24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
I have said on many occasions that there is not many jobs that are more fascinating than to study scripture and then to be able to talk about what I have learned. There are not many waking days where I am not in awe over something that I have learned while reading and contemplating on the words that God inspired humanity to write. It may not be something new but nearly every day God will show me something fresh, something that previously I was overlooking and by reading the words from a different perspective it is as if I traveled over the rainbow leaving behind the grays of the past and am thrusted into a world of vibrant color.
For several weeks we have walked through the book of Hebrews together focusing on the technical aspects of the priestly office that Jesus fulfilled. I pointed out that there is not really any contemporary office that actually hold a similar role. Even among the ceremonially rich churches of the Eastern and Roman orders the priest do not fully hold the same function. In the ancient sacrificial system the priest carried the blood of the sacrifice into the holy place, where the priest of today only say, “Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Even though the priest announces pardon for sin they only speak for the ones that have already carried out the purification for us.
But this is not what has gotten me excited this week. I feel the writer of Hebrews has fully explained the office and function of the priest and how Christ has not only fulfilled but eradicated the necessity of that office. What has me excited is the last half of this passage. “[He] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” I am sure you are sitting there wondering why this is so amazing to me but Friends this is what theologians would call eschatology, or the study of the end. You see what the writer of Hebrews is proclaiming is that the age of the priesthood, the age of the temple, and all the things that once were known have come to completion and everything from this moment on is a new age. Many that reject the Messiahship of Jesus, hold their defense on the premise on theology that was not from ancient times but ideas that largely became mainstream in the past century. The idea that Jesus has yet to usher in the end of days after two thousand years. They will then say that we should not accept Christ because by his own words he would have done this within a generation of those that lived during that time, or approximately 70 years.
What gets me excited is that the writer of Hebrews most likely wrote this letter around the year 64 of the Common Era. Scholars have dated it to this because the descriptive language uses the tabernacle, the tent used prior to the construction of the temple, and an illustration instead of using the temple. They claim that this descriptive language was used because a tent has less permanence than a building constructed of stone, a building that people perceived to be indestructible. This lack of permanence was a greater illustration of the permanence of Christ’s sacrifice, so scholars conclude that the letter was written prior to the destruction of the Temple in the 70th year of the Common Era. Christ did this at the end of the age, and within a generation and shortly after the letter to the Hebrews was written the entire expression of faith among Christian and Jews alike radically changed. The era or the age of the temple no longer exists, sacrifice no longer occurs, so both branches of faith must now explain how sin is absolved. For the Christian a more perfect and complete sacrifice has been presented before the mercy seat of God through the very blood of Jesus, but what covers the sin of those that do not claim Christ?
When we consider the timing of the letter the pages of scripture open up in a different light, Christ came at the end of the age. He actually did fulfill the prophesied words that he spoke and within a generation all people of faith had to face the very grim reality that everything they once held as being important within their faith no longer mattered. Without sacrifice there is no priest without a priest where does our salvation come, who will stand before God for us? Did God turn his back on the nation or is something else happening?
There was a brief glimpse into this emerging era while the people lived in exile. While in exile when the first temple was destroyed the people began to wonder how faith could continue without a temple. It was during this time frame that the budding branches of what we see today began to emerge upon the pages of history, but a problem remained during that brief time. The people of faith, though faithful, were still in their sin. This lead the great heroes of the faith Ezra and Nehemiah come onto the scenes of history to rebuild the city and the temple so that the people could once again have the assurance that they were acceptable before God. Then the abomination that causes desolation happened, they had a temple but it was unclean and unable to be used. Which prompted the uprising that lead to the reemergence of the nation of Israel. The temple was again reestablished but there was this constant threat from outside that gentile forces might again be able to separate God from the people. For 70 years they lived without assurance and for approximately 400 they lived with the knowledge that their salvation was not secure. They lived on the cusp of the end, and the writer of Hebrews announces that through Christ our justification eternally secure. Through the perfect sacrifice from the highest of priests with the offering of his very own blood, Jesus enters into the most holy of holy places far greater than the sanctuary constructed by the hands of mankind and presents himself before the throne of God to intercede for us.
