Born | Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

1 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”

3 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”

4 Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”

5 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8 God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”

10 “Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? 11 I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (CEB)

Born

The Sunday after the Day of Pentecost is Trinity Sunday, and it’s the day we celebrate one God in three Persons. While neither the John nor the Isaiah texts that we just read say anything direct or specific about God as Trinity, they are important texts in our reflection upon God’s nature as Three-in-One. The John 3 text hints at God as Trinity with Jesus the Son teaching Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God, and his own work on earth. The Son speaks of the Spirit and the Father to a leader of the Jews.

Nicodemus, himself, is a curious figure. From early on, church teachers and theologians have both lambasted and praised him depending on the teacher’s agenda. During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin compared Protestants who were living in Catholic France to Nicodemus who, as a secret disciple, came to Jesus by night. The Nicodemites, as Calvin called them, were secretly Protestants at heart but Catholic in appearance because they were afraid of the Catholic authorities.

Later, Søren Kierkegaard, described Nicodemus as an admirer of Jesus, but too cowardly from fear of his own people to become a follower.

Neither of those views of Nicodemus are accurate. Even though Nicodemus came to Jesus by night that first time, he did stand up among his peers and call them out when they wanted to arrest Jesus without giving him a fair hearing as the law required (John 7:44-53). Ironically, the leaders argued that no one among the leaders had believed Jesus to be the Christ except for the crowds who didn’t know God’s law. That’s when Nicodemus stood up and reminded them that the law doesn’t allow them to judge someone without first hearing them to see what they’re about. But his peers didn’t want to listen to Nicodemus and accused him of being a Jesus fanboy from Galilee because the prophet doesn’t come from Galilee as Jesus did. Later, Nicodemus brought the burial spices and helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial with Joseph of Arimathea (c.f. John 19:38-41).

Like most of us, it seems that Nicodemus was a work in progress. Painting him as a fearful coward who never stood up for Jesus against his peers or who never made the leap to true discipleship doesn’t fit his whole story. Nicodemus was someone who saw that Jesus had come from God, and who went to Jesus in order to investigate what his faith told him about Jesus. It’s really not fair for us to judge Nicodemus too harshly. He might have been confounded by what Jesus taught him, but he was trying to understand.

Every Trinity Sunday I’m reminded of the inadequacy of human language when speaking about God. One of the texts for today is from Romans 8, where Paul goes so far as to say that we’re children of God and cry, “Abba! Father!” In one sense, this cry signifies the confidence that we Christians have in turning to God. In another sense, the cry “Abba! Father!” reveals that the desperate longing, eager expectation, and grasping hope of humankind can only be expressed in comparison to the cry of a small child. Small children don’t know how to express why they want their mommy or daddy. But they feel that mommy and daddy are where they need to be.

We believe that the One God is revealed to the world and exists as Three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But it’s difficult to explain that concept in human language because human language is incapable of defining God. I studied the theology of the Holy Trinity in seminary because it is an essential dogma of the Christian Faith. Still, people have difficulty understanding it. In fact, we can’t know all there is to know about the Trinity, because God is unfathomable and indefinable. There is no end to who God is. No one could ever learn all there is to know about God. When we say that God is eternal, we mean more than how long God has existed or will exist. God is also eternally indefinable. God the Trinity is a mystery. We can only know what has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ, the Son, and that often times, just as with Nicodemus, we have difficulty grasping God and God’s work in our minds.

The text from Isaiah provides a powerful account of Isaiah’s vision of God sitting exalted on the throne. At this vision, Isaiah can only speak the words, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the LORD of heavenly forces!” (Isaiah 6:5 CEB). One of the seraphs touched Isaiah’s mouth with a live coal and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.” (Isaiah 6:7 CEB). Then Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord and was able to respond to it.

