1 John 3:1-3
Some years ago, I participated in a leadership training class. The instructor spoke about solving problems. He started with solving what are known as “simple problems.” Now a simple problem is defined to be those problems for which there is just one right answer. He said, “Problems with one right answer are essential for one generation to pass key knowledge elements of its culture on to the next generation. No culture can teach its language, mathematics, history, science, or morals without using primarily single right answer problems.” He said, “One of the positive results from getting single right answers is that when you know the simple right answer then you have also eliminated the ‘world of wrong alternatives.’” For example, when you know 4+4=8, you know that all other possible answers are wrong. This is a great relief. You do not have to worry about the millions of other potentially, ‘right’ numbers because all of them are wrong.
If we understand the principle of simple right answers, then we can understand a profound truth about our life. We can understand that truth that we are loved. I have met great many people in my life, but I have never met one person who did not want to know they were loved. I have never met a person who did not express in one way or another the desire to know that they mattered. The desire for each of us to know that we are loved is like an unquenchable thirst. Whether we are nine days old or ninety years old, we thirst to know we are loved. That thirst is so strong that we if we do not find clean water that quenches that thirst, we become willing to drink polluted water in the hope that satisfies us.
So, we thirst to know that we are loved. God knows this about us. God knows that without love, without the hope love gives us, we can lose our grip on life itself. If we are attentive to what God has said, if we are attentive to His Word, we will realize that God gave us the simple answer to our thirst for love and the hope that comes from that love. One of the most often verses from the Bible, the revealing story of God, gives us the simple answer to our thirst for love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God’s son has a name. His name is Jesus. And so, we can make this powerful verse most personal we can do so by saying it this way, “God loves me so much that he sent Jesus to tell me and to love me. In loving Jesus, I will not be lost but have an eternal life of hope.”
God loves you and gave his Son, Jesus, as a sign of his love. All of God’s Word points to the simple right answer of Jesus as the satisfaction of our thirst for love. What a relief that is. No matter what, we are loved by God and we see that love in the person of Jesus.
Jesus affirmed the he was God’s love. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Here Jesus gave his disciples and us the simple right answer to our relationship with God. Jesus statement does not burden us, it should not to intimidate us, it does not to exclude us – but instead gives us an infinite measure of peace and relief. If you want to know and feel God’s love, then you can experience it through Jesus. Knowing this single, right answer, we no longer need to worry about the millions of other, potentially “right” answers that come our way. They are all wrong. Jesus once said to a thirsty woman at a well “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.” Jesus was not speaking of physical thirst, he was speaking of our thirst for true love. In this woman’s life she had had five husbands and was living with a sixth man who was not her husband. She was thirsting for love but had not found true love with men until she met Jesus, then she knew God loved her. Her thirst for love was now satisfied through Jesus and such love would not be withdrawn as had happen by so many of her former husbands and relationships.
A simple right answer to our thirst for love is found in Jesus. But we are frail humans and we wonder does God really love me? Will he continue to love me no matter what? The Apostle Paul who tormented Christians before he experienced Jesus’ love knew the answer to that question. Paul said, “Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love we have in Jesus” (MSG 8:31-39).
There are many voices pounding on our ears these days with quite the opposite message. The world shouts, “You are no good, you are ugly, you are worthless, you are a nobody – unless you can prove otherwise. Prove that you are worth something, do something relevant, spectacular or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire but just know we may take that love away later.” God says, “I love you. You cannot earn this love. It is my gift and I will not take it away from you.”
Our reading today from the letter we call 1 John reinforces our understanding of being loved. The opening words we read said, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” This is a great spiritual mystery is it not? God chose to love you and me. One writer of the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, wrote, “And I wonder, “Why [God] are people so important to you? Why do you even think about them? Why do you care so much about humans? Why do you even notice them? But you do!” (Psalm 8:4)
The mystery is that God does notice you, he has chosen you, and he does love you. But here is something else important. Because God has chosen you, does not mean he has rejected someone else. Some of us may remember or still experience the sometime painful experience of choosing sides. Usually two “captains” emerge to represent each team. Then the pool of players stands before each captain as the choosing begins. The longer we stand in that pool of players, the more rejected we feel. To be chosen and loved by God is radically different because instead of excluding some, God choses to include all others equally. We heard Jesus say earlier, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” No one is excluded. We could say it this way as well, “I am the one way to God, to real truth, and to real life. Anyone and everyone who comes to me will be accepted by God.” There is no rejection in Jesus.
