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Monday, August 18, 2014

What will We Become? (1 John 3:1-3)

What We Will Be (1 John 3:1-3, 11-24)
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, August 17, 2014

        How great is the human need for love?  How far do we reach?

·        Holocaust survivors separated from family members search for years until the reunion happens; they won’t let go of love. 
·        Children given up for adoption seek out their birth parents.  They want to know that even though they were given up, it was done for love.
·        Online matchmaking is a multimillion dollar industry that profits from lonely folks looking for love. 

“See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (3:1). 

It is as if we who know Christ are in on a secret – the greatest secret!  It is so great that when we share it, some who hear simply cannot believe it.  Either they cannot believe it is true, or they cannot believe it is great.  So they reject Christ, or more likely, they reject us, the messengers.  Deep down, every person who ignores the invitation of God or turns away from Jesus is a person who needs love.  Every human needs the love only God can provide, and God does provide.
“See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (3:1).  God’s heart is a heart of love for us. 
Immediately after the elder, the narrator in 1st John, declares that we who are in Christ are children of God, he then says, “What we will be has not yet been revealed.”  What we will be has not yet been revealed.  He’s already said we are God’s children and throughout the essay he says we will live forever in God’s presence.  What will that be like?  It seems he is not completely clear on this nor is he all that worried about the things he does not know. 
Take that phrase, what we will be has not yet been revealed, and put it to the world today – to people specifically and humanity in general.  Now, imagine life with Christ, and imagine life apart from Christ.  What will we be?  What will “we” who are of HillSong become?  What will “we” Americans within our American society be?  What will “we” Americans be in relation to peoples and nations?  What will “we” humans become?
Remember, there is nothing we need more than love and specifically the love God gives in creating us and redeeming us through the cross of Jesus.  Apart from love the picture is dreadful.

A police officer in St. Louis shot dead unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown.  A young life with so much ahead, so much living to do, was cut tragically short.  An unarmed black teen was killed by a white police officer – AGAIN!  Now that police officer has to live with it.  Michael’s family has to live with it.  His friend, the witness, has to live with.  The continued riots suggest that America is not living with it well.  That this whole story is one we’ve seen before many times is testimony to the devastation of a world apart from God.  It keeps happening; apart from God’s love, evil reigns.
The comic genius Robin Williams took his own life and his daughter had to take down her social media accounts.  She not only grieved the loss of her dad in the most awful of deaths; she became a target of trolls whose depravity led them to try to add psychological torture to her pain. 
We read 1st John 3:11 and then 3:23 & 24 - “This is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another”.
        “And this is his commandment that we should believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as He commanded” (1 John 3:23).”
        “By his Spirit we know he abides with us” (v.24).

        We Christ followers see the world around us.  We who are in Chapel Hill, NC hear the cries of anguish all the way from Ferguson, MO; all the way from Northern Iraq where people seem destined to suffer.  We see the world and we hold up 1st John as an alternative.  We do not have to succumb to the bad news all around.  We have another story to tell, a story of love.  At the center of the story we have been given is an invitation to the love and to the life of God. 
You and I are invited to live with God, to live in God, and to live with God in us – God as we know God in Jesus Christ.  These New Testament works, the Gospel of John and 1st John, show us what God is like.  God is associated with love of one’s brother in the church.  In the context of the entire New Testament and especially Luke’s Gospel, this love of other Christians is extended to love of neighbor. 
Jesus is asked who is my neighbor? Jesus answers with a story; the neighbor is the person who needs us.  The neighbor is in need and we stop to help and then we are neighbors.  Love from God; love of fellow Christ-follower; love of all people; it turns out that love describes God and as Heather said quite accurately two weeks ago God defines what love is.  We look to God’s story to see how to live in love.
        This is where our hearts needs to stay this morning – in that place where we know that God invites us into life and into love.  God does that, he loves us. 
        Can we?  Can we become love – conduits of God’s love as it flows into the veins of a humanity that is crying out in pain?  What will we become?

Think on what keeps you awake at night.  Your child who is now away from home?  Maybe your father had a heart attack at 55.  Now you are North of 50 and not in great shape.  What fears cause you to choose left instead of right?  Is life so harried and hurried we fear we will never be able to stop and rest?  Is life so set and stuck we fear that this is it, nothing new and exciting will ever come again?  What are your real fears?  Surely what bothers your neighbors is nothing to you and what unsettles you seems silly to them.  But fear is one way sin becomes an enemy that would rob us of the life of love God has for us.

