Fellowship in the Light
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 John 1:1–2:2
Second Sunday of Easter
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
1 John 1:1–2:2
“Fellowship in the Light”
Blessed Easter to you! The cherry blossoms are in bloom here in the D.C. area, and all is well with the world. Right?
It doesn’t really look like that’s the case. Yes, income tax filings are due in the days ahead; but that’s not much to get worked up about when you consider some of the other problems out there. In the news over just the past few weeks, we’ve heard reports of police shootings, bomb plots, and terrorist mass murders. It seems like our world today can be a pretty dark place. And that’s just in the world at large.
At home, things don’t seem much brighter – if they’re even brighter at all. Things like tax payments or other financial stress might be bringing pressure into your life. All the activities that have sprung up on your schedule like blooming flowers: how can you do everything that you are supposed to be doing in the time you’ve got available? You or someone close to you might be suffering from a chronic condition or a progressively debilitating ailment. Where’s the light in all that? Nearly two thousand years after the first Easter, why is the world still such a dark place?
Even though we’re here in the twenty-first century, St. John’s letter to the Church of the first century can answer that question for us. Our problem today is the same problem as then, the chronic condition that hasn’t gone away: we have darkness inside of us. That’s not to say that we’re each capable of great evil – though we are – or that we make the world glum and gloomy – though we certainly can. The darkness inside of each of us, simply put, is sin. That’s what’s separated us from the light of God’s love all these many millennia.
God is light. Everything that’s not from God is darkness. Human beings don’t generate light, certainly not enough to see by. So when you or I set ourselves up in God’s place in the decisions that we make and the actions that we take, we’re in the dark. And when we do that regularly, living apart from God’s instruction and the light that it is for our path, we walk in darkness. Everything that turns us away from God points us to deepest darkness. If the world is opposed to God, it’s going to be a pretty dark place.
Even though you and I might try to convince ourselves otherwise, it comes down to this: standing before God, there are no shades of gray. Even a little bit of the darkness of sin, no matter how insignificant we might think it, is enough to leave us doomed. If we say otherwise, we’re saying the opposite of what God’s word shows us. We’re lying to ourselves, blind to the truth. When you turn on the light in a dark room, what happens? It’s gone, obliterated. It no longer exists. But if that’s the case for us and our sin, if all of us carry even the littlest bit of the darkness of sin inside of us and God is light, what hope do we have? What can any of us say in response to the reality of sin in a dark world?
Blessed Easter to you!
St. John was a firsthand witness to the light that came into the world through Jesus the Messiah. As he lays out in this letter to first century Christians, Jesus was wholly and inseparably God and man, the light of God come to enlighten the darkness of our world. His life, his suffering, his death, and especially his resurrection point to God’s victory over the darkness for us. Because of Jesus, you and I can have hope, especially when we come before God to acknowledge the darkness of our sin.
Jesus is humanity’s living advocate before God the Father. Jesus has taken on the problem of our sin and solved it for us. When we come to God in acknowledgement of our sin – as we do in worship through the rite of confession – He sees the people for whom Jesus gave himself up to death, even death on the cross. He did that to swallow up all the darkness of your sin and my sin, the darkness of our world of violence and sickness and hate. With his death, Jesus paid the price for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. And by his resurrection, Jesus showed that the Father accepted the sacrifice. So now, as John writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1:9) As Jesus told the disciples on that first Easter evening, when you confess your sin seeking God’s forgiveness, God’s word of forgiveness is sure and absolute, whether they are spoken through the lips of the pastor here in the Lord’s house or through the mouth of your fellow Christian. Your guilt before God is obliterated.
John was one of the people who first saw with their own eyes – and even touched with their own hands – the living Jesus after his resurrection. They saw their teacher, who died and who was buried, returned to life and returned to them. The world that they had known was forever changed. Death was beaten. Not cheated, not tricked, but beaten. The light of God, there at the beginning of time, had broken into the greatest darkness of our world and obliterated it. And he did that so that we could know the joy of fellowship, life together with God and with each other. Easter changes everything.
The Greek word that John uses here that we translate “fellowship” is κοινωνία. (koinonia) That’s the life together that we heard of in Acts 4(:32-35), where the burgeoning Christian community came together to support each other as fellow believers, walking together as people who looked to the crucified and risen Christ as their hope. The fellowship that they had with God through His Son brought them fellowship with each other.
That word koinonia might sound familiar to you if you’ve spent much time here at St. John’s. We partner with the Koinonia Foundation (koinoniacares.org), a service agency launched along with neighboring churches here in the Franconia area, to reach out in Christ’s love by providing food, clothing, and financial assistance and counseling to those in need right around us. And here at St. John’s, we established a Helping Hands Fund to provide financial support to households in our congregation – members in our life together here – should they face emergency needs or require other support. This Fund is something that you can support through your regular offerings, a tangible way of caring for your fellow Christians in our life together. These are but two of the ways in which we might walk together in fellowship with each other.
This fellowship that we have in the light of Christ, the fellowship we hear of in Acts 4 and 1 John, the fellowship that we have today, isn’t a new-age commune where we just sit around and talk about love or give things away for the common good. It’s a life together that shapes all of life. Our fellowship in the light includes reconciled life together with the God who loves us and all people enough to give Himself for our good. Our fellowship in the light includes life together with each other, giving and receiving forgiveness as Jesus’ disciples. And our fellowship in the light includes life together with our neighbor.
God makes you bearers of His light, reflecting the living Christ to your neighbor in our darkened world. Christians like you and me, who look to Jesus’ cross for our forgiveness and to his resurrection for our hope, have been called to share the joy of life together in Christ. God wants everyone to know that joy. And while our world still suffers under the darkness that sin brings two thousand years after Jesus’ resurrection, God will make all well with the world when He brings Jesus’ victory over sin and death to bear at his coming again, bringing in fullness the koinonia which get a glimpse of in the present age.
Whenever we gather at the Lord’s table, we get to share in the koinonia that Jesus has made possible. The living Lord is physically present to bring us into life together with him, with our Father in heaven, with the people around the table, and with all the saints of all times and places. Because of his fellowship with us, we can live in the light as he is in the light.
This weekend, God will be welcoming another soul into our life together with Him through the waters of Holy Baptism. In our baptismal rite here at St. John’s, we present the newly baptized with a candle as a reminder of the light of Christ which now burns in their life. It’s a candle that we encourage them to light on their baptismal birthday each year. The baptized may also light it in times of celebration and joy – or on those difficult and sad days that come throughout life as a reminder that the light of Christ will always beam even as darkness looms around us.
The final stanza of the hymn “Thine the Amen, Thine the Praise” begins with the line “Thine the glory in the night, no more dying only light…” That’s what we get to look ahead towards, because death and dying and sin have been beaten by Jesus, our Savior. In him, we have fellowship and life together in the light. Praise be to our God Who has triumphed for our sake and Who brings us into koinonia with Him.
Blessed Easter to you, for Easter changes everything.