Saturday, April 25, 2009

B, Easter 3 - 1 John 3:1-7 "True Hope"

I hope I don't die! I hope I live! I hope I am saved! I hope God is there! I hope I've done the right things! I hope I'm going to heaven! I hope I believe what is really true! I hope God hears my prayer! I hope the bible is correct! Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again – well I hope he's risen, I hope he comes again, I hope I'm ready if he does come!

What is hope? How does hope happen in you? Ask yourself, "What picture of hope am I?"
Last Sunday, eight days after the day of resurrection, we reflected on doubting Thomas hearing Jesus' command him to see, touch, stop doubting and believe. Christ opened Thomas' mind with his word so he could believe and truly see his Lord had been raised from the dead.
Today we heard in the Lucan account of the resurrection, Jesus' appearance before the disciples whom respond with troubled looks and doubtful minds. This appearance comes after the women are confronted at the tomb by two men dressed in white, and two fellows unwittingly walk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. What picture of hope do these people display?
Doubt, worry, and turmoil of the mind and heart, don't display much of what hope is: trust, patience, or eager expectation. It's as if the disciples' actions were saying, "I hope it's right!" But it seems their hope is gone! They had lost their Christ-centred sense of purpose!
Hope is one of those words we use all the time, but perhaps our society's use of it in the twenty-first century is with negative expectations. Just about every time we say we hope for something, we seem to be facing and fearing faithlessness and failure rather than the fullness of faith which calls us to face and revere with eager expectation the hope into which we have been reborn.
Negative hope, or hopelessness, is the product of worry and doubt. It's untrusting, makes one fidget with impatience, making one unstable; perhaps even leading the faithless into depressive thoughts and feelings, carelessness, panic, slander of others, debauchery on food, sex, drugs, or alcohol. Hopelessness even leads to crime.
So when we say we hope something might happen; that I might be saved, I hope I'm going to heaven, I hope I've done the right thing, I hope God is there, I hope our church survives. What am I really saying? Is our hope more like the hopelessness displayed by Thomas, the two fellows walking on the road to Emmaus, and the disciples troubled with rising doubts in their minds? Is your hope negatively geared; smothered in doubt and worry?
In the days of the Early Church, after Jesus had been raised and had ascended into heaven the church was tempted with doubt and worry when some began promoting a secret knowledge and higher way of gaining salvation. The words of Old Testament scripture and the witness of the Apostles were being put aside causing some to doubt they were going to be saved by Christ's death and resurrection through belief given by the Holy Spirit. Eager expectation was replace with hesitation and panic calling the Apostle John to encourage the young church to unashamedly and confidently remain in Christ.
Reading from 1 John 2:28 St John says, And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. How great is the love the Father has lavished on 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. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 Jn 2:28-3:7)
Hear St John's confidence in Christ, and here the rejection of worry and doubt. John addresses the hearers as those who have already been made children of God. He calls them to a hope built on trust, patience, and eager expectation of the things to come. He calls each and every one of them to stand and confess, "I am a child of God! I know the way the truth and the life! I know he is risen and I know he will come again to take me home! I know I am being recreated to be as Christ is, despite my sin! But I know my sinfulness and my sinful life is dying each and every day, as I am led to my eternal resurrection where I will see Jesus as he is."
John concludes this section by saying everyone who has this hope purifies themselves. This is the work of believing as we remain in Jesus Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to bring us to the forgiveness of the Cross through repentance and daily baptismal resurrection worked in each of us by the grace of God.
The next section of scripture use to cause me great angst at one time. It's quite blunt and confronts us, and so it should. But if we hear it out of context there's a real danger we might be placed back in the realm of uncertainty and doubt, leading us back into negative hope and hopelessness.
John continues, Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. (1 Jn 3:4-7)
John here doesn't say that you and I are without sin. We know from elsewhere that if we believe we are without sin the truth is not in us. Perhaps you, like I once was temped to believe, see your sin and shame and seek to hid it, leaving it buried in your inner most being, where it rots and erodes the faith placed in you first at Holy Baptism, and every time you hear the Word, are freed through the forgiveness of sins, and receive the life-giving holy body and blood of Jesus in bread and wine.
What St John is attacking here is hesitation, panic, worry, and doubt which takes true hope in the things of Christ and ever so slowly distracts and leads us astray from certainty, trust, patience, and eager expectation. Make no mistake; John is calling this hesitation, panic, worry and doubt – sin!
So, what is true hope? How does hope happen in you? Ask yourself, "What picture of hope am I?"
Are you a child of God? Let God speak in you, "Yes I am a child of God!" Are you going to die? "Yes, I am! But walking with me to death and waiting on the other side is Jesus, ready to suit me in his robes of righteousness when death in me is finally dead!" Is the word of God the truth? "Sure is, not a truer word has ever been spoken and written, nor will there ever be!" Do you think you will be saved? "I know I'm saved, I know I am being saved, and I know I will be saved!"
God calls us to live in hope. So let the Spirit show you your sin, let Christ have your sin, and live each day dying to sin with all its doubt and worry so you see the person Jesus has made you to be — because this is who you are! This is who you will be forever with him in eternity!
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! Amen.