Bentrup, Germany (A Sermon for Easter 6B)
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (Cypress, Texas)
1 John 5:1–6
May 6, 2018
The community to whom 1 John was written was facing a crisis.
Former members of the community were denying that Jesus was truly the Messiah, God’s flesh and blood, fully human, son. Like many churches facing doctrinal conflict, John’s community seems to have been confused, afraid, and unsure what to do. Whom should they believe? How could they know what was true, and what was not? How should they react?
John’s simple, confident response is as relevant today as it was when the letter was first written: You know who you are, you know whose you are, and you know what you have been told from the beginning. God’s own Spirit shows us what is true. There’s no need to panic or argue. Focus on living your faith instead. God has the whole situation under control.
John reminds the community that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah — the anointed Son of God — has been born of God. They have no reason to be afraid, for they belong to God. As God’s children, they can rest assured that they are loved and protected by their divine parent.
But like any parent, God has commands for us.
However, John reminds us that God’s commands are not burdensome. Here again we hear an echo of Jesus, who says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
Like Jesus, John insists that God’s commands are not difficult. In essence, they consist in the call to love, “not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18). Genuine faith, therefore, is firmly connected with active love.
We heard in our Gospel reading today, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:14). Loving God, loving God’s children, and keeping God’s commandments form inseparable links in a chain.
Truly Christian faith conquers the world not by force or argument or coercion, but by active love. Christians believe in the Son of God who, rather than shedding the blood of others to prove that he was the Messiah, died on the cross because of his love for us. We, God’s children, triumph over the world not by inflicting suffering on others or by avoiding pain at all costs, but by allowing God to work within and through us, even in our suffering.
What applies to individual Christians applies also to the Christian community as well. The Church triumphs over false teaching not by force or argument, but because of and through the love of Christ.
I spend this past week in Washington, D.C., chaperoning an 8th grade class trip. Elizabeth and I were able to visit a couple of the museums we never made it to when we lived there. Most importantly, we visited the Holocaust Museum and the Museum of African American History and Culture.
There’s a common link I found in these two museums. They exist, primarily, because we as a society, and even we as a church, failed to see people for what they were. We failed to see people as children of God. We failed to love. And so we inflicted suffering. I don’t mean we as in you and I specifically, but I mean “we” as in all of us, “we” as in society.
I’ve never found any slave-holders in my family tree, thanks be to God. But I’m German. And there was a concentration camp not far from a little town called Bentrup, Germany. And that’s a little town where my German ancestors lived.
People in my family knew what was going on down the road, I’m sure of it.
And I pray to God that they tried to live out their faith in active love, somehow, some way, at that time.
On our flight home on Friday I reread Elie Wiesel’s Night. I was struck this time by the places where love appears in the book. In the concentration camps, in literal hell, love still appeared. There are glimpses of love between some of the block captains and the prisoners. There’s the love of Joliek and his violin, playing Beethoven until he was trampled. And there’s Elie’s love for his father, a love that sustained both men.
That love was from God. That love was commanded by God. That love, in the harshest of places, was only possible through God.
This is the faith that overcomes the world: God’s love brings healing out of brokenness. God’s love brings light out of darkness. God’s love brings day out of night. God’s love brings life out of death.
So how are you going to bring God’s love into the world?