Isaiah was almost completely paralyzed with a sense of God’s power and his own inadequacy by his vision of God, and rightly so! Even the seraphim had to shield their faces from God’s majesty. The act of cleansing not only restored the sinful Isaiah to wholeness, but also released his power to hear God’s speech and, in turn, to speak God’s words to a sinful people. The prophet had been released from sin so that he could be the bearer of God’s word. His being able to hear and respond to God was not something of his own power or ability but was wholly a gift of grace from God. God enables us to hear and respond to God’s words. It’s never by our own abilities apart from God that we come to God, because all that we are is a gift from our Creator. Every breath we breathe is gift. Just like Isaiah responded, “I’m here; send me” (Isaiah 6:8b CEB). We are called to respond to God’s voice and be sent.

As Jesus taught Nicodemus, it’s through the power of the Third Person of the Trinity—the Holy Spirit—that we’re born from above. Many translations of the Greek Scripture translate the adverb ἄνωθεν (anothen) as again, meaning, born again. Yet, the word has multiple meanings, including above. Jesus is teaching Nicodemus about being born from above. Jesus says, “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 CEB). We must be born of water and the Spirit.

This Son of God, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity, was sent by the Father from heaven to earth, so that God might teach us and give us life through His eternally begotten Son. The eternal Son of God took on flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary and became human. By this action, God the Son forever united human flesh with the Godhead. Humanity has been given a share in the Divine life by God’s gracious invitation.

Yet, we had to be redeemed from the power of sin and death. So God’s Son was lifted up on a cross, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. When the people of Israel were still wandering in the wilderness, they sinned by speaking against God and Moses. So God sent poisonous serpents against the people. They repented, and asked Moses to pray to God for them so that He would take the serpents away. The Lord told Moses to make a poisonous serpent and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten by a serpent they could look at the serpent of bronze and live (c.f. Numbers 21:4-9). Jesus the Son, in whom all things were created, was killed by his own creation. He willingly gave up his life so that we might have eternal life. We have life in the cross of Christ.

One of the paradoxes of our faith is that our life comes through death. The eternal life of John 3:16 is synonymous with the birth from above of John 3:3 and 3:7. Birth from above is from believing—having faith—in the death of Jesus Christ.

Part of what we remember on Trinity Sunday is that God the Father, the First Person of the Trinity, is the one who sent His eternal Son into the world for our sake. God the Father initiated the redemptive activity of Christ. God would not remain content with a world in the process of self-destruction and enslaved to the power of sin. The divine act of love was reaching out to the unlovely creatures we had become. God’s gift of the Son is an expression of deep love. When the Son returned to the Father, the Spirit came not only to empower and teach us, but to birth us from above so we could be called children of God.

God is always acting in and among us, giving grace upon grace even to the unbelievers, so that all may come to know the love God has for us. Humanity has never merited salvation. We have never deserved to be saved. God’s grace is an unmerited, gratuitous gift. All is grace, and all is gift.

The Father loved, gave, and sent for the salvation of the world. The Divine Trinity wants all of us to live in communion with God. This communion is exemplified in our communal life together. God gives us grace when we seek grace, and has done wondrous and powerful deeds for our redemption and salvation. As God’s children, born of water and the Spirit, we share in the relationship of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is perfect relationship, perfect love, and we’re invited to participate in and receive the life God offers.

But we know we aren’t perfect. The self-giving love of Jesus Christ shines on us, illuminating even the darkest pieces of our inner selves, and seeing the places within us that have been wrapped in darkness can make us want to keep hidden. It isn’t easy to let ourselves stand in the kind of light that sears and burns through the darkness. Like Nicodemus, we’re works in progress. What we can trust is that the Father didn’t send the Son to condemn us, but to save us and heal us and bring us into the light. God didn’t send the Son to judge us or toss us away, but to make us more perfectly God’s own.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Pastopher

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Ascension | Ascension Sunday

Acts 1:1-11

1 Theophilus, the first scroll I wrote concerned everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, 2 right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven. Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. 4 While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: 5 John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”

7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.” (CEB)

Ascension

Mothers know what it’s like to wait. Childbirth is preceded by nine months of expectation, anticipation, preparation, growth, change, worry, sometimes a touch of doubt or fear. Pregnancy, especially a first-pregnancy, is a transition time from one way of life to another. A whole new world looms before mothers (and fathers), and the life after childbirth is never quite the same as it was before. But before parents get there, (especially moms) they have the long wait of pregnancy.

