1 John 3:1-3 November 2, 2014 (St. Luke’s Church, Morton Grove)
(I was ill this weekend, and did not preach a sermon today. This is my All Saints Sunday sermon from November 2014.)
“We Will Be Like Him”
Going on vacation. Who remembers vacations? I remember long car trips with smaller children. We did not have all the latest devices, the video games, Game Boys, small DVD players. No, those were simpler times. A number of years ago. And the children would ask, “Are we there yet?” The trip would seem like it took forever! We would be on the road. Not quite there. Not quite yet. Still on the way. Still waiting.
Of course, an extended car trip only seemed like it took forever! Here, in the first letter of John, the aged disciple is telling his friends something similar. But—I’m getting ahead of myself! We ought to go back to the beginning of this short passage. Just a little chunk, really, of what John says in this whole letter.
Let’s start with an overview. This letter was written to a group of dispersed believers. Similar to several other New Testament letters. The Apostle John was older by this time—late in the first century. He wanted to straighten out some misunderstandings. And, he wanted to get several main points across. I’m not going to test you on these, but for people who were just wondering. Number one, God is light. Number two, God is love. Number three, Jesus Christ was a real human being, not just a spirit. Those main points were to combat some disagreements and squabbles that had already come about. Even though Christianity was only fifty or so years old.
I’ve given you all an overview, a bird’s eye view. Now, let’s dive in with a magnifying glass, and look at two verses in Chapter three.
I’ll remind us all of verse one of chapter three: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” This statement of John’s is significant! Why? Because this verse tells us such an important fact. We are called children of God. That’s incontrovertible. Why? Not just because you and I say so. No! But because God says so, that’s why!
I am not sure, but I suspect that John’s friends, the people he’s writing the letter to, have a similar problem as the disciples did. I’ve mentioned this problem before, when Jesus was here on this earth. A couple of decades before the writing of this letter. I don’t think the other believers “got it.” I don’t think they fully understood where John was coming from. That’s why he tells them in several different ways and several different places in this letter that God is love, and God gives love.
The starting point, where John starts from at this point in the letter, is that God has named us all God’s children. Bam! Named! [ hand forward ] Done! [ ref signal ]
We have a problem, though. The problem is the world. As the first chapter of the Gospel of John verse 10 tells us, Jesus “was in the world, and the world came into being through Him; yet the world did not know Him.” The world has a huge blind spot. The world is not in sync with God. The world is hostile to God, even though God made the world. And the solar system. And the whole universe. It doesn’t matter—the world is reeling under the effects of sin, and is therefore hostile to God.
What can we do about this negative state of affairs? Check out verse two. John says it again! “Beloved (or, friends), we are God’s children now.” John wants to make certain that we have got it!
We all—each of us—are called God’s children. Who is the oldest member of our congregation? And who is the youngest member of our congregation? All God’s children. Each of you is, and me, too! Each of us is God’s beloved child!
Yes, the hostile world gets in the way of living life God’s way. Nobody ever said the Christian walk and the Christian life was going to be a piece of cake. Ask the Apostle Paul. Ask the other apostles, including John.
But let’s move on. My favorite part of this passage is coming up! Remember how I started this sermon, a few minutes ago? I started with the mention of vacations. Who remembers vacations? I remember long car trips with smaller children. A number of years ago. And the children would ask, “Are we there yet?” The trip would seem like it took forever! We would be on the road. Not quite there. Not quite yet. Still on the way. Still waiting.
I’m suggesting the concept of being on a very, very long trip. Not arriving yet, still being on the way. We are still in transit. We are children of God now, but not yet, too! We have a seeming paradox of both/and. Now, and not yet! That’s what I compare with this statement of John’s. Listen to verse two: “What we will be has not yet been revealed.”
Did you hear what John told us? That is why I say we are still in transit. Nobody knows for sure what we will be. And the best part of all, in my opinion, is this last sentence of verse two: “What we do know is this: when Jesus is revealed, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.” Did you hear? “We will see Him as He is.”
Did you all know we all are wearing veils? Invisible veils, that keep us from fully understanding the words of Scripture. We hear in Exodus that Moses talked face to face with the Lord. As a man talks to his friend. And whenever Moses talked like that, face to face with God, his face actually shone. The glory of the Lord made his face shine supernaturally! Did you know that the people of Israel were so scared of Moses after he talked with the Lord—and his face got all shiny—that they begged Moses to wear a veil? They wanted a separation between them and the glory, the power, the presence of God.
Isn’t it similar with us, sometimes? The straight-up glory of God is too much for most of us to handle. We are still in transit. Still on the road, on this very long trip to heaven. Both/and. Now, and not yet.
Again, verse two: “What we do know is this: when Jesus is revealed, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.” Today, when we commemorate All Saints Day, is that time of year when we remember again and again the ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ of God’s kingdom. Yes, we are God’s children! Yes! A thousand times yes! We have the best guarantee in the world for this, too. God says so.
But what about the ‘not yet’ part? How can we reconcile that? Let me tell you my take on that: I do not know. NOW but NOT YET. We are not quite sure. We don’t know the fullness of what that means. But I’ll tell you who does know. The saints in glory, our fellow believers who have gone before us, have received that fullness. They know. With unveiled faces, they see Jesus, glorified in heaven.
As for us? As we are here, in transit? Now, and not yet? We wait in this world, expectant. We live in hope, thankfulness, and gratitude as we gather around this table. As we gather for this meal, joined with the church of every time and place – with all the saints.