Sermon on I John 3:13-24-What Got Into You?

The scanner at the airport is not a metal detector, in case you should ever need to know. A passenger trying to pass through D/FW airport knows that now.

He got in line with everyone, stood and waited with everyone, walked through the csannerk with everyone. Something showed up in his pocket; not metal, not a gun or a knife but very definitely there and noticeable to the eyes of the scanner. The TSA inspector asked him to empty his pockets, whereupon the passenger remembered he needed to run out and put something in his car. Here is the problem; once you go through the scanner you are in the inspection process. Whatever you carry on or with you shows up on the scanner. You can deny you want to have it on you but you cannot deny what the scanner sees.  Your only hope is this one, that you get right with what you carry before the scanner sees.

Sadly, someone is always scanning us, or so it seems. Cameras watch where we park our cars, credit services notice how we pay our bills, electronic surveillance is pretty much everywhere. Every time your computer visits a site your url registers on that site, so surveillance people can tell where you go at a glance. There is no real privacy anymore. A satellite twenty miles up can take a picture of you so clear you could hang it up on your living room wall.

We cannot actually hide what we are, if we ever could, so it behooves us to be something good. Our goodness is certainly something this world needs, for there is so much bad in this world. Children are enslaved, women are abused, men are set aside from employment without a  thought for their self-respect. Evil acts occur, no matter how you and I define evil. Christians believe, people can be better, even good, perhaps morally alive and spiritually attractive. There is a chance for the world and, if there is, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit of God in the people of God called the Church of God.

 

I.

   Don’t get too surprised, brethren, if the world does not know you, I John 3:13. “Marvel not…” is a phrase that forbids an action already in progress. This is a tough command, for it is always harder to stop something we are doing than to prevent something we have not yet done. I am a life-time recovering alcoholic. This amazes my friends, who know I never took a drink. For goodness sake, I grew up in the 1960’s and never smoked pot, dropped acid or injected heroin. In fact, I cannot remember having any fun of any kind, during the whole decade.

I can say I am a life time recovering alcoholic because all the men in my family are substance abusers. If I started I would not stop, so I cut the process back by never starting. Our writer, John, looks at something his readers are already doing and tells them to stop.

He might as well say, “Get this into your head. The world (culture around you) just does not get you. You will have to go on doing what you do quite apart from the popular culture. You will have to explain yourself over and over again. Get that in your head.”

The first generation Christians (and many more) get tortured, sold into slavery, even killed, because the world does not get them. In fact, the word on the street about the first century Christians is this: they are atheists, cannibals, sexually impure (they mixed genders in worship and haptized men and women together) and rebels (they mix all social castes together). Now, dropping the number of gods from infinity to one is not atheism, it is monotheism. To take Communion is a memorial ritual, not actual cannibalism. Baptism among early Christians was practiced publicly and in a clothed condition, so the practice was not sexually perverse.

On the last point accusers are exactly right. Jesus offered His gospel personally to slaves and lepers and children and women. Then, His Church got those parts right, and the rest did not matter. The Church thought to do what Jesus did in this one particular, offer the good stuff to everybody, let everybody in to the Lord’s table and even let them lead others to the table and then take care of them once they got there.

This is the early Church. They get so much from Jesus, they bring others to Jesus and keep them in Jesus. Jesus is what gets into them.

Our problem is different from the problem of the Church in John’s day. That is why the New Testament seems so odd to us. Our problem is not that our culture does not get us.

Our world gets us too accurately. Our culture knows we will stay in our little box buildings, where they can visit us twice a year at nostalgic moments. They will accept the little bit of Christian charity we offer from our abundance. They know they can count on us to vote correctly on one or two social issues, all of which swim against the stream of our minor Christian charity (this is why the powers-that-be, the “world” calls us one of the “nut” groups in politics). Our world gets us way too accurately. We are not odd to our world. We are just like them.

How do we get odd? We get odd as we get real. And what is real?

II.

Real is different and it takes change to get to real, I John 3:14. John says we pass out of death into life. The phrase means “Whatever anyone says about us, the truth about is this, we have passed out of death into life…”

The phrase in 3:14 is a statement of distinction. Whatever anyone else thinks about us, we are after one thing that is real, and that thing only. We want life in place of death.

Now, surely everybody wants life instead of death, right? Well, no. Suicide rates in the USA are higher today than in previous recorded history. More oddly, the suicide rates for young people are much, much higher than ever. Many people in their prime would rather die than live.

Masses of persons in our culture choose death. This is an extreme physical example. We could make the same spiritual application.

That is, many, many people simply do not choose spiritual life, either. Spiritual life is migration. Spiritual life means “to pass over” (metabaino) and it takes a ton of work.

