Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”
Each of us has our own way of following Jesus. Just as Jesus had different plans for each of his disciples, he has a role for each of us. The difficulty we have that the apostles didn’t, is figuring out what it is we are called to do.
All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
For whom would I lay down my life? It’s a question which will probably never require an answer, but when the question is posed it makes one stop and think. We recently observed Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day and during the holocaust the question of whether or not one would lay down one’s life to save another’s was not theoretical. There were many heroic people who sacrificed their lives to save the lives of complete strangers. There were of course many more who turned in their neighbors rather than risk possible retribution. When John equates hate with murder it may sound like hyperbole, but if we put it into a historical context, we can see that it is more true than we may have realized
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
God’s love can be a source of great comfort and of confidence. When we are loved, we have the freedom to be ourselves. We don’t need to seek societal approval because we are children of God. Each of us is a unique creation and we are all created in God’s image.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness; ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Right now, might be a good time for us to emulate John The Baptist. We can all be voices crying out in the wilderness. We can raise our voices to call out injustice and corruption. We don’t have to accept all of the objectionable things going on around us. We can march, we can call our representatives in congress and we can go to town hall meetings and make ourselves as unpopular as John made himself with the corrupt government of which he ran afoul. John called out the sin of Herod and he paid for his unrelenting witness with his life. Hopefully we won’t pay the same price when we stand up for immigrants and refugees, or when we oppose legislation that oppresses women or the disenfranchised, or makes it harder for people to vote. Like John, we too can be relentless.
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
We are all in a constant state of growth or change. Our understanding of the things on which we focus grows, and so when we spend time at prayer and reading scripture we discover things which we had missed before. The same is true in most areas of our lives, but spiritual depth or maturity isn’t always related to study or to education, it can also be gained through thought, prayer and participation. As we mature in our faith more questions arise and hopefully more answers as well. That’s where community comes in. When were in involved in a community of faith we have access to the experience of other people who are on the same path and like the fathers, young people and children John writes about, we can nurture one another. Whether we’re young or old in our faith we always have something to contribute. Some people may have the wisdom of an elder and others will have the fresh ideas and enthusiasm of a child taking those first inquisitive steps toward a deepening of faith.
Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Each and every one of us has gifts which we can use for the benefit of all. God didn’t create us to be passive spectators, while the world falls down around us. We’re here to build. We can build up the Church and we can make positive change in our world when we use the gifts we have been given. We tend to underestimate our own power because we don’t see the big picture. We overlook the fact that alone we are just disjointed pieces of a whole that is far greater than any one individual. If and when we are able come together into one cooperative body we will be force for positive change the likes of which the world has never seen.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that 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. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
If we think of sin as a matter of light and dark we get a clear visual picture. We don’t get that when we think of right and wrong. Life is full of grey areas and moral challenges. None of us are pure light or pure dark, we fit somewhere on a greyscale and our goal is to move step by step, shade by shade to get as close as we can to the lightest grey we can reach. Any darkness we keep hidden darkens our shade of grey, but we can relinquish that darkness through confession and reconciliation. It is through the sacrifice that Jesus made for us that we may regain our light.
For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
I know a thing or two about stumbling, but for me belief in Christ wasn’t the stumbling block. The stumbling blocks I needed to get over were, the commandment to honor your father and mother, and the fact that I was knocking on doors to churches where I didn’t feel I belonged. Although I sought a helping hand as early as when I was a teenage boy, I always seemed to reach for the wrong hands. Their grip and pull only caused me to fall harder. I had a long and strange journey, not to belief, because that’s where my journey began, but to conversion and baptism and commitment. If we have indeed become a royal priesthood, then we have an obligation to gently reach out our hands in love to those who are stumbling toward the Church, without judgement or pressure or unasked for advice. What we don’t want to do is make ourselves or our church just another obstacle on someone’s path. We can simply offer our hand as an invitation to be welcomed over the threshold and into the community of faith.
As an aside, I realized later in my life that there were two family friends to whom I could have turned all along, who would have provided exactly the help I needed. I didn’t come to that realization until the first part of my journey was complete. I’m grateful to have them in my life now. I suppose the lesson there is that all things happen in God’s time, not ours.
Now after Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
Sometimes the word of God is delivered by the most unlikely of messengers. We need to be careful not to allow our prejudices to inhibit us from hearing truth from messengers who’s demographic makes us uncomfortable. Did the Apostles perhaps doubt Mary Magdalene’s word because of her identity? For that matter, who would have thought that a gay, Jewish, Episcopalian would ever attempt to share his meditations on God and scripture through the internet? I certainly didn’t see that coming. Jesus spread his message through an outcast Samaritan woman and countless redeemed sinners and skeptics. If we only identify people by the categories in which we place them, we may fail to listen to a valuable message they have to share with us.
Jesus said to his disciples, “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me.”
Throughout time people have killed and persecuted others as an act of worship. Recently we’ve seen a lot of these atrocities committed by ISIS. Forty-five Coptic Christian worshippers were killed in bombings on Palm Sunday of this year. For centuries Christians killed other Christians, Jews and Muslims all in the name of God. But as we see in this quote, Jesus tells us that those who kill as an act of worship do not know God or Christ. Doing any type of harm to people in God’s name is not worship, it is not righteous and it is not what Jesus taught. Jesus preached love and mercy and salvation, isn’t it time for us all to put those lessons into practice?