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April 12, 2015 - 1 John 1.1-2.2

“Heard, Seen and Touched”

1 John 1:1—2:2

April 12, 2015

 

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5This 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. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but 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.

8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

 

I daresay that most of us think of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a supremely spiritual, rather mysterious and vague, inexplicable, and inexpressible phenomenon. But here, John says that the incarnation of Christ, which we celebrated on Christmas, continues. Jesus continues to be present among us, but now as the risen Christ.  John says that we have heard the gospel, we have seen his risen body and touched his murdered and yet risen body.  Clearly, the idea that the resurrection is just a spiritual thing is NOT biblical.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ with great music and beautiful poetry. But this Sunday we are given the opportunity to reflect more reasonably upon our faith that God raised crucified Jesus from the dead. Perhaps it seems odd to hear me say that we are going to consider the resurrection “reasonably,” because if anything seems utterly beyond human reason, it has to be the notion that God raised crucified Jesus from the dead.

Faith and reason can work together. “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

Something within us human begins longs to know the truth, and so we are constantly searching for it. “In the far reaches of the human heart there is a seed of desire and nostalgia for God.”

Our faith in Christ is based upon our being encountered by the risen Christ. Christ was not only raised from the dead, but he returned to his disbelieving, fearful disciples, spoke to them, and allowed them to touch him, and they believed. Most of us come to faith in Christ the same way. The risen Christ comes to us and gives us what we need in order to have faith in him. To say that we have faith in Christ is to say that, in some way or another, Christ has appeared to us.

One of the effects Jesus’ resurrection story has upon us is to draw us into the story. In listening, we quite naturally identify with the story; we find our places there. And while this is a story about Jesus and his tragedy, it also has implications for our times of tragedy.

 Because if there is one thing that’s for sure it is that every person here will at some time or another be an actor in a drama that is tragic. And when you are, you are sure to feel, as Jesus must have felt, very sad, very much alone. And I don’t know if this was the case with Jesus, but when there is tragedy, there is often a searching questioning of our beliefs, even to the point of asking, “Where is God?”

We expect God to be with us when we gather for praise and prayer here in church. But we most want God to be with us during our times of tragedy, especially there. And that’s the good news behind the sad story that convenes us this Palm/Passion Sunday. Where is God? God is with us, in our human suffering, betrayal, disappointment, and trouble. There is no tragedy in which we walk that he has not walked before us so that he could be fully with us. 

Where is God? God is with us in the darkness, in the pain, even on the cross, especially there. It’s a very different definition of who God really is, a vision of God that becomes our great comfort in times of tragedy. If God will go even to the cross for us, then there is nowhere we are cast that is so sad and dark that it is not also the place where God is with us. God doesn’t give us an explanation for the tragic, or rescue us from the tragic. God gives us something that may be even better – presence in the tragic. What a great comfort to know, in our moments of greatest difficulty, that God has been there.

After his son died in a car that plummeted into Boston Harbor, William Sloane Coffin preached a now-famous sermon that has become a classic statement on the relationship of the Christian faith to the tragic:

When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and at least one thing that should never be said. The night after Alex died, a woman came by carrying quiches. She shook her head, saying sadly, “I just don’t understand the will of God.”

 Instantly I swarmed all over her. “I’ll say you don’t, lady! Do you think it was the will of God that Alex never fixed that lousy windshield wiper, that he was probably driving too fast in a storm? Do you think it is God’s will that there are no streetlights along that stretch of road?”

Nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around with his finger on triggers, his fist around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is, “It is the will of God.” My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.  

      
We know where God is because we know Jesus. In just last Sunday’s Gospel, when Jesus learned of the death of his friend Lazarus, what did he do? The shortest verse in the Bible is the most pregnant with the fullness of God: “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35, KJV).  Jesus also wept over Jerusalem and had pity for Peter even in his denial. Thus Coffin says, “God’s heart was the first to break.”

“Where is God?” Some people, for all sorts of reasons, have decided that there really is no good answer. For them, the tragic is the ultimate confirmation that God is nowhere; there is no God. Tragedy for them is proof of the nonexistence, or at least the unconcern, of God. After all, God and the tragic just do not go together.

Jesus says otherwise. Where is God? On Friday of this week, we hear Jesus cry out, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” But note: he still calls God “my God.” God is not remote in the hour of suffering. God is there, close. God feels the pain, as much and even more than we do. God does not manipulate our world or our lives down here. God has created us as frail, finite creatures, but God is not absent. Jesus shows us that God is especially present in moments of suffering. We tend to think that when we are in pain, we want to get away from here and get over there, back toward God, where there should be no suffering. But if anything, when we are in a place of cheerful comfort we may be farther away, rather than close to this God. 

John Polkinghorne, one of Britain’s leading theoretical physicists, declares that Christianity, like the natural sciences, is concerned about making sense of the world on the basis of the evidence that is available. “Faith is not a question of shutting one’s eyes, gritting one’s teeth, and believing the impossible. It involves a leap, but a leap into the light rather than the dark.” Faith is to be understood as “motivated belief, based on evidence.” It is rigorously based on reflection on the world – on the various “clues” it offers to its origins and nature.

To confirm this, Polkinghorne argues that science shows us a universe that is deeply intelligible, rationally beautiful, finely tuned for fruitfulness, intrinsically rational, partly veiled in character, open in its process, and information-generating in its nature. These properties of the world, he argues, are not just happy accidents; they are realities that need to be explained. For Polkinghorne, the best explanation of these observations is that the world is the orderly creation of God. The approach is evidence-based, asking how what we observe may best be explained. It is not conclusive; it is, however, highly suggestive.

Polkinghorne also stresses the importance of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth for Christian faith. Jesus is part of the evidence that has to be assessed:
“The center of my faith lies in my encounter with the figure of Jesus Christ, as I meet him in the gospels, in the witness of the church and in the sacraments.”

Here is the heart of my Christian faith and hope. Yet, at a subsidiary but supportive level, there are also hints of God’s presence which arise from our scientific knowledge. The actual way we answer the question “How?” turns out to point us on to pressing also the question “Why?,” so that science by itself is found not to be sufficiently intellectually satisfying.[1]

Where is God? Where there is tragedy, there is God. The TRUTH is that when your times are darkest, when you are most lonely, when you feel like you are a worm and not worthy of anything, that you are a failure – that is precisely when God is right there with you and says to you “You cost me my Son and you are worth it.”

That is one of the great truths that we stand before in this the holiest week of the church’s year.[2]        

 


 

 

[1] Alister E. McGrath, Theology: The Basics

[2] Portions of this sermon are taken from Will Willimon’s Pulpit Resource for April 12, 2015.