Often what I feel like I said is not necessarily what others hear.  Some of that is the Holy Spirit, and some of that is just distracted listening.  If you ever hear anything incredibly insightful, that is what I meant!  For those of you who might be sitting on the fence as to whether I should skip to the end today, I could offer to go right to the benediction.  We would have to skip the last hymn, though.  Maestro Scott might not appreciate that.

This notion of skipping to the end makes me think of something that I have honestly never considered before.  When I do offer the benediction at the end, I raise my hands as I express the hopes for us as we go forth.  Why?  What’s with the arms and hands?  It’s what I have always seen and what I have always done, but I do not know why we necessarily do it.  Preacher school did not cover that.  Some people just do one hand.  Somehow, the gesture is supposed to signify blessings.  I appreciate a two-handed blessing with arms extended out, though.  The only other time I see this happen is in a hug.

I have been working through a biography on George Washington, known for his serious and statesmanlike demeanor.  His composure was famously and profoundly impactful and was perfect for the execution of the Revolutionary War.  I haven’t gotten to the presidency, yet, but because of the times and social customs and his stand-off-ness, no one dared touched him.  He was not a touchy feely guy and did not invite social contact.  Then came the crazy Frenchman Lafayette.  Lafayette was in his teens when he met Washington, and it was love at first sight for both of them.  It was Lafayette who walked right up to the General and gave him a full French hug, including a double kiss.  If I had been standing there then, my mouth would have hit the floor, but Washington did not seem to mind.  In fact, he loved Lafayette as the child he never had.

The power of a hug is the power of love.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the benediction is giving everyone a hug in God – a big, holy hug before you head out into the world.  1 John is also a hug from God, a love letter, and chapter 5 brings that hug to a close before sending us all out.

We live in a world that presents truth as fiction and fiction as truth.  You have to be very skeptical of all kinds of things that come to us on television, on the internet, over the radio, and even somewhat in person.  For instance, strangers coming with requests for assistance may or may not be honest in their pleas for help, but they deserve some investigating.  One of the best ways to do some investigative work is with the help of witnesses.  Our entire court system is heavily reliant on witnesses.  We have ways to swear people to truth, ways to hold witnesses accountable, and people can be convicted or cleared on the evidence of witnesses.  Witnesses are huge for finding out the truth.

We have witnesses here, and this is a key point in 1 John 5.  Witness #1 is water.  Jesus was baptized as were so many others then.  Baptism marks us as part of God’s family, and John loves talking about us as part of God’s family.  This is the community of Fatherly love.  Baptism is that invitation and that seal that says to the world that we belong to God.  But there is another witness.  That witness is blood.  This one is a little tougher.  It is the death of Jesus.  In fact, our two sacraments are these elements.  In Baptism, we wash those new to the life of faith.  In Communion, we share in the cup of the new covenant poured in his blood.  We share in the blood of Christ because we believe in his powerful salvation and in his saving love.  It is John’s Gospel that describes Jesus giving forth both water and blood on the cross as he is pierced.  This happening in John 19:34 is underlined with bold letters in how it is told in the story.  Water and blood are both important symbols of life and death.  These are valuable images.  But without the last witness, they are just images.  It is the Holy Spirit that gives these images life and meaning and value.  Together, Spirit, water, and blood are crucial for pointing us to the salvation of Christ Jesus.  They prove that Jesus is true.  His salvation is real.  He was real in a world that deals in lies.  He is true for us.

Do not forget that love overcomes the world.  We are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ.  No worldly god would sacrifice his or her life in such a lowly and scandalous way for the love of creatures.  Jesus died like the worst of the worst, yet this is how we celebrate Jesus.  No one would make this up who actually cared for Jesus.  We not only embrace this truth, but it is also our salvation.  This is our greatest celebration.  Any God who would do this for us, will hold us in love forever.  So much of this chapter is about seeing the truth and holding it with the embrace of faith.

To be clear, how many people would honestly celebrate how much they had failed, how much they had lost, how much they had had stolen, how much they had been deceived, or how much they had let down others?  We try to hide our faults and failures and deficiencies, yet we trumpet the failure of Jesus as our greatest triumph.  Yes, death on a cross was a sign of success by NOONE’S standard.  God picked divine foolishness to shame the wisest of human wisdom.  This would not be our core message if it were not actually true.

This is the note that John leaves us as he brings his letter to a close.  He says, “Please, please, please remember what is most true.  Remember what is most important.  Jesus is our hope and salvation and our connection to God.”  John also snuck in some strange things in there, too, that were either an issue for that congregation reading this letter or for the person writing the letter.  Who knows?  I will not tell you to not bother praying for anyone or their sin.  Please do pray for everyone and whatever they do because that is the loving thing.  It can never hurt to pray for someone having trouble.  Give them that holy hug.

Interestingly, the very last verse of the whole letter is to watch out for idols.  We have read the entire letter, and do you remember idols ever coming up in any of the chapters anywhere?  Nope.  The sentence begins by recalling we are God’s little children, the same term Jesus uses for the disciples.  We are God’s family, remember?  The word for idols really means whatever is false.  We think of idols as false depictions of God, but idols are about what is false.  Living with idols is living a lie.  Here, John wants us to recommit to the truth.  He has just made point after point concerning what is true.  Now, he warns to never leave the truth.  Beware for the lies out there that might steal your hearts and your faith.

The people hearing this as it was read back then were in a place full of temples and statues and gods of every description.  Even the Christians could not agree on what was important or who Jesus really was.  It was easy to get caught up in new ideas and new thinking and fancy arguments.  John cuts through it all with the most important message – love.  The God of Christ is about one thing, love.  To focus anywhere else as our starting point is to pursue an idol.

If you have ever been in a tough spot, you knew how much you needed good love.  If you ever wondered or worried about how you might move forward in life, you needed good love.  If you ever felt alone and tiny in a world with every kind of flashy, shiny thing, you needed real love.  If you ever hit rock bottom, you know you needed good love.  Where the world saw no hope, God provided a way.  We are held in the arms of Jesus, in the embrace of living love.  This is our blessing this day that hold us now and for all eternity.  We are held today, and we are held together with our Lord and all of our Lord’s children, now and forever.  Amen.