Monday Meditation — Walking in the Light
This Sunday the Epistle reading assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary is 1 John 1:1—2:2, where the Apostle says we should be walking in the light. That’s my subject this week.
“What?” you ask, “Isn’t this going to be a Gospel meditation?”
Here’s the thing: I started writing these “Monday Meditations” three years ago. If you come by regularly or occasionally, you know that I’ve tried to post a meditation on each Sunday’s Gospel text as assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary.
Why? For you, dear reader, just in case you are a lectionary preacher and want to have someone else’s thoughts on the upcoming text—say, somebody with a Ph.D. in Church History/History of Christian Doctrine and an abiding interest in the history of biblical interpretation.
But also for myself, to be quite honest. I haven’t been pastoring a church during these years, but the church my family attends uses the lectionary texts in worship each week.
It’s an old Puritan spiritual discipline, actually: I wanted to come to worship prepared, already steeped in the Word, ready to hear it preached on by someone else.
It’s been a way of keeping myself in Scripture on a regular basis. That’s been good for my soul.
Of course I’ve missed quite a few weeks. 2019 brought significant periods of ill health, and 2020 – well, you know what 2020 was.
Still as I come to the 2nd Sunday of Easter, I find that I wrote on the Gospel text, John 20:19-31 both in 2019 and in 2020 and – all three years have “doubting Thomas” on that Sunday. Plus I did a children’s sermon on this text last year as well.
So I’ve decided that on weeks when I’ve already written about the lectionary Gospel I’ll write on one of the other texts for the day. I expect I’ll stick to the Epistle, at least for a while.
I hope to get back to the children’s sermons too. They are much more popular than the Monday Meditations, so I really should…
The First Epistle of John
All through Easter season of Year B, the Epistle is 1 John. I’ve always liked 1 John. The tone is warm and generous, full of love and light. It’s the kind of tone I’d like my life to have. All the more reason to spend a few weeks there.
The opening to the epistle has always struck me as poetic. John bubbles over in a series of sensory images.
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—
1 John 1:1 NRSV
Maybe it is even more enthusiastic than poetic. He is just so excited about having encountered Christ. He bubbles over with all the evidence that the Christ he followed is now the Christ who is risen.
Wouldn’t it be great to be that overjoyed at knowing Christ this Easter? He had the advantage on us, with those very sensory encounters. But if we look hard at our lives, searching out the traces of God’s providence and grace, we could find something much like it.
The great example of this is Augustine of Hippo. I’ve recently reread his famous Confessions a couple of times and his searching honesty about what God was doing in the background and through people and through circumstances, all to bring him to faith and discipleship, is astounding. Everybody should do that kind of searching and fearless life inventory.
(If you are looking for good company in reading the Confessions, swing over to my Patreon page and join at the “education” level. It’s a sort of online book group with videos. We’re just getting rolling on the Confessions now.)
John’s Reason(s) for Writing
I’m intrigued by another feature I’ve always thought of as poetic: John’s repetitive musing about his reason for writing.
On the one hand, he is writing out of joy in finding new life in Christ.
…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—
1 John 1:2 NRSV
And on the other hand, he is writing to bring you and me into fellowship.
…we declare to you
what we have seen
so that you also may have fellowship with us;
1 John 1:3 NRSV
And on the other other hand (where would one put it?) he is writing so that our joy, his yours and mine, can be complete.
We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1 John 1:4 NRSV
I offer you the proposition that all three reasons are the same.
Life, Fellowship, Joy
Knowing Christ is the Good News. It brings new life, and the joy just has to be shared. It is a message of love that eagerly wants to draw others in. And when others are drawn into the circle of those in fellowship with Christ and each other, then there is more joy all around.
When you see what he says this “fellowship” includes, you can see why it is such good news: It is not just some lame human club. This is a connection to the living God.
…truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:3 NRSV
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to tell the world that what you love about your fellowship, your church, is that together you find yourself in fellowship with the Trinity?
In those early years the Christian understanding of the Trinity was in its infancy. John doesn’t even mention the Holy Spirit. But clearly he’s saying that he wants you and me to join an intimate circle of loving relationship with God who created the world, and God’s own Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus.
