Sunday, 14 January 2007

1 John The sin of perfectionism

Once upon a time... there was a man named John... painted here by the famous Spaniard... El Greco
Not Jesus cousin John the Baptist...but the other John...
a man who really... got who Jesus was.

This John... understood Jesus...because he knew a beloved friend when he was alive. You see... John walked down dusty roads with Jesus... washed with him in lakes and rivers, shared wine and bread with him...breathed the same air.

Jesus had chosen him... as a companion and friend, taught him how to be a messenger of his the good news he brought...and how to live according to God’s will. Jesus loved him...the Bible tells us...Jesus loved John so much...that as he was dying on the Cross...he asked this man be a son for his mother Mary. [pause]

John knew Jesus as a man – living sweating eating teaching... loving, aching, and dying...and living again.
So John certainly wasn’t going to put up with anyone who tried to spread it around...that Jesus had never been a real flesh and blood human being.

And sadly by the time John... was very very old...near the end of the first century...people were beginning to teach ideas... completely counter to... utterly anti... the Jesus John had known and loved.
These people claimed to worship Jesus, but denied his humanity. And what was scarier...
they taught Christians could reach perfection...and some even denied... there was any sin in their lives at all.
And so there was no longer any need for forgiveness. [pause]

And old John was absolutely ropable about this... and he didn’t want to die... before putting the record straight. So he named these people whose beliefs and teachings were so counter... so anti... the Jesus he’d known and loved – he called them... the antichrists.

John was worried Christianity would become a super-spiritualised and dangerous religion...
in which sin was denied...and with it... our prayers for forgiveness from God and the forgiving of one another... as God forgives us.

And so John left behind...the tiny message we call...
one John...a kind of message in a bottle...that would float through you and to me... to be his eye witness version of who Jesus really was...what Jesus revealed about God... and God’s will for us.

There’ll always be scholarly debate over who wrote the books of the Bible...but I believe John really knew Jesus as he says he did. So here’s a summary what John says Jesus taught him person to person about God and God’s will for us...about sin and love and forgiveness...[pause]

about God Jesus taught him.
God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
God is love, and those who live in love - live in God,
and God lives in them by the Spirit he’s given us.
How we know God’s living in that we love one another... not talking about it... but doing it.

And so you might well ask how do we test whether some spirit nudging us is from God? Well... John anticipated our questions... and given his close encounter with Jesus...John answers this way.

Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus, the anointed one of God, has come in the flesh... is from God, any spirit that doesn’t... is anti christ.’

But how can we ever be really sure we know God?
John says keep it simple
Just obey God’s commandment to listen to his Son Jesus and walk as he walked... love God and each other the way Jesus loved.

Ok but that would mean sin wasn’t about breaking the rules? That’s right John tells us, Jesus taught him

Sin is the failure to love God and one another.
Sin’s not about breaking a rule...but breaking a relationship.
But then we have to ask...if that’s what sin is... don’t we do that in some way everyday of our lives? ...You got it... John says...

‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth isn’t in us. If we say we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word isn’t in us.’ You see the human Jesus died because of our refusal to love...he died for our sins...not only ours but for the sins of the whole world.

Sound pretty hopeless – is there any hope? Of course there’s hope John wrote that’s exactly what Jesus came to show us...there is hope

You see God loves us so much... he sent Jesus to embody the actual remedy for our failures at love – the remedy is God’s forgiveness. And we can’t be forgiven for what we don’t admit to... to God and to one another.

So how does God continue to work in the world...
now his Son Jesus is no longer with us in the flesh?
I knew you’d ask that too wrote John

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us... by his Spirit...and his love is perfected in us. And so we can carry God’s love and forgiveness to the world. [pause]

And so it turns out... that in John’s community... one of the ironic things that threatened Christian’s ability to live a life of love... was when a whole lot of people started denying they ever sinned. [pause]

But, why on earth would people claim they never sinned...well in his book Christ plays in a thousand places, Eugene Peterson sheds some light on puzzle...
He thinks for a start... claiming you never sin makes life much easier. Bragging that you stick to the rules and obey the law doesn’t mean you’re living life of loving relationships.

And if we don’t think sin about relationships...
we don’t have to take other human beings seriously and what’s more... we don’t have to deal with God in a relational and personal way.

Jesus taught John... that sin is personal and relational... or it’s nothing. So John knew we’d never get love right.. if we didn’t get sin right. And the problem with getting sin right is our human tendency to deny it or play it down.

We call it a mistake, a bad call, poor judgment...wrong or negligent... a slip of the tongue...or an oversight... sometimes we call it stupidity or screwing-up. But rarely do we call it sin.

So Peterson says a refusal to deal with sin... is a refusal to deal with relationships. And if we refuse to deal with relationships... we can’t love God or anyone else.

We can’t love impersonally, we can’t love by abstractions ...we cant love by getting more information or taking part in a programme. To love...our person has to be involved...with these persons – Father Son and Holy Spirit... and those persons...Jane and Jessica and Saddam and Stewart

We often use ‘Sin’ as a condemnation, but in John’s little message we see it’s not an accusation...
sin is a diagnosis – a revelation into our human condition... so we can know what to do about it and where to go...
to get in on... a way of life... that’s about love.

As a community of Jesus followers...we’re part of the reality... that frees people from sin... confession and forgiveness

God loves us... so much... he sent Jesus to embody the remedy for our failure to love – the remedy is God’s forgiveness. And we can’t be forgiven for what we don’t admit to.

The denial of sin and the development of any religion which claims to move its members beyond sin is so common it has a name – perfectionism. It’s one of the deadliest sins because those who pursue perfectionism are convinced it’s possible to be perfect only if they try hard enough to live without sin.

And since practically every page of the Bible tells us it’s not possible to live without sin...the only sane and biblical approach to sin...[pause] is through forgiveness... and its counter part...through making amends. Confession and forgiveness and amends... free us to develop relationships of love... with God and with each other.

John also knew if we didn’t get the humanness of Jesus right we’d fall under the sway of the antichrists. Because a dehumanised Jesus... lets us develop a practice of love of God... that has nothing to do with human persons....
A dehumanized Jesus gives us a mix of enchanting music and stories that fill our hearts with inspiring thoughts and feelings... without all the distraction and bother of other people.

If Jesus wasn’t human we don’t have a model for sacrifice or patience...or servant leadership. We can customize the life of love entirely to our own convenience. We become lovers of ideas and feelings and ecstasy and novelty... but not lovers of the God who so emphatically... revealed himself in human flesh and blood. And certainly we don’t need to love any brother or sister who doesn’t provide us with those ecstatic feelings.

Sin reduces the people around us to roles or objects so we can use them or manipulate them or even condescend to help them.

But Jesus taught John that we can be trained...
to recognise sin as an unwillingness to live in relationship and therefore in love. We can be trained
to recognise programmes and ideas and causes that are just substitutes for real loving relationships.

And instead of denying or ignoring our failures to love we can confess our sin and receive forgiveness – we can return to our knees... over and over and over again and receive Jesus’ forgiveness and cleansing... and then we can get up off our knees and love one another... better.