This tells us something. The age of the temple, the age of the law, the age of constant sacrifices year after year has come to an end and in this end time Jesus stands firm. For two thousand years this new age that emerged through Jesus has continued. The kingdom that Jesus professed has moved beyond the borders of the nation we call Israel and it has stretched to the east and the west. The Kingdom of God has become the primary influence of nations, and continents. The influence of Christ has brought nations and empires to their knees and confessions have been made that He alone is Lord. We have lived in this eschatology for millennia. But He is not finished yet.
This theologically packed passage continues, “And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment.” This is a verse I wish many in the contemporary church would remember. We as mortal men and women have an appointment with death. It is our destiny to eventually move from what we know here and pass through the veil of life into the mystery of death. It is our destiny to make this journey, and we make it once. This word is used twenty-two times in scripture and is the very word that great theologians have constructed the concept of predestination around. Our destiny is to live and die and to face what lies beyond. Consider this for a moment. In the ancient days the faithful could face that day with assurance because the priest stood between them and God, the priest stood on their behalf with the blood of sacrifice that covered their sins. Those ancient days have come to an end the temple and the tabernacle are no more who will stand with us as we meet our appointment with destiny?
Again we can consider the implications of the theological concepts but if Christ does not stand for us we will meet that predestined time having to give a full account on our own. Jesus taught in his sermons that it was said do not commit adultery, but if we have ever looked upon another with eyes of lust we have sinned even if we have not physically engaged in the act. He also said that the law says do not commit murder but that if anyone has ever spoken a curse upon another they have participated in the essence of this sin. We can go line by line through his teachings, and find that not one of us has a chance to honestly stand without condemnation. Who will stand for us? Who will stand with us as we meet conclude our preordained journey of life?
”So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” This again refers back to the image of the tabernacle. As the priest enters the most holy place to stand before God, the people stand on the outside waiting. They wait with the knowledge that the sacrifice should cover their sins, but it cannot be fully experienced until the priest returns from the inner rooms. The priest stands as a representative of the nation before God and returns as God’s answer. The sin is removed or covered by the blood but will they be saved will they continue to be accepted as the people of God? Imagine for a moment that period of time. The priest dressed in his holy garments has performed the rites before you and the entire nation, and he turns to face the veil. He is fully aware of a number of sins that have been committed by the people he is to represent. Each of those sins are enough to send not only that individual but the entire nation out of the presence of the most high and only true God. He slowly approaches the curtain. The words are spoken with uncertain boldness, steps are taken deeper and deeper within. The figure is no longer able to be seen and we sit waiting in limbo. Sin is forgiven but will the covenant remain?
You see that is the central aspect of the priesthood. If the priest does not return the relationship, the covenant or marriage between the people and God is severed. So often we do not see the difference between the forgiveness of sin and salvation. We assume they are one in the same but they deal with two different things. One is legal and one is relational. The people of the nation must sit waiting as the priest is in the holy of holies, they wait to hear and see God’s response to their pleas of forgiveness and remain their God. Will he preserve them or will they be left alone to drift without His direction.
Christ carried the blood into that holy place and the people, us included waited as he lay in a tomb buried. For three days they wait unsure of what was going on. Wondering if maybe they were wrong about everything. Yet they waited. They waited and it was revealed to them, Jesus emerged from the grave removing the sting of our destiny with death allowing us to look at our bleak future with renewed hope. Nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus. He is our priest and life with Him is our destiny. Our sins are forgiven but do we eagerly wait for him? Do we embrace his life and his lifestyle as we eagerly wait for the transitions of time? Through Christ the old has passed away and all things are made new. The old systems of faith have passed away and a new era has emerged where there is no more bondage of sin. Through Christ we can change the world and through Christ and reflecting his lifestyle we can see his kingdom expand all around us.
