Team Jesus (“Shrunk Sermon” on 1st John 2:1-6)

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

Good news! Our sins are forgiven!

But then, if we read ahead in John’s letter, we may feel like we encounter bad news, especially when we get to statements like these:

No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. . . . Everyone who commits sin is a child 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.

Selections from 1 John 3:6-9 (NRSV)

What if the good news is that our past sins are forgiven and only our past sins? What if we are given a fresh start, but we had better not ever sin after that? Maybe we will be relieved to know that God’s Spirit indwells us and will keep us from sin? Most of us, however, would still have great anxiety since we know from experience that we still sin. Or am I the only one? In fact our anxiety may grow if we think that perhaps we have chased God’s Holy Spirit away somehow.

As a way to think through this, let us think of ourselves as being hockey players, perhaps we can think of ourselves as playing for the Boston Bruins. Now let us think of God as having a hockey team, that our Lord is the owner, general manager, and coach. Of course we can think of the Toronto Maple Leafs as being that team!

Given this analogy, what would forgiveness from God look like? We may think that God comes to us and says that any goal we have ever scored, or helped our team to score against his team is forgiven. We might say “well thank you for letting bygones be bygones.” But then we keep playing for the Bruins, and keep trying to score on the Leafs. John is telling us in his letter that this is not how faith in Jesus works. It is not just about the forgiveness of sins.

The words of Jesus were really important to John, they should be to us too. So let us take a moment to look at the last words of Jesus recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:45-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Let us note here that it is not just forgiveness of sins that is to be proclaimed, but also repentance, meaning a change of mind, a change of path.

Now let us consider the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

Forgiveness of sins is not even mentioned here in Matthew! Following Jesus is, paying attention to the commandments of Jesus is.

Jesus would have said a lot of things once risen form the dead, so Luke and John are not recording the very last words of Jesus so much as emphasising the elements of Jesus’ teaching they thought they should pass on to us. Where we might emphasise forgiveness, they both emphasise a new life in Jesus.

Now let us go back to John’s letter:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:1-6 (NRSV)

John is pushing us to think of a much bigger change in our lives than just experiencing forgivenesses. We are not just forgiven, we are set on a new path. To go back to the hockey analogy, God is not just offering forgiveness for the goals we have scored against his team, God is offering us a place on the team!

We don’t deserve it, we don’t play like the star players on his team. We might not even know how to skate yet. But we are invited to join the team!

Now just because we join the team, this does not mean we instantly become great players. Hockey players sometimes make mistakes. A bad pass can be intercepted and lead to the other team scoring. This does not lead to an instant expulsion from the team. This is a problem we often have as Christians. We assume that we should instantly become the Wayne Gretzky of Christians. But we still miss the mark. When we do,

. . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 2:1 (NRSV)

We are not booted off the team. Everything that is necessary for us to be on the team has been accomplished.

What if, however, having moved from the Bruins to the Maple Leafs, during a playoff series against the Bruins, we continually pass the puck to the Bruins, and sometimes we even take a shot on our own net? The natural conclusion reached by the coach and fans alike, is that we have not really changed teams. We are still playing for the Bruins, we want the Bruins to win. This is what John is getting at in verses 3-6:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:3-6 (NRSV)

If we really are in Jesus, then it will be evident that we are on team Jesus. When John says later in 3:6-9, that we will not sin, that we cannot sin, it is like a coach saying to a hockey player, “you will not pass to a player on the opposing team, indeed you cannot.” Well the hockey player might have a bad pass that goes to a member on the other team, which might lead them to score a goal. But the player will not pass it with the hope, “oh boy, I hope the other team wins.” He will not do that, and given his desire to win the Stanley Cup, he cannot do that.

If hockey players never wore a jersey, you would still be able to know who is playing for what team. When John says we don’t sin as Christ followers, what he means is that it should be obvious that we are on team Jesus, that we don’t play for the opposing team. We might still be learning to skate, and we might be awful at handling the puck, which might lead the other team to score from time to time, nevertheless, it is evident we are are on team Jesus.

As we read through 1st John, and especially here in 1:3-6 and later 3:6-9, we might ask, am I in deep trouble if I commit even one sin after coming to faith in Jesus? That is not a question that would have come to John’s mind. The question John is asking is: does your life show that you are on team Jesus? That you are in Christ?