Then, after childbirth, mothers (and fathers) learn even more about waiting. Waiting for that fist tooth to finally pop through so you can get a minute’s sleep again. Waiting for a child to say Mommy, because they always learn to say Daddy first. Then, waiting for the child to learn to say Daddy again because from then on out, it’s always, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mom! Momma! Mommy!” And, there’s waiting for your child to be able to find a matching shoe so you can finally leave the house now that you’re thirty minutes late. Even at age thirteen, we’re still not past that on some days.

The Day of Ascension was this past Thursday, forty days after Easter Day, but we commemorate the Ascension of Jesus Christ on a Sunday because, honestly, Sunday is the only day pastors can get most of their congregation to come to church for worship. Like the Epiphany, the Ascension is important enough that we don’t want to skip it, so we move it to a Sunday to make sure it’s covered.

The Ascension of Jesus falls in the between-time of Easter Day and the Day of Pentecost. Easter is joy and happiness. Pentecost marks a different kind of excitement as the church’s birthday and descent of the Holy Spirit. Not only does Ascension fall in a between-time, it marked the beginning of a waiting period for the Disciples. Remember, after Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to the disciples multiple times over forty days. He appeared in a locked room. He showed up again so Thomas could see. He was recognized after breaking bread in Emmaus. He cooked breakfast for the disciples on the beach.

Acts 1:4 suggests that Jesus may have stayed with the disciples, maybe even lived with them for part of those forty days. The Greek word used there has an uncertain meaning, in part, because it’s only used once in the New Testament. It might refer to table fellowship or gathering the disciples together. Or, it might refer to staying the night. The Common English Bible translates it as “While they were eating together,” while the New Revised Standard Version renders it, “While staying with them.”

Either way we translate the word, what’s clear is that Jesus was hanging out with the disciples a lot. The disciples had likely gotten used to resurrection-Jesus being present and continuing to teach them. Luke tells us in his Gospel that Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures about the Messiah and how repentance and forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed in his name (c.f. Luke 24:45-47). Acts 1:2-3 tells us that Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen speaking with them about God’s kingdom. And he ordered them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which the Father had promised to send upon them. The timeline of a few days from now is rather non-specific. They didn’t know the when.

But, the apostles still had questions about God’s kingdom, so they asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” (Acts 1:6 CEB).

At first, it sounds like a very earthly question, as thought the apostles were still looking forward to an earthly kingdom. And maybe it was an earthly question, in part. But the word Luke uses for restore is the same word used in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament in Malachi 4:6 (*LXX 3:23) where God speaks of Elijah being sent to turn the hearts of children to parents, and the hearts of parents to children before the great and terrifying Day of the Lord comes. The Septuagint actually says “who will restore the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of people to their neighbors…” (Malachi 3:23 my translation of LXX).

So, if Luke used this word as an intentional reference to the restoration work of Elijah that was mentioned in Malachi, then the question of the apostles was about more than an earthly kingdom. It was about a kind of restoration that involved calling the people of Israel back to faithful community. A restoring of broken relationships. The importance of restored human relationships is one of the things Jesus preached about often (c.f. Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 5:20-26, 18:15-17; Mark 11:25). After all, the work of Jesus Christ on earth included restoring the human race to God and human beings to each other.

It seems like the apostles wanted to know if this restoration was about to take place. After all, what other work is left for Jesus to do? And Jesus responds by telling them not to worry about the timing of things. Instead of being concerned about the timing of things to come, the apostles will be witnesses of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. In essence, Jesus tells the apostles that his work will now continue through them. The Ascension is the transition of Christ’s ministry from Jesus, himself, to the apostles and those who will follow them. The gist of Jesus’s message to the apostles is this: Don’t worry about the time, you’ve got a job to do.

Then, suddenly, Jesus was taken up into heaven. There’s no indication that the Ascension was something the apostles who were with Jesus expected when it happened. One moment Jesus was walking and talking with them, the next moment he was zooming into the clouds. Luke notes that the apostles “were watching” as he was lifted up. They were staring toward heaven when two men in white robes suddenly appeared beside them and asked a pointed question: Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11 CEB).

