You can listen to the sermon here.
At the end of school two Fridays ago, a teacher in Chicago was going over some final reminders for her students. “Now, everyone knows what Tuesday is, right?”
“Yeah, it’s the anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers,” one student replied.
“No. We have a test next Tuesday.” (the original story can be found here)
It’s amazing how things have changed since 9/11/01. Remember what it was like in the days immediately after those events? We swore we would “Never forget.” We swore that our lives were changed forever.
I attended many high school graduations that following spring. And the one thing I kept hearing over and over was “9/11 changed my life…”
It was in our collective consciousness. How could we ever forget the thousands of lives that were lost? The image of the towers collapsing was burned into our memories. We watched the television and wondered what was next. How would we react as a country – would we collapse as the Towers did? Or would we rise up from the ashes a stronger people; determined to come together, ushering in a new era where we worked together, transcending racial, social, financial, and political boundaries for the greater good?
When we woke up on 9/12, it somehow looked like everything would be OK. We saw American flags flying on every porch and even from many car windows. The evening before, Congress met together on the steps of the Capitol Building and sang God Bless America as a sign of solidarity in reaction to these evil acts. The President told us that “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” And we saw that American resolve over the next few days and weeks. There were displays of compassion in our society that we had seen in few times in US history. In determined attempts to do something – anything – to help, people lined up at the Red Cross to donate blood. Donations to the United Way and other non-profit organizations began pouring in. Radios played patriotic music. People wore more red, white, and blue than we do on the 4th of July. We tied ribbons around our trees in an act of solidarity. There was a unity among us. Somehow, in the midst of the horror we had witnessed, we were rallying around each other. And we were united. We would never forget that tragic day. And we would never forget how we came together as a unified United States.
We even saw a dramatic increase in church attendance. People flocked to houses of worship that night. Some even had people lined up around the block, waiting to get inside. There was talk of revival. 9/11 was going to be the turning point in American Christian practice and lives were going to be changed as a result of these unspeakable acts. What people intended for evil, God was going to use for good. Churches experienced attendance levels that are only reserved for Mother’s Day and Easter Sunday. We were on the brink of a nationwide revival that would rival the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century. In spite of the evil we faced, we saw that good was coming out of it. And we swore we would never forget.
Fast-forward six years later. In many ways, we are experiencing 9/11-fatigue. The only time the event is mentioned is on anniversaries or when a politician is accused of using the terrorist attacks as a means of personal, political gain. Churches did not experience the sustained attendance increase that was anticipated. Within a month, most churches were close to pre-9/11 attendance. As time has marched on, our memory of the day and how it dramatically impacted our lives on a deep, personal level has faded.
The ribbons are gone. The flags are tucked away. And the memories of 9/11 are relegated to a series of soundbites and slogans found on bumper stickers. Is that what we meant when we said we’d never forget? It sounds like we’re suffering from a collective case of Attention Deficit Disorder.
We’re prone to having short memories. In the hustle and bustle of life, it can be easy to get caught up in the events of the now and lose sight of what’s important. We forget what we swore we’d always remember.
John knew this. He knew that we can get lose our focus and get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent, the tyranny of the now. And that can distract us from walking in the light of the love Christ. John’s audience had no room for distraction. Their faith had been hijacked by some who were proclaiming a gospel other than the one Christ showed us. Many people were being led away. It was tearing the young church apart at her core. This letter, 1 John, is an attempt to help the church refocus on the real message of Christ.
As we wrap up this Letter from an Old Friend, turn with me to 1 John chapter 5. It’s found towards the end of your Bibles, after James and 1 & 2 Peter. If you’ve gotten to 2 John or Revelation, you’ve gone too far. If you don’t have a Bible, you’re welcome to the one in the pew in front of you. 1 John 5 begins on page 1067 in that Bible.
As we return to 1 John, we find him doing his best to encourage us to remember. The birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is a life-changing series of events. When you experience the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time, you are so overwhelmed with the grace that you wonder how you could ever forget that experience. But even when it comes to something as radically life-changing as the gospel, we can sometimes become forgetful. Jesus knew that. That’s one of the reason he instituted the Lord’s Supper and we gather around His table every week. It serves as a constant reminder of what Jesus Christ did for us. He willingly gave up His life so we could become children of the Father in Heaven. Without His redeeming act, without His intentional, loving sacrifice – without the broken body and poured out blood – we would not have access to the Father. We were condemned. We cannot suffer from a gospel-fatigue that is similar to our 9/11-fatigue. We cannot relegate following Christ to a few t-shirts, soundbites, and a bumper sticker. That’s not the life-change that Jesus came died for. It must remain at the tip of our lips. It must permeate everything we do – both inside and outside the walls of this church.
