Sunday 8 July 2018 The Word at the Beginning Martin Baker
As an introduction to the first letter of John, I‘d like you to think about a few things as background:
Almost all the letters we have in the Bible, like these ones from John, were formed into collections, copied by hand, and circulated among those first followers of Christ.
The message of Jesus spread quickly in the first century. And it spread mostly through cities. It’s likely that this letter from John was written from Ephesus. Ephesus was a major city in south west Turkey.
I think one of the challenging things for us to imagine, is that unlike our modern society, in this ancient world, almost everyone believed in one god or another, or mostly likely, many gods. Ephesus had a number of extraordinarily beautiful temples, and then alongside that was the dominance of the Roman religious belief system.
So when those first Apostles came to Ephesus they would have been listened to by people who already had alters in their home and went to various temples to worship. Had regular commitments on Sunday morning.
So the influence of the Christian message came up against all these other messages.
We need to remember that the people who committed to Christ all had religious backgrounds. Obviously religions that were different from Christianity.
One of the most difficult ideas then, and now perhaps, was that this idea of the Word of God, God’s creative purpose and intention, present at the beginning of creation, could be embodied in a human being. In a person.
So though it might seem like an obscure point for us, one of the big problems was one of what we could call ‘spirituality.’ People from those backgrounds found it extremely difficult to believe that God could actually be fully present in a man called Jesus.
He might have appeared as human but he wasn’t really flesh and blood. He did not really suffer anguishing, bleed in the way we would do those things, because he wasn’t really human.
John took a hard line on this view – and he describes these church leaders who deny the humanity of Jesus, as anti-Christ’s.
He says you can’t be a leader of church and deny that Jesus was fully one of us - fully human. And this is because first of all that what Jesus did, matters. It was real. Grounded in our reality. And he goes on to say to the Christian community, what you do, your ethics; your behaviour how you treat others, matters. And it has eternal consequences. It has to be real. Its cant be just spiritual. So it wasn’t a matter of doing nice things or good things. The word of God has to keep becoming flesh. It has to be incarnate. The basic point being that the reality of what you do, testifies to the reality of Jesus.
So think about this background and listen to what John is saying to those early believers some of who are struggling with the notion of who Jesus was and is.
1 John 1:1-4
The Word of Life
1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Let us pray…
John’s first letter starts with these grand statements. The word of life. From the beginning. And we have heard it, we have seen it, we have touched it.
How many of us have a dozen different thoughts buzzing around in our heads at this very moment?
If everyone could look around and see each others thought bubbles want would we read?
What am I going to have for lunch? I didn’t know that last hymn we sung? Did I forget to turn the heater off? What’s he on about today?
Or maybe there are more serious things. About love and joy, or worries and fears and sadness and grief. Maybe a lot of past memories or a lot of future hopes.
And here we have, to the faithful gathered with all our thoughts and issues and things – here we have these words.
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.
In the midst of all our issues. All our complexity.
Hearing, seeing, touching this word of life. A word that brings life. A word that gives life.
There is this word and it’s all about something is real, what is present what is now.
To hear may not be enough. Someone told me something the other day. I heard someone say. Did you hear?
To see is more compelling. I’ve seen them do that. I saw it for myself.
Facebook Instagram, social media is good at these things. Hearing and seeing. The good and bad about false and real news. The photos and videos. All those selfies, all those people, wealthier and more successful than us, doing better more interesting things than us. But also photos and videos are some of our most precious things as well. A recording from a voice from the past.
We had our parents 8mm film of their wedding put in disk. How strange almost alarming it was to see that. They can be such precious things. The hearing and seeing.
But then John speaks about what we have touched. Not one, but the community of believers have touched.
But what we have touched with our hands. We’ve gone beyond what the news, what our smartphones, what our media can provide. We’ve heard, we’ve seen and now we’ve touched.
Does anyone here remember that first touch?
Do you remember when he touched you? Do you remember when she touched you? You’ve heard her, more likely you have seen her first, unless she had a very loud voice of course… but when you touched, something else came into being. The word in Greek covers these meanings, also used to describe how a blind person might feel his or her way, also used in the sense of examine. Like a child, when you pick something up to take a closer look.
Do you see the huge claim here that is being made by John right at the start?
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life
Something eternal, from beginning moment of creation itself, this word of life is not only being talked about, which is good, seen, witnessed to, but touched.
It is that real John is saying. The word of life is that real, John is as saying.
Surrounded by such material things. Temples, shrines statues. Things we can see touch. Things we can point a stick at. John is saying we need to remember how real is the base of our faith. A man Jesus, a man who did these things, said these things, touched people, was touched by people. Lepers, insane, men, women, children, tax collectors, rich, poor. Touched and was touched. Was executed because of what he said and did and what people saw and who he touched and touched him. Was raised by God, Thomas invited to touch his injuries; he made breakfast for those fearful disciples. Was seen and heard.
Do people hear us? Do people see us, are people touched by us? John is saying to us, that this what is real, not an abstract concept, but what can be heard and seen and felt. Physically felt.
Often we hear people argue in dualistic terms. In opposites. Yes or no. I can believe this. I can’t believe that. Its black or white. Right or wrong. Those false teachers back then said Jesus is either spirit or flesh but he can’t be both.
So now we have this affirmation. Can something be real and be eternal? Existing from the beginning.
To those who want to say that Christianity is an amazing story - we say this man Jesus lived amongst us. And what he did and said had implications far beyond the impact that a good man being falsely accused and executed.
Is it all just about a spiritual or mystical experience, and we also affirm the word of God has been seen, heard and touched.
3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
A declaration of what has been seen and heard and touched. That leads to fellowship. That wonderful word in Greek Koinonia. And then this word Koinonia is repeated to speak about the quality of our relationship with God the father and God the son. It’s a big idea. We hear a word spoken and as we come together as a community with each other we also come together as God community.
John wants us to make the connections here.
A community that comes into being that is formed around the word of God.
It has to be seen and heard and it has to be experienced, felt, touched.
We can do something of a practical audit for ourselves this week.
What do we need to hear less of this week?
Maybe it’s a voice that whispers in our heads about our inadequacies or failures or regrets. Or perhaps we have spent too much time speaking words that have hurt or damaged another. Perhaps for the sake of being in Koinonia being in relationship with ourselves others and God, we need to stop listening to the damming and hurtful things. To speak and listen, move to a voice that proclaims through eternity just how much we are loved and how much those who hear us, are loved.
What do we need to see more or less of?
How many of us spent too much time in front of a screen for example. We’ve got the Bible Society poster out there looking out at matariki the pleadies, the glorious wonder about us. The heavens declare the glory of God. Our children our friends those who love us. Perhaps we need to reset our priorities thinking about where we are looking at and how we are seeing. God creator present
What do we need to touch less of, to touch more of?
As Jesus makes a difference in our lives so we can make a difference in the lives of those around us. We can be part of fellowship, communion, Koinonia. It has to be real. Our commitment to one another in community. Being part of God’s community in Koinonia with the father and the son.
So this week, as people of grace and love called into fellowship with God lets be intentional - what we are seeing, what we are listening too and saying and who we are touching?
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