Sunday, May 16, 2021
1 John 5:9-13
When I was ten years old, my family was able to visit my dad’s relatives in Norway. It was the trip of a lifetime! We still talk about it. When we got back, my mom put together I think three photo albums (remember this was back when we had cameras with film!) and we would get them out every time friends came over to visit, to tell them about our experience. I remember in particular my dad showed a video of when my grandma’s cousin took us fishing on a boat in the fjord. My grandpa in South Dakota was an avid fisherman, and he LOVED that video. He watched it over and over again, and would tell the story of how my Norwegian relative fished to the point that you started to think that maybe my grandpa had been right there with us in the boat, fishing with him! My grandpa was a great storyteller like that. He loved listening to our stories and sometimes told them so well himself that you started to think the experience had actually happened to him, not to you. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that feeling – of seeing photos or videos of a place or hearing a story from a friend so many times that you start to think you were there yourself.
We are witnesses of Christ. Our first readings from Acts this Easter season have reminded us of this fact almost every week. Today, our second reading from 1 John urges us to give testimony to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ SEVEN times. Of course, we weren’t eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry, death, or resurrection, but neither were some of the first apostles – Matthias and Justus in our first reading from Acts, the great apostle Paul who wrote more than half of the new testament, to name just a few. The amazing power of the Holy Bible is that the stories come alive for us even two thousand years after these events actually happened. As Christ’s witnesses, we tell and retell these stories like my grandpa so that it almost is like we were there ourselves. And the awesome promise from Jesus throughout the gospels is that he is still present and living among us still today. Jesus the resurrection and the life still lives among us!! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
I have been asking us to reflect on the question, “Who is Jesus” this Easter season to show how Jesus knew there would be millions of believers after his resurrection and ascension who would not see him face to face but would have their own powerful experiences of a relationship with Jesus that they would not be able to keep to themselves. They and we would continue to be witnesses to this life we have in Christ! This is why Jesus tries to describe who he is in so many different ways that people can find One relate to and connect with: I am the light of the world. I am the vine. I am the good shepherd. I am the gate. I am the bread of life. I am your friend. I am the way, the truth, and the life. Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah…the list goes on. Jesus will find a way to strengthen our relationship, our connection to him!
So today we conclude the Easter season by remembering Jesus is the life, eternal life. John spells out the testimony (that is the message) we have to share as believers in the living, risen Lord in his letter: “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Life in the Son, a life of faith, is life that truly is life. And this means for us as modern-day storytellers of all that God has done for us, is that we don’t have to only live vicariously through the lives of the first disciples and what we know of the amazing story of Jesus in the gospels. We also have our own story to tell of how Jesus has changed our life for the better.
When we think specifically of Jesus giving us the gift of eternal life and how we talk about this core message of our faith, we have been taught from an early age that this means we get to go to heaven when we die. It is important in an increasingly secular world for us to know as Christians that Jesus is not solely talking about going to heaven when we die, although this is an important piece of the promise. I believe one big reason why fewer and fewer people go to church or consider themselves religious at all is because they think there’s no point – OK, I believe in Jesus, I go to heaven when I die, so what now? Well, “Eternal life” is something that begins NOW…”so that you may know that you have eternal life,” 1 John says. You have eternal life. Present tense. Jesus makes our life better now, what good news!
The mystery of faith is the lifelong pursuit of exploring how a life in Christ really is LIVING, connecting God’s story in the Bible to God’s story living in us today. New Testament scholar D. Moody Smith writes, John “is not saying, ‘experience eternal life so that you may have it,’ but rather, ‘You have eternal life, know this in order that you may experience it.’” We already have eternal life because of our faith in Christ, how, then, do we know it? In the mundane day to day tasks of living – doing laundry, grocery shopping, going to doctors’ appointments and paying the bills – it may be difficult to see how our lives are any different than those who do not have faith. The challenge for us as believers is to intentionally reflect on how the gift of eternal life in Christ makes a difference: when we get the bad news of the diagnosis we didn’t want to hear about, how does our faith help us respond with hope anyway? When we hear of all the terrible things going on in the world on a daily basis: a struggling economy, India overwhelmed by COVID, increased violence in the city and escalating conflict in the Holy Land itself, Christ is our protection, our peace, and gives us courage for our fears. Even something as simple as a rainbow after a storm, a beautiful sunset, or a really tasty meal at dinner can increase our awareness of God’s presence and gratitude to God for the gift of life itself.
Today is the last Sunday of Easter and next Sunday we will begin the season of Pentecost where we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Thursday, May 13, was actually Ascension Day, where we remember that Jesus was raised from the dead and then spent forty days with his disciples preparing them to continue the work of the kingdom of God after his departure. Our gospel for this morning is a part of what we call Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” for his disciples, that God the Father protect them in his name, sanctify them, and make them one in faith after he departs from the world. And then, Jesus basically says at the end of his prayer, “Tag…you’re it!” He says, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Jesus sends the disciples, his followers, which includes us, to continue God’s work in the world. And this includes telling others about the eternal life we have in Christ, how a life of faith makes our lives better. Knowing that we already have eternal life in Christ helps us live for the sake of others, because we want this life for others. It makes us open to risks and sacrifice for the sake of others, because Christ willingly gives of himself for us. We continue to tell the story of Jesus’ love for us so that the world might know, and believe, and have eternal life, so that we all can say, “Ahh, now THIS is the life!” Amen.