And really, who wouldn’t want that? God is mighty good company.
Light and Darkness
John then goes on a little theological riff about God and what it means to be in fellowship with him.
First comes a claim about what God is.
…God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5 NRSV
It is what one might call a substantive metaphor. (That’s not a technical term that I know of. I’m grasping for a good description here.)
John is not putting this in the form of a simile. In case you haven’t been thinking about your high school English class lately, a “simile” is an explicit comparison. That would be “God is LIKE light.” The reader should know that it is a partial parallel used to make a comparison of some kind.
On the other hand, a “metaphor” is an implicit, assumed comparison. It leaves out any explicit comparative term. A metaphor makes a rhetorical claim like “God IS my rock.”
Well we all know that God is not actually a hunk of granite or marble. But you are supposed to know something about the qualities of actual rocks so that when you hear a poetic claim, like God is a rock, you infer something about God being strong and reliable or things like that.
You know the comparison is imperfect (even if God IS a rock, no rock IS God) but it communicates at a more subtle level than a simile.
So when John says “God IS light, and in him there is no darkness at all,” he’s using a metaphor—but he’s making a substantive theological claim. He’s not spinning poetry like with the whole rock thing.
And please note that he’s not making a claim about colors. This is not apostolic authority to prefer white things over black or brown things.
Rather he’s working with the physical phenomenon of light.
If you have a dark place, say a closet or a cardboard box, and you shine a light inside, it’s not dark any more. The light eliminates the darkness.
On the other hand, if you have a place full of light, like a room with windows on a bright sunny day, you can’t come in and shine a bunch of darkness around, eliminating the light.
- Light is a presence.
- Darkness, on the other hand, is an absence—an absence of light.
This metaphor points to something substantial, about the reality of God.
God IS light, even if light is not God.
When light shines after a long scary night, you might even feel like it’s the presence of God. In God there is no darkness at all.
It is God’s very nature is to shine and reveal, to make plain so we see and understand and find our way. This is the one with whom John says we are to be in fellowship.
Walking in the Light
And that has implications for what we say about ourselves.
This idea that God is light, and we are in fellowship with this light, means we can’t be hiding in the shadows.
If we say that we have fellowship with him
while we are walking in darkness,
and do not do what is true;
1 John 1:6 NRSV
Living lives of shadowy deeds, or hiding away so that the truth is not known makes the claim of faith a lie. Two kinds of lies actually: there is lie of the claim and a lie of the deed. Walking in the light requires we “DO what is true.”
Does this mean that we are, and must be Percy or Priscilla Perfect? Actually no. We need to let the light shine by telling the truth about our deeds of darkness.
If we say
that we have no sin,
we deceive ourselves,
and the truth is not in us.
1 John 1:8 NRSV
Living in the light includes seeing our failings (because the light shines on them) and admitting them honestly (because we want to live in fellowship with the one who is Light and Truth).
John isn’t condemning us in any way. He’s inviting us to a kind of deeply honest, truthful life where God’s grace in Christ can reach us.
He writes, he says, so that we may avoid sinning — but we must admit that we do sin, and when we do admit our sins we find we have an Advocate. Jesus Christ himself is on our side, walking in the light and welcoming us into his light.
If we confess our sins,
he who is faithful and just
will forgive us our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 NRSV
As He Is in the Light
The challenging call here, and the mystery, is the particular standard we are given.
… 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.”
1 John 1:7 NRSV
We know from the Gospel that Jesus claimed for himself the title of “Light.” He IS the Light.
But here, rather than saying Jesus IS the Light, John wants us to notice that Jesus is IN the light.
Jesus waked in the light of God, even as he himself was God incarnate.
He walked in the light, speaking truth and being truly who he was and who he was called to be.
Jesus didn’t put up with lies, even when teaching the truth was confusing to his hearers. Even when the truth cost him his life.
There is a sobering call in this today.
Many millions of Christians seem to have given up the call to walk in the light as Christ is in the light, letting light shine on the truth and falsehood of what is going on in the world around them. We must let light shine and seek to know reality, truth based on evidence — rather than conspiracy theories.
Do I have to enumerate the obvious lies that are superseding all evidence in our culture these days? Better to walk in the light.
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