So often we get trapped into thinking we stand on our own. We get trapped into thinking that we must be perfect that we must be pure in our own strength. The truth is all we have to do is eagerly wait on the Spirit of God that is our salvation that is our destiny. Christ is our hope, He is our salvation, but not just for us but for the whole world. He came to give us life, and life to the full. This does not remove our appointed meeting with our mortal end but it does change things, we can live today in his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We can today live at peace with God and work toward peace with mankind if we eagerly wait on him. As we enter into this time of Open worship and holy expectancy I encourage us all to contemplate on this: consider the destiny of Christ, and where we are with him, consider what salvation is and what it is for, and eagerly wait and experience the joy of our relationship with the one that brought about a new era and era of God with us.
John 15:26–27 (NRSV)
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
John 16:4–15 (NRSV)
4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
The Work of the Spirit
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
For the past hundred years there has been a great deal of focus on the Spirit of God. At times there has been so much focus on the Spirit that we often lose sight of who the Spirit of God truly is. The Spirit is very important but if we do not keep the Spirit in context we can find ourselves chasing after something that has already left us far behind. Who is the Spirit of God and what is her purpose? I as this because there are probably as many definitions as there are denominations, and one of the very first schisms in the church largely dealt with the Spirit.
This week the purpose of the Spirit became clearer to me than it has ever before, mainly because of the term Advocate. Most of us have been taught that the term advocate was a legal term and for the most part it is, but probably not exactly how we would imagine. When we begin to imagine legal terms and positions most of us quickly visualize the courtroom scenes of a judge sitting in a high seat facing attorneys for the prosecution and the defense. When we look at this scene we often imagine ourselves sitting on the side of the defense with the accuser or Satan sitting on the prosecution side. So when we read terms like advocate we often begin to think that the advocate is sitting next to us defending our case before the judge. That is often the image that I saw, but that began to change this week. This week I was called as a witness to court, which happens often in my line of work, but something happened while there that has never happened before. I had an advocate appointed to me. The role of the advocate was to assist me with any question that I might have in preparation for the trial. He introduced me to the attorney, and assisted the attorney in helping me become as good of a witness as I could be. This opened my eyes to the role and responsibility of the Spirit of God.
The Spirit is the advocate, not the attorney. The Spirit is the liaison between, speaking for me if I am confused, translating things to me if I do not understand, and helping prepare me to face the trial set before me. The advocate works with us but we do not control the advocate. The advocate’s primary responsibility is to bring the people they are appointed to assist to the attorney and to assist the attorney to equip those involved to perform what is necessary. The Spirit is the advocate.
This opens my eyes in so many ways. Knowing this has changed my thinking and heightened my understanding. It has lifted the fog surrounding areas of confusion, because the spirit is the advocate. Who is the spirit and what is her role? Her role is to connect, interpret, help, advise, and to assist humanity to align with the needs of God.
How many of us have had skewed images of the Spirit? How often do we misunderstand the role the Spirit of God plays in relation to our faith? How often do we misalign our faith to where we end up walking in a direction contrary to the desires of God? This can all be a result of misunderstanding the role and responsibility of the Spirit.
The image of the advocate something unique to the writings of John. I think this is important to note because so much of theology or our understanding of God gains the most support by the writings of John. John, the disciple Jesus loved, writes from a perspective that differs from the other gospel writers because he focuses primarily on the relational aspects of our faith. The various roles that the personalities of God play are largely derived from the writings of John, and that is why the term advocate is so important.
From the beginning of the Friends movement we have been very aware of the role of the Spirit in our faith. Our meetings for worship are centered on listening to the Spirit and following where the Spirit leads us. In many ways the Friends movement paved the way for much of the Pentecostal movement that followed over a century after, because we were very aware that there was an active divine interaction between mankind and God. But there is a danger in focusing too closely to the Spirit.
This almost seems like a heretical thing to say but I believe it is true, and this is why the term advocate is so important. If all we do is focus on the Spirit where is our faith grounded? Jesus describes the Spirit as wind blowing, we know it is there but we do not know where it comes from or where it is going. The Irish monks would describe the spirit as the wild goose, something that could be chased but very hard if not impossible to catch. The Spirit is fluid, formless, and something that cannot be defined. Just when we think we have caught it, the Spirit flies just out of our reach. But the Spirit is important, because the Spirit is the advocate.
