Sermon Lesson: 1 John 5:9-13 (NRSV)
Alternate Sermon Lesson: John 17:6-19 (NRSV)
Psalm: Psalm 1 (NRSV)
I’m going to be honest with you. If someone comes up to me in the street, usually all smiles, and asks me point blank if I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, I’m secretly wondering if God’s playing some perverse joke on me. It’s not that such well-wishers are ill intentioned—they certainly aren’t. I just don’t want to get into the questions or the conversations when I’d rather be picking up coffee or getting on with my life. There’s also the double standard. The idea that there’s one true message, and the person asking the question knows it and I, poor little caffeine-needing woman that I am, just don’t.
I’m sure we all have our stories, of awkward kumbayas in the woods, or someone chasing us down with a faith pamphlet in Boston during a heatwave. (Both of which, just in case you’re wondering, are true stories.)
The reason why I bring up these slightly amusing stories of unneeded proselytization is today’s scripture lesson is all about testimony or witness.
Now, before I go on from the humorous and slightly painful to the text, I’d like to talk about Congregationalism for just half a second.
We are often a quiet religion, and we don’t scream and shout our testimony or witness from the tops of buildings like other denominations. For instance, you won’t often find us organizing a trip to a third world country JUST to hand out pamphlets; we usually reflect God’s light in other, perhaps more understated ways. That does not mean that we don’t show our own witness and testimony to the Lord. It doesn’t mean that in times of need we won’t band together and put together a food drive.
This past Sunday I spoke of simply waving to people you pass by on the street, if you can’t smile to them because you’re wearing a mask. Something that small is showing God’s love—and thus witnessing his Word.
You don’t have to get flashy about it. You can, of course, if you want to. However, before I begin, I wanted to point out that each and every one of us is a witness to God’s love, a testimony to his faith, a reflection of his mercy, a shining light of his grace, even if we may not always realize it.
Onto the Text
We open with human testimony—that is, testimony that comes from human beings. However, it’s just that. Human. For it to be God’s testimony, according to Old Testament Law (and isn’t it strange that we’re going back to that?), we need two if not three witnesses to trust it, to believe.
However, then 1 John turns it on its head. He switches the verb. We believe in testimony, but we believe in the Son of God. It’s subtle when you use English but the difference is apparent in the text. To believe something is to have faith that it could be true, that you wish it to be true. To believe in something is to know that it is true. To know it completely.
1 John puts it another way. The testimony, the witness, is in your hearts. It is no longer something merely heard, it is now something which is internalized.
This also goes back to the often-used Christian phrase of accepting Jesus into your heart. This, here, in 1 John, is the mechanics, the nitty gritty play-by-play, if you will.
- You hear the testimony.
- You internalize the testimony.
- The testimony is branded in your heart and, as a result, Jesus is accepted into your heart.
- You are a Christian.
Now, it may sound easy. If it does, then perhaps your faith is strong and Jesus already resides in your heart. If, however, if sounds difficult, there is no need to give up. There is no need to skim and move on. This mini sermon is one form of testimony. Think about your life and find another form of testimony, another form of witness (I use these forms interchangeably). Think on them. Pray on them. And I am certain you will begin to internalize and be able to move onto the next step.
The next half-verse is cautionary and a little difficult for a modern audience, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get anything out of it.
If someone has seen Jesus, has known Jesus fully, has believed in him fully and yet denied him, then they have called a liar—that is, they have denied who and what he is. This is the very height of blasphemy in the early Christian teachings. To deny what you know is true (for indeed, to believe in someone, to know every aspect of them and yet to deny what you yourself know of this person—that is, Jesus Christ) must be nonsensical in my mind.
To simplify it, to see an apple, to know it is green, to hold it, to know its weight, to smell its crispness, to taste it, and know it is tart, and then declare it not to be an apple is not only strange but proof of denial of reality itself.
So it is for those who know Jesus, believe in him, and yet deny him.
But all is not lost.
God the Father has given us life eternal through his Son, Jesus Christ. This is life unending, life continuing, live that lasts forever. Belief in Jesus and Live Eternal are, in fact, synonymous. To believe in Jesus is to have access to life unending.
In a brief recap of everything we have covered since Holy Week:
Jesus took our sins upon himself, sacrificed himself and was crucified, so that we might have this life eternal.
“Life eternal,” as the author of 1 John calls it, is what we Christians call Heaven. It is a place of paradise after death where there is only joy, peace, and freedom from sorrow and pain. We will be in the presence of our Lord, and we will not perish, although all earthly things must die.
And so, In Conclusion
Love the Lord, your God.
Love Jesus Christ.
Obey the commandment to love one another.
And we will find Paradise.
If it seems overly simplistic it is only because God does not require us to jump through hoops to find everlasting salvation. This is not a test with no correct answer or with a trick question hidden somewhere in the middle. It is simple because Jesus loves us and wants to be with us forever in Heaven.
Simple as that.