Useless Titles

Fifth Sunday of Easter


 1 John 4:7-21

John 15:1-8

Goodness, I love Jesus so much. And goodness, I cannot stand Christians. The chasm that exists between Christ and Christians in the West seems to be as wide as the chasm between Lazarus in heaven and the rich man in hell. I am closer to Gandhi than to most American Christians these days: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Amen, buddy. Amen.

John’s first letter seems to offer some conflicting information regarding people who call themselves Christians. In 4:15 he writes, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them, and they in God.” Oh really? The hatemongers at Westboro Baptist Church would certainly raise their hands as fast as anyone in response to the question of who considers Jesus to be the Son of God. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints say that Jesus is the Son of God; ditto Jehovah’s Witnesses. Obviously, what we mean by “Son of God” matters a great deal, but so does “acknowledge,” and John offers the way through, both in this letter and in the Gospel passage for this week.

John cannot stop talking about love, God-like love. This love originates in God, for God is love. Full stop. (That’s a great bumper sticker or even a great tattoo. You have my permission.) It is an interpretive lens for everything else we read about God in the Bible or hear about God from other Christians. The more conservative Christians among us will be understandably worried that “love” can be an empty category that we fill with our own cultural understandings, leaving no room for God to fill it in with his commandments. 

Except, God-like love is not an empty category. It is a very full category. The writer of Ephesians tells us that “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Eph 1:22–23). Jesus Christ is the measuring stick of love. What does not measure up to the standard of Christ is not love, and hence, is not from God. Sure, someone may say out loud or with great emotions declare in thought and word that Jesus is the Son of God, but without the deeds of love, that person is a liar (1 John 4:20).

I want to be found truthful in my acknowledgement of Christ’s sonship. I want to receive love from the God of love and radiate that love to a hateful world. John’s Gospel account of Christ’s teaching on the vine and the branches shows us how. Jesus as the vine and me (and you) as the branch is an irenic vision of how to live in the world (John 15:1–8). Vines have a way of making their way over, around, and through any obstacle. Ancient buildings, left unattended, can find themselves taken apart brick by brick by vines. We go into the world, always connected to Christ, by remaining in Christ and having his words remain in us: his words regarding caring for the poor, welcoming the foreigner, loving our enemies, washing one another’s feet. This is how we demonstrate we are not liars when we say that Christ is the Son of God

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