First, it’s worth noting that these two men in white robes make several appearances in Luke’s writings. In the account of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), Moses and Elijah show up and talk with Jesus about his departure, which is literally Exodus in Greek.

Later, two men in gleaming bright clothing appeared to the women at the tomb of Jesus. They also asked a rather pointed questions: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (Lk. 24:6-7 CEB). These men were later described as a “vision of angels” (Luke 24:23), but since the word angel means messenger, it would fit whether the men were actual angels of the heavenly kind or Moses and Elijah appearing once again. After all, they were described as men initially.

While the two men aren’t mentioned at the Ascension at the end of Luke, they do show up in Acts. And they ask questions once again. “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11 CEB). It’s possible that these two men—these messengers—were Moses and Elijah prodding the apostles on.

There is a strong connection to the Ascension of Elijah in this account of the Ascension of Jesus. Forty days recalled the forty-day experiences of both Moses and Elijah. Moses was with the Lord for forty days on Mount Sinai where he neither ate nor drank (c.f. Exodus 34:28). Elijah fasted for forty days as he travelled to Mount Horeb where he experienced the theophany and heard God’s voice (c.f. 1 Kings 19:8). The forty days of post-resurrection Jesus is an echo of his forty days of fasting in the wilderness during which he was tempted (c.f. Luke 4:1-13). But these forty days after the resurrection weren’t a time of preparation for Jesus, they were a time of preparation for the apostles and the ministry they would continue after Jesus ascended.

It’s significant that the apostles saw the Lord ascend into heaven. When Elijah was about to be taken up into heaven, he asked Elisha—his disciple—what he could do for him before he was taken away. And Elisha asked for a double-share of Elijah’s spirit; twice the spirit of Elijah. Elisha’s request would be granted only if he saw Elijah being taken into heaven. That event of Elijah’s ascension—of separation from Elisha—was what allowed Elisha to receive that double-share and continue the work of Elijah.

Joshua was filled with the spirit and wisdom because Moses had laid hands on him before Moses died (c.f. Deuteronomy 34:9). It is after the departure of the leader that the followers are empowered. The apostles saw Jesus ascend, and only a few days later, the Holy Spirit rushed upon them with fire and wind. They were empowered to speak languages they hadn’t learned, and to proclaim Christ with a boldness they hadn’t known before. They were empowered to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

While Jesus was on earth, his work of healing, restoration, and proclaiming God’s Kingdom was limited by the fact that he was only one person who could encounter a limited number of people. When Jesus ascended, his followers were empowered to continue his work, and the number of people with access to the power of God’s Spirit increased exponentially.

We are now witnesses. The work of Jesus Christ is ours to continue. While the apostles would wait another ten days after the Ascension to receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we have the Holy Spirit now. The Spirit is with us everywhere. We are Christ’s witnesses, and we have the privilege of continuing Christ’s work. We don’t have to start by traveling to the ends of the earth. We can begin right where we are.

It might also be worth noting that, while the apostles were waiting for the Holy Spirit to come, the first thing they did was gather together to pray. That’s in verses 13-14. Before they did anything else, they prayed. That’s a model for us, too. We have work to do as followers of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we throw ourselves into business at the expense of everything else. The work of Jesus Christ includes the work of devoting ourselves to prayer. Prayer is a way of connecting to the Spirit. It’s how we prepare ourselves to receive the Spirit. Pentecost is waiting. Are we ready?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

 

*The Septuagint is commonly noted as LXX, which is the Roman numeral for 70. It is a translation of the Old Testament, written in Greek, which dates to the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C. Also, chapters and verses sometimes differ between English translations, the Greek Septuagint, and the original Hebrew. Malachi 4:6 in English translations, for example, is Malachi 3:23 in the Septuagint (LXX) and Malachi 3:24 in Hebrew.

