This is the text of the message I prepared for Yallourn Uniting Church gathered at Newborough on Sunday 13th May 2018. It was a communion Sunday and the last Sunday before Pentecost.
Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19.
In the time between Ascension and Pentecost the Church lives alone. As far as the lectionary is concerned the Easter season is almost at a close and today is our last Sunday in white. According to Luke’s timetable in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus returned to Heaven for the final time last Thursday and he will no longer appear amongst the disciples in the way that he has been doing since he surprised the Cleopas family in Emmaus. Next Sunday is Pentecost, coinciding with the Jewish festival of Shavuot, and we shall celebrate with all the churches of the West the sending of the Spirit upon the women and men in Upper Room. But that’s last Thursday, and next Sunday. Today and for the week to come, we live waiting for the fulfilling of the promise.
So, with Jesus gone and the Spirit yet to come, how should we live? What is the Way of Christ when the Christ is no longer among us? How do we live Life in The Spirit when The Spirit has not yet brought God’s new life?
Well, in 1 John 5:12 it says that “The Way” and “The Life” are found in having the Son of God. If you have the Son you have life, but if you do not have the Son then you do not have life. Many scholars agree that First John was written about a group of people who had once participated in the life of the John church, but who had left the church to follow another philosophical movement called “Gnosticism”. These people were still in contact with some of their old friends who had remained with the John church and they trying to draw these friends away from the gospel and into their gnostic fellowship. Hence this letter wherein the writer, speaking to people personally brought to faith by John or by people who had themselves been brought to faith by John, writes to keep the core of faithful ones still holding to Christ focussed even more strongly upon Jesus as the only saviour. To have the Son is to believe and trust the story about God that you have been told, the story told by John, he writes. The message for them applies to us gathered today: you have heard the truth and you have committed yourself to that truth by choosing to life your life as if what you have been told is true is true. And what have we been told, what is it that those who heard John and those who have read the scriptures in the twenty-first century have believed? In what have we placed our trust? The gospel that God came in human form as Jesus, and that in Jesus we see modelled the ways of God in the world. We who have seen Jesus, or who have believed the testimony of those who saw Jesus, believe that Jesus lived as if God were on earth. Jesus lived like God would live if God were human. And, Jesus lived like a follower of God would live if God were true. Now since we believe that God is true, and that the life of Jesus was the life of God-as-human, then the way ahead is clear. Believe what Jesus said about God, live as Jesus lived with respect for God and God’s creation, and model and teach this for others so that they can believe and trust as we came to believe and trust through the modelling and teaching of others. Those who have God have eternal life, not just life after death (although there is that) and not just life which goes on forever (although there is that too) but life without restriction. Not just a long life, but a wide life and a tall life and deep life and a rich life – this is the promise whereby God gave us eternal life…and life in the Son we read about in 1 John 5:11. The key is believing that Jesus was who the Church says he was – Emmanuel, God in dusty skin. Not just dusty in that Jesus was a brown skinned man, olive at least, not Anglo-Saxon, but dusty in that Jesus lived in a rural area in first century Palestine where there was dust in the wind and Jesus would have copped a face-full at times. God lived on earth, and God lived well; there’s your model for life but also there’s your message. God loves us too much to leave us at a distance, God came close and God lived amongst humankind, pitching a tent and hanging around for more than thirty years of anonymity and about three and a half years of modelling the God-oriented life and revealing God-directing truth.
In our prayers this morning we heard how Psalm 1 speaks of happiness, which is delight in the ways of God and not in the way of human wisdom or arrogance. More fully it means the delight of blessing arising from being in a right relationship with God and living as one whose steps are laid upon the right path. “Blessed are those who walk with God” might be the theme of the entire Psalter, and here it is found in the very first of the Psalms. Those who feed on God will not wither says Psalm 1:3, rather they will flourish and be fruitful. Fullness of life, stability and productivity are found in a life oriented towards God. The wise person Psalm 1:2 tells us is the one who studies Torah, who hears and reads and meditates on the precepts of God. The Orthodox tradition sees Psalm 1 as an accurate description of the life of Jesus prior to his coming, a prophecy of Jesus who is “the man” of Psalm 1:1. This is the testimony of John Chrysostom and St Augustine and this passage sets out how Jesus the blessed man was different to all other men. In Psalm 1 we therefore get a clear example of how to live, and how not to live. I’m not entirely convinced by the Orthodox argument, which probably why I’m, preaching here today and not across the river with the Serbian Orthodox congregation; I don’t think the Psalmist in the tenth century before Christ was primarily writing about Christ, but the idea of parallel ways to live where Jesus is the ikon pointing towards the way of illumination rather than the way of darkness seems like a good fit. So, if you want to fulfil 1 John 5 you could do worse than emulate Psalm 1, but you probably couldn’t do much better.
Or could you?
How could we possibly be better followers of God than by emulating scriptural imperatives for the holy and blessed life? Well it’s quite simple, we read the gospels and we emulate Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, Psalm 1 is a brilliant model, but since we are Christians why don’t we take it a step further and model ourselves on John 17 and the Jesus we find there?
Jesus made God known to everyone God brought into Jesus’ life (John 17:6) by speaking the truth of what Jesus knew about God (John 17:8). Then, having done that and everything else that he did, Jesus prayed one last time for his band of brothers, the eleven of them who remained, before he lead them all into Gethsemane where the will of God took over. The task of making God known was given to the eleven, and to those to whom the eleven preached. The whole life of Jesus was about proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven, or we might say today the Commonwealth of God. God desires shalom for the world; unity, peace, grace, restoration of what has been lost and broken and damaged and hurt. Jesus taught this, and he modelled it by his compassion and his miracles. But Jesus’ work was left incomplete in that he did not speak to every living member of creation. Jesus’ death and resurrection as a means of grace was sufficient for all, but the lived-out message of proclamation and example was left to the Church, the beneficiaries of redemptive love and revelatory life.
So, in grasping all that let go of none of it. As 1 John 5:13 says, having obtained eternal life through grace you must maintain your obedience. You will not lose eternity through disobedience, but you will lose fullness and depth in life through apathy toward God’s instruction. Christian life is not a one-off moment where you do the altar call thing with Billy Graham or Brian Houston, and then go on with nothing changed except an “Admit One” ticket to Heaven in your spiritual pocket. You who have heard the story of Jesus and believed the story of Jesus must live the story of Jesus and be Emmanuel to someone else: God-with-him or God-with-her as the case may be. Remember that God-with-us is God-with-you, for you and for those with whom you live and move and have your being.
So, get about it, for love’s sake.