The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
My Little Children
February 11, 2018
All Saints Anglican Church – Prescott, AZ
Text: 1 John 2:1-17
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
We read this morning from the First Epistle of St. John. I fear these three small letters from John are ones that we often neglect despite being treasure troves of how we are to live, love, and behave as lights in the darkness as he so aptly describes in the beginning of his Gospel.
It is traditionally believed that these three epistles, along with the Gospel of John, and the book of Revelation (revelation here is singular – not plural, for it is only one long revelation, not many) were all written by the same man. Modern scholarship doesn’t agree with this analysis, but there is no compelling argument to stray from tradition. In all likelihood, the author of all three of these was the John of scripture – the John who was described as: one of the sons of thunder, who witnessed the transfiguration, who was sent with St. Peter to prepare the final Passover meal, and of course was called “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
How does a man go from being “a son of thunder,” to writing with such deep affection to those under his charge? How does he go from wanting to call down destruction upon a town he and his brother viewed as wicked to writing to the Christians under his charge: “my little children?”
My little children – words that hold such deep affection for those under he was the spiritual father of. It is widely believed that while St. Paul and St. Peter were essentially itinerant preachers, moving town to town preaching the gospel of Christ and establishing communities, St. John opted to lead a messianic community around Ephesus. If one lives in a community and strives to teach, preach, and do the work of the gospel there for some time, he will inevitably grow fond of the people.
However, there is a great thing at work here. We see a redeemed man, a man who wanted to love his Lord, but didn’t know how, who wanted to see divine retribution for what he perceived as dreadful, and wanted it of his own accord. The Lord worked in him, and the affection that Christ had for John changed his heart.
We know of St. Peter’s zeal, for he often put his foot in his mouth, but surely a man who was called a son of thunder also had a tremendous zeal, a boisterous and hardworking desire to do good. Yet first all of this had to be submitted to the Lord. Like St Peter after the resurrection, and St. Paul after the road to Damascus, St. John and the other disciples were changed too after experiencing the resurrected Christ, after being endued with the Holy Spirit and given understanding. They too came to understand his words in his teaching – that he was preparing them, not for an earthly, temporal kingdom, but a heavenly and eternal kingdom.
Like St. John, we are called to be transformed people. We are called to have the deepest, truest, and purest affection for those whom we worship the Lord with day in and day out. And so, his words – my little children – strike a chord with us. We see a man who has been transformed from a son of thunder to a son of God. A man of deep compassion for those in His charge.
As we enter the season of Lent we are reminded of this call to be sons and daughters of God. To flee from the sins that separate us from the Lord’s love and run into the embrace of the father who sees us as we return home from our wandering in the foreign land of sin and runs with joy to greet us. Who prepares for us a feast of the fatted calf despite our wandering hearts and we become again like little children.
The challenge of Lent isn’t merely that we would come running home, that we would run into that warm embrace of the father – but it is deeper, and harder than that – it is in St. John’s words that we would sin not.
Oh, but how could a sinner such as myself ever live up to such a challenge? How could one who struggles to love his brother, who struggles to not bow my heart down before false idols, how could I not continue along this path? How do we live up to such a high standard?
The responses does not come from within, but it comes from the one who was resurrected – it comes from the one whom John knew intimately yet met perhaps for the first time after the resurrection when he with his fellow disciples fully understood what it would mean to follow Christ.
This is our call too – that we would throw all our hopes and cares at the foot of the cross – that our sins would be crucified there with Christ and that in meeting him resurrected we would be resurrected as new men and new women. With new hearts that follow him.
So, take heart dear children – because the next part is a promise, is a promise we should know by heart, words that are for our comfort and we hear week in and week out – if any man (that is any person) sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous: he is the propitiation for our sins. These words we proclaim in the liturgy of Holy Communion as we turn from our sins, as we turn away from the world and the Lord draws us closer and closer to heaven, as we eagerly expect that we will experience Christ in the bread and the wine.
Yet, when was the last time we’ve stopped to think about this. When we sin, the son of God, our Lord and savior is there to hear our lamentations for those failures, and not only to hear them but to forgive them.
