Rev. Jeff Wakeley
1 John 3:1-7
In his book Three Simple Question, the late Bishop Ruben Job shares the story of growing up on a farm in North Dakota and how each day after school he would go out into the fields to help his Father with the farm work. He writes this:
No matter how cold windy or wet it was, I would walk behind the plow or stand on one of the little platforms of the drill until darkness came and my father decided to go home. Time and time again he would encourage me to go home and get warm, but no matter how tired, cold or wet and miserable I was, I would not home until darkness fell, my father unhitched their horse and we went home together.
Why did I stay when the weather was beautiful and when it was absolutely miserable for a little boy? Because I would do almost anything and put up with almost any discomfort to be with the one who loved me.
We all have our motivations for being where we are and doing things that we do. Our hope is that the motivation of being who we are and doing what we do is love.
The words that occur over and over in 1 John is the word love. In our scripture passage this morning John says,
“See what Love the father has given us, that we might be called children of God.”
We are not certain who wrote the Epistles of John. Most believe that it was the Disciple John, brother of James, and the author of the Gospel of John. If it was that John who wrote the letter then it would have made him a very old man, which is not to say that it’s impossible; but it gives new perspective to his words because he would have written them as one of the few who had experienced first-hand the love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.
It would naturally follow then, having experienced Jesus' love first hand that he would be motivated by that love to help others discover and live in that love. He would want it to motivate the people in church as it had motivated him.
For John it’s that love made flesh in Jesus that not only motivates us but defines who we are. In Jesus, we not only see God love us so that we know that we know we are children of God but also we see God’s love for our neighbor meaning that they are children of God too. You can imagine early in Jesus ‘ ministry how John and the other Disciples might have felt uncomfortable watching Jesus spend time with people who they had been taught and conditioned to see as enemies or people who had no worth or importance and so were not part of the Kingdom of God.
You can imagine their reaction to Jesus touching and healing someone who was unclean. Someone who they were taught to view as a sinner. Over time their attitude about the people Jesus was helping would have changed and they watched Jesus heal people regardless of who they were or what they had done.
It was, I imagine, hard enough for John to get people to not just see themselves as children of God but to see their neighbor as children of God too, despite what they had been taught. It must have been hard to convince them that the way they had been taught to treat people as less than God’s children was sinful. It would have been hard to get them to see that love was not the only thing motivating them, but sins as well.
We understand what that is like, don’t we? We see good Christian people who are supposed to love their neighbor, motivated by other forces that love. We see every day good Christian people do unChristian and unloving things often motivated by self-interest and fear. Things which they manage to convince themselves are Christian and Christ-like. When the government took those children from their parents at the border our Attorney General at the time said they should have obeyed the law as Roman 13 says. By the way the Attorney General at the time was a good “United Methodist” who taught Sunday School. At the ripe old age that John was when he wrote his letter, he would see and experience how hard it was to be motivated by love and not by instinct or conditioning of seeing our neighbor as something less than as a child of God.
So much is going on in this world which is sinful. This pandemic has and still is tearing apart the way we live and we see others. And so what is motivating a lot of people is our sin of concern of self. What is motivating us is how we have been taught and conditioned to look and treat others particularly those who are different from us. And so the question is what is motivating us today. Is it the love of Christ or is it our sin that is focused on me.
Maybe the place to start answering the question of what is motivating us is to understand who we are. Do we see ourselves as John sees us as Children of God in Jesus Christ? Do we see ourselves connected with Christ and with one another?
You know one of the interesting things that we do as Christians and the church is we like to say that no one is perfect and that everyone makes mistakes. We like saying that especially when we screw up and sin. We use it especially to justify the behavior that is hard to defend. The thing is we never say when someone sins or hurts another person that we are all children of God, God loves everyone.
I make that observation knowing that it goes to the heart of what motivates us to be the person we are or do the things we do. Because when you say we are sinners and make mistakes, there is not a whole lot of motivation to do better. Many people and especially addicts tell themselves I do bad so I must be bad and worthless. But saying ``we are all children of God, all loved by God and all part of the Kingdom of God” give me the opportunity and room to grow and do better.
Believe it or not when I was a full-time ski instructor I would make mistakes and I got in trouble with my supervisors. A lot of them were young and did not have very good people skills. They ran things by the book so that when you got in trouble would write you up and reinforce how bad you were. Some of them could be really hard-ass about it. But I remember Jon Roberson. He was the Director of the Pod I worked in, and the few times I made a mistake, Jon would look at me and say “you are better than that.” and then he would say “We aren’t going to do that again are we?”
John’s point to us in this morning's scripture is that we are better, we are better than the sin we live and sin with which we treat one another and hurt each other with. We are better than that because we are children of God. We are loved for who we are.
You know a lot of Christians are focused on why Jesus came into the world. They are quick to tell people that Jesus came to die for our sin. For me the presumption is that we are bad and not created for good. I believe that we are created in God’s image and when God looks at us that is what he sees in us.
I think the problem is about what we see when we look in the mirror at ourselves. You know Paul in the 13th chapter of Corinthians when he talks about love he says something that I have always thought was strange:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
I think Jesus came to be that mirror for us to look at ourselves and to see who we are and who our neighbor is. To look in the mirror and to see what it is God sees and loves. To help us the child of God made in God’s image that God sees.
My friends this Pandemic has made us think about that phrase children of God who it applies too. There are those who think it applies just to them and not to others especially who are different. We know because so many people don’t wear masks and don’t want to take the vaccine, because it impinges on their freedoms.
Then there are those for whom this Pandemic has opened their eyes to larger and more inclusive meanings of the phrase children of God. As we come closer to the end of it, the question will be “what will be our motivation? Will it be love that we have received as Children of God in Jesus Christ or the sin that we have been taught and conditioned to live with?
At the end of his life we can assume that John had seen the church go through a lot of difficult circumstances. He knew better than anyone that they would need motivation to continue being the church and serving Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. That is why he said “See What Love the Father has given us, that we are called children of God”.
What better motivator is there than love and knowing that there is someone who cares about who we are and what we do?
In the end John by telling us “See what love the Father gave us that we are children of God” is setting us up for success as Christians and the church. A success that is motivated by God’s unconditional love and grace.