This is why John, in his letter, said in being chosen we have our true identity, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” We are children of God and loved by Him. That is our identity. Let that soak in for a moment. We hear a lot on the news about identity theft; the taking of someone’s private information usually for financial gain. We hear a lot on the news about identity politics; the effort to divide and group people by race, social standing, disabilities, ethnicity, sex, gender, etc. The world seeks to steal and divide people. God says, “Wait! Stop it! Your identity is as my children!” And that is what we are!
John wrote, “The reason the world does not know us [this] is that it did not know him.” Most of the world does not understand your identity because they do not know God. But if you have accepted the love of God through Jesus, then you have one profound identity, you are God’s child. Once we deeply trust that we ourselves are precious in God’s eyes, we are then able to recognize the preciousness of others and their unique places in God’s heart. In our trust of God’s loving relationship with us, we are then able to look beyond the identities the world tries to impose on us and others and we can love others because we know they are precious to God. John would write later in this same letter these words, “Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child. And so everyone who loves knows God. This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his only Son into the world to give us life through him. True love is God’s love for us, not our love for God. He sent his Son as the way to take away our sins. That is how much God loved us, dear friends! So we also must love each other” (ERV 1 John 4:7, 9-11).
This is another simple right answer to life. So let me summarize this point. We are loved, so we must love. We are blessed, so we must bless others. We all need each other’s blessings. As I said earlier, I have met and talked to thousands of people in my life. All of them expressed in one way or another a desire to be loved. Not one of them though would be brought to life through curses, gossip, accusation, or blaming. We bring others to life by blessing them. This should not require effort. Do not look for a program or formula for blessing others or see blessing others as simply a call to spend more money. Blessing others should be a natural outflow of our life requiring no effort at all.
John continued his simple message in verse 2 from today’s reading, “2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.” John emphasized again that we are chosen, loved, and blessed by God. We should love and bless others as God has loved and blessed. But there is something we must not forget. Though chosen, loved, and blessed by God, we are not God. John said there are many things about today and tomorrow that have not been made known to us by God, and we need to accept that fact. We are not God and we cannot act as though we are.
There is an old joke about a woman who goes to heaven. She is met by Saint Peter who says to her, “Let me show you around.” As St. Peter showed this woman around heaven they end up in the cafeteria and St. Peter suggested they grab a tray and get some lunch. While standing in line, this man burst into the cafeteria dressed in a white coat. The man grabbed a tray, cut in front of everyone else, he said under his breath he had so much to do today, and then grabbed his food and hurried out. The woman was befuddled and said to St. Peter, “Who was that?” St. Peter replied, “Oh, that was God, pretending to be a doctor.” We are not God and so we must not pretend to know all the mysteries of life. We are not God and so we must not act as the final judge of people. We are not God and so we must not presume we see all things clearly. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “12 For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God].” (AMP 1 Corinthians 13:12).
We are chosen, loved, and blessed. We are not God, so some things, some experiences are a little blurry to us, somewhat of a riddle but at the right time we will see things most clearly. Until then John said we wait, “Knowing that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
It is my hope this day, that we come to understand that that our time on earth is part of a much larger story than our birth and death. We are part of God’s love story. In that story, God has shown over and again his love for people and his desire for people to love him and one another. God knows we have a thirst for love and that we will drink in anything to have that thirst quenched. God didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity to set it right once and for all. That is how much God loves you and love me and he loves those outside this place. God’s love will never change. Today, know that God loves you, has chosen you, and has blessed you and wants you to love and bless others. Let us pray.