1 John 1.5-9
[This sermon was given at a Taize service at St. Alban's Withernwick on the 28th of August 2011 - it had to both explain something of what Taize is about and, of course, convey the Gospel of Christ crucified in which all of our hope is founded]
God Is Light
1.5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but 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. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
“But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son makes us pure and clean from all sin.”
Taizé is a place of reconciliation, a place of fellowship among people who love the Lord Jesus. Taizé was founded to be a place of peace and reconciliation, between Lutherans and Catholics, Germans and French. During World War II Brother Roger hid Jews in the village, after the war he brought together the young people who months before had been shooting bullets at each other, who had been filled with war time propaganda, lies, half-truths, hurtful and evil stereotypes. And Brother Roger told them and the world this simple message, this simple Good News, this simple Gospel: that God loves them all, He loves them equally, He has no favourites, He loves the pious monk no more than the prostitute, the charity worker no more than the thief and He loves the English no more than the French. And then he asked what this love should look like in their lives. And Brother Roger said that if God loved them so much that He gave His only Son Jesus the Messiah to come and live as we live and to die in agony for us to be brought back into relationship with Him, then the least we could do is love each other – we are all made in the image of God, and we should all build each other up, in love, into His Likeness.
And this is what the Apostle John, speaks about in his first letter. Later on in the letter he says this: “This is how we know love: He laid down His life for us. And we too ought to lay down our lives for our brother and sisters. Anyone who has the means of life in this world, and sees a brother or sister in need, and closes their heart against them – how can God’s love be abiding in them? Children, let us not love in word, or in speech, but in deed and in truth.”
What a great Gospel! We know what love is because in Jesus Christ – in coming to die to save us from all we have done wrong, from sin, and remember, as Saint Paul says: the wages of any sin is death, God forgives us and that is love. Indeed just before those verses from One John the Apostle writes these words “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the family. Anyone who doesn’t love abides in death.” Powerful words, the kind of hard message we always wish to shrink from, but isn’t that at the heart of what being a Christian is about – living a life of love and having a love of life, loving God and loving those around us, living for God and living for those around us – was that not how Jesus lived and how Jesus loved?
At Taizé I was in a small group which has two Serbains, and also a Bosnian. Last year I was in a small group with a German and a Jewish Israeli Christian. And yet they had fellowship, they cared and prayed for one another with a genuine heart. Wouldn’t it be great if that could happen in Libya today, in Egypt, or Syria, in Northern Ireland? And what did they say, what did the brothers at Taizé, what does the Bible say allowed this to happen? They lived in the light, and by living in the light they lived with fellowship with one another.
They accepted that they were all human, all sinners, all forgiven at the cross for all they had done wrong, and they were all made in the image of God and loved by God beyond all imagination! And because they knew this they grew closer to God, they recognised their sin, their selfishness, their imperfections, the masks they put up around themselves before others, and above all the underlying attitudes towards themselves and one another, and placed it all before God at the Cross, were forgiven, and grew closer to God. And like the spokes of a wheel, with God at the centre, when people move closer to the centre they move closer to one another.
True reconciliation, true mutual forgiveness, true fellowship among people is only found in coming closer to God - because only God has shown us true Love. And we cannot grow closer to God without growing closer to one another: as it also says in One John “If someone says, ‘I Love God’, but hates their brother or sister, that person is a liar. Someone who doesn’t love a brother or sister whom they have seen, how can they love God, whom they haven’t seen?”
The Gospel is about reconciliation, the Good News of God in Jesus reconciling man to God and God to man in his life, death, and resurrection. It is about how this act of God brings about in us reconciliation with others. John talks a lot about light and darkness – in the reading he said “But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son makes us pure and clean from all sin.” What is this light? Light in John is what is revealed, what is open and shown, what is known. That is why God is Light and in Him is no darkness – He has fully shown his cards in Jesus Christ, that He loves us to death, quite literally. And so we should live in the light with God, because then He will take all our sin and wash it clean till we are whiter than snow. And when we can accept who we are, and our own weaknesses and failures, we can then grow closer to others without being judgemental, without being arrogant, distant, without putting up a mask.
Taizé is a place of reconciliation, a place of fellowship among people who love the Lord Jesus. But it shouldn’t be just Taizé but every community of believers which is a place of true fellowship and care for one another. And I hope and pray that in this our Church Community here in Withernwick we may both rejoice in the fellowship we have long shared with each other through the hardest of times, but also be challenged, as we always must, to grow ever closer to each other in a time when normality seems to be staying at home in our own worlds, when normality is living in a village where we often don’t know half the people living around us, and yet a phone is just besides us to ring a friend and ask what God has done for them this day.