Tagged with "6/3/2018"
"In the Flesh"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 6/3/2018
II John 1:7
“In the Flesh”
June 3, 2018
            This morning I’m starting out on a sermon series that will go through the summer, drawing from books of the Bible that often go neglected.  Most of them are very short.  Some of them deal with obscure situations that we have largely forgotten or ignore.  Few of them provide passages that are read in the three-year cycle of readings that we call the lectionary.  Nevertheless, they are all part of the Bible.  Each has something worth hearing, even if the message calls for us to listen more closely than we are used to doing.
            Today we have heard the entire Second Letter of John, and next week we’ll hear the Third.  Along with I John, which we hear from often, the Gospel of John, and (maybe) the book of Revelation, they take in the surviving work of one Christian leader writing in the last decades of the first century to a group of churches in the area around Ephesus.  In II John he speaks of them as a mother church and her daughter churches, “the elect lady and her children” [1:1], and pictures himself as a family friend offering guidance:
“Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead, I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” [1:12]
That brings us to the substance of this letter.
            The Church at that time was trying to figure out ways to express or explain or understand or talk about Jesus.  Some of them were inadequate and some of them went way off into left field, and John was one of those people who was concerned about that.  For him, and for later Christianity, one of the non-negotiables was that Jesus was a real human being and at the same time truly God.  He was not only a prophet (as Islam would later claim) or an angel (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach nowadays) or a sort of divine hologram projected into our world (as groups that we would call “Gnostics” would teach in the early centuries).  Jesus was God with us, God as one of us, God “in the flesh” [1:7].
            John described his desire not just to write to his friends, but to be with them, and in the same way, God’s will is not just to speak to us, but to be with us in the sort of all-encompassing and direct relationship that only comes about when people are entirely present and real to one another, “face to face”. 
            It makes a difference to us, even in the ways that we treat formal worship.  Look at our time together this morning.  As a local church, part of the larger and world-wide Church, we celebrate the fact that some of the kids have reached the age where they are starting to read on their own, and so we want them to have Bibles to learn about Jesus.  We’re going to have a time to congratulate someone who has demonstrated that he is carrying that assignment out through scouting.  Some students have reached other milestones in their education, and we pause to thank God for bringing them to where they are, as well as to pray for their continued education and to let them know that just because they will be scattering in a few weeks does not mean that they will not be part of us or that they will be forgotten.  We will be sharing in the regular meal that we share with one another and with Jesus, as we remember his very human presence on earth, body and blood, that brought us salvation from the sins that endanger our souls.
            Because Jesus has come “in the flesh”, ours is a faith that is embodied.  James (a book that we do read from a lot) puts it bluntly:
“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” [James 2:18]
We cannot separate our faith and its works any more than we can divorce body and soul.  Christianity is not some vague idea about love, but a loving response to the way that we have seen God’s love paying the physical price for us on the cross.  So John said,
“But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another.  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning – you must walk in it.” [1:5-6]
If II John sounds a little testy, the warnings it gives are the warnings of someone who understands human life, who knows and cares about how easily someone can lose track of what matters.  It is not meant as the voice of the inquisitor, but the voice of someone who worries about somebody who matters to them.
“Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. …Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching.” [1:8, 10a]
It’s like saying, “When you do get to college or move out of the house, be sure you don’t get mixed up with anybody who is bad news.  Be sure you make some good friends.  Get yourself up for church every Sunday morning, whether you feel like it or not.  And while you’re at it, be sure you eat right and get plenty of sleep, because an all-nighter isn’t going to get you through an exam anyway.”  
            II John is not some great theological treatise.  It’s one letter of many that the elder John seems to have written, one of three that have survived.  They survived because the churches that received them knew that there was something there worth holding onto, something called “truth”:
“the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever”. [1:2]
When we, like they, hold onto the truth of God’s love embodied in our daily lives, the truth that we see above all else in the God-filled life of Jesus,
“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father  and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.” [1:3]
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