In Africa, I was in a line of migrants trying to pass from Ghana to Togo. There were two little huts, one on this side of the road, one on that side of the road. Migrants took their sheaf of papers from this little hut to that little hut. In ritual form, paid a few coins to have their papers stamped. This took a series of trips, since they must have their papers stamped in sequence, so we ran back and forth, because time is an issue as well. The huts can close, either hut or each, at any moment, requiring you wait until the closed hut reopens, which may not coincide with access to the other hut. God help you if you have to start the process over when one hut suddenly closes, for then you must undo what you did do so you can do what you must do.

And you may be carrying all you own with you. You may have your whole family in the road, in the sun, family for three generations waiting for coins to be offered and stamps to fall. A bomb may go off nearby, as rebels of this or governments or that try to discourage your travel. Shots may be fired.

If all goes well, no one dies and you have the right money and papers, you can get all your stamps. You can go one Klick down the road to where two fellows hold a rope, one on each side of the goat path. If you have all your stamps stamped you can show them. They will drop their rope and you can pass over from one nation to another nation. It is as easy as all that and might not take more than a day in some places.

You might say, the migration from here to there requires a choice and takes some effort.

In Christian Scripture, person(s) who find they have life and the persons who find they have death are often the most surprised people in the story. In Luke 16, Dives is so surprised to find himself in torment, he begs Abraham to send a dead beggar to warn his family. In Matthew 25:31f, Jesus gives His end time prophecy; many of those who are accepted into Heaven will be shocked and just as many who are not accepted will be shocked. Apparently, according to Jesus, to choose Him means we make a real decision and then continuously put out some real effort.

People who pass from fake to real, from death to life, are thus led by grace and accompanied by real effort.

III

And what do we miss if we miss out on the life passage? We may discover what we finally miss in the end is the same thing we missed all along the way, I John 3: 15-24.

Please understand,  we don’t “get good” just because we get to a heavenly cloud somewhere. We don’t get bad just because we feel the fire lick our toes a little. No, sorry, good and bad are durable and they take some explaining.

A well known writing college writing coach told her classes there were two adjectives they were not allowed to use. If the students insisted on using them, or used them by mistake or just used either one of them in her class on their projects, no matter how well they did on the assignment, they would receive an F.

   The words were two simple adjectives, “good” and “bad.” The writing coach said, “Don’t be lazy. Anyone can say this is good or that is bad. You have to do more than call names. Show me why something is good or something is not. Show me the good in the good and the bad in the bad. I want to know why something is right or wrong. You have to decide about good and bad. Then you have to fight on the side of good against bad. If you aren’t going to fight for good, don’t even get in the arena.”

What is good and what is bad? It is not enough to use the words, it seems.

If something is bad, we are good when we call it bad and condemn it, but only when to do so involves personal risk. I am not at great risk to say, “The weather is not good here in Texas in August.” Few will disagree and those who do have probably suffered heat stroke, anyway.

On the other hand, if I am the Muslim president of the nation of Iran (I am not) and I announce publicly the Holocausts against the Jews did occur in WW II and it was a dreadful incident of the mass loss of human life, to be condemned by all religious persons, risk ensues. The Muslim president of Iran did say this very thing, just last week, and he did so at great personal risk, because his predecessors in office denied the Holocaust completely. Good is this; to call bad bad when it costs us something to make that call.

What is good and what is bad? Good relieves our fears, bad redoubles those fears. American slave owners in the colonial period wrote their fears down in florid long-hand in personal journals. They feared any collective activity by their slaves, even in religion, for out of collective activity might come unity and unity was dangerous in the slave class, they thought. They also feared intelligent activity by their slaves, for obvious reasons, so they enacted various punishments against those who dared teach a slave to read and write. The educators who mingled with the slaves in the South or the runaways in the North risked their lives every day in their classrooms. Educated activity might lead to communications among the slaves, any of which might threaten the slave empires.

We can easily see why the slave owners feared unity and intelligence among their slaves. There is another fear in the slave journals, one we might not so easily understand.

The Christian slave owners (most of them were cultural Christians) believed they should teach their slaves about Jesus and so see them converted individually. The good, god-honoring slave owners who converted their slaves to Christianity feared this one thing as much as any other; that they would meet their slaves in Heaven after they died and then have to explain how one Christian could hold another Christian (or any person) in chains.

When we are good, even at cost (perhaps mostly when it costs us to be good), good relieves our fears. We don’t have to be afraid to meet our slaves someday when they are slaves no more.

We could go on and probably should but the text and this application make the point for us. To be Christ-like means, well, we are Christ-like. We know what it cost Him to be Christ-like.

A scan of our inward parts would show what? If we leave off the old evil, evil from antiquity, bad that is bad to the bone and bad from the start, then the scanner shows we are able to embrace reality really and to stand for that which is good at great personal risk and keep on standing for good long after risk becomes cost.

What got into you? Our answer should be evident. Jesus got into us, on us, around us. Jesus gets back into the world through us.

 

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