Sixth Sunday of Easter
TEXT: 1 John 5:1-6
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. (1 John 5:1-2)
Not long ago, I received an e-mail from someone I did not know. Ever get those? I have a pretty effective spam filter, but some stuff still gets through.
Anyway, this guy was obviously sending his e-mail out to a long list of people. And basically, his message was that I should go to a website he listed and read the essay posted there about same-sex marriage. At one point in his e-mail, he wrote the following: “Remember, the issue of same-sex marriage is not just a political issue. It is very much a religious one. It drives straight to the heart of our Christian beliefs. I am going to do everything possible to tell believers about this essay and I ask for your help also.”
Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to blog about same-sex marriage on Christian Family Sunday! No. Instead, I want to focus on a sentence in the Epistle reading for today, from the First Letter of John, chapter five—specifically, verses four and five, where it says: “whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
The author of First John is doing something very important here. He is affirming that the thing which has the ability to win victory over evil is faith. And he isn’t just talking about some generic faith in the goodness of humanity or the inevitability of social progress. He means the kind of faith that is centered in the person of Jesus Christ.
Why is this so important? Because—and I think I’m correct in saying this is true for most of us—we very easily permit the wrong kinds of things to hijack our lives. We allow things of secondary importance to assume roles of primary importance in our lives. And then we throw most of our time and emotions and energy at those things.
Maybe you’ve heard the story of the young sailor on a small ship that was crossing the ocean. The captain asked him to take the helm while he took a brief nap. It was in the middle of the night, and the stars were shining brightly.
“All you need to do,” explained the captain, “is follow the North Star,” which he carefully pointed out to the young man. “Do you think you can do that?”
“Yes, sir!” said the sailor. “You can count on me.” And he put his hands on the wheel and the captain disappeared below.
Several hours later the captain woke up from his nap and returned to the helm. Glancing at the sky, he knew immediately that something was wrong. “Hey, sailor!” the captain said. “What are you doing? Why aren’t we headed toward the North Star?”
“Oh,” the sailor said. “We passed that an hour ago!”
The captain knew that the only reliable point in the midst of the wind and the waves was the Polar Star, the North Star. That was the only steady point on the dark and confusing ocean. To stray from that star was to stray off course.
Have you ever known a new Christian? I hope you have, because we’re all supposed to be leading people to Christ. In any event, have you ever noticed what it is that excites someone who’s new to the Christian faith? What thrills them and mystifies them? What inspires and challenges them?
Well, I’ll tell you this: it’s not our doctrines, or our traditions, or the deep intellectual problems some of us like to argue about. No. What grabs the attention of new Christians is Jesus.
For me, it’s very easy to get caught up in all sorts of debates about life and church and theology. I find all that stuff quite stimulating. It has a way of consuming me and making me think I’m doing something important. However, I have also noticed that when I focus on Jesus, interest turns to awe and stimulation is replaced by inspiration.
T.S. Eliot … You all know about him, right? He was a 20th-century poet they made us study in high school. T.S. Eliot wrote about the search for “the still point of the turning world.”1 The Bible tells us that God is that “still point.” The Old Testament—from the beginning to the end—affirms that there can be no other centre of our lives than the Lord. And the entire New Testament bears witness to the fact that, in Jesus Christ, God shows us his face and provides us with a way to know him.
Without Jesus, there would be no Christian faith. Without Jesus, we would have no centre—we would have no peace. Without Jesus, we would still be trying to find some way to appease an unpredictable, punitive God with sacrifices and laws and rituals.
Friends, it is absolutely critical for us to focus on our common commitment to God as known in Jesus the Christ. That’s not to say that the Lord doesn’t call us to grapple with issues like sexual orientation, racism, abortion, economic justice, war and peace. Certainly those are important issues; but they are secondary issues. The primary issue for us—the most important thing for us—is Jesus. We need to keep our eyes focused on him.
If we are to usher in the Kingdom of God, then we as Christians must debate the best way to do it, but we must also keep our eyes focused on Jesus. We must put our shoulders to the wheel and work for peace at home, at school, at work, at play, but we must keep our eyes on Jesus. We must struggle against racism and greed and immorality as we understand them, but we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
The writer of a commentary on First John wrote this: “If Christ occupies the center at which faith comes into focus, then other things, however important, do not.”2
Here’s a story about Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was speaking to a group of people who had come from around the world to see her and learn about her work. When she opened the forum for questions, one woman asked, “How is it that your religious order is gaining members by the thousands and most of our orders are losing members?”
Without hesitating, Mother Teresa answered, “I give them Jesus.”
“Yes, I know,” pursued the woman. “But take habits, for example. Do your women object to wearing habits? And how do you set up the rules of your order?”
“I give them Jesus,” Mother Teresa replied.
“Yes, I know, Mother, but can you be more specific?”
“I give them Jesus,” she repeated.
The questioner went on: “Mother, we are so very much aware of your fine work. But I want to know about something else …”
Quietly, Mother Teresa said, “I give them Jesus. There is nothing else.”
Mother Teresa was able to stay focused on her ministry to the poor—and was able to inspire others to do the same—because, while she was not afraid to speak out on matters of policy and root causes, she had a centre. She had a “still point”—and it was Jesus.
So, here’s a question for you: What is the “still point” around which everything else in your life revolves? Is it your anger about injustice? Or the environment? Is it your concern for the youth of today … or for the adults? Is it your upward mobility? The stock market? Your health?
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”(Matt. 6:21). That’s what Jesus told us. And if your heart is set on anything—anything—that can die or rust or be taken away, then you really have founded your life on shifting sand.
The God revealed in Jesus is the only foundation that cannot be shaken. The God whom we know in Jesus is the only one who will never falter or fail us. In other words, Jesus is our North Star. Jesus is our still point. Jesus is what God has given us. There is nothing else. Thanks be to God, he is more than enough! Amen.
1 “At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”—Quote from “Burnt Norton,” one of Eliot’s “Four Quartets” (view online at: http://www.coldbacon.com/poems/fq.html)
2 The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), p. 437.