Now I want take a moment and explain something that I think we all understand, but we should be reminded of from time to time: when we read in our bibles universal statements about men – there are some that as specifically about certain men, or directed to men as to how they are to behave – as the struggle of men and women vary – but here I talk of the universal statements such as we find here – the author is writing of mankind or all of humanity. English, whether we like it or not, is a fluid language and as such – we need to understand that although the words written in scripture stay the same and it would be hubris to change this word from “man” to “person,” it is written to be understood that if any person have a sin – and it does mean any person, old or young, rich or poor, we have an advocate. It does not matter where you came from today – you and I have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
He is an advocate who takes our pleading and petitions to the throne of the Lord and says “this is my friend, for whom I died, forgive him and make him your child.” So, Christ acts as an advocate for us. Not only for our sins, but for all our hopes and desires, for all our pains and sorrows. He hears us and carries them to the Father and the Holy Spirit works in us, for the good of the kingdom and the sanctifying of our hearts. The Lord, through the working of the Trinity is forming our hearts and minds to follow Him.
How can we be so sure of this? Surely the Lord mustn’t love us this much? Yet He does – for we know what our propitiation for our sin is! Jesus Christ! Is the one who lived a perfect life, who never betrayed the law, who lived the perfect life of love and obedience that our wild hearts so often fail to live and instead of a heavenly crown for this obedience he was crucified – he died in shame in order that we might die to our sins, and on the third day he rose, that we would have the hope that we too can be raised from our sins. Our sins which lead to certain death – that separate us from the very source of life. So, we repent and let those sins die so that we may come alive in Christ, who is the propitiation, that is the appeasement, for our sins.
Not only our sins – but the sins of the whole world. The grace of Christ is sufficient that if every heart and mind became His there would still be more grace. For this reason, the very heart of the Christian religion is evangelical. Not that we would force people into conversion by the sword or coerce people by the fear of hell, but that we would show them what it is like to live in abundant love of God, that the love we know from Him would abound so readily in our lives, that they too would want that.
So, we are called to let our light shine, we are called to acts of kindness, we are called to speak the truth boldly but in kindness that others would see this truth, and their hearts and minds would be convert to knowing the deep goodness that we enjoy and know. We are called, my friends, to Love our neighbors as ourselves - that they too would be counted among the little children who have come running home as prodigal children and we would rejoice when we see our father prepare the fatted calf for them. Let us, therefore, remember that Christ died not only for us, but for the whole world. Died not that we would have an exclusive club of self-righteous people, but that we would be a community of people being made holy in Christ’s righteousness ever growing and welcoming those who want this amazing gift of grace.
The saint then challenges his readers: And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
What a great challenge he puts before us. What is this commandment? It is that we should “Love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves.” It is that we would walk in love. Not a fluffy love that says anything goes, but a love that loves goodness and truth. A love that drops everything to protect the wandering child from the reckless drive, a love that lays down it’s life in order that another might live. A love that puts others before himself.
We pray that the Holy Spirit would put that love in our hearts, that that love would ever abide within us, that we would not be hypocrites but children of His goodness.
This is not a new commandment, for from the beginning of time humanity was to be an image bear of God. Was to be God’s representative on earth, yet every time man tried to do this he failed bitterly. Adam ate the fruit in the garden, Noah got drunk, Abraham failed to trust, Moses struck the rock and his followers made a golden calf, and David killed a man for his wife, the tragedy of humanity’s failure in this goes on and on. Yet there was the one who was the perfect image bearer – that perfectly submitted and perfectly loved – that became a propitiation for our sins. That in perfectly bearing the image of God, in being the perfect son gave us the ability to become the sons and daughters of God. For this one, who is the perfect image – gave us the ability to be the sons and daughters of God once again, this one is Christ our Lord.
We are reminded time and again to learn to abide in Him, we learn to love as he loved, we learn what it means to love the Lord with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. There is a tension in verses seven and eight, the commandment to love is not a new one, and yet it is. For in Christ, we have the ability to love, and to love in the fullness of what it means to be image bears of God, to be sons and daughters of the Lord. So we submit ourselves to this new commandment that isn’t so new. We seek to know what it is to love well.
This morning in Christian education we went through the Ten Commandments and discussed how each of those commandments fit into one of two categories – loving God and Loving people. The commandments are there not only to guide us in how we are to walk, but so that we can hold our hearts up to them and ask in earnestness, have I followed these? Has my heart really been conformed to what God wants for his children?
In these next few days before Lent, I would challenge each of you to spend some time reading them, thinking about what each means, what the heart of each one is, and asking “have I loved God in this way,” or “have I loved my brother in this way?” If not, come to the Lord in earnest repentance, turn from that sin, and come running home.
St. John hones in on one sin in particular – to say if you are failing to do this you are still in the darkness. If you hate your brother, he writes, you are still in darkness. This is a particularly poignant example. Family feuds have a way of growing quite nasty. Perhaps this is why church splits become so vicious and ugly. For the Christian church is called to be a family and as a family feud can last for years, sometimes even generations, churches can, all too often hold grudges against their brothers and sisters in Christ for too long as well.