Water and Blood | 6th of Easter

1 John 5:1-6

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God. Whoever loves someone who is a parent loves the child born to the parent. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep God’s commandments. 3 This is the love of God: we keep God’s commandments. God’s commandments are not difficult,
4 because everyone who is born from God defeats the world. And this is the victory that has defeated the world: our faith. 5 Who defeats the world? Isn’t it the one who believes that Jesus is God’s Son?

6 This is the one who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ. Not by water only but by water and blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. (CEB)

Water and Blood

I have loved astronomy since I was a kid. Something about the night sky drew my fascination. All those points of light, all the stuff that’s up there that we don’t know about. As a 9-year-old boy, I searched the skies for Halley’s Comet in late 1985 and early 1986. On January 09, 1992, the first exoplanet was discovered by radio telescope, and I was amazed that we had proof that there were other planets out there. In July of 2005, there was a flurry of excitement and controversy when three new planets were discovered in our solar system. They were later designated Dwarf Planets, and poor Pluto was downgraded with them. Now, we’re looking for the hypothetical Planet Nine.

Through my telescopes, I’ve observed the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars, Uranus, nebulae, globular star clusters, open star clusters, all kinds of stars (including the Sun), galaxies, and I’ve just peered toward the Milky Way for the heck of it to see what I could see. All the while, these new discoveries kept my eyes glued to the sky at night. That’s one of the reasons why I despise Daylight Savings Time. It makes darkness come incredibly late in the summer months, and I want to see the night sky! Even on nights I don’t have time to set up one of my telescopes, I still find myself going outside just to look up. With, perhaps, the exception of most galaxies, everything is orbiting something. Everywhere we look, gravity is at play.

All of First John’s argument is kind of like gravity. He uses the same words repetitively throughout, but the pattern of his argument doesn’t seem to be linear. In Bible study, when we looked at texts from First John, I noted that his argument seems to loop and circle back on itself. Like the pull of gravity, the same things keep coming around. At times, it can be frustrating to grasp John’s point. At the same time, within that circular argumentation, there is a discernable progression in what John writes. But you kind of have to search for it.

John starts off chapter five by mentioning those who are born of God, and he ties that with belief and love. First, we should note that being born of God is a theme found in the Gospel of John as well. Part of John’s prologue says, “The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God” (John 1:11-13 CEB). A little farther into the Gospel of John, we find mention of being born of water and the Spirit (3:5) and being born anew or from above (3:3, 7), and being born of the Spirit (3:6, 8).

According to the epistle, believing that Jesus is the Christ is proof that this birth from God has occurred. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God” (1 John 5:1a CEB). Now, that word, Christ, is something we hear a lot. Not all of it in a pleasant or religious context. But, sometimes I wonder if we understand what it means and how it applies to Jesus. It’s important to understand this because, if we’re going to say we believe in Jesus as the Christ, we probably need to know what the Christ is and what the word means.

Christ comes from the Greek word Χριστὸς (Christos), and that is a translation of a Hebrew word (‎מְשִׁ֥יחַ) Meshiach that’s translated into English as both Messiah and Anointed. But anointed is what the words Messiah and Christ actually mean. You might remember that the kings of Israel were not crowned as kings as they are in much of Western European culture. Instead, they were anointed with oil.

Samuel anointed Saul as King over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1). David was anointed three times. First, Samuel anointed him as king in place of Saul (1 Samuel 16:13). Then, the tribe of Judah officially anointed David as their king (2 Samuel 2:4). He ruled for seven and a half years as Judah’s king before the rest of the tribes anointed him as king over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:3).

When King Saul was running around the countryside trying to kill David, we often read that David referred to Saul as the Lord’s Anointed. The word he used there was Messiah (‎מְשִׁ֥יחַ). David called Saul “The LORD’s Messiah” (c.f. 1 Samuel 24:6,10, 26:9,11,16,23; 2 Samuel 1:14,16) but, in that case, it’s always translated into English as Anointed. So, the only way for Jesus to properly be called Christ or Messiah was for him to be anointed. But, there’s only one place in the New Testament where Jesus was anointed with oil, and that was when Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, anointed him with perfumed oil and wiped his feet with her hair (c.f. Mark 14:8; John 11:2, 12:3). The reason we call Jesus the Messiah and Christ is because he was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. The Spirit came down on him and God declared Jesus to be God’s Son (c.f. Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34).

