Lesson 18: I John

Word Made FleshA good way to review the Gospel of John is to take ten minutes for a read of the First Letter of John. It makes very clear what the evangelist is trying to say.

It is clear that he is responding to doctrine he feels is false. However, he is not presenting a list of proper teachings so much as a way of life that trumps any doctrine. That is the way the early Church read John when they called themselves the People of the Way.

John is talking about promise more than doctrine when he proclaims God has been with us, among us, and in us since the very beginning. When we have ignored or misrepresented God’s presence, we live in way that leads to self-destruction. Now we can see clearly God’s Way in Jesus’ life (1 John 1: 1-4). He demonstrated how to live in the Image of God by which we were all created.

John claims Jesus’ life reveals “God is love” (1 John 4:7- 21) from first to last. Love could be considered the first word spoken and will certainly be the last. Love then is what holds everything together, what makes the world go round.

Any other reading of God, in spite of how much it might seem prudent, falls short. The power politics, economics, and social relationships we see all around us are corruptions of the image, denials of true humanity.

We follow Jesus by living the way he lived. In John’s letter he summarizes “love” as giving ourselves for one another, whether by sharing our possessions or sacrificing our lives (1 John 3: 11-17). Jesus demonstrates that God is always into healing the creation we have diseased and calls us to continue that ministry. He promises to provide support in this endeavor by being present for us in the washing of baptism, the feeding of Eucharist, and every part of our daily lives.

John expects us to grow in grace as we live as Jesus lived. As we become more and more like him, we become more and more like God (3: 1-3). Our lives are to be the witness of what God wants from humanity, a loving community. Recent surveys shows young adults in our time and place find their identity in their jobs. John believes Christians should find their identity in the Church community.

That means, in the first place, that we are to be lights shining in the darkness of the world, the best proof for God available (1 John 2: 7-11). But it, also, means we are to inspire others to join this “beloved community,” to use Martin Luther King’s words; and so to provide a way that heals the world.

Of course, this raises all sorts of questions. Our Church communities fall far short of demonstrating this kind of witness. Many of us as individuals do not feel worthy to witness as to what a child of God should be. John counters this by observing that even if our hearts condemn us, God’s promise is greater (1 John 3: 18-22).

We question if this is any way to govern our communities or protect our families. Still John offers no compromise. He calls for the unconditional love that characterizes Jesus and claims this is the Way to the abundant life we all crave.

John shows no signs of naivety. His speaking of love as the willingness to die for your friends is not looking at the world through “rose-colored glasses.” He knows love involves sacrifice, returning good for evil. He knows the World rejects God’s Way. I expect he would agree with Gandhi’s list of the modern world’s sins that Rita recently sent me: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice; and politics without principle.

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