This spring, we will be embarking on an in depth exploration of the love of God in our lives as a force of transformation in the world. Join us each week, and listen to week one here!

1 John 1: 1-2; 2

That which was from the beginning,

which we have heard,

and seen with our eyes,

and have looked at

and touched with our hands:

the Word, who is Life—

this is the subject of our letter.

That life came to be;

we saw it and bear witness to it.

We proclaim to you the eternal life

which was with Abba God

and was manifested to us.

What we have seen and heard

We declare to you,

so that you may be one with us—

as we are one with Abba God

and with the Only Begotten, Jesus Christ.

We write this to fulfill our joy.

This, then, is the message we heard from Jesus

and declare to you:

God is light,

and in God there is no darkness at all.

If we say we have intimacy with God

while still living in darkness,

we are liars

and do not live in truth.

But if we live in the light,

as God is in the light,

we are one with each other,

and the blood of Jesus, the Only Begotten,

purifies us from all sin.

If we say we are without sin,

we lie, and the truth is not in us.

But if we admit our sins,

God, the faithful and just One,

will forgive our sins

and cleanse us from all injustice.

If we say we have not sinned,

we call God a liar

and show that God’s Word is not in us.

My little ones,

I am writing this to keep you from sin.

But if anyone should sin,

we have an Advocate with God—

Jesus Christ, who is just.

Jesus is the full payment for our sins,

and not for our sins only,

but for those of the whole world.

 

Sermon: That Joy May Be Complete

For the next six weeks we’ll be talking about love. The bible tells us that God is love. But what does that mean? Is it just a pretty idea? Does it have any strength, or power behind it? What does love look like with skin on? That’s what we’ll be digging into over the next six weeks.

We’ll be using the letter we call first John. The title’s confusing because it almost certainly wasn’t written by the disciple John. In fact, we know very little about it. It was probably composed around the year 100, which means it was about 70 years after the death of Jesus.

We don’t know who the author is, but we call it the first letter of John because it uses similar images and metaphors for God as the gospel of John. That means these writings come out of a community. It’s sort of the way that the longer we all hang out here together, the more we begin to sound like each other. At least half of you when you wrote me encouragement cards last month wrote, “you are a child of God, holy and beloved.” We share common language because we’re worshipping together.

This letter, 2 nd and 3 rd John, the gospel of John, and the book of Revelation all share common language and themes. So, this letter comes out of a community. I think that’s worth knowing, as we dig into the idea of love over the next six weeks, that this stuff is the result of some guy philosophizing alone in his room. These convictions about love were shaped and formed in community.

This letter, while we don’t know who wrote it, what we do know is that the author’s voice is plural. “We write to you…” It’s not just one person writing to set everyone straight. It’s a community writing, and did you notice why they’re writing?

So that their joy will be complete. I love that. They’re not trying to convince, or persuade, or critique, or even encourage. They’re writing for the joy of it.

It’s like a child running up and unselfconsciously wanting to tell you all about something, or calling a friend and saying, “Listen to this!” They’re writing for the sheer joy of sharing. And what are they sharing? Look back at the top of the text:
That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard,
and seen with our eyes,
and have looked at
and touched with our hands:

the Word, who is Life—
this is the subject of our letter.

They have had an experience of God in the flesh. Have you had an experience of the Divine? Or the Ultimate?

It can be really hard to find words for the experience, and for whatever God or reality we feel like we’ve connected with. You can tell they had trouble finding the right word, too. Just in the first few verses, they use a ton of names for God: that which was from the beginning, the Word, Life, eternal life, Abba God, Jesus Christ, Only Begotten… the titles just multiplying.

Whatever you call it, they’ve had an experience of the Really Real. And it wasn’t some sort of mystical vision; it was physical, tangible. And they just can’t wait to talk about it.

The conclusion they end up drawing from their experiences is that God is love.

It’s one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. 1 John 4:16 – God is love. So utterly simple, so devastatingly clear. If there’s anything I fully, wholeheartedly believe, it’s this: the Energy or Power that brought all of creation into being, that echoes throughout the cosmos, that power that was made incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, and that continues to pulse in our lives and our world, that reality is experienced in human lives as something like love.