Let us go back to the image of the courtroom. For most of us we are on the defense side, we are accused and stand before the judge hoping for grace. We have an image that is engrained in our minds, we are sinners in the hands of an angry God, we are worms, and a host of other ideas. Consider for a moment that image you have in your mind. Jesus said, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…” Jesus goes away, it is Jesus that stands before the judge in this image, and the advocate is with us in the world. The advocate is working with us directing us away from the world’s understandings and pointing us to the truth. But this is the part that flips things on end, “[Prove the world wrong] about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” Who is condemned? Who is the one on defense? It is not us on trial, but the ruler of the world.
This really changes everything that we thought we knew for so many years, in our individualistic world view we believe that it is us on trial, that we are front and center, but we are not the ones on trial. The ruler of the world is, the accuser, or Satan. It is the job of the defense to shift blame off of the accused and place that accusation onto another, the accused become the accuser. The condemned tries to distract those around them from the truth, convincing those around them that it is not them that are guilty but someone else. They wish to confuse us about sin, righteousness, and judgment. But the advocate will guide us in truth.
This is where theology comes into play. Jesus is in the center of theology and must be. Sin is anything that distracts us from the truth of Christ. The truth of Christ is that He is fully man and fully God. He is the fulfillment of humanity, the perfect example and expression of what humanity should be. Anything that keeps us from living the life that Christ showed us is sin. And the life that Jesus showed us was a life that had a rhythm of prayer, worship, and service to others. A life dedicated to building, maintaining, and repairing relationships between God and humankind. The accused accuser wishes to distract us from that, he wishes to divide us and separate us from the truth getting us look away from Christ. He wants us to withdraw from the big picture and focus on the little things. This is sin or that is sin, when in reality sin is the broken relationship.
The accused accuser then proceeds to redefine righteousness. But what is righteousness? This is a bit foggy in the passage but Jesus says, “I am going to the Father.” That one statement does give us some direction in defining righteousness. Righteousness is heading in the right direction, toward the Father. So often we want to define righteousness as being right or living right, but this does not necessarily mean we are heading in the correct direction. Jesus gave many examples in his ministry where the religious were doing everything right according to the law and were far from righteousness. The rich young ruler was a prime example. He came to Jesus asking what he must do to gain the kingdom. Jesus listed off all the legal obligations for righteousness and the young man said I have done all of this. Then Jesus said you lack one thing, sell all your possessions, give it to the poor and follow me. There is something about that that just does not sit well with us, he did everything right yet he was not on the right path. He lacked one thing and it was that his life was not directed toward the things of the Father. He was not following in the footsteps of Jesus. He could not give up his image of righteousness for the truth of righteousness. The accused accuser wants to cause us to focus on the images of righteousness instead of the path of righteousness. He will do whatever he can to get us to step off the path, following Jesus to the Father.
This brings us to judgement. Who is being judged and why? The ability to place blame somewhere else has plagued humanity since the fall, but even that was an action of redirected blame. We judge others to redirect the attention off of our own short comings. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent blamed God. And we are each caught in the middle of the blame game. This is the method of ruler of the world, casting blame on others, providing to the masses a scape goat to direct our anger and hate. Claiming that our problems are not our own but caused by someone or something else, and all would be perfect if we just abolished the one that is blamed. The world is full of this, just scroll through Facebook for a minute and you will see a number of postings casting blame and demanding action to rid the world of the scapegoat. Big oil is the problem, Wal-Mart is the problem, ISIS is the problem, the Church is the problem, environmentalists are the problem, Obama is the problem, homosexuals are the problem, police are the problem, unions are the problem, or government is the problem. Each and every one of those issues are a problem but they are the problem because they distract us from the underlying reality that we want to refocus blame because we have been influenced by the ruler of the world, we have join in the accusations of the accused accuser.
