I admit it. I’m a bit addicted. I want to know. Will the Mother of Dragons seize the iron throne? Will the awful Queen Cersei get her due? Will Tyrion Lannister survive?
If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, then you may be immune to the addiction. I’m talking about the TV fantasy drama, Game of Thrones. It has now become the number one show in the world.
Now, when you watch Game of Thrones, two things become obvious. First, the show takes a pretty brutal view of human nature. The villains win more than the heroes. And even the heroes can end up doing awful things. And second, you get these plot interruptions, that turn out not to be interruptions at all. No, they become twists that take the story in amazing new directions.
So why am I talking about Game of Thrones? It’s because I’ve been wondering. Is the show’s view of human-beings right? Are people that bad? Interestingly the Bible might say yeah, people are. But unlike the show, the Bible doesn’t stop there. As bad and broken as people can be, the Bible makes it clear. That’s not the end of the story.
In the Bible, as one poet once put it: Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. But how is that past overcome? How does that future happen? How does it happen for you? How do you grow into greatness, the greatness for which God created you? In these words from this letter of John, words that can seem to be an interruption, God shows you the way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
How does it happen? How do you grow into the greatness God created you for? How do you do that when so much inside you sabotages that greatness? Someone once said that the only Christian belief that you can prove is original sin. So how do you move past that, past the broken places everyone has. to become who God created you to be, who you want to be? Here God tells you. God says. To grow into the greatness means realizing that first key point. It’s all about the growing. And growth doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over a lifetime. But for that growth to happen, you need to realize two key things, what you have and who you are.
Last week, after worship, someone came up and basically asked me. “Ok, how does that happen?” I had talked that Sunday about how radical the love that Jesus calls us to actually is? But this man was wondering. How do you get there? How does that level of love actually grow in you? It’s not enough to just tell people. Something has to happen. And he was right. But what happens doesn’t happen overnight. Growth doesn’t work that way.
I love a home-grown tomato. You can get a decent tomato in the store, but nothing beats pulling a tomato off the vine. That’s a tomato. And of all the things in our family’s garden growing up, I looked forward to picking those tomatoes. But they didn’t come overnight. It took time, and it took work. It took watering when the rains didn’t come. It took staking the vines when they got too heavy. It took waiting till the fruit ripened. But one day, you’d go out, and see those red orbs of juiciness ready for the picking.
And what’s true of tomatoes is true of experiencing the transformation Jesus brings. Do you remember the story where through Moses God parts the Red Sea, and brings the Israelite slaves through? When they pass through the waters, and see their persue-ers, the Egyptian army perish in the waves, they are free. In that one dramatic act God has taken them out of slavery. So, if God has made them free, why do they wander in the desert for 40 years before they get ot the promised land? It’s because, God might have brought them out of slavery in an instant, but it takes years for God to get the slavery out of them. Do you see the difference? In one instant, God will deliver you out of slavery to fear, death, and your worst impulses. But it will take a lot longer for God to get that slavery out of you.
The Christian life isn’t ultimately a product you get. It’s a process you go through. When John addresses these verses to little children, and then the old, that’s what John is referring to. Just like your physical growth, your spiritual growth takes time. And John puts these verses here because John knows that this process of growth can be discouraging, especially if you don’t remember what you have. And what do you have? You have forgiveness through his name. Now, why is that important?
Well, you can begin to think that for God to forgive you, you need to be sorry first. But if you need to be sorry, how sorry do you need to be? And what if you’re not sorry? Sometimes I’ve done things I know that are wrong, and I haven’t felt all that sorry. When I went back for the third helping at the buffet line, I felt a little bad, but only a little. So, do I get forgiveness or not?
Or sometimes people think that God’s forgiveness depends on God’s love. God forgives you because God just loves you period. In fact, God loves everybody no matter what. And yes that sounds nice, and it is true. That’s why we say it every week. But if you think about it you realize. That can’t be the whole story. If out of God’s love, God just forgives everybody, what does that mean? Does God look down, and see the folks in Isis doing horrible things to people, even children, and just go, no worries, I forgive you. That doesn’t sound right. Shouldn’t somebody have to pay? And if that’s the case for the evil inside an ISIS terrorist, what makes you so sure that God may not need you to pay up?
