Third Sunday of Easter [b] April 18, 2021
1 John 3:1-7
1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
4Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.
In the Name of Jesus.
The captain in the Los Angeles Police Department talked about a young man picked on gang charges. The captain said the young man “just needed something to belong to.” The gang gave him something to belong to.
We all need to belong.
On their webpage, the Los Angeles police department lists some of the reasons a young man joins a gang. One is “Identity or Recognition”; another is “Fellowship and Brotherhood.” “Being a part of a gang allows the gang member to achieve a status he feels impossible outside the gang,” says the website, and, “to the majority of gang members, the gang functions as an extension of the family and provides[s] companionship lacking in the gang member’s home.”
We all need to belong. And when we don’t, we find something to belong to.
This is hardly surprising. The Lord created us to belong to one another, to care for each other—he created us for companionship and friendship, to look at each other in the face and see each other’s tears and smiles.
“It is not good for the man to be alone,” said God. (Genesis 2:8) When God created man, he didn’t create just male, as if a single person would have humanity on his own. He created male and female, and he gave the man and the woman to bring forth children, and families were formed up, and neighbors and communities.
Alone? We were never meant to be alone. “I and the Father are One,” said Jesus (John 10:30). “No One comes to the Father but through me,” said Jesus (John 14:6). The Father and the Son are One with each other, never alone. And with the Holy Spirit. They converse with one another, even saying in their Trinitarian conversation such things as, “Let us make man in our image,” (Genesis 1:26).
So when God made us in his image, he made us to be not alone—man and woman, families and communities to be with each other. He created us to belong. To be with each other, to see the faces and hear the voices of one another, to help and care for and show compassion.
So even now, when a brother or sister in Christ is single, he or she is not alone. We all belong to one another in the fellowship of Christ Jesus, bound together in the companionship and fellowship of the Church.
So it goes wrong when we don’t belong. It’s from sin. We know that. People broken off of each other because of pride or shame or hatred, or even broken from one another by false man-made categories such as race.
Do we belong? Do you belong? Using the most intimate, familial word of all, Jesus says you belong. 1 John 3:1:
What kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
To be a child of God is to belong. We were created for that, to belong to God, to be the recipients of his love, to receive gifts from him in every way. It is that “belonging” that we destroyed when we went our own way. Will we receive the gift of the tree in the Garden of Eden in the way God gives it to us, or will we take it according to our own desire?
By that sin, we destroyed our belonging. It’s not that we didn’t belong to something, we did—we now belonged to our own desire, to the demons who tempt, and to the world which shared in our sin. We did belong—but in belonging to our own sinful flesh, to the demons, and to our sinful world, we found ourselves belonging to that which has no love.
Jesus restores us. That’s what he did at the cross. He took our sin and crucified it in his own body. That’s what he did in Baptism. He put the Name of the Father on us, restoring us as children of the God of love. 1 John 3:1.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Now, this is Jesus’ voice to our world.
Our world, filled with people who need to belong. Our world where a police department explains how a young man will join a gang from need to belong. Where we here of skyrocketing rates of depression and even suicides, as people are isolated from one another. Where people are tempted in the absence of love to replace it with lust. Jesus’ voice to each person in our world is, You belong. I have reconciled you to my Father. I cleanse you of your sin. I cover you in my honor. I call you into the fellowship of my Church. You belong to my Father, for I ransomed you with my own blood.
This is Jesus who came and stood in the midst of his disciples and said, “Peace to you” (Luke 24:36). Peace with the Father. Peace from the Son, by his gift. Peace delivered to you by the Holy Spirit, who keeps you in the Word of your Lord Jesus. Peace with one another, for those who belong to Christ Jesus belong to one another, joined in oneness in the fellowship of his Body and Blood. This is the peace of knowing your sin is daily forgiven and you stand before the Father justified by the Word of his Son.
So why are you troubled? Luke 24:38:
And [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
Jesus came to be with us in the most intimate way—he came as our brother, as human as we are in every way but without sin. He came not as a spirit, but with flesh and bone, even showing his hands and his feet to his disciples who were troubled. While they were still disbelieving, he ate fish with them.
He is as human as you and I, as our neighbor, as that young man who doesn’t know if he has a family or a friend to whom he can belong.
And Jesus says, Peace to you. And he calls us, Children of God. To be a child of God is to belong. And Jesus desires no one left out.
Jesus’ voice to our world is, Peace to you, I forgive you your sin. You are a child of God, you belong.
So that is the Church’s voice to our world. Our voice to the world is the proclamation of the cross. Our voice to the world is, Peace to you. By the blood of Jesus, you are a child of God. You belong.
Our voice to one another in the Church is, Peace to you. You are a child of God. By the Body and Blood of Jesus, our sin is forgiven, our sin against one another is forgiven, we are children of God, brothers and sisters in the fellowship of Christ Jesus. We belong even to one another.
In the Name of Jesus.