So, when we say that we believe Jesus is the Christ, we’re saying that we believe Jesus is the one who was expected by the prophets and anointed by God with the power of the Holy Spirit in order to redeem us and heal us from the brokenness of sin.

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” This birth from God not only points to our relationship with God, but our relationship with Jesus and each other. Since all believers are children of God and it’s assumed that believers love God, we also love each other. We’re family. If we’re all children of the same parent, then we’re family.

Verse two kind of throws us for a weird gravitational loop. Earlier in the epistle, John defined love as something that is active on behalf of others, not merely kind speech. He also strongly suggested that our actions toward others are a kind of proof of our love for God. But here in verse 2, John flipped it around. The proof of our love for each other—the children of God—is in our love for God and in keeping God’s commandments.

Of course, the question we need to ask is, What commandment do we have to follow? John stated the commandment back in chapter three: Believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other (c.f. 3:23). It’s one commandment in two, absolutely inseparable, parts.

This argument is swinging back around again.

In chapter four, John wrote, “This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (1 John 4:21 CEB). In verse 5:2, as we already know, John told us that our love for God proves our love for each other. The point of this, for John, is that we cannot love God without loving each other, and we cannot love each other without loving God. To love one requires us to love the other. There is no possibility of separating love for God from love for each other, or love for each other from love for God. The nature of love, itself, prevents it.

I think we just completed an orbit.

If we lack love for others—If what we think of as love doesn’t move beyond words or thoughts—it ought to nudge us to do some self-examination of our faith. To love God is to keep God’s commandments, and keeping God’s commandments isn’t a burden. Loving our sisters and brothers is not difficult for those whose lives have been transformed by the love God has for us. Those who have been reborn keep God’s commandments easily. We believe, and we love (yet remember that love requires action for it to genuinely be love).

What’s more, everyone who is born of God defeats the world. Remember that the world is often described in terms of opposition to God because of sin. It is because of the sickness of sin, the disease of rebellion against God, that the world stands in opposition. Instead of caring for each other, the world refuses to share. Instead of lifting others up, the world pushes them down. Instead of welcoming immigrants and treating them the same way we treat citizens—AS THE SCRIPURES DEMAND (c.f. Leviticus 19:10, 33-34, 25:35; Numbers 15:14-16)—we tell them there’s no room for them.

Read it anyway you want in light of current events, but I’m not making a political statement here, I’m making a statement of faith about what God requires of God’s people.

We love the story of Ruth, yet I think we forget that she was a Moabite immigrant living in Bethlehem. Deuteronomy says, “…Moabites can’t belong to the LORD’s assembly. Not even the tenth generation of such people can belong to the LORD’s assembly, as a rule,” (Deuteronomy 23:3 CEB). Yet, Ruth’s great-grandson was David, the King, and he was only four generations removed from his immigrant, Moabite great-grandmother.

When we love as those who are born of God, we defeat all that selfish, destructive, fear-filled nonsense. Our faith in a God who loves defeats the world. Our faith in Jesus as the Christ and God’s Son defeats the world. Because those who believe in these things exhibit love as God exhibits love: through the action of giving ourselves for others.

Verse six probably begins a new section of John’s argument, but it speaks to John’s firm belief in who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do as Christ. “This is the one who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ. Not by water only but by water and blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth” (I John 5:6 CEB). Water likely represents birth and rebirth at baptism. Blood points to the humanity Jesus shares with us, and his sacrificial death for us. Water and blood flowed from the side of Jesus on the cross.

The Spirit is present here with us now, moving and living in and among us. In that sense, the Spirit testifies through the disciples of Jesus Christ. The Spirit testifies through us, by our loving actions for those around us. That idea is profound enough, I think, to give us pause. We should consider whether our belief in Jesus Christ and our actions align. That circular argument has come around again like planets orbiting a star. Faith, love, being born of God, being family to each other, keeping God’s commandments, and defeating the sin-sick world: they all orbit the gravitational center that is Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay