3rd Sunday of Easter (Year B - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, April 29, and Sunday, April 30, 2006
I learned about if/then statements from Choose Your Own Adventure books—which I was glad to see are still around. They were kind of the pre-video game adventure game. You read the beginning of a story, and then at the bottom of the page, you have to choose what the character does. For instance, “if . . . ., turn to page.”
There are adventure video games that do this know where you have choices between doors and paths, and really the game is just a series of if/then statements: if I go down this hallway, the bad guy might get me, but if I go this way, I might find the treasure. While these video games are exciting, I’m still glad that the books are still around, because reading is so important. So before you play your next video game, go to the library, find a Choose Your Own Adventure book and read! (OK, that’s the end of my public service announcement about reading and supporting libraries).
The reason I bring up if/then statements is because the reading today from the first letter of John is really just a series of if/then statements.
“6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
We can bring what we’ve learned about if/then statements to this Bible passage. Maybe you learned about if/then statements from Choose Your Own Adventure books or video games—learning that you have to make choices and those choices lead to different directions, outcomes, conclusions. Maybe you learned about if/then statements in English grammar class, and way back when, you learned how to diagram an if/then statement, making a flowchart out of the choices. Maybe you learned about if/then statements when you were learning computer programming language, getting the computer to do different things depending on what gets entered on the keyboard.
Wherever you learned about if/then statements, you’ve got to bring that knowledge to this passage from 1 John today. If we’re going to understand what John is teaching us, we’ve got to see that really he’s laid out a flowchart, a map of choices, and different choices lead in different directions. And the time that you are faced with that decision, those choices, is when you come before God, when you approach God, such as at the beginning of a worship service during the Confession and Absolution.
There’s no mistake about using this passage from 1 John as part of the Confession of Sins in today’s service and many others. Even before you confess, you admit your sins to God, the service takes you on the if/then adventure. You have to decide whether you believe that you’re a sinner or not. You have to decide whether you’ll agree with God’s truth or whether you’ll say God is lying. You have to decide whether to approach God’s altar or whether to leave and go out the door.
So let’s see really just what are these choices that John gives us in these if/then statements. Let’s see just what kind of choice we make when we decide to stay here, confess our sins, and approach God.
And it’s important to remember that John isn’t assuming that his readers are making the choice to go against God or call God a liar. In fact, it’s probably better to translate the if/then statements to say something like: “If we actually claimed to be without sin, we would be deceiving ourselves, fooling ourselves, and the truth wouldn’t be in us.” John is trying to get his readers to imagine both sides of the if/then statements, trying to help them to imagine the other side, but he doesn’t actually assume that his readers have rejected God’s forgiveness for sins.
So as we look at the if/then statements, the if/then adventure that faces you each time you approach God, I’m not assuming you’re rejecting God’s truth. However, I do want us to see what it would mean to make that choice.
(In middle aisle outside of the chancel)
So think about the if/then statements from 1 John as the choices we face when we approach God. Now we couldn’t all be up here together and walk up to the altar together, but the idea is that when Pastor Miller or I am leading the worship service, you imagine yourself, you imagine everyone here as approaching God’s altar like we do. What we do up here is symbolic of what we are all doing.
So then you can all imagine that you’re standing here, and as John kind of shows us, you’ve got two choices: approach God and go towards His altar or leave God and go out that door. Those are the two choices, but how we make that choice is related to how we answer the other if/then statements.
So John says, “If we actually claimed to have fellowship with God yet were still walking in the darkness, we would be lying and not living by the truth.” In other words, if we actually said we could be close with God but then still do whatever we wanted, we’d be walking away from God and going out the door. The first if/then statement leads out the door, away from a relationship with God.
Of course, that’s not what John wants us to choose, and it’s not even what he thinks we will choose. John is writing to Christian believers. He wanted us to see what it would mean to make that choice, but now he gives us another if/then statement that leads to God. “But if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” In other words, if we walk in the light as I know that you are doing through faith, then you will be with God and have forgiveness for your sins. If we walk in the light, we approach God’s altar and receive forgiveness through Jesus.
Let’s try this again with the next if/then statement. “If we actually claimed to be without sin, we would be deceiving ourselves, fooling ourselves, and the truth wouldn’t be in us.” Again, if we agreed with the statement that we were without sin, then that leads right out the door away from a relationship with God.
