1 John 3.12-19
The problem with being an atheist
is the lack
no one to talk with
when we were first begun
to share the pain
the joy of living
to delight in our first words
our singing notes
our pictures on the walls.
The problem with being an atheist
is the lack of gratitude
having no one to thank for being here
nothing to join hands with
and dance the dance of life.
It stands in stark contrast to the way our reading from 1 John 3 starts today:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
Jorie Ryan contends that atheism involves a lack of an ultimate reference for our joys and sorrows, a cosmic home to belong to; John proclaims that we have that ultimate reference and cosmic home, who is the Father who calls us children of God. The Father delights in the words we speak to tell our praise, the songs we sing as we serve others, the pictures we paint with our lives.
We may not know everything, but by faith we know that even in our woundedness and brokenness, we are God’s beloved children now. God directs us when we sin, tends to us in our pain and rejoices with us as we rejoice.
We may not know ‘what we will be’, but we know enough: we know that we shall be like Christ our God. We have somewhere to direct our gratitude, we have someone to join with in the eternal dance of life.
This is our hope, our firm hope. Jorie Ryan’s meditation on what atheism lacks ends simply:
the problem with atheism
is the lack …
There’s no such ‘lack’ in Christian faith: ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now…!’
John also sets before us a challenge:
And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
How can we do anything else? How else could we spend our lives here and now?
But if we purify ourselves, how do we do it? We could make a list of dos and don’ts; or we might strive to obey the Ten Commandments to the letter; or perhaps we follow the Golden Rule.
But we don’t follow a set of rules or an ideology or a philosophy; we follow a person, the living Lord Jesus. It’s far better for us to take our clue from the passage:
when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
We purify ourselves now as we will be purified then: by looking upon Jesus. He is our Pattern, our Guide, our Lord, our Saviour, our elder Brother. We purify ourselves as we seek to let ourselves be remade and remade again in his likeness. We don’t follow a set of laws or principles or an ideology, however exalted (and right) they may be. Rather, we open our hearts to Jesus. We let Jesus under our skin. We allow ourselves to be changed by living and walking in his way.
With that in mind, let’s look at today’s Gospel Reading. Who is this Jesus whom we allow to get under our skin? Who is this elder Brother?
This Jesus forgives others. He comes to those who deserted him in his hour of need with a greeting of peace. He doesn’t hold a grudge, he doesn’t get his own back. He welcomes others, and gives them a second chance. Again and again. His people do the same.
This Jesus values the physical world. He’s real. He’s not a ghost, nor a zombie, nor a ghoul. He eats grilled fish. His disciples have to be practical. There’s no room for Jesus’ followers to be so heavenly-minded that we’re of no earthly use. If someone is in need of food or clothing, we cannot ignore them.
This Jesus suffers. That doesn’t mean he’s not the promised Christ—he is! But he’s not the Christ anyone expected. He saves Israel through suffering love, rather than a military victory. He brings good out of evil. He can bring good out of our suffering too; even death and unbearable loss is not the end. It wasn’t for Jesus, and he promises that it won’t be for us.
This Jesus commissions you and me. We are his witnesses, and his Spirit is the power behind the mission. We can point to what he has done in our lives and in the life of God’s people. We can help bring in God’s kingdom.
What can we say out of all this? Jesus is for us. The disciples didn’t seek him, they huddled together in fear and he came to them. Jesus will never abandon you. Jesus wants us to come with him into the world and be his people there.
You and I are children of God now, today. We may not feel it. We may be conscious of sin in our lives, of failures and brokenness. But God declares it to be so, as God declared it to Christ in his baptism. God says this to us in our baptism:
You are my son, my daughter,
you are my beloved
in whom I am well pleased.
Friends, it’s our baptism that gives us our truest identity. Recently, I had to show ID for a government thing, and there was a list of items I could produce: drivers license, Medicare card, passport, birth certificate, certificate of naturalisation.
They didn’t want my certificate of baptism. But that tatty old piece of paper dated 21 March 1954 says exactly who I am. I am a child of God. And one day it will be made clear to me in a way that it’s not obvious at the moment. One day I’ll meet Jesus face to face, so I want to immerse myself in Jesus now. I don’t look to a set of rules and regulations, helpful though they are for getting on with others; I want to gaze on him and reflect his likeness as much as I can, here and now.
Let us pray in the words of St Richard of Chichester, who lived in the 13th century:
Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits
you have won for us,
for all the pains and insults
you have borne for us.
O most merciful Redeemer,
friend and brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day. Amen.