I'm heading south again Sunday afternoon. For those who didn't know or remember, my parents live in Paris. Tennessee (and yes, there is a replica Eiffel Tower in the city park.) Which means I don't get to see them all that often. Because my life seem so busy, and their lives are busy and travel is difficult and time consuming, it can a long time in between visits. Both of them have had health issues (though as soon as they read that they will say they are doing fine - and they are, but I still worry) so I sometimes feel the need to check in.
Plus, full disclosure here, I'm not that great on the telephone with them. I promise to call, I intend to call, and then I don't. I get busy with stuff (I don't know what kind of stuff, just stuff, OK?) and I forget to call. My wife La Donna will say, "did you call?" Or "you ought to call." Or "here's the phone, call your folks!" as she drops it in my lap when I am in the midst of something vital like watching sports on TV.
When I do call I try to listen between the lines. What is really going on down there, I will wonder? How are they really doing? I just prefer the face to face. Communication theorists will tell you that only a small part of the message sent in a communication event is carried in the words that are said. How small a part? Some argue as little at 10%, some claim it is only 3%! The communication environment is much more communicative. It is everything around the words, the tone of voice, the facial expression, the body language, the non-verbals that really carry the weight of the message. They call that part of communication "meta-linguistics." I need some meta-linguistics, that's why I am taking some time to go south.
I need them, I want them to see love. My love for them. I can say it on the phone, I can write it on an email or a letter (google it, kids!), but I want them to see it. I don't doubt that my parents know I love them. But I want them to see it. I don't know what all might happen when I get there Sunday night, I don't know what conversations we might have or jobs we might do, or plans we might have, but I want them to see my walk through their door and know that they are loved.
"See what love..." That's how our scripture text for the week begins. And I know that last week we remembered the post resurrection of Jesus and there is that Thomas story where Jesus says "Blessed are those who haven't seen and yet believe." I know that is there. But like Thomas, from time to time I want to embody the love and care I have for others. I want to live it out. That is what this passage from I John is all about. Take a look:
1 John 3:1-7 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
See? What do we see? Why did John start chapter three with See? OK, there is some wiggle room here, I have to confess. "See" or "idou" in Greek is an imperative, a command and at times an interjection. Some think it would be better understood as "pay attention" or "look here!" or "tune in." "Focus people!" He is about to express some important point. He is not really asking us to see love. He is saying think about it. He is saying meditate on it. He is saying get this through your thick skulls. You are not the wretched refuse of a world gone haywire, you are a child of God. And why are you a child of God, because God loves you. That's why. Nothing less, nothing more. Nothing you have done, nothing you can do - to gain it or lose it. It is strictly because of God's love for you that you have been claimed and remade and set on a path that leads to righteousness.
Righteousness? Now there's a word we sprinkle throughout our daily conversation, right? What does that word mean? Righteous. That sounds like an attribute for God and not for us. And didn't Paul quote something to that effect? Romans 3:10, "as it is written, "There is no one who is righteous, not even one." Yikes. Even John sets an impossible standard in this letter: "No one who abides in him sins." No one who really loves God, who have been claimed by Christ sins. Which either means that no one really loves God and no one has been claimed by Christ, or something else is going on here.
We United Methodists struggle with our founder John Wesley who advocated this idea of Christian perfection. Talk about something out of our reach. Talk about the impossibility of faith. How in the world are we to understand this? What does it mean to be righteous?
In the first chapter of this letter, John writes, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:8-9) Both 1:8 and 3:6 are true. How can this be, you wonder. At least I wonder. I think the only way we can make sense out of this apparent contradiction is by coming to an understanding of righteousness.
I once heard a preacher say that righteousness is being faithful to relationships. Why do we live in certain ways? What is it that determines the choices we make or don't make? It is some sense of right and wrong? Well, maybe. But that sense of right and wrong is experienced through the relationships we make and choose to honor. When we acknowledge the love of God, when we claim a relationship with God we will want to live in ways that honor that relationship. We will live in certain ways because of that relationship. And that is true with all of our relationships. We will honor those with whom we have a relationship by living out our love for them in tangible, visible ways. See what love...
We will still make mistakes. We will still hurt others when we intend to love, because we are imperfect beings. But we can contain a perfect love. Not my love, I don't generate this love, I see it in Jesus and understand it from God. But I am privileged to live it out as a child of God, I am privileged to live out - to show love. See what love...
Being righteous then is being willing to show love, to act in loving ways, to honor those with whom we are in relationship with love. So, I'm heading south to fulfill all righteousness. And, if I may be confessional yet again, to see it for myself. Just like I don't doubt that my parents know I love them, I have never doubted that they love me. But every now and then, it is nice to see, face to face. See you soon, mom and dad.
See what love