Reading: New Testament: 1 John 1:1-5; 2:1-6
Grace to you and peace, in God who created us, who loves us, and who will never let us go. Amen.
Last week, we began a three-week journey through the Letter of First John. We talked about how a big theme in First John is love. How God is love, and God calls us to love one another, as God has loved us.
But this week, our scripture passage doesn’t have much at all to say about love. In fact, the word “love” only comes up once today. Instead, we hear a lot about a different word, a word which doesn’t feel much like love at all: that word is sin.
I know that sin is a hard word for us to hear. Talking about sin can be really uncomfortable, can’t it? Perhaps a part of this is the ways in which the church has talked about sin, and perhaps continues to talk about sin. My grandpa used to say that he remembered a certain Lutheran pastor who would pound the pulpit, and preach fire and brimstone sermons. It made him afraid! I know others who have told me that they stopped going to church altogether, because it always made them feel guilty about themselves. So I want to be careful about the way that we talk about sin, because it’s a word with a lot of weight to it.
So before we really get into our passage today, I want to remind you of something that I hope you’ve heard before. In fact, I think this is something that we should hear over and over again, every time we gather for worship. It’s this:
You are a beautiful, and beloved child of God. You bear the image of a God who created you, a God who loves you, a God who will never let you go.
Let those words sink in. You are a beautiful, and beloved child of God. You bear the image of a God who created you, a God who loves you, a God who will never let you go.
There is nothing that you’ve ever done, or ever needed to do to earn this promise. There is nothing that you can or will ever do to erase it. This is a promise that God made to you at birth, a promise that God will keep. Why don’t you say that with me?
I am a beautiful, and beloved child of God. I bear the image of a God who created me, a God who loves me, a God who will never let me go.
This promise is a promise from God, and it’s a promise for all people. Every human being on this planet is a beautiful and beloved child of God.
The problem is that we don’t always treat one another like beautiful and beloved children of God, do we? In fact, sometimes we treat our underwear with more care than we treat other beloved and beautiful children of God!
And the fact that we so often don’t treat one another like beautiful and beloved children of God (and in fact, so often we don’t even treat ourselves like beautiful and beloved children of God)… that has a name. It’s called sin.
I don’t need to convince you that sin is real. War. Invading another country just for the love of power. Gun violence. System racism. Colonialism. Economic inequality. Polluting and exploiting the earth.
These are just some of the ways in which we human beings fail to treat other human beings as beautiful and beloved children of God.
We can say it another way: sin is when we fail to love one another the way that God loves us.
I also want to say that there are many things that the church has historically called sin, that aren’t sin. In fact, a lot of what the church has often called sin was never really sin at all, it was just diversity. And so the church has used the word “sin” to hurt a lot of beautiful and beloved children of God.
But when it comes to actual sin, John doesn’t let us turn a blind eye. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Maybe this seems like a word of judgement. But I think it’s actually a word of grace. It’s a word of grace because it means that we don’t have to pretend to have it all together when we come before God. We don’t have to pretend that we’re perfect, we don’t have to pretend that we’re pure, we don’t have to pretend that we’re someone we’re not. We don’t have to hide our flaws or our failures before God.
It’s a word of grace, because we can be our authentic, vulnerable selves before God, before the One who created us, and loves us, and will never let us go.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sin, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Maybe these words seem to good to be true. That God offers us forgiveness for all of our sin. But we can trust in this promise of forgiveness, not because of anything that we’ve done, but because of what Jesus has done for us, in carrying the sin of the world to the cross, burying it in the grave, and rising again so that we might have new life in him.
God’s promise of forgiveness frees us from the weight of all that guilt and shame that we often carry.
God’s promise of forgiveness frees us, so that we can live lives of love. So that we can be free to honour everyone we meet as beautiful and beloved children of God. So that we can even honour ourselves as beautiful and beloved children of God. And we can do this in all our messy, imperfect ways, knowing that God’s OK with the mess, and trusting in God’s promise of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
So go forth, beautiful and beloved children of God, forgiven, and free to love one another in all those messy and imperfect ways. And take every chance you can get to remind one another that each one of us has been created by a God who loves us, who forgives us, and who will never let us go. Amen.