Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sermon for the Feast of All Saints - 1 Jn 3:1-3

                                                                                    All Saints
                                                                                    1 Jn 3:1-3

            In February of this year, the NCAA ruled that the University of Louisville would be stripped of the national championship it had won in men’s basketball in 2013.  The decision was part of the sanctions against Louisville’s basketball program that resulted from a sex scandal in which strippers and prostitutes were being supplied by coaches to recruits and players.
            This action was extremely unusual and was unprecedented for the two college money making sports: men’s football and men’s basketball.  In the past, schools such as the University of Miami had won national championships in football, and then later it was discovered that they had been cheating in order to do so.  The programs received stiff sanctions as they lost scholarships and their performance on the field was greatly harmed.  Some have not returned to the level of success they once had.
            However, they retained the national championships they had won.  The school and fans had the memories of all the great experiences, and they could still proudly declare their national championships.  No doubt many fans would say it was worth it. Sure they had been caught cheating and were suffering now for it.  But the winning and the glory of the national championships would always be theirs.
            Yet for Louisville, this was no longer the case.  The 2013 national championship had been vacated.  For almost five years the school and its fans could proudly declare this status – they were three time national champions, with titles in 1980, 1986 and 2013.  But the NCAA’s decision meant that they had lost the status of that third national championship.  In an enduring reminder of this fact, the school had to take down and remove the 2013 national championship banner which had been so proudly hung alongside the other two.
            Today we are observing the Feast of All Saints.  In our text, the apostle John says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  Because of the love of the Father revealed in Jesus Christ, all Christians are indeed the children of God.  This is a status that we have now.  We still face the challenge of the world now as we look for our Lord’s return.  But the Feast of All Saints leads us to consider those who have already died in Christ.  For them the struggle is over. They had the status of being God’s children during their life, and they still have it now.  We rejoice that they have it and that it will never be taken away.
            In the verses immediately before our text, John had said: “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, know that he who practices righteousness has been born of him.”  In his letter, John emphasizes two things that the Christians in Asia Minor are to do. They are to believe in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ; and they are to love one another.
            John’s point of reference for all that he says is the return of Jesus on the Last Day.  He says that Christians are to live with this in mind.  Abiding in Jesus – continuing in faith – will allow them to have confidence and not shrink in shame when the Lord returns.
            Why would they have shame apart from Christ?  It’s the same reason you would.  In words that you know so well from Setting One in our hymnal, John had said in the first chapter of this letter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, wh is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Apart from Christ, our sin is reason for shame before God. 
            In Jesus Christ, God has shown us the most amazing love.  Yet how do we respond to this?  Do we love others?  Sometimes. But sometimes we just love ourselves.  We avoid situations that would require us to help.  We tell that story about another person because we want the pleasure of sharing the juicy information that makes another person look bad.
            But because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us we have no reason for shame.  John says in our text, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  Or as he will say in the next chapter, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 
            What is more as those who have been born again of water and the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ now leads, prompts and enables us to share Christ’s love.  As John says in the verse just before our text, “If you know that he is righteous, know that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”
            This is what God has done for us in Christ.  And in our text, John calls attention to this amazing reality.  He says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  Because of the love God has given you in Jesus Christ, you now have the status of being children of God.  This means that you already have eternal life now. 
            But it is not just the living who have it.  So does every Christian who went before you.  They are children of God. They have no reason to be ashamed because of what Jesus did for them. Born again of water and the Spirit during life on this earth, that new life continues now.  Their bodies may be buried, but they are with the Lord in joy and peace that has no end.
            They can’t lose that status. They no longer face any challenge from the world. They have died in Christ and so for them, the struggle is no longer part of life. We rejoice in this fact. It should comfort us to know that our family and friends are with Christ in a peace and joy that can never be taken from them.
            Our situation, of course, is very different.  John says in our text, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  John goes on to indicate in this chapter that world’s response is far more than just a lack of recognition. He says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”  The world – our culture in the all the ways it has been perverted by sin – hates us for a simple reason.  John says in this letter, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
            That is the challenge we face.  It is one that continues to threaten us.  We dare not ignore this fact. But by giving us faith and rebirth, God has also given us the victory that carries us through.  John says in this letter, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
            We long for the day when all Christians will no longer have to overcome the world by faith. We long for the day when the world will be forced to know and honor the risen Lord. We long for the Last Day – for the return of Jesus Christ.  We know that because Jesus is the Lamb of God who taken away the sin of the world, we have confidence in the day of judgment.  There is no reason for us to shrink from him in shame at his coming.
            We know that the saints who have gone before us have life and peace now – something that can never be taken away from them.  We know that we too are children of God who though we are hated by the world, will have no reason to fear or be ashamed when Jesus Christ returns in glory.
            Yet what we don’t know is what we and the saints will be like when Jesus returns.  We don’t know is what we will be like.  John says in our text, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
            In both his Gospel and in his letters, John asserts he reality of the incarnation.  The Son of God became flesh.  He became man, without ceasing to be God.  In his resurrection on Easter, Jesus brought that flesh through death so that it can never die again.  He transformed our flesh to free it from all the ways that sin affects it.
            We do not yet fully understand what this means.  We get some sense of it in the Easter accounts.  But we don’t really understand it yet. This will only happen on the Last Day when we see Jesus as he is.  Only when we see him face to face will we understand what the resurrection means for us.  Only then will we be transformed to be like him – incapable of ever dying again.
            This means that based our our experience and perspective – and of course that’s the only one we have – the best is yet to come for the saints and for us.  Because of Jesus Christ, all of us are children of God now. We all have eternal life now. 
            The saints no longer face the hatred of the world.  They are at peace.  They face no challenge or threat to status they have. Instead, that is something we continue to endure.  Our faith in the risen Lord must continue to overcome the world.
            Yet all of us together await the Last Day.  We look for the day when the risen Lord will raise and transform all of our bodies to be like his. What will this be like?  We don’t know for sure.  But we know that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

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