This sermon was given by Reverend Jason Carle, Pastor of Overland Park Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas on October 7, 2018. The following is a transcript of the scripture lessons and sermon.
New Testament Lesson
The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.
Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
The children of your elect sister send you their greetings.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Congratulations everyone! You were able to sit through an entire book of the Bible. Well done. Although I will admit every time I hear this or read this passage I always feel like I get a little bit of whiplash. I get it because there are two sections in this letter. The first section is about an elder writing to a woman elder within a church saying “remember, we have to love each other.” Everybody I think in this room, most days, says that is something that we like. Most days we live into the commandment to love one another.
But then there’s the second part of what we read today. And that has to do with the elders saying if somebody is not preaching or teaching that Jesus came in the flesh then they are the antichrist. Now I don’t know about you, but in my mind whenever I hear ‘Antichrist’ I am typically thinking that means the son of Satan coming into the world to destroy everything, and there’s lots of CGI explosions everywhere. That’s the image that most of us have. The reason why that’s not an apt comparison is because of this first part of this. Why should we treat someone as though they are the Antichrist, as though they are someone to be avoided and shunned? It does seem a little bit odds with the commandment to love one another. The focus of this passage, though, has to do with the idea that Jesus came in the flesh.
So, to back up a little bit in this. One of the reasons why the teachings of Christians in the early first century was so controversial was because they were teaching that God, the Eternal One, came and took on flesh. And it wasn’t an illusion, it was that God actually took on flesh. For people of that time, that was a nonsensical way of thinking about God. The reason being is that, if you think about God as eternal, if something lasts forever according to logic, that means it doesn’t change. Eternity means it is always the same. For the people of that time then to hear that God came down in the flesh and that God became incarnate in this human being was seen as nonsensical. How could this Jesus person be God and yet still be eternal?
And so some people of that time within the church said that he wasn’t really here in the flesh; rather, it was an illusion. It looked like he was walking around, talking, eating, being crucified but it wasn’t actually God. They were trying to make the Gospel a little more palatable, a little easier to swallow. And most of us try to do that in some way, shape, or form. Most people here don’t actually sell everything they have to go follow Jesus. We don’t really do all those things. But for the writer of this letter, the concept of Jesus taking on flesh wasn’t just a nifty idea. Jesus taking on flesh was the actual, entire point of Jesus being here amongst us.
I think everyone in this room would acknowledge the importance of face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh meeting and seeing one another. Passing the peace of Christ in the midst of worship in a virtual handwave, like over Facebook, is just not the same. It’s impersonal, digital. What God did in Jesus Christ was that it wasn’t enough for God to do as a digital hand wave. It wasn’t enough for God to seem like he was among us. It wasn’t enough because that’s not what love is. Love is being present with us in all of our shame and glory. God loved us enough not to send just an image. God loved us enough to step into the world and breathe our air and hug and feel and touch and be.
The reason for this is because the motivation of God in all of this was and is and will always be love for creation. And so when the author of Second John today says “love one another” and then moves into this movement of “if you’re not preaching that God came in the flesh, then that person is an Antichrist,” what he is saying is that if somebody is preaching this they are saying that God’s love was just an illusion. And we all have experienced the difference between real, concrete love and a superficial love. Which would you rather have? We want the real thing, the love that is flesh and bone. It is the desire of our hearts and minds to be able to connect to God and to each other through that deep, connected, flesh-filled love. That is what is called to drive us.
Another way of reading this passage of ‘Antichrist’–and remember, ‘anti’ just means against–and ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed one.’ Jesus is the one anointed to bring God’s love, God’s real love into the world. And those who cannot accept that message and keep at a distance it is difficult for that to be embraced.
I am not telling you to tell the world that if they don’t believe Jesus was the incarnate Son of God you should tell them “you’re the Antichrist and a deceiver.” No. This was said to people teaching this within the church. God and Christ is always most critical and most angry at the people who want to deny the depth of God’s love in the world yet who claim that they do love the world. Our job and our task is that we are called to show this fleshy love of God, this incarnate love of God. I am filled with joy that we are a congregation who does this for each other.
This last week I visited with Bob and we were sitting and talking and I had someone in the congregation give me a loaf of bread and cookies to give to him. And he shared with me how much he appreciated the cards we sent, the gifts he had been given. I tell you this because it is important for us to know how much these small, tangible, and yet fully-fleshed acts of love, how they change and transform how we see the people in our world.
We are a part of this world because God shows us the way in Jesus Christ about how to live. We are never called to be a people who stand a distance. We are called to come into the midst, to be there, and to live that love out. And when we do that, when we live into that, that is the goodness of God. That is a way in which God communicates God’s grace to us. And that is the good news. Amen.