Walking in light and love: Duncan’s sermon on Sunday

SL1

Yesterday Duncan was preaching on 1 John 1:5 – 2:2.  He explained that this letter was written to Christians in a local church who were divided over a way of thinking known as ‘Gnosticism.’

Duncan gave a quick summary of Gnostic beliefs: the Gnostics regarded men and women as spiritual beings trapped in human bodies which were essentially evil. The important thing according to their thinking was to follow spiritual practices which would lead to higher knowledge.

The human body is good

This system of belief is contrary to Christian teachings, Duncan said. In Jesus God was ‘incarnated’ – took on a body; Jesus was a human being. In verse 1, John emphasises that Jesus’ followers saw Jesus, heard Jesus’ words, touched Jesus. His body was real, not an illusion. How then, can physical matter then be bad and evil?

John is saying to those in the church he was writing to who thought the way to growth was through accessing some higher spiritual insights that the experience of God is not to be found in a mystical process. God is found in the down-to-earth reality of our relationships as a community and how we interact with one another,  and communicate God’s love to a watching world.  It was said at the time of the early church  ‘See how these Christians love one another.’

The light shines on our everyday lives

Anther focus of Gnostic thinkers was on the contrast between ‘light’ and ‘darkness’. To the Gnostics, ‘light’ was the fruit of spiritual insight, while ‘darkness’ was everything associated with our lives in this world.

But John counters this, assuring us that we have the capacity to know God here and now on earth, in our human bodies. We can ‘walk in the light.’ (v7)

Our experience of community and fellowship and sharing here on earth is not something linked to the darkness, as the Gnostics believed, but something which has the capacity to reflect the light of God. ‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.’ (v5)

Love your bodies, don’t hate them

All this may seem very remote from life today, Duncan continued. But then he talked about the air-brushing of celebrity photographs to make the subjects appear perfect, and the striving for physical perfection in a selfie-driven culture; he talked about ‘body shaming’, and negative self-image. These tendencies – which can have a deep impact on the mental health of young people – all arise from a dis-satisfaction with the reality of our physical bodies, a view that we are all physically flawed.

In contrast, John is highlighting that we have the capacity to experience the life God gives as we are, within the context of our physical humanity.  We can ‘walk in the light, as he is in the light’ (v7) ‘The way to life,’ Duncan said ‘is to be experienced here and now as flawed human beings in fellowship with one another and with God.’

We are called as Christians to see God, to experience God in community, seeing  in  one another the image of God. Far from ‘shaming’ our bodies, we should be at ease with our bodies, for we are loved by God, and loved by others in the community as we share fellowship, and walk ‘in the light’ together.

The down-to-earth reality

Now all this might seem very idealistic, Duncan said. But in fact John continues with some down-to-earth realism:  ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (v8)

We all miss the mark, we all fail to live up to our expectations. Duncan referred to monks living in community, having taken vows of poverty and chastity. But even they are temped – to be covetous and judgemental, to do and say things which would disrupt the harmony of their community. There is no perfect community, because no-one is perfect.

Gnostic thinkers thought that through their special knowledge, they could live as a group on a higher level than anyone else. John brings them, and us, down to earth.

We are all sinners. We all need God’s grace and forgiveness on a daily basis – and this is exactly what Jesus came to achieve for us through the cross:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

And:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

John’s message is very simple. God has provided a way for us to be at one with God, to be at one with each other, and to be at one with ourselves.

Love is key

And this life of walking in the light together is to be found in communities where love is practised. This letter is all about ‘We’, and not ‘I.’

Said Duncan ‘Community will highlight a sense of our sin as we struggle to get on with each other. God will highlight his power to love and forgive us and to give us new beginnings as we confess our sins, and recognise the reality of our lives.’

God is to be experienced in the frailty of our physical human bodies in community, as we are loved and love in return.

‘Love’ is a key word to John, who also wrote, quoting Jesus  ‘God so loved the world that he gave…….’ (John 3:16)

God loves us. And in receiving God’s love we are increasingly enabled to love others.

Summary

In conclusion, Duncan summarised the lessons from the passage:

John calls us to pay attention to Jesus, who came in a human body, who both talked the talk and walked the walk. We seek to learn from him, to receive from him, to walk in the light as he is in the light, to love in our words and in our action.

 

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