First United Presbyterian Church
Rev. Amy Morgan
April 8, 2018
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.
1 John 1:1-2:2
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--
2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us--
3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;
7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
“We love gardening. But the feeling wasn’t always mutual.”
A commercial for a popular gardening product features people who struggle to get their gardens growing or to keep their house plants alive. They’re inexperienced, they overwater, they plant things in the wrong places, they don’t know which tools to use. In short, they can’t make their plants grow without a lot of help.
Enter: Miracle Grow. No matter how badly you manage to mangle the task of gardening, Miracle Grow can make it work. In fact, the new tagline for Miracle Grow is, “Everyone grows with Miracle Grow.”
The community to which the first letter of John was written was struggling with growth of a different sort. While the number of Christian converts continued to grow, this community had experienced some kind of division. It seems that some faction of the community believed they were without sin, and possibly also contested Jesus’ full humanity. These might have been followers of an early Gnostic movement, a group of people who believed that material things, even the human body, were evil and that Christ only appeared to be in human form. Thus the letter begins with the assertion that “we have heard,” “we have seen with our eyes,” “we have looked at and touched with our hands.” The writer wants to make sure his audience understands that Jesus was real and in the flesh and perceivable to the senses.
This section concludes with the words, “we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” Which indicates that their joy is currently…incomplete.
After the first Easter, the early Christian community had a lot to sort out about what they believed and how they should live together. They were inexperienced. Sometimes they said or did the wrong things. They watered down certain aspects of Christ’s nature or couldn’t figure out where to put sin in the theological landscape. In short, they couldn’t get their faith to grow without a lot of help.
The important thing to remember here is that this letter is not just addressing personal, individual faith. This is a communal letter. Both the author and the audience are plural. This is a community of believers trying to grow and thrive in a very hostile environment. The weeds and rocks of persecution, division, oppression, and fear are threatening to choke the life out of this field of faith. This community needs help. It needs a miracle.
This congregation has experienced division, broken fellowship, numerous times throughout its long history. And while I think there are strong feelings of unity and love among us all right now, chances are that the time will come when we are divided over some issue or controversy, and we will have to sort out how to handle it. We may not argue over the full humanity of Christ or the efficacy of the cross, but it isn’t unusual for a church to experience division over the renovation of the fellowship hall or color of the paint in the bathrooms.
The Christian community in Loveland is experiencing deep divisions right now. A prominent member of an evangelical megachurch declared publicly that the progressive churches in town deny the cross of Christ, while a progressive pastor declared she’ll have nothing to do with evangelicals because she feels their theology is abusive. At a time when Loveland desperately needs the prophetic voice and compassionate service of the Christian community, we are so beset by division that we can’t unite in mission and ministry.
Our Presbyterian denomination, the PC(USA), is weathering one of the greatest schisms in its history. Churches have left the denomination over the ordination and marriage of people who are homosexual and other decisions of our General Assembly concerning social justice. Misinformation has been fed to conservative churches encouraging them to break with our denomination, and pastors specializing in this process are roaming the country, leading churches out.
Whether we experience division within our congregation or within our denomination or within our larger Christian body, this division diminishes our growth. Arguments over belief and practice have hindered the Christian church for…well, forever. Each of us declaring ourselves righteous, saying we have no sin while pointing out the sin of our adversary, hinders our fellowship with God and with one another. Our joy is still incomplete.
Enter: Miracle Grow.
Miracle Grow has products that will nurture growth, feed plants, and control weeds. Miracle Grow soil creates a hospitable growth environment where there was once just dirt. Plant food delivers the exact mixture of nutrients for plants to grow bigger and healthier. Weed preventer keeps back those forces that threaten to destroy young plants as they grow.
The community of John’s letter finds this Miracle Grow in Jesus Christ, our “advocate” and “the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” If we are willing to admit that we love the light, but we don’t always walk in it, that we love the truth, but we don’t always tell it, that we love righteousness, but we often fall into sin – then Christ’s love can nurture us, feed us, heal us, and protect us. God can create a fertile field out of our dirt and rocks and weeds.
But it requires that we face up to reality. I can say I’m six feet tall, but it won’t help me reach the dishes on the top shelf of my cupboard. I can claim to be a gymnast, but it won’t help me do a backflip. I can say I do what is good and right and true, but that won’t help me live into the love of God. The only way we become fertile soil – a place for the seeds of God’s love to grow and flourish – is to admit to the truth of what we really are.
John’s letter says that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” This means that in God’s light we can see things clearly, understand things for what they really are. In the light of God, we can’t fool ourselves or anybody else. We can drop the façade of perfection. We can throw off the veil of success and achievement. We can confess our sin and be cleansed from it. We can invite God’s Miracle Grow to go to work on our lives.
But again, remember that it isn’t just about us, our individual sin and brokenness. Our scripture passage today concludes by saying that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice, not just for our personal sins, “but also for the sins of the whole world.” Everybody grows with Miracle Grow.
No matter how much people may water down the gospel or overemphasize their preferred reading of scripture; no matter how often people abandon their faith or misuse the spiritual tools they have; no matter how inexperienced people are or what poor choices they make – the Miracle Grow of Jesus Christ is theirs, and it will work. Everyone grows in the light of God.
We are blessed to be planted in a place with rich soil for growth. Just like the sugar beets that put this town on the map, we can grow and thrive in this is a place that is naturally hospitable to spiritual growth. Awe-inspiring beauty, compassionate neighbors, and lots of light contribute to our growth. This congregation is filled with brothers and sisters who are spiritually curious, wise, generous, and kind. We are gifted with this wonderful building to house our worship and wonder, and we have incredible musicians to help lift our spirits and deepen our experience of worship.
But we are still susceptible to diseases of the soul. Pride and self-righteousness can infect us, and animosity and greed can grow like fungus. Weeds of apathy and selfishness can choke out the light.
And so we must – again and again - honestly acknowledge where our fellowship is broken. In our nation. In our community. In our church. In our friendships. In our homes. This isn’t fun, and it isn’t easy. But it is how we walk in the light of God. By admitting our faults and failings, our divisions and our hostility. It is how we grow.
Because ultimately, spiritual growth is not about right doctrine or what kind of music you sing in worship. It’s not about how long you’ve been a Christian or how you got baptized. It’s not about which Christian lingo you use or how many people come to your church on Sunday morning. It’s not about whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or whether you’re living in poverty or living large.
Spiritual growth is about fellowship with God and one another. Unity. Like precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. That good and pleasant unity, that fellowship that makes our joy complete.
This unity is accomplished not by our efforts alone. Jesus Christ came to reconcile the world to God, to make a way for us to live together in peace. And so it is in Christ that we are reconciled to God and one another.
But we participate in the reconciliation, the fellowship and unity, through confessing those things that break our relationship with God and our neighbors. Forgiveness and cleansing are always ours.
Growing in faith may be a struggle, one that sometimes feels hopeless as another Easter passes and we still lack that “longed-for perfection.” But in the light of God, miracles are possible. No matter how badly we manage to mangle the task of tending to our spiritual gardens, God’s Miracle Grow can make it work. We just need to ask for some help, and we’ll discover that “Everyone Grows With Miracle Grow.”