But the Spirit is the advocate. The advocate works as the liaison guiding us in the direction we need to go to fulfill the task set before us. The Spirit is like the wind, we know it is there but we do not know where it comes from or where it is going. But we can lift our sail and let it carry us the direction we should go. The Spirit leads us down the right path, it teaches us the holy rhythms of life, and directs us to Christ who is going to the Father. The spirit gives gifts that assist us in doing the work set before us, and that work is to guide everyone around us into truth, the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment. And that truth is revealed to us through the life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Who is the Spirit, what is the Spirit’s role? The Spirit is the advocate, the one that brings us to the one that stands before the judge. The Spirit is the one that guides us to the path of the teacher and encourages us to continue down that path toward the Father. The Spirit is the force that connects us to Christ who stands for us. The Spirit is the one that helps us become witnesses for the truth, in a world that is ruled by deception.
As we enter this time of open worship and communion as Friends, let us celebrate that we are connected to God through this powerful force he provided for us. And let us embrace the Spirit as our ever present advocate directing us down the pathway with Christ to the Father who loves us so much that he sent his only son not to condemn the world but to give us life.
Faith Conquers the World
5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Testimony concerning the Son of God
6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
Over the course of the years many groups among the religious have made lists of who are Christian and who are not. It might surprise many about who are on which list. For example the author CS Lewis is considered by some as being a heretic because of his belief in purgatory and the possibility of evolution explaining aspects of creation, on this same list the reformer Martin Luther was considered a non-Christian because he raised questions about the numbers and figures in scripture. That is right the great reformer that took a stand for scripture over tradition questioned aspects of scripture and as a result some today question his very faith because of what? Honesty about doubts, differing philosophies about how God may have brought the world about or what the afterlife may be like? Great leaders today like Billy Graham are brought into question over differences of theology. Theology can only get us so far, because theology is the study of God and God is beyond our comprehension. So we must tread softly when we make claims in regard to God, we must always leave space for the possibility of a skewed human perspective.
These lists, denominations, and theological perspectives can all lead to division. Who is right, who is wrong? Which church is correct or which perspective is the most accurate? If we make a claim in any direction we risk demonizing an entire segment of the faithful and history. This is one of the reasons why Friends are very slow in making decisions and why they leave room within their theological statements, because when emotions are raised and arguments are made we can lose perspective and possibly follow our own wills instead of the will of God.
But how do we know God? How do we know which way to turn or what truth is? From the dawn of Christianity there have been different perspectives that have pulled on the faithful. Throughout the epistles we can read about various struggles that the early church faced. Every era of church history has faced something that threatens to pull the church apart or propel it into the next age. Today is no different. John wrote during one of those periods of history that faced these very things. There were people that proposed that the true faith was found only in following the ancient rites of the Jewish religion, others claimed that there was secret knowledge that could only be received by initiation and participation in secret ceremonies. We know the struggles because each epistle tells us about these struggles. John, the last apostle, writes to those that were faced with the end of an era. They have watched the apostles one by one pass to death, and as they witnessed this they began to question their faith. Things were not going exactly as they thought they would, and the ones that founded the church were no longer there to direct their steps. They lived through persecutions, they witnessed dehumanizing violence. They had also saw the miraculous, healings of diseases, people freed from bondages, and the feeding of thousands. Yet darkness always seemed to be gaining on them.
As darkness approached some began to rise up prophets calling people to walk one way or another, people began seek answers to direct their paths, yet they only saw a faint light. They cried out to God wondering if they had missed something, they began to listen to the words of man instead of waiting on the Spirit of God, and John their last apostle watched as a unified church began to divide and fragment. He watched as people of the church began to rely on their own wisdom instead of that of God. He watched and just as Jesus wept he too began to write through his tears because so many were seeking and lost yet were looking in the wrong direction.
Very quickly people began to question the faith, they deemed it in their own minds that they must do more at very least they should follow the Torah, and the fact that darkness was creeping into the world around them must mean that they must do more. John says to them, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” Yes that is what we said the prophets begin to argue, we must follow the law. But what are the commandments that John speaks of? They begin to consider the words that John the elder once spoke when he was younger. The words that he heard the Lord speak.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:9-17 NRSV)
Abide in the love of God. Abide is an interesting word, because it is one that is so difficult to do. It means to remain in, to tarry, to stay in, and to dwell. So John lovingly reminds them of the commands of Jesus to wait, and dwell in the love of God. This is the most difficult thing for mankind to do because we like action. To sit around and wait is so contrary to our nature. “We must do something…anything to keep the darkness at bay.” The prophets say to the people. Yet John tells them, “abide, just wait, remember the command of our Lord. Love one another. It is not burdensome. You do not have to add to it, just remain and love.”
