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The Letter of First John

Reading: New Testament: 1 John 1:1-4

Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ, the Word of Life. Amen.

So, we have completed our journey through the Gospel of John. We started right in the very beginning, didn’t we? In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And as we journeyed together through the Gospel of John, we heard what it meant for the Word of God to become flesh and dwell on Earth, as a human being named Jesus. We heard about the signs Jesus performed – turning water to wine, feeding a crowd with five loaves and two fish, healing a man born blind, and raising Lazarus from the dead.

We heard Jesus’ teaching: I am the light of the world; I am the good shepherd; I am the resurrection; I am the way, the truth, and the life.

We walked with Jesus to the cross on Good Friday, and we witnessed the risen Jesus with Mary at the tomb, and with Thomas in the upper room, and with Peter on the shore of lake Galilee. And after all of that, we were only just scratching the surface.

The last thing that the author of the Gospel wrote was, “Now there were many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Today we’re moving on, from the Gospel of John, to the letter of First John. You may not feel as familiar with the Letter of First John as you are with the Gospel.

But maybe it’s more familiar than you think. Let me know if you recognize any of these quotes:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9, Order of Confession and Forgiveness)

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God.” (1 John 3:1, camp song)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7, camp song)

“God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16b)

Notice that there is a common thread through these quotes: love.

So maybe you’re more familiar with First John than you think. Now, we’re not really sure if First John was written by the same author as the Gospel of John. In fact, both are actually anonymous – it was only later that Christians connected them with Jesus’ disciple, John. But the two are connected. In fact, it seems like both were written in the same community of believers – perhaps a network of churches that shared a unique set of stories about Jesus, and a unique idea about what it meant to be a Christian. And at the centre of this community of believers was the new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples: love one another as I have loved you.

Now First John is an odd kind of letter: it doesn’t start the way a letter usually would. You know, “Dear so-and-so, how are you? The sun is shining here, and the flowers are blooming…” No, John jumps right into it:

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…”

Wow. What an opening, right? What is John talking about here? What is this Word of Life? Or maybe, who is the Word of Life? Could the Word of Life be Jesus? What if John is trying to remind us of the very first thing we heard in the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the… Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

There’s a connection, isn’t there? If you didn’t know about the Gospel, you’d be thinking, “What’s he talking about? Who is this Word of Life? I’m so confused!” But because we know the Gospel, we know who the Word of Life is. The Word of Life is Jesus Christ, who became flesh, and dwelt among us.

So when John says, “We declare to you what we have seen, and heard, and touched, and looked at with our own eyes…” he’s saying, “Look! We want to tell you about Jesus! We want to tell you about this human being that we knew, our friend, our rabbi, our teacher! This guy lived with us. He travelled with us. He ate with us. He loved us, and he died for us! And now we want to tell you about him!”

Why? Why does John want to tell us about Jesus? John says, “So that you may have fellowship with us. So that you can be in community with us. So that we can share this good news with you.”

In fact, those three words: fellowship, community, sharing… they are all the same word in Greek. Koinonia. Koinonia is one of these deep, multi-dimensional Greek words. It means fellowship, community, sharing, participation, even communion. Koinonia is like the Fellowship of the Ring. It’s like the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. It’s like Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men. Koinonia is deep, vibrant, abiding, community.

In fact, that’s why I love the term “Shared Ministry.” Because the root of “sharing” is koinonia. We’re not just sharing a pastor. We’re sharing a ministry! We’re sharing in community, participating together in the Body of Christ. We’re encouraging one another, building one another up, looking out for one another. We’re sharing our joys, sharing our sorrows, sharing our stories. We are learning to grow in koinonia, because sharing builds community.

And the root of this koinonia, this community, this fellowship, is love. Our community, our koinonia, is rooted and grounded in love: in God’s love for us, and in our love for one another. And when our koinonia is rooted and grounded in God’s love for us and our love for one another, then we begin to share God’s love with those around us. Because God’s love is for all people.

So I’m looking forward to walking with you over the next few weeks, as we explore the letter of First John. I hope we’ll learn a little more about what it means to grow in koinonia, and to worship a God whose name is Love. Amen.

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