Sermon from November 21: Let it sink into your life
Let it sink into your life.
Christ the King; November 21, 2021
I John 2:15-25
To get to the heart of what John is encouraging us to do requires sweeping away some clutter and clarifying some ideas. But it is worth the trouble, because the result is eternal life. Or, as Peterson puts it in The Message: “eternal life, real life.” That’s the first idea to clarify: “eternal life” does not simply mean you get to have a whole lot more days after you’re dead. “Eternal life” means life with depth, life with meaning, life that has an important connection, a connection with the Eternal One. Eternal life doesn’t begin after you die; eternal life begins when you wake up and realize that Jesus is your Savior.
I am, of course, making very brief comments about things that probably require more depth. So be it. I’m not trying to educate you, after all; I’m trying to tease you into wanting to be closer to the God who made you, who loves you, who has called you, and who has redeemed you.
So, some clutter to clear away: on “loving the world” and on “antichrist.” I John 2:15 sounds almost contradictory to John 3:16: “Do not love the world” versus “God so loved the world.” What gives? If God loves the world, should we not love the world? Well, yes. So why does John tell us that anyone who loves the world does not love God? Come on, preacher; you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth! No, calm down and think. John uses “the world” in two different senses. When he writes that God loves the world and encourages us to be in the world what Christ is in the world (4:17), he is thinking of the real, actual, physical world: the stars and planets, this earth and all its peoples and creatures and plants. We are to love this world as Christ loves this world and gave himself for its life. When John writes that we must not love the world, he means that we must not attach ourselves to the ways of this world and the pursuits of this world. The world’s way is competition; the world’s pursuit is power. To quote verse 16 from The Message: “Practically everything that goes on in the world – wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important – has nothing to do with the Father.” Love the world so that you wish, like Christ, to save the world; do not love the world so that you fall into the trap of following the ways of the world. I hope that helps.
Now “antichrist.” John is the only writer in the Bible who uses that word, and I hope you noticed that he uses it in both the singular and the plural. That means that “antichrist” does not mean some great figure who will appear at the end of time to rule the world. Those of you whose understanding of “antichrist” has been shaped by the “Left Behind” novels and movies had best get that out of your head. John is not writing about the Secretary-General of the United Nations. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at it again. He is writing about people who claim to be Christians but who deny that Jesus is the Son of God come in the flesh.
That was a problem for the people John was writing to and that is still often a problem. Some people deny that Jesus is the Son of God. Those who first knew Jesus realized that in knowing him they were also knowing God; that somehow the person of Almighty God had come among them. They were eating and drinking and playing ball games with the presence of God and when Christ spoke to them they were hearing the words of God. “Love one another as I have loved you” was not simply good advice; it was a command from God.
At the same time, this was not a ghost or a hologram they were seeing. He didn’t appear to eat; he ate. And his body did with food the same thing all our bodies do. He got tired and needed sleep. He got cranky and needed a break. He laughed and cried. He hugged and received hugs. There were formal heresies at the time that claimed that Jesus wasn’t really a human being; he just looked like one. We don’t have very many teachers running around in the twenty-first century making that claim, but I have often experienced among Christian people a sense that Jesus isn’t really human, didn’t really come in the flesh. I won’t go so far as John and call them “antichrists,” because they are simply mistaken, not hostile. But I hope you take my meaning.
What John is getting down to is the reminder that Jesus is truly our Lord and Savior and we need to keep our focus on him. Today on our calendar we observe Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. We see the year reaching its close with the celebration of a strange truth: that a carpenter from Nazareth is the King of the Cosmos; that the Word of God through whom the cosmos was made is flesh with all the wonder and frailties of flesh; that eternal life, real life is found by keeping our focus on him, despite all the very appealing distractions the world offers us.
The heart of John’s message to us is, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you” (v. 24). To turn again to The Message: “Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life.” Keep turning it over and over in your head. Take communion every chance you get. When you go to the store, listen for Christmas carols that are about Jesus. I’ve gone to church every Christmas for as long as I can remember. You’d think I knew the story by now! Well, I do know the story, and still enjoy reading it and hearing it read. It prompts me to keep thinking about this absurd reality of the Word of God, the Lord of the Cosmos, snoozing in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. I keep thinking about it. We sing about it and pray about it. Lord, for some forty years I’ve been preaching about it and giving that up is something that’s going to be hard about retirement. But the truth I was taught as a child and that I continue to ponder as an adult is sinking into my life.
I’m a work in progress; I daresay that you are too. Even at my age I don’t have this “Following Jesus” thing down perfectly. Over the years I have come to understand some things better. Over the years I have acquired a more sophisticated set of doubts. And I deeply appreciate John’s advice: “Let it sink into your life.” Let the word of truth, that the Christ has come in the flesh, “abide in you;” that is, take up residence in you and move in permanently. Let it sink into your life. With that truth deep in you, you will know eternal life, real life.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master