Our deepest calling and the goal of our lives is to wake up to that love, live within it, let it motivate our thoughts, words, actions, our every step, our every breath.

And if you try to do that for, oh, just an hour or so, you quickly discover how difficult it is.

I think that’s why this letter almost immediately gets into questions of sin and fault and forgiveness.

Love sounds great. But when it’s lived out… well, mistakes get made, feelings get hurt. This community knows the score: everyone screws up. The only really problematic folks are the ones who don’t think they’re screwing up. Everyone screws up. And everyone is forgiven.

We could spend our whole time reflecting on that this morning, and maybe we should, but we’re not. Because I want to linger with those first few lines: these beautiful, powerful experiences they’ve had, and the importance of sharing, and the motivation of joy.

They don’t tell us what their experiences were—just that they had them. I think it’s important that almost certainly the people writing this letter weren’t alive when Jesus was. They’re followers like us, who came after. And they have had physical, tangible, beautiful experiences of love and ultimate reality. Like we do.

Take a minute and think, what are experiences you’ve had of God, Love, beauty, joy, Ultimate Reality?

A moment of profound connection with a best friend? Being at the bedside with a loved one as they died? A moment standing on top of a mountain? Or greeting the dawn? A moment in worship?

Grab a pen and jot a few down if you want to.

Are there some small, daily experiences that come to mind, too? There’s a moment I still remember from high school of laying in the grass on an absolutely perfect Saturday afternoon. Nothing happened. But it was heaven on earth. What have those everyday moments of God, love, meaning been for you?

Catching a glimpse of the mountain?

Laughing so hard you cried?

Or, maybe the greatest miracle of all, having a moment where you feel genuinely connected to the rest of humanity in the middle of traffic?

Jot some of those down, too.

Then, think about, who have you shared these experiences with? Are there some experiences you’ve shared, and others you haven’t? The experiences you haven’t shared, why not? Were they too small? Not
worth mentioning? Too big? Or too intimate? Too powerful? Were you afraid someone would laugh? Not take you seriously? What makes it hard to share these kinds of profoundly good experiences?

We’re not talking about sharing these experiences in a pushy, stereotypical “Christian” “Have I told you lately how I met Jesus” sort of thing. I just mean genuinely sharing powerful, meaningful moments in our lives.

That comes really easily for some of us, but for a lot of us, it’s really hard. We aren’t sure we can find the words, we don’t know how we’ll be received, we aren’t sure anyone wants to hear what we have to say, and we’re busy and they’re busy, everybody’s busy.

Glennon Doyle Melton is an author and blogger and internet personality. She writes about parenthood, addiction, mental health, and authentic living. She has tens of thousands of followers. And yet, in a recent interview she admitted that it’s been months since she’s had a real conversation.

Sharing the real moments of our lives can be tough. Sometimes we’re so busy with the hustle, taking care of all the things, keeping up with social obligations, keeping up at work, just plain, keeping up, that we forget to have real conversations.

But in the midst of all that, there’s this reminder from our ancestors in the faith that the joy and meaning in these powerful experiences of love isn’t complete unless we share them. The joy isn’t complete. Sharing our experiences sanctifies, incarnates, and expands our experience of holiness. It changes us to share honestly. It makes our joy complete.

There are a million reasons why it’s hard or scary to show up and share something real with someone else, but if we want our joy to be complete, we need to share our experiences of love, and transcendence, and intimacy.

Of course, we need to share the hard stuff, too—our shame and guilt and mistakes. But, let’s start where the letter starts: what do you want to share, just for the joy of it?

I want to challenge us all to share something this week, as a practice of love and resurrection. One of those experiences you wrote down, or a moment that happens this week where you experience God or ultimate love, share it with someone. You don’t have to use the words ultimate love when you share. You can, but it’s fine if you don’t. Just, share it.

I had a beautiful moment… Did you see that sunset? Let me tell you about this music I was listening to… Can I tell you how much that hug meant? I want to tell you, so that my joy will be complete.

I know it sounds like such a small thing, but I think it’s radical. Because in this sharing, we are testifying to the insistent, persistent presence and power of love incarnate. We are letting ourselves be shaped and formed by love. That’s what this is all about.