The Community of 1 John

April 11, 2021

1 John 1:1 – 2:2

“Where do we go from here?”

I imagine this conversation taking place among the disciples before they had the opportunity to encounter the Risen Christ. Once they can see, talk, and listen to more teachings from Jesus, they should have a better idea of their mission. However, I still imagine there was still questioning and a lot of courage summoned before Peter gave his first sermon recorded in Acts.

Let’s jump ahead sixty or so years. A lot can happen in sixty years. Christianity has begun to spread around the Mediterranean. The Apostle Paul has proclaimed the Good News to many towns and villages. Christianity is growing and many churches have been formed. The rest of the Apostles have carried the Good News beyond Jerusalem and Israel. Yet, the nagging questions still arises, ‘Where do we go from here?” There are always new opportunities that abound to share the Good News and teach of Jesus Christ.

For the next six weeks, we are going to travel through First John. It is presented as a letter, however, it does not have the structure of a letter. It is most likely someone’s personal writing or a sermon that was given to the community. It was most likely written in Ephesus, where the Apostle John had connections. It was most likely written by a leader within the community and not the Apostle himself.

The Apostle John, one of Jesus’ original disciples, has developed quite the following. The gospel attributed to him, has created Johannine communities all over the place. Communities which have lifted up their own leaders to proclaim the Good News. The Good News is passed down from generation to generation. This is the way it was supposed to work. Until it didn’t.

The author of First John is writing to devoted followers of Jesus. They have become steeped in the teaching of John the Apostle. It is how they first heard the Good News. The story he shares of Jesus in his gospel is much different than the other gospel writers. It is a story that has led some of them astray. If you think about it, the same thing easily happens today. Twenty of us could hear the same speaker and all twenty of us could come back with a totally different impression and talking point.

The community the author is writing to is a community in crisis. There is a division among the believers of Jesus Christ. There is hope this writing will bring unity among division and restore hope where disagreement has instilled anger. Among those who first came to the good news through the Apostle John, their faith has buoyed them through any storms. Their faith in Jesus Christ has carried them through persecution. Their faith has allowed them to live joyously into the light of Jesus Christ.

Now the crisis they are encountering is different. It is not a crisis with those that have no faith or simply do not belief in Jesus. This new crisis is around whether Jesus was fully human. The author of First John writes in the hope of reassuring those original followers to stand firm in their faith. Those that are the creators of the crisis must repent of their misteaching and ask for forgiveness. A forgiveness that will be given through God’s love for all humanity.

The community, living in a time when some of Jesus’ original disciples could still be alive, are living in the experience of Christ. They are not concerned with the doctrinal, or technical teachings of what it means to follow Jesus. They have first-hand knowledge from one that walked with Jesus and has set an example for them. Their faith is sensory. They have heard, seen, and were able to touch or reach out to one that broke bread with the Messiah.

Their faith lies within their ability to follow these same actions. They have continued to share the good news they heard from the Apostle John. They have seen the wonders and miracles that have taken place in the name of Jesus. They have broken bread around the table with those disciples who sat at the table with Jesus. They have been refreshed by the cleansing waters of Jesus Christ and know the new life the waters brings.

This is a community of love and relationship and thus those who have brought division and question the faith of generations has stirred up unexpected anger. There is a tension that has been brought to the forefront by Jesus, now spilling over into the community. The community is learning how to live into the tension. It is a tension of light and darkness, of sin and redemption. There are no clear definitions here. There is a lot of gray area. And this, as Christians, is what we live in. This is where we encounter our siblings. This is real life.

We live in tension daily. The tension that pulls us in different directions from what we know is right, to what it is we desire. The tension that encourages us to speak up for what we believe and staying silent because we do not want to cause a scene. When we do take a step in the wrong direction, it is easy to deny our wrong doings. The blame is shifted to others and ownership is not taken for the wrong taken place.

Even when we sin, we are still welcomed with open arms by a loving God. We are cleansed of our sin when we repent and are bestowed God’s forgiveness. When we experience the arc of the Word in Christ to the acknowledgement of our sin, we begin to grow as disciples.

We are then called to proclaim the same good news the community of First John heard at the end of the first century from the Apostle John. Good news that shares in the brokenness of humanity through the saving grace of Jesus Christ cleansing us from all sin. To be connected with the early followers of Jesus through the sharing of this same Good News connects us to a movement that brought light to darkness and hope to the despaired. We are called to experience Christ in the here and now. We are called to hear the Word of God among us. We are called to see the Word of God among us in the actions of others. We are even called to break bread with one another and touch and taste the sacred.

Carrying a movement forward is hard work with challenges and difficulties along the way.  It often times gets overlooked and there is little recognition for the effort exerted. The early disciples were responsible for proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ as he instructed. The Word of Life that was with God at the very beginning of creation was now the Word that they were proclaiming. In their proclamation, the challenges and difficulties, were diminished by the joy found in Jesus. The joy that reveals the light of Christ and bares forgiveness for our sinful nature. This Easter Season, I invite you to live in the joy of the resurrection and light of Christ.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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