[A Sermon based on 1 John 1:1-2:2 for the Second Sunday of Easter; it is the first in a five-part series entitled We Are Resurrection People]
Debra and I do not ordinarily give each other presents at Easter, preferring to keep our attention where it belongs during that season, and, before you ask, yes, I suppose we are hypocrites since we do give each other gifts at Christmas rather than keep our attention solely on Jesus during that season but at least then we’re sort of emulating the generous act of the Magi. This year we did buy a couple of Cadbury eggs for ourselves, which are good, if not quite as good as Reese’s peanut butter eggs, and I confess that I broke our agreement and bought something else for my wife: one of those poles for the yard on which you hang a small flag and I, being the big spender that I am, also purchased a flag for it that has the letter “R” on it.
You can guess what the “R” stands for but I told Debra that since it was an Easter present it could stand, at least on Easter Sunday, for “Resurrection.” Really, though, whenever you pull into our driveway and look over at the flower bed beside the garage and see that “R” flag hanging there and know that it stands for “Ruffin” you might as well also say that it keeps on standing for “Resurrection” because, as a matter of fact, if we are resurrection people any of the time we are resurrection people all of the time.
That’s what I want to talk about during these Sundays of the Easter Season: what it means to be Easter people—to be resurrection people—all of the time. In other words, given that we know Jesus Christ in the power of his resurrection and given that his presence in our lives makes all the difference, what difference does it make?
We begin today by saying that we are resurrection people—so we walk in the light.
John said to his readers and to us,
God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1:6-7)
“God is light,” John tells us, and that truth is affirmed all over our Bibles. For God to be light means for God to be absolute holiness and purity, it means for God to be perfection and completeness. The Gospel of John reminds us that Jesus was the light of the world, that he was the light of God that came into the world and that the darkness has not overcome that light. In other words, because Jesus who is the light of the world came into the world we are able through him to have access to the light of the Father; because the light of Jesus was seen and touched and experienced by people who then testified to who Jesus is and to what Jesus did, we too can know him and can walk in the light.
But what does it mean for us to walk in the light? Well, light reveals things as they are; light reveals the truth. For God to be light means for God to be absolute holiness and perfection; for God to be in the light means that God is revealed to be what God is. For us to walk in the light means for us to be revealed as we are—and when we are revealed as we are it is clear that we are not absolute holiness and perfection!
What we are, John says, is forgiven by God and in fellowship with each other. Those are the two great truths about us that are revealed when we see ourselves as we really are.
John was dealing with some people in the churches to which he was writing who thought that they had risen above sin and that they thus had no need of further forgiveness. “If we say we have no sin,” John said to them, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:8). You won’t run into too many people these days who would openly claim that they are perfect and do not sin. When I was in high school I knew a grocer who told me that he had been made perfect and that he did not sin. I reported to my father what the man had said and my Dad smiled that sly smile of his and said, “Ask him if he was sinning that day that he was so mad at his brother he was throwing potatoes at him in the produce department.”
Again, though, few people today, and probably no one in this building, would claim to be perfect and sinless. Do we ever, though, think or live in ways that border on such an implicit claim? When was the last time that you took seriously the fact that you do still commit sins? If we don’t stop and think about our sins, if we don’t acknowledge them, how can we ask for forgiveness and how can we gain the help of the Lord in moving beyond our sins?
Some of us have committed sins in that we have done things that we know were wrong to do; they violated the commandments given to us by God for our own good or they violated the Christian’s one law which is the commandment to treat other people in ways that reflect genuine love for them. Have you acknowledged your sin? Have you asked God to forgive you? Some of us have committed sins in that while we may not have done anything outwardly that people would label a sin, our hearts have nonetheless given way to anger or envy or lust or some other motivation that betrays a lack of community with God and with other people. Have you acknowledged your sin? Have you asked God to forgive you?
If we fail to acknowledge our sins and if we fail to seek forgiveness, are we not implicitly claiming that we have no sin? If we fail to acknowledge our sins and if we fail to seek forgiveness, are we not denying ourselves the grace and power of the ongoing forgiveness of God through Christ that we need?
You see, we are resurrection people and as resurrection people we have the wonderful opportunity to walk in the light—to see ourselves as we are, to acknowledge ourselves as we are, and to seek the forgiveness of God that God in Christ is so willing to give us, forgiveness that is available to us because Jesus shed his blood on the cross and because he, the resurrected and ascended Jesus, even now serves as our Advocate when we repent and seek forgiveness.
So when we walk in the light we see ourselves honestly as the sinners that we are—but we also see ourselves as those who are forgiven and who are being forgiven by God through his Son Jesus Christ.
Those people to whom John was writing who thought that they had moved beyond sin were also disrupting the fellowship of believers. If you believe that you are without sin you also tend to think that you are better than everybody else and such an attitude would naturally impede the development of fellowship. Again, I doubt seriously that anyone here today would make the claim that he or she is better than other people in the church, but I ask you again to be bold enough to let the light of truth shine into your heart and life and to reveal what is there—do you harbor an attitude of superiority or of judgmentalism that implies that you really do think that you are superior to others?
We are meant to have true fellowship in the church, a fellowship that is built on these facts: (1) we are all sinners; (2) we are all forgiven by the grace of God; (3) we are all in need of the ongoing forgiveness and grace of God; and (4) we all have access to the ongoing forgiveness and grace of God because Jesus Christ is our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord and Advocate.
We are, in short, the fellowship of the forgiven. Because we are the fellowship of the forgiven, we can share in true unity—we are all sinners who have been, who are being, and who will be saved by grace; we are all people whose lives are illuminated by the truth and so we can be open and honest and vulnerable with each other; and we are all human beings who need and receive help and so we can and do share our lives with one another.
John does not use the word “humility” in our passage but it seems to me that humility is what he is calling for. Walking in the light means being forgiven of our sins, which requires humility—we have to admit that we need forgiveness and we have to ask for it; walking in the light means being in fellowship with one another, which also requires humility—we are not better than nor superior to nor more spiritual than others; moreover, we need each other.
Because we are resurrection people we can walk in the light and when we walk in that light we will see and accept and live in light of the fact that we are the fellowship of the forgiven—and in that fact is real, honest, realistic, and holy unity.