Yes, we are going to mess up, there is forgiveness when we do. But if we are on team Jesus, it will be obvious that we are on team Jesus, jerseys and Jesus fish not required. Those who are on team Jesus are easy to spot, even if they are not spotless. We may may not be superstar players, at least not yet, but let us commit to being on team Jesus! And let us enjoy that honour.

(The full sermon can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

Walking in the Light, Right Here, Right Now. (“Shrunk Sermon” on 1st John 1:5-10)

Bad things can happen when we walk in the dark. We don’t see the dangers around us, plus we can lose the path. Don’t we often think “if only I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently”? We make decisions in the dark which come back to haunt us. We don’t know the path ahead.

In life and in relationships bad things happen when we are in the dark. We need light! There is good news:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.

1 John 1:5 (NLT)

First off, let us be sure to affirm that this is not about colour.

There are very clear reasons for anti-racism given in the Bible, starting at the beginning with all of us being created in the image of God. Jesus likely had darker skin, darker hair and darker eyes than we normally envision. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all different kinds of peoples without discrimination. The vision for the future given in the Book of Revelation has all different kinds of peoples together as one, yet unique, in the presence of God.

“God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” is not about colour. It is about illumination. It is about light that helps us see and appreciate colour, all colours including light and dark colours. It is the light that enables us to see where we are going. It is the light that enables us to see how things really are. It is the light that enables things to grow and gives life.

So if God is light, what difference does that make for us?

First, when God illuminates our way we see the better path to walk:

So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:6-7 (NLT)

We often talk about salvation in terms of past and future. You may have been asked “have you trusted in Jesus so that you can be with God when you die?” That is a good question, but it is not one John is asking here in his letter. That question is focused on the past and future. If we were to turn John’s words here into a question it would be, “are you walking with God now, and are you seeing the difference that makes now?”

If we are walking with God now, walking in his light now, that will play out in our relationships with one another. We will have “fellowship with each other.” The word “fellowship” if often used to translate the Greek term here “koinonia,” which no English term captures perfectly. It is the idea of true community, of authentic and good relationships among a group of people.

When we read John’s words, we may in our minds go to very ‘spiritualised’ understanding, that having trusted in Jesus, we will experience complete unity as Christians someday in the future. Again we are thinking of salvation as a past and future thing. John here, however, is focused on the present. If we are walking in the light now, if we walking with others the way God calls and enables us to walk with others now, then good things happen in our relationships in the here and now.

Consider the fruit of the Spirit;

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. . .

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

As we grow in these “fruit of the Spirit” there is a significant impact or our relationships now! When we are walking in God’s light, our relationships are transformed, because we are being transformed. The path of God’s work within us is the better path to take.

Further, if we are walking with God now, walking in the light now, then “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

Here again in our minds we might go to a highly theological past and future understanding, that having trusted in Jesus in the past, we will blameless on the day of judgement that is in our future. True, but here John is also speaking about practical matters in the present. There is a cleaning up that can happen in the here and now when we pay attention to “the blood of Jesus” and what it means.

If we live now according to the example of Jesus, in the way of the cross, of sacrificial and undeserved love, of forgiveness and grace rather than retaliation and violence, then our messes will start getting cleaned up. Everything plays out differently when we walk in the way of love as Jesus loved. Good things happen, in the here and now, when we walk in the light. When we see that path and walk in it, we see the difference God makes.

Second, when God illuminates our way we see things as they really are:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)

Here is the way things really are: we each have sin, we each “miss the mark,” and that sin separates us from our Creator. But our Creator is also our Rescuer. God offers forgiveness through Jesus so that we can stand in right relationship with God, now and forevermore.

When we are walking with the Lord, and the Lord is shining a light on the way things really are, we will see our need for God’s love, and we will see God’s love in Jesus. That is how things really are.

What does our relationship with God look like? Do we look back to the past, to the moment that we trusted in Jesus and then turn our focus to the future, to the moment we meet Jesus in glory? In the meantime we might have the occasional dip into spirituality, sort of like the occasional Zoom call with family members during a pandemic. Or do we think of our walk with the Lord as a very present reality?

John calls us to walk in the light every day, moment by moment. When we do we will see God shaping our lives in the here and now. When we are walking with the Lord, it changes us, it changes all our relationships, it can begin to change the world around us.

God is light, when we walk in the light the path ahead comes clearer to see. God is light, when we walk in the light the way things really are comes into focus. God is light, His presence leads to life.

Let us walk in the light every day by pursuing God, pursuing Jesus every day. Let us watch for the difference that makes in us, and all around us.

(The full sermon can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)