        I am pretty sure Michael Brown and Robin Williams never met.  Both mattered equally to God.  He loved each enough that he sent his Son for them.  To each man, sinful fear gave rise to hate and hate brought a tragic ending.  In Iraq and Syria, fear and hatred conspire to create chaos, to destroy the world. 
First John 3:15 is so plain – “all who hate a brother or sister are murderers and we know that murderers do not have life abiding in them.” 
What human being or group of humans or category of humans awakens the hate in us?  Here hate is as bad murder.
Note that 1st John was written before the events of Michael’s Brown’s death and Robin William’s suicide.   First John was written before there was such a thing as Isis.  First John was written before there was such a thing as Islam.  When the elder put pen to paper under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and wrote about the life to which we are invited, life in God’s love, he touched on themes that speak today.  He appealed an ancient story that sounds eerily familiar. 
“We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother” (3:12).  One human killing another?  Where have we heard that before?
First John says Cain did this because he deeds were evil.  What does that mean?  For more detail we turn to Genesis 4 where we see that God rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s.  Genesis does not elaborate on why Abel was accepted while Cain was not.  Genesis focuses attention upon Cain’s angry response.  God warns Cain about the bursting anger inside of him.  That anger takes over, and after he kills Abel, Cain is paralyzed by fear.  What fears paralyze us?  What fears have unmade us?  What fears lead to the demolition of human community?
God said, “Well, Cain, I am sorry, but you’re on your own now, you filthy murderer.”  No, God did not say that.  Genesis tells us the Lord put a mark of protection upon Cain (4:15).  Even after we give into it and do the hideous things fear leads us to do, God still loves us, protects us, and invites us to turn away from sin and back to Him, to His love.  
Who do you hate?  I remember a week or so ago reading of the way ISIS works and feeling hatred for them.  They had the Yazidis pinned down on the mountain, starving and dehydrated.  Rescue came in the form of U.S. warplanes and Kurdish evacuation helicopters.  Isis was content to thoroughly annihilate an entire people group, the Yazidis.  Yes, I was reading from the safety of a vacation house on a secluded lake, a safe distance, but still, deep inside, hate burned in me toward ISIS. 
How does God feel about ISIS? 
I think God hates them too – a radical, violent, singularly minded group bent on killing all who oppose them.  Yes, I believe God hates ISIS.
However, God doesn’t see only ISIS.
God also sees individual Syrian and Iraqi Sunnis, men who are poor, without hope of education, and very, very young, many younger than Michael Brown.  If they grew up in Chapel Hill, they’d be in the marching band at Chapel Hill High.  They’d attend the youth group at HillSong Church.  But they didn’t grow up here.
Where they grew up, all they have heard since they started walking and talking is “America put the Shia in power and now we are dirt poor.”  The parents they love as much as we love our parents have taught them that life is cheap, that America is Satan along with the Shia who run Iraq, and their best hope is to die as martyrs in a Jihad type of war. 
I am here in church telling you our hope is that we are invited into God’s love.  In Christ, we are children of God.  This is the message we give our kids.  Those kids who become soldiers in ISIS who I want to hate have been told their hope is to kill Americans and Shia and anyone else who does not practice Islam the way they do.  Is it any wonder we go on mission trips and they have fired killing shots by the time they learned to shave?
What will we become?
This is the message we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
        And this is his commandment that we should believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as He commanded.
        By his Spirit we know he abides with us.

        Because of who God is we become people filled with God, that is, filled with the Holy Spirit.  This filling explodes into stories of love – us in the world, helping people, forgiving when we are hurt and wronged, and building communities in Chapel Hill, in Carrboro, in Dominican Republic and South Africa and Ethiopia.  We cannot stop ISIS or senseless shootings or suicides or other tragedies.  We don’t have the power.
        God does have the power and the intention of stopping it all in God’s timing which we have to trust is better than ours.  We don’t have in us the power to fix all the world’s problems.  But we do have the love to try as hard as we can to fix as much as we can.  We do have story – the story that says we are already children of God because of God’s love.  And we will be something more than we are now.  In resurrection live forever, celebrate unending joy, and discover the depths of love we cannot fathom until then.  What will be become?  That is to be seen.
        For now, we offer an alternate story.  We tell the world what God is like.  First John’s greatest contribution in this story is to show that God is love and everyone who will receive Jesus is invited into the love of God.  This truth is bigger than all the bad news that can be so depressing.  The bigger truth is we have lasting joy that explodes forth from God’s church and by the power of God’s Holy Spirit this joy fills the earth.

See what love the Father has given the world that we should be called children of God; and in Christ that is what we are”


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