That’s why people often get discouraged when they try to live the Christian life. They can’t keep it up. They think. I’m just not sorry enough. Or they wonder. Can God really love me enough to let that pass? But Christians know that they don’t have forgiveness because they’re sorry. They don’t even have forgiveness because God loves them. They have forgiveness on account of his name.
Christians know. You don’t simply have access to forgiveness. You have forgiveness.(from a Tim Keller sermon on this passage) It’s a done deal, bought and paid for. And how did that happen? It happened on account of his name.
Yes, God does love you. And out of that love, God did something only God could God put his name on the line for you. God went into ultimate darkness, so that you might never need to. God put himself under bondage, so he could set you free. On the cross, God put everything on the line for you. And when God did, God won your forgiveness forever.
That’s why Christians don’t get discouraged when they mess up, even badly. They don’t get nervous when they sense their sorrow for failings isn’t as great as it could be. They don’t ever wonder if God’s love will cover this or that. They know that out of God’s love, God did cover this or that. On account of God’s putting in Jesus, his name on the line for you, you don’t simply have access to forgiveness. You have forgiveness now and forever.
That means, even as you fail, you can move forward. You don’t need to say when it comes to the Christian life, I can’t keep this up. You know. Keeping this up isn’t what makes you a Christian. It’s Jesus’ name that does it, and how Jesus put that name on the line for you.
You say as the Christian writer Kathleen Norris put it. “When I fail, as I must, I can only recall the desert monk who told his disciple, “Brother, the monastic life is this: I rise up, and I fall down; I rise up, and I fall down; I rise up and I fall down.” That isn’t just the monastic life. It’s the Christian life. And when you have peace about that, it gives you power to go and to grow, even on the days when that seems the hardest.
And you can go and grow, because you don’t just have God’s forgiveness. You have God’s power. You have, as John puts it, God’s word abiding in you. And what does God’s word do? Think back to the Creation story. How did God make the universe? God spoke. God’s word went out, and created everything. And now that same word lives in you. And that force empowers you to rise even as you fall. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you just decide to do certain things. Becoming a Christian means something from outside has come inside you, and that power is changing you from the inside out.
Years ago, a young woman was joining the congregation I served on Long Island. And she said to the elders. “I grew up in church, but still I don’t know what’s happening to me. I want to pray all the time, to read the Bible. I don’t know why.” And a wise woman elder said to her, “That’s conversion, honey.” God’s power lives in you. That means, even when you fall, you know you will rise. Why? The power of the risen one lives in you.
But beyond knowing what you have, you need to also know who you are. John says this somewhat cryptic thing. He says. Fathers, I am writing to you, because you know him who is from the beginning. Well, who are the only people who you know from the beginning? Think about it. It’s your parents. And in case you missed it there. John makes the same point again just a sentence later. “I write to you, children, because you know the Father.”
In your journey with Jesus, you start where everyone starts. You start at the beginning. You start as a child. And God deals with you in that same way.
Right now, my wife and I are trying to teach our son, Patrick the word please. So, when Patrick asks for something, I use that phrase my parents used with me. What’s the magic word. And Patrick says, please. Still, even so, Patrick, like every kid, can be bossy. Pick me up. Come, play with me now. But I don’t get offended by his bossyness. I realize. He’s just a kid. And I pick him up. I go and play with him.
In a story in the gospels, Jesus falls asleep on a boat with his disciples. A storm rises up, and threatens to swamp the boat. And what do the disciples do? They freak. They scream, “Lord, don’t you care that we’re perishing!” And Jesus says. “Oh how little faith you have,” which is true. It’s a lousy prayer. But then what does Jeuss do. He calms the storm. He responds even to their very little faith.
And when you cry to God in your moments of doubt, of little faith, like any loving parent, God will respond to you too. And even as you grow in faith, as you mature, God will still love you as only a parent can.
A few years ago, when my marriage hit a rough spot, I reached out to my parents for help. And my father didn’t give me a lecture, though I might have deserved one. No, he asked me. How can your mom and I help? What do you need?
When you are discouraged at your failings; when you are disheartened by your lack of progress, remember who you are. You are God’s child, a child for whom God has given up everything so he can bring you home. And no matter what, you will always have a place in that Father’s heart.
And when you know that; when you know what you have, his grace, his power, when you know who you are, his beloved child, then within you the love will grow, the peace will come, and you will discover God growing more in you than you could ever have asked or imagined.