However, that’s not what John thinks that his readers have chosen, and that’s not what I think you have chosen. You’re still here after hearing that you’re sinful; you’re still here in the service after hearing that you need Jesus Christ for salvation. So I think we’ve followed the other if/then statement in this pair: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This already happened in today’s service: we admitted our sins, approached God saying that yeah, we’re sinful and blind and turned away from God, and that choice led right to God’s altar where His offers His forgiveness and salvation.
Every time that you come to worship, every time that you pray to God, every time that you read the Bible, every time that you think about believing in Jesus you’re faced with this if/then adventure, these if/then statements. Every time you could fool yourself into thinking that you’re perfect, that you don’t sin, and that choice always leads out the door away from God. But every time you could also agree with God, admit that you’re sinful, and that choice leads to approaching God and receiving forgiveness for your sins.
(return to the pulpit)
The church father Caesarius put it this way: “Not to know your sin is the worst kind of sin.” In other words, the worst sin you could commit is to fool yourself into not seeing your own sinfulness.
Let’s go back to the Choose Your Own Adventure books for a moment. As you make choices about what the character should do in the story, some of those choices lead to dead ends, problems, or danger. The only way to find a happier ending to the story is to go back and figure out which choice was the mistake. In other words, go back and find your sin.
It’s the same with God. We could plug on, we could just keep doing what we thought was right, we could keep making up our own teachings and our own truths, but that’s going to keep leading us to dead ends, problems, or danger. That’s eventually going to lead to spiritual, eternal death.
Instead of trying to pretend that we didn’t make any mistakes, when we find ourselves in trouble, we’ve got to look back and see where we made a mistake, a bad choice in this if/then adventure. We’ve got to look back and see where we sinned.
Then unlike the Choose Your Own Adventure books where you just have to find your mistake and keep going from there, unlike that, with Jesus, when you go back and find your sin and admit your sin, you immediately find that you’re with God, you have His forgiveness and salvation.
Notice that, when you choose your own thoughts about your spiritual life, you end up getting yourself out the door, away from God. However, if you choose to admit that you’re sinful, wrong, lost, and helpless, then God brings you right up to the altar, right up into fellowship with Him, right into His family, right into the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
That’s probably the most important thing to remember about this if/then adventure: if you walk away from God and go out the door, if you reject His truth, that’s your fault. That’s our sinfulness, and sometimes we’ve all been there, sometimes we’re going to fool ourselves into thinking we can do without God. It leads out the door, and we are the ones to blame.
However, for those times when we choose to believe God’s truth, those times that we choose to approach God’s altar and receive His forgiveness, that’s all God’s doing. The Holy Spirit is the One who helps us to follow that if/then statement. The Holy Spirit is the One that helps us to confess our sins and receive forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is the One that gives us the strength and confidence to approach God’s altar. In other words, if I admit that I am sinful and receive forgiveness through Jesus, then God gets all of the credit.
If I walk away from God, that’s my fault, my sinfulness, but if I believe and trust in God, then God gets all of the credit for my faith.
I said that John wrote this letter in such a way as to say that he just wanted his readers to imagine what it would mean if they chose to reject God’s truth, imagine what would happen if they said they weren’t sinful. He didn’t actually think that his readers had rejected the Christian faith, and I don’t think you have either.
However, in seeing what it would mean if we did reject God really helps us to rejoice and give thanks for how God gives us faith. Knowing that on our own we’d chose the wrong if/then statement, knowing that our own choice would lead us right out the door away from God, knowing that helps us to see how incredible it is that we approach God today, approach God, admit our sins, and receive His forgiveness.
Today and every time that we gather for worship is a celebration of God’s work in our lives. It’s a celebration of God leading us to His altar, leading us to Jesus, leading us to find forgiveness and salvation. We’re not congratulating ourselves on a job well done, on choosing the right path, as if we did this on our own. We’re congratulating God for saving us, we’re praising God, honoring God, giving God all of the glory for the faith that we have.
Faith, then, is an if/then statement, an if/then adventure, but when it comes to making that choice, we’d be walking out that door away from God towards a dead end, problems, danger, or spiritual death, that’s where we’d be headed if it wasn’t for God. Faith is an if/then statement, an if/then adventure, it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but God turns the pages for us, leads us in the right direction, leads us toward the treasure of heaven, the forgiveness and salvation of Jesus Christ. God is the page turner in this adventure, and He has turned the pages in your life, showing you the Book of Life, leading you to faith in Jesus who forgives and gives us life after death.