1 John 1:1-4
How many of you have at least one sibling, whether living or dead (or estranged or close)? What does it mean to have a sibling or a close friend? That person becomes part of how you remember events, people, and places in your life. You compare notes, repeat the stories, and recall facts that the other person forgets. Having a close relationship with someone else, especially a brother or sister or close cousin, is the way that you make sense of history and your place in it.
When a community formed around the teaching and understanding of the apostle John, the writer of the Fourth Gospel lifted up the divinity of Jesus. In that gospel, Jesus’ feet are just a little bit above the ground. The theme of the gospel according to John is “Like Father, like Son.” When we read that book, we cannot fail to grasp that Jesus is divine, is of God, is specifically and necessarily revealing God the Father to us.
This was the prevailing understanding of the Johnannine community, the brothers and sisters who came together around John’s understanding of Jesus. However, when Jesus’ divinity becomes the main focus, what is lost? We miss out on the crucial other part of the incarnation, God becoming enfleshed,… Jesus’ humanity.
Why does Jesus’ humanity matter? The less human Jesus becomes in our recollection, the less we feel able or compelled to imitate him. It is very easy to think of the divine Jesus as our Savior and Lord. That begins to move him over there, while we remain here. The further we feel from divinity ourselves, the tougher it is to believe that 1) salvation has actually been achieved, 2) what has been achieved is at work in us, changing us, and 3) that we are called and equipped for exactly the same kind of work for the sake of the world around us.
The writer of 1 John, sometimes called the elder or an elder of the church, understood the significance of lifting up both Jesus’ divinity AND his humanity. Paying equal attention to Jesus as a man, as someone we could know, as a person who got scraped, had his feelings hurt, got tired and hungry, and needed to go to the bathroom, who became frustrated, who hugged children… remembering all of that as having equal importance to his eternal existence as the Word of life and love is valuable and imperative.
It was because of people’s physical experiences of Jesus that they came to understand him as Emmanuel- God with us. It was because of people’s physical experiences of Jesus that they came to understand him as the Son of God. It is what they saw, heard, tasted, smelled, touched, and otherwise experienced that the Holy Spirit used to open their minds and hearts to this physical revelation of God’s own self.
After the ascension, Christ’s presence was encountered differently. His presence was made real in the recounting of his deeds, sharing of his teaching, marveling at the healings, and living as he had commanded- loving God and neighbor. The elder writer of 1 John wants his hearers, including us, to understand that the humanity of Jesus, as well as his divinity, was part of God’s work to make a holy community, the followers of the way of Jesus, brothers and sisters bonded in a new way.
The word in 1 John is koinonia. This word originates from the Greek word koinos, meaning “common.” When this word is used in the New Testament, it is typically translated as sharing, fellowship, or partnership. Koinonia means a special joint partnership, a unique fellowship, a creative community that shares one story. The story of Jesus, human and divine, makes us brothers and sisters. It shapes us as a koinonia, a unique kind of fellowship, in which we all share our stories, our experiences of Jesus in our lives and in the world. We share and carry the history together, the history of the church, of this church, of creation, of miracles, joys, and griefs.
According to 1 John, this is the purpose of Jesus’ humanity- to bring us into this special kind of relationship with each other and God. We are not yet there, meaning whatever comes next. We are here now, as Jesus was and as Christ is. This means, brothers and sisters, that we are still at work and God remains at work in us. It means that our story-telling, our memory making, our shared laughter, tears, and labors are still on-going.
The real person of Jesus, the story of his life, death, and resurrection, created koinonia, a community with shared story and purpose. The real presence of Christ makes that koinonia real here, in this time and place. We may not always agree as brothers and sisters. Our memories may differ. Our sense of what should be next may differ. However, we cannot actually disagree or undo what is of central importance, we have been made a family in Christ, a special and holy community with a shared sense of responsibility for one another, for this property, for Anchorage, and for all creation.
We are never on our own in Christ. We die and are raised to new life in him through his story, as it has been carried through the family since the early days of the church. With the help of the Spirit, Our task now is to keep the community and the story alive, to share with one another (and the world) what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. Amen.