31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 2, 2021
1 John 3:16-24
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
“The church, as we know it, …..is designed for a world that no longer exists.” So says Scott Cormode in an interview with the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. (Leading Ideas Talks podcast, Episode 71 “Recalibrating the Church” featuring Scott Cormode)
“The church, as we know it, …..is designed for a world that no longer exists.” Does that resonate with you? Does that surprise or confuse you?
Throughout the Bible, we see over and over again how God is always doing a new thing. God was doing a new thing when God called Abraham and Sarah to leave their home and travel across the desert to a Promised Land. God was doing a new thing when God brought the Israelites up out of slavery in Egypt. And God was doing a new thing when God came into our world through Jesus the Christ.
For three years, Jesus’ followers traveled with him, ate with him, and learned from him. And over those three years, Jesus’ followers developed an expectation of what this Jesus community would look and be like. And then came Jesus’ death and resurrection and everything changed. God was again doing a new thing!
We, too, have developed expectations of this Jesus community we call the church. Once upon a time, though, the Church of Jesus Christ was a new thing. Once upon a time, the church, as we know it, was a new thing. And once again, God is doing something new.
For years and decades, the world has been a new place. Think about things that have become common place in the last 10 years- cell phones, smart phones, being able to record TV and watch or stream shows anytime from anywhere, electronic bill pay & text giving, Facetime & video chat.
Over a year ago, COVID forced the Church to adapt. Last year, churches world-wide were faced with the choice of closing indefinitely or embracing innovation – and embracing it quickly. Which was scary because despite God continuously doing something new in our world, the church struggles with innovation. The church struggles with innovation because as Scott Cormode explains:
One of the basic, basic understandings, the premise of the idea of innovation is that we need to abandon the past. They call it “burning the boats.” The problem with that, of course, is that we will never abandon the past….We’re never going to stop saying, “Jesus is Lord.” We’re never going to stop loving our neighbor as ourselves. So that creates for us, we who are Christians, a really interesting problem. And that is, how do we innovate our way forward without abandoning the past? …..how do we maintain a rock-solid commitment to the unchanging Christian gospel while at the same time create an innovative or entrepreneurial spirit for how to present that gospel to an ever-changing culture?” (Leading Ideas Talks podcast, Episode 71 “Recalibrating the Church” featuring Scott Cormode)
How do we innovate our way forward without abandoning the past?
How do we maintain a rock-solid commitment to the unchanging Christian gospel while at the same time being innovative in how we share this good news in an ever-changing world?
Following Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian Church, we will explore the stories of how the first Church community embraced the new that God was doing in their lives. And we will explore the new paths and new ways of ministry God is calling us to. Before that though, before we can adapt and innovate, we need to ground ourselves in the unchanging Christian gospel.
Ironically, that is the purpose of the gospel of John and the letters of John, all writings that came from the same Christian community, a community that was in crisis, a community that was trying to figure out how to live their Christian ideals in a world that had a variety of beliefs and standards, often quite different from their own.
The writer of the first letter of John wants to ground the community in the essentials of the Christian faith, and those essentials are love of God and love of neighbor. As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, this is what we believe – love God and love your neighbor. As Jesus says, all of the rest of commandments rest on these two. And it’s true. Love is the core of the gospel.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he reminds the church that we have all been created uniquely, with different skills, gifts, and ministries, and yet, we are called to be one in Jesus Christ and how do we do that? – we love. “And now faith, hope, and love abide…and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
If you opened your Bible to John 3:16 instead of 1 John 3:16, you would read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) For God so loved the world…..
And if we continue farther along in this morning’s letter from 1 John, we would read:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God….Beloved, since God loves us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7, 11-12)
What is the unchanging Christian gospel? The good news of God’s love? That God loves us so unconditionally that God laid down God’s life for us. What are the essentials of the Christian faith? Love God and love one another. Love one another in word and speech, in truth and action. When we see a brother or sister in need, we offer our help. We offer our love.
That love will look different for each one of us. The Church, Christ’s body on earth, has many parts. We are each unique, and the ways you will embody and live out love of God and love of others will be different from the ways I embody and live out love of God and love of others.
And the ways we live out our commitment to the unchanging good news of God’s love will also change because just as God is calling the church to be made new, God is calling each of us to be made new – all so we can minister to the needs of this ever changing world.
Scholars who study change believe that revolutionary changes that “once happened once a century eventually started happening once a generation and then more often. And now they would argue that we [are] experiencing some kind of generational change every seven to eight years.” (Leading Ideas Talks podcast, Episode 71 “Recalibrating the Church” featuring Scott Cormode)
Our world is ever changing. Our-world-is-ever-changing. What will never change is God’s love, God’s love for each of us and all of creation. And while we might be called to fulfill it in new and innovative ways, what is sure, what is constant is that we, as Christ’s followers, are called to love God and love others so that they, too, may know the life-giving, unconditional love of Jesus Christ.