See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.
1 John 3:1-15
but let your heart keep my commandments;
for length of days and years of life
and abundant welfare they will give you.
Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favour and good repute
in the sight of God and of people.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be a healing for your flesh
and a refreshment for your body.
Honor the Lord with your substance
and with the first fruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves the one he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
Happy are those who find wisdom,
and those who get understanding,
for her income is better than silver,
and her revenue better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honour.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called happy.
Most of our new Testament readings at Evensong tend to come from Paul’s letters, and anyone who has read aloud from the lectern will confirm have very long and convoluted Paul sentences can be. His arguments and reasoning can be equally hard to follow at times. So, it’s refreshing to read instead from one of John’s letters. While the grammar and sentences may be easier to follow, the amount of detail and the depth of his discussion do, I think, give us just as much to fathom as we find in Paul’s letters.
While each sentence could provide sufficient material itself for a sermon, I’m going to focus tonight on what it means to belong to God’s family.
John says clearly that we are called children of God. We are adopted into God’s family, which not only brings us into relationship with God, but with everyone else who believes in Jesus Christ. When we are part of a family we inherit various traits from our parents, grandparents etc, and these become part of our nature, whether or not we have known these relatives ourselves. We also develop patterns of behaviour which we are taught or which we copy from the family we live with in childhood. Thus, we develop and identify with our family, just as we develop an identity by being part of the family of God.
As we are all created by God in his image, we are all capable of sharing and showing God’s love in our lives. Equally we can pick up behaviours from others who share our faith with us. I have learnt a tremendous amount from the examples of people I have known, often the elderly who have developed the wisdom which we heard of in our reading from Proverbs.
The letter from John says a lot about sin. And none of us can pretend that our lives without sin. Even Paul in his letter to the Romans talked about how he battled with sin and however much he tried to avoid it in his behaviour, it still reared its ugly head in his daily life, causing him to make a deliberate choice to turn away from sin at each opportunity and live a life of obedience to God.
The writer to the Hebrews also makes it clear that while sin is part of our lives we need to seek constantly to live a life which pleases God. In his final benediction to his readers, he writes: “May the God of peace.. make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will.” In other words, it’s clear that each of us is a “work in hand” and we all shared the same struggle to turn away from sin so we can fill our lives with love and service to God.
We are assured that at Jesus second coming we will be revealed as pure in him, so this letter is indeed one of encouragement: and it’s part of being the family which enables us to encourage each other as we share the same faith with the challenges and salvation which it brings.
I remember going on a weekend to Lee Abbey, a Christian conference centre in Devon, with the church I belonged to at the time. The weekend was led by Paul Butler, who some of you may remember from his time as Bishop of Southampton – he is now Bishop of Durham! One of the highest bishoprics in the country. During one of his talks he asked which comes first in our lives as part of a Christian church: believing, behaving, or belonging. Just think for a moment what your answer might be.
Well, several people had very good arguments for putting these in all the different orders possible. The critical issue was very much where do we begin? Do we expect people to believe in God before they become part of a church family? Some people thought this was essential, much in the same way as one would expect someone to know how to play football before they join the local club.
Or should our behaviour be fitting of what might be expected in church before we give a full welcome to someone to join us? Some felt this was appropriate – and bearing in mind this was a good quarter of a century ago, issues such as what one wore to church were seen as quite significant then while we may see this quite differently now.
You’ve probably guessed by now that the first step in being part of the family of God is belonging. It’s closely followed by believing and then the long, long journey of behaving.
We need to remember of course that belonging has two sides to it. However much someone wants to belong, it’s not that easy without a good welcome.
God welcomes everyone into his family and thankfully we have a church here which is well known for its welcome to everyone who comes through its doors – something which I have seen consistently over the 6+ years I’ve been here. And it’s through belonging that we can support each other. As with any family, as most of us know from experience, this brings its challenges and ups and downs.
However, ultimately, it’s through building up our faith and beliefs together – which are indeed part of our growth and in helping each other that we develop in living lives in a journey where we continue to share our love and welcome. Belonging brings identity. It showers us with God’s gift of love, and draws us closer to God and our neighbours in lives of love and obedience as we love, serve and give to all.