So, John’s letter is a reminder of what is important. He does all he can to keep us from getting distracted and to continue to remember the true gospel. He remains focused throughout the letter. He says what he’s going to say, says what he says, then tells us what he said. Throughout the letter, he has remained on message. So as we come to the conclusion to the letter, there’s little surprise that he continues to share the same message. He wants to make sure that his audience gets what he’s trying to say. We cannot forget. And John is doing his best to help us remember. Looking at this final chapter in the letter, the themes are very familiar. You can almost hear this old friend say, “Never forget this…” and “Never forget that…” Let’s look at the final chapter in this letter together. Read 1 John 5:1-20
Never forget that God is love. He chose to wrap Himself in flesh and become a man and eventually gave up His own life. While He remained fully God, He chose to become a person, too – with flesh and bones and emotions and temptations. Not because He is some type of whimsical deity and wanted to play around on earth, but because He loves you and He loves me. Remember – God is radically and wholeheartedly in love with you. Like a shepherd looking for a lost sheep, He went to the ends of the earth to bring you back to Him. What an amazing love!
Never forget that becoming a follower of Jesus means that you are born again. When you encounter the living, breathing God, you can’t help but be changed. This new life we are given when we have been covered by his poured-out blood is one of victory. No longer are we bound by the sinful pattern of life. We are bombarded with temptation upon temptation because we continue to live in a fallen world. Even though we are surrounded by invitations to sin, the new life we have been given includes the freedom not to sin. And this new life is something we can have now. It’s not something we have to wait until we die to receive. Accepting the Son of God now means that you have life now. There’s nothing you have to do to earn life. In fact, there’s nothing you can do to earn life. It is a free gift given to you and to me. Once you accept it, you are adopted into the family of God and eternal life is something we now have. It’s not just something to look forward to, but it is something we experience here and now. If you are following Christ, you have eternal life today. And that should bring us confidence in the decisions we make, the life we live, and even when we face the shadow of death.
Never forget that as a child of God, you have a loving Father who wants to know you and be known by you. He is not a God that is aloof. He is the God that wants to be intimately involved in every aspect of your life. And as you spend more time in His presence and draw closer to Him, your heart becomes more like His. His desires become our desires. God is the God of changed lives.
Never forget that the love you have experienced and the new, eternal, life you have already been given changes the way you act towards others. You cannot love God without loving others. It means we have to be involved in each other’s lives. It means we have to pray for each other and encourage each other to stay away from sin. Some scholars believe that the ‘sin that leads to death’ in verse 16 is the Gnostics’ persistent denial of the truth – that Jesus Christ actually came in the flesh – and to their shameless immorality. Others think it’s a sin that results in physical death. When a believer continues to sin, God stands in judgment and takes that person’s life. I don’t know which interpretation is correct. I don’t even know if either one is correct. I do know that in both of these instances, we have a responsibility towards each other to help keep each other from sin. And that can get messy. Sin is an ugly thing. We want to hide it and pretend it’s not there. We need to be real enough with each other that we can help each other in the areas we fall short.
As we come to the close of 1 John, we find the very same themes that we have encountered throughout the letter. Don’t forget that God is love. Don’t forget Jesus is God’s son who became a man and walked among us. Don’t forget He displayed His love for us by dying on the cross. Don’t forget that because of the cross, we have eternal life. And because of the cross, we are adopted into God’s family. Don’t forget that because we are children of God, we love each other and help keep each other from sin. Don’t forget that when people look at you, they should be able to see your Father in Heaven in what you say and what you do.
So, we come to the end of this book and John concludes with this verse: Read 1 John 5:21. What?!? We’ve been talking about God loving us and how that changes us. What does that have to do with idolatry? On the surface, it doesn’t make any sense. He hasn’t said anything about idols anywhere else in the letter. Why tack this statement on here at the end? Think about it – what’s an idol? It’s anything that takes the place of God in our lives. Immediately before this verse, John reminds us that ‘He is the true God and eternal life.’ It sums up the entire letter quite nicely. You have victory in Jesus Christ. You have access to the one, true God who loves you and accepts you as one of His children. Why allow any idol – money, possessions, relationships, power, prestige, a false teaching, anything that distracts your attention away from God – why allow an idol to lead you to forget who God is, what He has done for you, and what He wants for you?
Don’t allow the life-changing power of the good news of what Jesus Christ has done to fade away into a series of t-shirts, soundbites, and bumper stickers. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by whatever pops up around you. Never forget. Never forget.