Sunday, May 17, 2009

Life--1 John

From worship tonight:

My talk today is not so much a sermon as it is a reflection, my thoughts as I work through this idea of “life” in 1 John. It’s less about conclusions than ideas and questions—my hope is that it will spur the same in you.

Please feel free to respond with questions, arguments, responses; we'll continue the conversation next Sunday.

Part I. Life

One thing the game of life (we played a short version in worship) captures about real life is an attitude or perspective that life is about me. All of us do this—as much as we don’t want to—we see life with ourselves at the center, and everything else in terms of how it affects me.

For John, the idea of “life” is very different. In this letter, as well as in his Gospel, the word “life” is the Greek word zoe—which refers to God’s life and the life he gives.

It’s not life in the ways we heard it defined. It’s not just about being alive, but being alive in a way that is similar to the way God is alive. The life John talks about is not just a result of being born; it’s a result of being created by God, in God’s image, and having His life breathed into us.

This life is about connection to God; about being in relationship with God. Jesus doesn’t just give life, He IS life. The life we have comes from him, and includes him. We are able to interact with and relate to God, because in some way, we have his life in us.

God’s people were alive in Him before Jesus came, but in coming, Jesus helped people connect more intimately with God. We’ve talked before about how the crucifixion and resurrection connect us to God. There are many ways to look at the atonement, but the basic idea is that in his death, Jesus reconciled humankind to God.

We’ve also talked about how Jesus came to help us see God, and understand God—as He lived out God’s character in human form. We have life in Jesus because of his life, as well as his death and resurrection.

In OT life comes through keeping the commandments. The NT emphasizes that life comes through faith, from knowing and experiencing Jesus. Knowing Jesus means having life. Life is intrinsically linked to God’s presence.

For John, life is connection to God—to know God is to be alive. Life is from God, in God, with God, for God, of God.

I mentioned earlier how as humans, we all live as if we are the center of life. Our default mindset is one of self-centeredness. We struggle because that’s not how life is meant to be lived.

I think what we are aiming for, what we ask God to help us with, is to live a life where Jesus is the center—that’s when we best live in the reality God created, and continues to create in our world.

We are created to know God and be known by God. We are created to partner with God. God gives, sustains, leads, provides; but we are active as well in this relationship—receiving, responding, sharing, growing…

We’ve talked about how many of us live compartmentalized lives; we have our work life, our family life, our spiritual life…but John says God is a part of everything—and not just a part but the foundation, and everything in life is connected to God.

So it makes sense that life works best, when we live in the context of a relationship with Jesus. When we realize that all of life—not just a part—is about Jesus.

This is part of what we mean when we talk about whole-life worship. Worship should encompass all of life, because we are connected to God not just once a week, or when we pray, but all the time.

Another piece of this life is the community aspect. This life in and of God is not just for us individually—we are meant to live it in relationship with others.

In his Gospel, John likened the relationships that we have with each other to the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Life is about being intimately connected to God and to each other.

By coming as a human, Jesus gave us the message and example of how we can live the way God created us to live. But that doesn’t happen in our power or strength or ability—it happens because of the life we have in Jesus…because His spirit is a part of us, and we are a part of Him.

Part II. Eternal Life

In the modern church, especially the evangelical church—we have placed a huge emphasis on what we call eternal life. In my early education and experience of Christianity, it was usually the focal point.

I was taught that life on earth is temporary, and that our primary focus as Christians should be on where we will spend eternity—how to get into heaven and avoid hell.

Think about how self-centered that is—my primary focus when it comes to my relationship with God is making sure I’m taken care of.

This leads to another concern for me. We can tend to focus so much on heaven, that we don’t give much time and attention and energy to this life, at least spiritually. We tend to separate life here and now from eternal life—one happens before death, the other after.

And because our time here is so short, and our time in Heaven is forever, we minimize what happens in our time here on earth. We don’t realize how much is possible for the church in this world.

But when John talks about eternal life, he means something different. For John, eternal life is not about time—a stage of life that begins after death; but a quality of life, a kind of life. It’s not just about the state of being alive. Eternal life is simply life from God, about God, with God—a life that reflects God’s life.

It’s a life that’s not just about the future, but right now. It reflects Jesus’ words that the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom is available, the kingdom is here.

It’s not just something to look forward to after death; it’s something to experience in the present, in this time, this place.

I think it’s profound that Jesus came into this life to meet us; he didn’t wait for us to get to the next.

What would life look like if we lived it with this in mind…that we are living eternal life here and now? That we live in the kingdom of God here and now?

We tend to think that this life can have some good and beauty to it, but that most of that stuff will only come in heaven, after we die. What if all the goodness and beauty and wonder and unity that Jesus talked about and said life can be—were possible for us, here and now?

We get so caught up in work and money and responsibility and expectations—it’s hard to look beyond the task at hand, the problem we’re trying to solve, the relationship we’re struggling to make work…

Imagine the possibilities if we could move beyond all that, and really connect with God and one another in ways that help us experience this life we’re talking about. If we as a community truly lived out God’s Kingdom…if we truly lived eternal life here and now!

Part III. Life with or without God

One final piece I want to talk about—that is really getting me thinking lately, one that I hope will lead to more discussion in the days ahead.

John says those who have the son have life, and those who don’t have the son, don’t have life. Now at first listen, that can seem like a pretty simple statement, but when we think about it in the context of this idea of life being so rich and complex, it’s not so simple to me.

I think John is emphasizing that true life is deeply and powerfully linked to God; that those who know God have a quality, a manner, a way of life that is different from people who don’t know God.

But I think we need to be careful to not assume we have too much power in deciding how much God is or isn’t involved in our lives.

I’m not getting into a Calvinism-Armenian debate; it’s not about God choosing us or us choosing God.

But I think we sometimes act or speak as if life can be separated from God. As if we have the power to include God in our lives, or to exclude him.

When I read how God works and interacts with people throughout the Bible, I don’t think it works that way. Now we can choose or choose not to respond to God’s reaching out to us, loving us, inviting us to connect with him. We can refuse to be in intimate relationship with Him, and partner with him in what he is doing all around us.

But we don’t’ have the power to completely keep God from us, from our lives, our circumstances, our relationships. We are created by God; created in his image. Whether or not we want it, God’s divine spirit touches us, works in and with and through us.

It’s like when music is playing—you can get up and dance and allow the music to fill you and speak to you. You can be moved and inspired and affected by the music. You can interact with the music.

Or you can pretend the music isn’t there. You can try to ignore the music. You can refuse to dance, or sing along, or move. But you can’t remain separate from the music forever. Sooner or later, the music has an impact.

It reminds you of something, or someone, or someplace, or sometime. It affects your mind, or heart, or body; without realizing it, you are tapping your toes or moving with the music.

Even in refusing to interact with the music, you must acknowledge it is there and make a decision about how you will or won’t respond to it. You can try to keep separate from the music, but somehow, someway, you cannot deny that the music exists, and that it impacts, in some way, everyone who hears it.

The same is true of God. God is life. God created life. God created all that is experienced in life. Life apart from God is impossible. It wouldn’t be life.

Now you can choose to reject God’s person and will and leading; but I propose that you cannot completely reject God, to the point where God is completely absent and removed from life.

Jesus is the center of life. Just as we are created to breathe air, and drink water, and eat food; just as we are created to love and be loved--we are created to live in relationship with God.

Jesus came as the word of life.
Jesus brought, in words and actions, the message of life.
Jesus was and is the source of life.
Jesus is life.

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