Reflection 21st April Easter 4 1 John 1-2:2

The First Letter of John

Preacher: Emily Hayes


So after 9 weeks reading through the gospel of John, we now delve into the “First Letter of John.” Although, the author is actually not named in the letter, the ideas, style and language are very similar to that of John’s Gospel, so the letter was attributed to same the author.


While, the gospel itself only refers to the writer as the beloved disciple, since the second century it has been assumed this was the apostle John, one of the so called Sons of Zebedee. And if not actually written by the same author it seems likely that the gospel, all the letters and revelation came out of and were for the same community, often referred to as the Johannine community, a network of house churches, probably based in and around Ephesus.


The first letter (unlike the second and third one) does not have the standard opening and closing formulas of a letter, rather it seems instead to be a poetic sermon written for a particular community to deal with a specific problem.


That is, some people have left the community and are now stirring up further division.


Scholars think perhaps that those who had left had subscribed to a belief know as Docetism. That is that Jesus was not in fact fully human. He was a spiritual being and that his body was just a phantom.


One of the ways that communities deal with the disagreement is to perhaps ignore it, to say that it does not really matter, you do you, there is no truth any way etc. This is the philosophy of rampant individualism and consumerism.


Or, on the other hand, the way some communities deal it, is to decide that there is only one absolute truth and I, and my group have it. These communities refuse to listen to or respect anyone who sees things differently. Those who do are looked down upon, excluded, “cancelled,” called deplorables or heretics.


The author of John offers another way, the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. John is sometime called the elder, this is the way of eldership, of wisdom. This way can somehow hold conviction about what is right and true with respect for difference and love for others. It can create space for other ideas without feeling threatened.


Over past 9 weeks as we have reflected on the gospel of John we have had to hold conflicting ideas in tension with each other. This is hard and complicated.


It is hard to hold the possibility of God’s transforming and redeeming grace while also naming the true impact of sin and the pain and destruction it is causing in the world and ensuring the safety of our communities, our institutions and our churches.  It is hard to rejoice in the abundance and generosity of God while also lamenting that so many do not have enough and as Christians we are called to address that. It is hard to hold the hope of resurrection and new life while also mourning and lamenting the death and bareness within and around us.


In 1 John there are also hard and complicated tensions concerning the mystery and reality of sin.


  • It says, if we sin we are not walking with God. Later in the letter it goes even further to say that no one who abides in him sins, no one who is born in him sins, no one who sins has either seen him nor known him. And yet we all sin and to deny that is to deceive ourselves.
  • It says, if we do sin we have advocate with Jesus who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the world. It also says that the way to know God and Jesus is to obey his commandments. This tension between grace and works is one that has plagued the church.
  • It says that God is light and in him there is no darkness and yet there is so much darkness in this world. This world in which Christ came. The world for whom Christ died. It is in the darkness that the light shines. Or as Wilbur put it the other night “without the dark, there is no glow in the dark”
  • The letter tells we must hate this world and the so called desires of the flesh. And yet John argues very strongly for belief in Jesus who came in the flesh. As said the division in the church is between those who affirm this and those who do not.
  • The letter warns against those who have left, the false prophets. And yet over and over states that to love each other, to be in fellowship together is the only way to God.

As I have wrestled with this text and these tensions this week I have found myself asking God, “which one is it? And God of course says both.


Like many people around the country I have followed quite closely the story of Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann. It has been long and messy and at times it seemed even cursed. The way it has managed to spill out into so many other stories is bizarre. Much of the media coverage has lacked nuance. This coverage has fuelled the flames of division around this case in which it seemed everyone had an opinion and a side.


This week Justice Lee, who is the judge, responsible for the defamation case handed down his verdict.


I haven’t read the whole thing but as I read Anabel Crabbe’s analysis of it I literally cried. The fact that someone actually read all the information and heard. both sides before forming an opinion in itself is so rare. The nuance, the ability to hold tension, to show care and compassion for the humanity of all involved and yet also name their sins was balm to my soul. It gave me a sense that there is in fact still wisdom in the world not just soundbites and unhelpful and divisive slogans.


Anabel put is this way, “The past week has been a dreadful one, with terrible things happening around the world and in our own country. But in all this darkness, the reminder that it is possible for the human brain to entertain complicated and difficult and even conflicting concepts all at once, and do so with courage and humanity, is a struck match of sudden and redemptive warmth.”


As I continued to read the news about Israel and Gaza, the fatal stabbings in Sydney, the ongoing analysis of crime on our town I longed for, found myself praying for this kind of in depth understanding and compassion for all involved, this ability to stand in shades of grey.


In my ordination sermon Celia quoted Merton who said, “If we want to bring together what is divided, we cannot do so by imposing one division upon the other or absorbing one division into the other. If we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political, and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ.”


Let me remind you this is not the easy way, it is as Celia described in the same sermon, “like standing amidst all the different voices and holding each one like a rope. It is very hard work. It is tempting to drop one or the other of the ropes to relieve the tension.”


But while it is not the easy way, it is the way of love, the way of Jesus, who is in fact love.


This will be my last sermon on John. Next week we have Brooke Prentis who will wrap up the series with John 3. Then there will be camp and then Barb will be here to share with us and then it will be Pentecost and we will enter in ordinary time.


So I’ll finish with John himself. A well known passage from 1 John chapter 4, that some have argued is perhaps a summary of the whole Johannine literature and message of Jesus.


“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.


God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”





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