Sermon: I Need God's Help
St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3.1-7, 16-24; Luke 24.36b-48
Our reading from 1 John begins, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (3.1; NRSV). But just before writing this, John the Elder wrote, “And now, little children, abide in him. So that when he is revealed we may have a confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming” (1 John 2.28; NRSV). We also encounter this idea of not being put to shame in Romans 9.30-33 where Paul observes that Gentiles who did not strive for righteousness through the works of the law have nonetheless received righteousness through faith. In contrast, the children of Israel strove for righteousness based on the law, yet they did not attain righteousness. Why not? Because they did not strive for righteousness on the basis of faith, but on the basis of works. Paul tells us they stumbled over the stumbling stone prophesied in Isaiah 28.16: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9.33; NRSV).
We are children of God through our faith in Jesus Christ. In John 1.12-13, we read: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (NRSV).Having been born of faith, having become children of God, as both John and Paul note, we will not be put to shame at Christ’s coming, at his glorious return.
John further notes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3.2a; NRSV). We do not know exactly how we will be transformed at Christ’s coming, but John tells us what we do know – “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 32b-3; NRSV). Given the hope of eternal life in Christ, we seek to become more like Christ. What about sin? If we are children of God, where do we stand in relation to sin?
John says “Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil . . . The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them, they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters” (1 John 3.7-10; NRSV). But don’t we all sin? Don’t we all transgress and fall short of the mark?
Paul struggles with this very question in Romans 7.15-20 when he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . .As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me . . . that does it” (NRSV). While we may will to purify ourselves, we cannot do so of our own accord. Purification takes place through desiring the Holy Spirit and God’s grace work within us.
When we wrestle with our sins, it is easy to get down on ourselves. We confront such questions as: Why can’t I love people as God calls me to love them? Why can’t I seem to forgive them as God has forgiven me? We say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” These are more than idle words; they remind us of our spiritual condition; when prayed in sincerity, they force us to take spiritual inventory!
We could say John is rather ruthless! He reminds us the message we have heard from the beginning – “love one another” (1 John 3. 11; NRSV) and he follows with, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another” (Vs. 14a; NRSV). Do we truly love one another? What about the person who has wounded me more than any other? I do not know about you, but I still have some work to do on that one – I need God’s help!
John is like the surgeon who cuts deep to heal! He now tells us what true love looks like: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 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?” (1 John 3.16-17; NRSV). Ouch, that hurts!
Having cut deeply, John now eases up a bit: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3.18-20; NRSV). Did you catch that – love in action reassures “our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us”? If our hearts do not condemn us, according to John, then we have boldness before God.
John then gives us a two-part commandment: “that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (I John 3.23; NRSV). John then tells us, “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us” (I John 3.24; NRSV).
Thus, we have come full circle: We began by noting we are children of God who are to abide in Christ that we may not experience shame at Christ’s coming. We do not know what we will be when Christ comes, but we do know, and have hope, that we will be like him – that we will join Christ in the resurrection. In that we have this hope, we are called to purify ourselves, to rid ourselves of sin through the agency of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace, and to fully embrace love. When our heart condemns us for our failure to embrace love, we are to love not merely in word or speech but in truth and action. In so doing, we abide in Christ and he abides in us.
Some people might think living the Christian life is easy. When we make a full commitment, it is anything but! I believe it is the greatest challenge we will ever confront. In John 15 (the Gospel of John), Jesus says that he is the true vine and his Father is the vinegrower who removes every branch that does not bear fruit and prunes every branch that grows fruit that it might grow more fruit. The branch can only bear fruit if it abides in the vine. Let us encourage one another to abide in Christ that we may realize the hope of the resurrection.