The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

The Burden of a Not-So-Burdensome Commandment

Living Out Love In the Real World.

by Jodi-Renee Adams

Epistle Reading:  1 John 5.1-6

For Sunday, May 23, Year B − Easter 6

John insists in a kind of circular argument that if you are a child of GOD then you are yourself full of GOD’s love and sharing that with the world.

According to the, so-called, favored disciple, there’s evidence for this great adoption. The evidence of our relationship is found in our obedience to GOD’s commands which, according to the guy who was tortured by the Romans, aren’t too heavy to carry out.

My Yoke is Easy and My Burden is Light.

In an ever-flowing prose, John keeps trying to find new ways to talk about this great, new Christian ethos. The way the words repeat, the ideas tumble over themselves, you almost get the impression that he’s bubbling over with a kind of urgency and excitement and concern.

It makes sense. But it’s not as cut and dried as it may seem at first read: “These are GOD’s children—those who keep his commandments. And GOD’s commands are not too heavy. And they’ll completely give us victory over this crazy world. So let’s totally be like Jesus.”

But here’s the thing: GOD’s command, if I’m not mistaken, is to love GOD with all my heart, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. Not to quibble with the best friend of the Messiah, but I’ve never found it easy to do either of those things; and if “easy” doesn’t seem to be the way the word strikes you, I imagine that “burdensome” feels even less on the nose.

Overwhelming versus Overcoming

Let’s be honest, loving well – especially the neighbors – is often a really burdensome task. At least it maybe is for me and this is now my confession to all of you.

Yet John makes this promise: this love is how we overcome the world, i.e. all of the things that stand in opposition to the kingdom of GOD, all of the things that scream out the opposites of humility, shalom, beauty, generosity, justice, mercy.

The powerful, almost military, language feels like a real paradox here. When I read words like victory, overcoming, conquering, I get images of subduing something or someone, of exerting power to gain advantage; words that, ironically, remind me of what the world stands for.

But there’s another way overcoming happens

Overcome-ness

A friend recently finished his first symphony, dedicated to his genius, but mentally ill brother. He invited me to attend the premier. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting more than the standard good time—a little music, a little company, a good evening all around.

I sat in the auditorium, a seasoned classical music fan (and critic), and heard what was, to my ears, one of the most profound musical narratives I’d ever encountered. It won me over with its extravagant generosity.

It overcame my cynicism, my musical elitism, my grumpy and tired state. This is the image of miraculous and winsome overcoming with which John is bubbling over. His compelling voice calls us to love GOD and neighbor in such a way that the world can’t help but be won over.

No doubt, I love that idea. It’s magical, kingdom-celebrating, beautiful. But he goes on: Jesus did this first, the Jesus we claim with faith. And this Jesus came by water and blood; not by water only, which represents new birth and regeneration, but by blood which represents death and suffering.

The Hardest Question

So here’s where I get hung up: if part of the invitation to being a child of love is a light burden and an easy yoke, what is this reminder that this powerful, all-overwhelming love comes through water (regenerating life) and blood (death)?

What is the real invitation here?

I consider myself a child of GOD and want to be part of this winsome kingdom “victory,” but the hardest question is: What is the real evidence of GOD’s children? Is it the kind of ongoing, practical and relational love that costs – in a big way?

Is it even possible to be part of this great adoption without the costs-me-everything kind of love that John is presenting? This doesn’t feel so not-burdensome to me. In fact, it feels kinda heavy.

Comments

  1. Mark Conway says:

    A Rabbi’s yoke is his teaching.

    Jesus’ yoke is easy: love. It is not that loving is always easy, but it is not a complex teaching. It does not require a systematic understanding of advanced theology to grasp it.

    To practice it – well, that’s something different, I suppose.

  2. Rob Tennant says:

    I am a bit off schedule on lectionary, but am doing a series in 1st John, following the lectionary readings, just not on the right days.

    I loved Jodi’s “not to quibble with the best friend of the messiah, but I’ve never found it easy …”

    In my reading of this passage, I have with the help of commentaries and the writings of others broken it down into categories (A) Belief – 5:1,10, 12, 13; (B) humanity of Christ v. divinity of Christ; (C) the love-obedience dynamic; and (D) the victory/overcomer angle in verse 4-5

    I think this week I am going to go with (C) the love-obedience dynamic and I don’t know if I will quote Jodi-Renee directly, but I will be referring to this post as I collect my thoughts and try to get a main idea and an interesting, engaging way of presenting it.

    Thanks Jodie-Renee for your post as it provoked my thoughts and got me kick-started in my sermon prep

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