The Reading from the First Epistle of St. John. (4:12-19)
Today we celebrate the memory of St. John the Theologian, the beloved disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason we hear from St. John’s first epistle and we are given a glimpse into wonderful things.
First St. John opens the epistle with these words “Brethren, no one has ever seen God.” It is a straightforward statement but we should take it to heart. We live in a world that increasingly denies the existence of God. If you speak of God you are looked at like you are crazy. Yet the Theologian is direct with us and tells us that “No one has ever seen God.” By this he means that no one has seen God, the Father. However the same one who tells us that no one ever saw God the Father tells us something even more remarkable “We have seen and do testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” It is truly a stunning verse!
St. John tells us that although no one has ever seen God the Father, he and the others with him were living witnesses to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. They experienced life with Christ. They touched Him. They witnessed His betrayal and death. They rejoiced in His resurrection on the third day. The lives of the disciples would never be the same after all that they had seen and experienced. Everything changed because of the truth of what they had seen and experienced and it was confirmed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. John confirms this when he writes “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”
St. John tells us that we can also experience what he and the other disciples experienced. We have our own personal Pentecost when we receive the Holy Spirit. Of course we receive the Holy Spirit on the day of our baptism (and or chrismation) and yet we as believers are called to try to stir up the grace of the Holy Spirit and be renewed through our daily life of faith and repentance. Without repentance and fasting and spiritual disciplines we become stagnant and our heart grows cold and hard and we don’t sense the work of the Holy Spirit.
Once at a clergy retreat we had the privilege of spending time with His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos who wrote an amazing book about the prayer life called “A night on the desert of the Holy Mountain.” When one of the priests asked him how we could take a shortcut to deeper prayer and to growing closer to Christ he replied “prayer with tears.” When our heart is softened then we will sense the grace of the Holy Spirit working within us. That is where we know God. Not with our eyes, but in our hearts. King David writing in Psalm 51 said “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.” When our hearts are broken, preferably daily in prayerful repentance, then our hearts are open to experiencing God more fully. Because He is humble, He reveals Himself to those who are humble of heart.
St. John tells us that “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.” We are encouraged to confess the true nature of Jesus Christ within our hearts and minds and also to others. Are we ashamed to mention Christ and His Church? Are we afraid that others might think that we are “weird”? These are small indications that our heart might still need some tuning. We can confess that Jesus is the Son of God with our whole lives. How do we live? What decisions do we make? Do we dedicate time from our busy lives to acknowledge that our lives are a gift from this loving God? Do we think about the Lord in the middle of the day? Do we pray to Jesus in quiet moments of the day or even unceasingly? These are just a few of the ways that we confess Christ in our lives and we experience His life as our own. And this is the life that the Church itself tries to give to the people who live by faith.
St. John continues this passage with a beautiful verse “God is love.” He tells us that “he who abides in love abides in God.” What does it mean to abide in love? Does it mean to do whatever you want? Does it mean to love whomever you want, and in whatever way you want, as we are encouraged to do in our broken world? No. On this point St. Basil the great wrote “If God is love, as John says, then it must be that the devil is hatred. As he who has love has God, so he who has hatred has the devil dwelling in him.” Likewise we can say that those who claim to love but do so outside of the commandments or in opposition to the commandments of God, are not loving but full of hatred because they build their lives upon a foundation of rebellion and hatred for the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ who loves us and gave His life to bring us to life.
You don’t get to make the rules, since you are not the master of your own life. And we wouldn’t want our own rules anyways because we are the cause of most of the problems in our life. Christ is the divine law-giver and we have to accept life according to His rules if we want to inherit His life. The one who abides in love is the one who lives within the commandments and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ as his only way of life. When we live within the love of His commandments, especially the commandment to love our neighbors, we begin to know God more deeply. We are purified and enlightened by the light of God’s commandments through pursuing them and being obedient to them. And since the commandments come from God, we truly begin to know Him through them. It is like a door that is only unlocked from the inside of our hearts. Christ stands at the door of our hearts to knock, but we must daily choose to open the door by serving and loving others and obeying His divine teachings. For His divine teachings are life and love and joy and when we live in them, we are promised to know Him in truth. To Christ alone be the glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.