Yet this isn’t the call of the Christian – the Christian is to forgive the sin of the other, to forgive with abundance as we have been forgiven. Yet, even though, the example he gives is specifically of the love we are to hold for our Christian brothers and sisters, and to our real brothers and sisters, this applies to all the commandments. So we are reminded of this hard truth:
If you have in your heart another god, a god that you worship over the Lord. You are walking in the darkness.
If you are beating that god into an image that you hold up and worship, if you are not submitting to the word of God, but manipulating it in order to have a god that is created in your image and bowing down to that god and not the God of scriptures. You are walking in darkness.
If you are using the Lord’s name in vain, or promising to do things to His glory, or misrepresenting Him. You are walking in darkness.
If you are not regularly setting aside time to worship the Lord, if you are not keeping time holy in your life. You are walking in darkness.
If you are not honoring those who are the first image bears of God in your life but in rebellion. You are walking in darkness.
If you hate someone. You are in darkness.
If you are lusting after someone. You are in darkness.
If you are stealing, or being dishonest in your dealings with others. You are in darkness.
If you are lying about others, or misrepresenting them. You are in darkness.
If you are coveting what others have, instead of rejoicing in the gifts that you have been given, and having a glad heart for the Lord, your sovereign provider. You are in darkness.
I know that is it hard to hear, I know the pain and realization of finding something that must be repented of in my life all too well. So, I tell you, take heart dear Christian. The good news is, if you see in yourself a sin – that we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for that sin. So, flee from that darkness that may be haunting you and come running to the Lord.
It is when we reside in Christ that we have the light, that we know how we are to walk, to behave to live in goodness. Run back to him, again, and again, and again. For He is a good Lord, and he will hear your calling out. He has heard me time, and time again. He has met me as the father in the field when my heart could no longer bear my sin, and so he will meet you too.
Towards the end of the passage St. John leaves us a beautiful poem. For all the King James’ Versions beauty, the lay out of the page is sometimes peculiar. In more modern translations it becomes clear when we are looking at poems, hymns or creeds. It is important to know when we are reading poetic works, so I will read you these three verses as they are written.
I write unto you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
I write unto you, fathers,
because ye have known him that is from the beginning.
I write unto you, young men,
because ye have overcome the wicked one.
I write unto you, little children,
because ye have known the Father.
I have written unto you, fathers,
because ye have known him that is from the beginning.
I have written unto you, young men,
because ye are strong,
and the word of God abideth in you,
and ye have overcome the wicked one.
As I have read this with care, I hope that you can see how these verses are meant to flow. While they are directed primarily to the men of the community, we can see that they would have held significance for each individual, for we are forgiven, we have known him and have been known by Him since the beginning of time, we have overcome the wicked one – not by our will, but through the grace we find in Christ, and as we abide in the word of God, that is both Christ the incarnate word, and the words we read in our devotional reading of Holy Scripture, He abides in us. It is in these truths that we are made strong. I commend this poem to you to cling to so that you would more deeply understand our life in Christ. Let it form you, and let it take hold of your hearts.
We end today with our Lentin challenge: do not love the world or the things in the world. For we can only have one true Love. What is that Love? What is it that we cling to as our primary hope? I challenge you this week dear friends to think about what it is that you hold to as your hope. Do you put your hope in your finances? Has this past week of market volatility struck you with so much fear that you are struggling trust the Lord?
Do you trust in your own intellect? Do you put your hope in your ability to figure out the problem? Not trusting that the Lord will bring you through, that He will give you understanding.
Does your hope reside in a relationship? In your pastor? In your worldly possessions? All of these things will fade away – the only place to rest our hope is in Christ, our Lord and savior.
The challenge of Lent is that we would no longer rest our hope in the earthly. So check your hearts and minds, and see where you have stored up yours and where something resides other than Christ, repent, and place your hope back in Christ for he will never fail you.
Let us therefore as individuals and a community of Christians strive in all things to do the will of God, that we would abide in Him forever. For although we all come to this place with sins, we are reminded, again and again that the great propitiation for these in Christ, and it is in our residing and trusting in Him that we are made whole. In residing in Him we reside in the light that is the light of men. In residing in Him that light shines, and others come to know Him. Let us therefore strive to have a Lent that honors the desire of the Lord to know and do his will, in which we learn to dwell deeper in His glory.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.