1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so
we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are
God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we
shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies
himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 ESV)
From an anthropological point of view, the Christian Church has shown a remarkable resilience. It is
more, I think, than just attacks forging unity among those attacked. And it is more than the fact that
the group continues after the persecution because the attackers didn’t kill everyone and the survivors
have gradually increased again. No, Christian resilience, I think, can be seen that in the times of
persecution and attacks, when there appears to be no reason for it, the Church has been known to
Tertullian (late 2nd century) wrote, ‘Your cruelty profits you nothing, though it grows ever more
ingenious; it is one of the attractions of our sect. As often as you mow us down, the more numerous
we become; the blood of the Christians is the seed. Many of your philosophers exhort men to patient
endurance of suffering and death. … Yet their words have won fewer disciples than those whom
Christians have taught by the example of their deeds’ (Apologeticus, 50). One reason he wrote that
was that he seems to have been converted as an adult through witnessing the courage of the Christians
facing torture and death.
Death in this world is the ultimate weapon of control but it is hard to wield against someone who has
no fear of death or who believes that this death is no longer the poison or the trap the world fears but
has been defeated and now serves as the elevator operator for the journey from here to home.
Our Second Reading today is from the latter part of the 1st century when the Christians were already
getting attacked and blamed for the world’s troubles. John’s first letter is written into a context of
contrasts – the world was then showing its true colours (the dark) and the Christians were the light –
the world increasingly hated the followers of Jesus and they were called to love in response – the
world was consumed with lies about all sorts of things but they had and were to speak and live the
truth – the world followed the spirit of the antichrist while they had the Spirit of truth and confessed
Jesus – truly human and truly God. This world and the followers of Jesus are increasingly described in
increasingly contrasting ways. And since the world rejected and killed Jesus – and it is really a
dangerous fallacy to concentrate or blame the Romans or the Jews for Jesus’ death – it was
increasingly experienced that the world was not going to be nice to any followers of Jesus.
We do not live in a hostile environment – COVID-19 not withstanding – but many Christians in many
parts of the world live in environments similar and sometimes worse than the first century. Jesus is all
about life and death – think baptism – we die and are joined to Jesus’ resurrection; think God’s Word
– we are confronted with our sin and death and we are absolved and live; think Holy Communion, this
medicine of immortality – we are receive the strengthening of Jesus himself that we are alive in him.
Eternal life is here and now in Christ! Death is just a change of postcode.
And in 1st John, we hear that one day Jesus will reappear and those who see him will see what we will
be like – what eternal life is like – and for those who have died before Jesus reappears, well they
know it now. We are the ones still living by faith in this hostile world in bodies of sin and death.
But this truth of Jesus leads us to live with him – we heard in the letter the rarely used word ‘purifies’
– which is a metaphor or big description that following Jesus has consequences – it is not just head
knowledge which we ignore while we behave as we want – but it is a relationship that governs our
behaviour – which is marked by the struggle with the sins that plague us – bedevil (interesting word!)
us. The mark of this eternal life we have now is the lifestyle of repentance and the confidence that
while each day we struggle, each day God forgives – so that when it is our last day on Earth we have
had a lifetime of hearing God’s forgiveness and his ‘I love you’. Why would he change his message
when you see him face to face? Of course, he won’t. The Church Father Irenaeus (also 2nd century)
once said, ‘Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he is’. How? Because God
is faithful. That’s what’s important.
And that’s why when our loved ones die in the Faith, we leave them with God. And if our loved ones
have died who didn’t know Jesus, we leave them with God. And where there is deliberate and wilful
and permanent rejection of Jesus, then we leave them with God and hope we’re wrong.
Each Sunday is an anniversary of the resurrection where we encounter Jesus, the resurrection and the
life. Eternal life begins in this world with Jesus as we live our lives following him, no matter what the
world might do. Yes, our life can have its struggles and hardships but this world and whatever sin and
evil throw at us can never overcome Jesus or those in him. Living for the followers of Jesus then
becomes one of trusting Jesus to be true – his cross and empty tomb declare he is – especially when
death comes close – so that we live each day with hope.
- 1 John 3:1 - 3