“Why does a woman work ten years to change a man's habits and then complain that he's not the man she married?” -Barbra Streisand I married the wrong person. How many of us discovered after we got married that we weren’t married to the same person we were dating and engaged to? You should have seen the look of shock on my wife’s face when she found that out. Let me burst some bubbles. We never marry the right person. People today are looking for the perfect someone who fulfills their desires and meets their expectations and with whom they can live happily ever afterward. Let me give just two reasons why this expectation is doomed to failure.
In the first half of last century two chilling novels were written predicting what the future could look like. In 1932 Aldous Huxley published Brave New World and in 1949 George Orwell published 1984. They gave two very different pictures of what the world and culture would become like. In Orwell’s prophecy the world is ruled by Big Brother and controlled by Thought Police. Picture communist controlled counties like North Korea or China or Russia. Huxley’s was different. Listen to Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. vii-viii: Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, [amusing ourselves to death with an] almost infinite appetite for distractions. In 1984 people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us. People might rise up against a culture of oppression and coercion, but who will rise up against a culture of pleasure and entertainment and mindless amusement? Consider this sermon one small attempt to wake us up out of our stupor and equip us for some form of resistance before we make shipwreck of our faith.
At our Woodyard family Christmas gathering this year we played a game of This or That. People had to go to one side of the room or the other based on their preference for this or that. Starbucks or Woods, Huskies or Cougars, Coke or Pepsi, Packers or Seahawks, turkey or ham. Using contrasts and comparisons are great tools in teaching and effective in writing essays. We are helped to understand some things by looking at the opposites. John has been using this tool very effectively in his letter. Walk in darkness and walk in light Say we have no sin and confess our sin Love the world and love the Father Children of the devil and children of God. Hate your brother and love your brother. Our passage starts a new section in this letter. Most commentators on John’s first letter see it as having two parts and one main reason for saying it is each part starts with the same words.
How many of you are growing older? Wow, pastor, that’s two sermons in a row where you have started off with a dumb question. Last week was how many of you have ever forgotten something? Now how many of us are growing older? Those of you who lurk about Facebook know a few weeks ago someone started a 10 Year Photo Challenge. You’re supposed to post two pictures of yourself side by side, one from 10 years ago and one from now. I know, you are thinking, why would anyone do that on purpose? Lots of celebrities and famous people are doing it to show off how great they still look. Others are owning up to the realities of what age does to our faces and bodies. So why am I talking about this topic this morning. Last week we considered the least of these, the little ones in their mother’s wombs. This morning I want to consider the other end of life, the oldest of these, the senior saints. Next week I will speak to a topic that will land in the middle, parents and the challenges of navigating the technology driven culture we are immersed in, or maybe submerged in. Pray for me as we tackle technology and smartphones and social media. The Puritan Edmund Barker said, “Every Christian hath two great works to do in the world, to live well, and to die well.” Dying well was something they prepared for by living well. So my goal this morning is to pass on some wisdom from God concerning the number of our days and how to age with grace or as the Puritans would say how to finish well and die well.
Have any of you ever forgotten anything? Dumb question, right? Of course, we have, we all do. Forgetting is easy and it gets easier as you grow older. Some of us have to go to extra effort not to forget things. We write notes, make lists, write on our hand, tie a string around our finger, put keys in exactly the same place every time so we can find them next time. Certain things in our personal lives are considered so important that we have days to remember them, birthdays, anniversaries, special events. It’s important, we want to remember. This same thing is true in our national life, in our life as a country, there are days too important to forget. Tomorrow is MLK Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day. As Christians we remember Christmas and Easter. We can’t imagine ever forgetting those days. But some important things are being forgotten. There are now generations of Americans who have no clue about the Holocaust, and some deny it even happened. Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, marking the 46th anniversary of the infamous Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion. In some ways abortion has become so commonplace in our culture that it is becoming forgotten, considered old news.
