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1 John: Faith Conquers the World

May 13, 2015
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A sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2015

1 John 5:1-6

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So one of the great things about the Internet is that the bible is online. It’s great when you want to look up a verse that you almost remember from 1 Peter but not quite since by a few words together and coupling them with 1 Peter and NRSV will probably get you a hit pretty quickly.

The other thing that you can do is quickly and easily check parallel translations of the same text and note the nuances. The translation I use the most, because it is most accurate in the translation of Koine Greek, is the New Revised Standard Version. As I prepared to write this sermon I looked up this morning’s lectionary passage on bible.oremus.org which sports the online NRSV translation, because I always like to put the passage I’m preaching on at the top of the sermon I’m writing. When I got out there, I noticed that someone had put a title on this passage (something that’s not in the original Greek), “Faith Conquers the World.”

Now this title comes from the passage itself that says,

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

But what does it really mean to say that, “faith conquers the world.” Is that something that we want faith to do? I mean our 300th anniversary phrase is “Faith In the City” not “Faith Conquers the City!” And while “the world” suffers and struggles, strives and sorrows, is conquer what we really want to do? Is it what Jesus calls us to?

The writer of I John uses the phrase “the world” to mean the forces the determine our lives- the powers and principalities that endeavor to define the contours of our physical and moral world unjustly, violently, hatefully.

Now the interesting thing, of course, is that the writer of first John lifts up that to believe in Jesus as the Son of God means to love – to love decisively and sacrificially. In this week’s passage we read “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood.” The blood is a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. So the irony is that the writer urges us to conquer the world through emulating Jesus…who was crucified…by the world. That sounds more like being conquered than conquering, frankly to most of us.

So what does it mean that, “faith conquers the world?” It’s not a message that if you believe you will be saved from suffering. It’s not a message that everything will be fine once we get to heaven. It’s not a message of faith in Christ subduing other beliefs. I think what the author of First John is after is that when we persist in love, when we are confronted with hatred, selfishness, greed, violence, expediency, and yet persist in love, we will, in the end, overcome., transform, yes conquer. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorably put it, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Only love can do that.

The Belhar Confession was written by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986 as a theological challenge to apartheid. For several years, the PC(USA) has been studying and considering it for adoption as a part of our Book of Confessions. And that finally happened last week as a majority of presbyteries voted in favor of including this Confession.

In a Letter on from the Special Committee on Belhar, entitled “Why Belhar? Why Now?” members wrote,

While the Confession of Belhar arose from the struggle of South African Christians to give witness to the Gospel amidst the injustice of apartheid, we are also being called to give witness in the face of injustice here among us in the U.S.A. We see that injustice in the faces of thousands of First Nation peoples who still live in dire poverty on reservations; in young African American men who are incarcerated disproportionate to their percentage of the population; in the “legal limbo” status of immigrants, and in both native born Latinos who are subject to question in virtually every quarter of the nation; in public policies such as “stop and frisk” and “stand your ground” that put poor, black and brown young men at risk in the public square.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) confesses its commitment to God and to the biblical principles of unity, justice, and reconciliation because in times like these in which we live, we need to remind ourselves and others of our discipleship to Christ and follow God’s mission in the world…[and] As we claim the church’s earliest confession, JESUS IS LORD, we put on notice, every principality and power, that the only Sovereign in heaven and earth is on the move. [1]

As we come to the close of our 300th year of ministry in this city, our slogan Faith In the City invites us to ask anew, how we are persisting in love within these walls and out into the community. The challenges before us are many, but love, love is up to the task.

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[1] http://oga.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/why_belhar_why_now.pdf

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