Just wait…just love…just do what Jesus has commanded. Do not worry about the darkness closing in around us it is merely an illusion, as long as we abide we will overcome the world. John can say this because he has seen it. He has seen the power of God working all around him. He had witnessed God coming into the lives of Jew and Gentile and totally changing everything. He has seen cities totally devoted to the worship of idols become cities earnestly seeking the one true living God. He was most likely writing this letter in the city of Ephesus, a city that contained one of the largest temples in the world devoted to the roman god Diana, and the city that Jesus spoke to in his Revelation about their zeal for truth and right doctrine. John saw many things. He saw these things because he learned the holy rhythm of Christ. A lifestyle devoted to worship, prayer, and service to others. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.
When people participate in this holy lifestyle they begin to see change at first with one person, then multiplying as each person actively lives and participates. One by one as people turn to the lifestyle of Christ the trappings of the world begin to fall away, the darkness is overcome by the light and faith conquers the world. But is all begins with abiding in the love of God. Sitting in the love of Christ. Waiting for God and listening to His voice.
We do not have to have all the right answers, we do not have to have a theology that can answer every question of God. We do not have to save the world, because that is not our job. Jesus is the one that conquers the world. He is the one who came by water and blood, who was born and crucified for our salvation and who rose again to lift all mankind back into the glory of God. It is Jesus who does the work, we are only required to abide in him and love those he leads us to.
John encourages us to adopt the lifestyle the holy rhythm Jesus taught us to live for a reason. When we move away from this rhythm we begin to rely on our own strength and our own minds. We begin to think that we are the ones that are doing the work, that we are the ones that conquer the world. I said that Jesus said that Ephesus was seekers of truth and right doctrine, they were the strongest of the seven churches of Asia because they were earnest in their seeking of what was right, but Jesus spoke against them because they lost their first love. They pulled away from the holy rhythm and began to trust themselves and little by little they fell away from Christ and as they began to fall away darkness began to take hold of them again. So they began to seek more truth and right doctrine only to have more darkness close in, because they did not abide first, they did not abide in love.
What does this say about us today? We are living on the edge, many of us see darkness all around us. We see the world conquering the church instead of the church conquering the world. We feel as if we need take things into our own hands to speak out and force righteousness onto the people all around us. I ask one thing as we set off down this road, how long have we remained in the love of God today, yesterday, the day before, and how long will we abide in his love tomorrow? Have we adopted first a rhythm of life that reflects Christ a lifestyle that mimics Christ in all we do before we go out to conquer darkness? Have we been people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? I ask because John says that that is the lifestyle that will conquer the world and bring light into the darkness. Abide in love first.
The writings of John are important to us as Friends. We derive our name from the words that he pinned at the closing of the era of Church history. Our original name The Religious Society of Friends means that our religion is a society based on becoming Friends with God. The only way for this to happen is for us to abide first and then live that love with others. We base our entire belief system on the idea that we can know where God leads us if we abide in His love, and then we can respond accordingly. Ephesus sought truth above all else, they sought righteousness and were great at exposing the false teachings of many, but they lacked one thing love. They left their first love behind as they moved forward into the world they were called to minister to. They walked into the darkness without carrying the light of Christ. Their eagerness to be right above all else caused them to live in infamy throughout church history because they forgot the main point. Love conquers the world.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, I encourage each of us to examine our lives and our lifestyles are we abiding in love or are we walking into the darkness without our first love? Are we focusing on being right in our own minds or are we allowing the Spirit to work through us? Are we making lists or are we encouraging all we meet to abide in the love of God where they are and walking with them as they begin to enter into the holy rhythm of Christ’s life? Do we as followers of Christ fear the darkness of the world or do we trust that Jesus Christ can overcome the world just as he overcame the grave? Do we truly believe and live in the power of the resurrection of Christ?