John is especially interested in encouraging and promoting holiness and righteousness. He is motivating us to walk just as He walked (2:6). Last week John did that using the second coming of Jesus. I John 2:28 Abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. This week John will encourage and promote holiness and righteousness using the first coming of Jesus. This would work as a Christmas sermon. I John 3:4-10. I don’t know about you, but when I read this passage at the least it is perplexing and at the most it is discouraging. It sounds like John is saying if we are Christians then we will stop sinning, and we won’t be sinning anymore. 3:6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 3:8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil. 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 3:10 whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God. 5:18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning I sinned yesterday, I sinned today, I keep sinning. What is John saying? Does he really mean if we are in Christ we will be righteous and we won’t sin anymore? We need help. And where should we turn for help? What is the number one rule for understanding and interpreting Scripture? Scripture interprets Scripture. Use God’s truth to understand God’s truth. Use clearer passages to shed light on less clear passages. And guess what? We find help right in John’s letter. What did he say in chapter one?
It’s the new year, the time of year when we resolve to do things differently, to make resolutions and changes. This is the time for fresh starts. The gyms are full, lots of new memberships. This is the time of year people start new diets. I can’t believe how many there are, ones I have no clue what they are. Keto diet, DASH diet, Paleo diet, Whole30 diet, FODMAP diet. I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and propose a new diet this morning. I think any diet worth its salt (pun intended) should involve marinating. Give me a big hunk of meat, let it soak about two days in some good marinade, now that’s a diet I could keep. One of my favorite restaurant meals was the Kensington Club steak at Steak and Ale. The reason it was great was because they marinated it for 72 hours. I called the manager of the restaurant one time and asked if he would tell me the recipe and to my shock he did. So, if I am going to invent a diet and I get to pick what is in it, I am going to pick something marinated. Here is my diet proposal for all of us this morning. Beginning today we all get marinated in the Scriptures. The more we become saturated with Scripture, the more it will get in us and permeate all the pores of our lives, our parenting, our grand parenting, our business dealings, our work ethic, our relationships, our choices and decisions, our communication, thoughts and desires, everything. My diet proposal comes with a guarantee. If we follow this diet for 2019 we will be blessed and healthy beyond what we can imagine. And if we don’t follow this diet we will be in danger of become seriously malnourished and sickly, more discouraged or depressed or directionless, caught up in sin.
Each generation has its favorite TV shows, for some it was Cheers or Friends or The Office or Parks and Rec or some Netflix series. This will date me but back in my day it was MASH. I saw every episode many times. The setting was an army hospital in South Korea during the Korean war. One of the characters was a Catholic priest, Father Mulcahy. He wasn’t a surgeon or a nurse, so whenever he would ask if there was anything he could do to help they would tell him just to pray and he would respond, “Darn, that’s all they ever let me do.” That line betrays an attitude that many people have about prayer. It reminds me again of the quote of Winston Churchill that I have paraphrased. Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.” We could also say, “You can always count on Christians to pray – after they’ve tried everything else.” The truth of the matter is, in the spiritual realm prayer is actually the greatest and most powerful thing anyone can ever do. As someone has said, when we work, we work. When we pray, God works and there is no greater power than that. But too often it is thought of the way the MASH script writers thought of it. Where is the power in our world? Where does our help come from? Where do we turn, where do we look? Now days Google is god, the all wise dispenser of wisdom and help. I went to Google on Friday and typed in the healing power of …, and got an astonishing list of places to turn for power for healing and help. The healing powers of tea, herbs, ginger, vinegar, honey, lavender, crystals, essential oils, aroma therapy, feng shui, music, laughter, yoga, nature, the sun, the waters of the Ganges River, baking soda, drums, sand, mushrooms, sugar, cats purrs, and the positive thinking. I scrolled through a dozen pages of the 300 million search results and prayer was mentioned exactly once. Today when we hear the words of Psalm 121:1 “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” the answer is not “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We seek wisdom and power and help and healing in knowledge, technology, fashions and fads, in everything in creation, but not from the Creator. What God has created is good and useful, but it was never meant to be primary and replace God and prayer. “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Who is from everlasting to everlasting the same.
John is writing out of a heart of love and he is writing to those he loves with all his heart. Notice the manner in which he addresses them. My little children, beloved, little children, children. This is not meant to be demeaning or derogatory, but terms of endearment. He is like a loving and caring father to them, he has their spiritual interests at heart. So when he commands them, he is commanding them not as a master or a boss, but as one who is seeking their very best. He is persuading them out of love, not guilt or shame or self-interest.