Homily for the second Sunday after Trinity Sunday


June 25, 2017


1 John 3:13-24


This text begins with the concrete reality of love known and lived

because of Jesus. It is a call to Agape love that God has for us.

Agape love is unconditional love, a love that gives without counting the cost.   


In contrast to Cain who robbed his brother of life

(3:12-15), Jesus laid down his own life for us. The author is not

interested in explaining just how Jesus' voluntary death benefits us.

The point is that Jesus' act is the deepest meaning of "love", and so

Jesus himself defines the character of the church's life. His

self-giving death is love's story and love's shape. The church proclaims

and lives love not as a vague ideal rooted in the human potential for

good. Love is identified and known by what Jesus has done, and that act

is the ground of all Christian thought and hope. Love in the Scriptures

is not an emotional feeling but a matter of the will. We make a decision to

love for Christís sake. 


This love is not known only as a story from the past; this same love

ought to be made visible now in relationships with one another within the

church. As is characteristic of the Johannine tradition as a whole, love for

the rest of humanity, while certainly not rejected, is not the topic here.

We ought not to criticize this narrow focus too quickly. It is often easier to

express love for those who are distant from us than for those who are constantly face to

face with us. The author is blunt: we ought to do what Jesus did (see

John 13:12-15). 1 John does not reflect a situation in which it is

likely that members of the church will actually die for one another;

there is no fatal persecution of the church expected here.


Rather, life-giving will be lived out in ways that are much closer to

the situation in most of our parishes, and therefore much more

challenging. Anyone who has the "life of the world" (Literally "the world's

goods"), which expresses this phrase's referent but loses its connection

to the laying down of life discussed in verse 16), and sees a brother or

sister in need, can live out the life-giving of Jesus. The call is not

just to the wealthy, or for rare acts of heroism. This is the more

mundane material of daily discipleship for the church's multitude. Any

disciple of Jesus, with the means to sustain life, is called to share

that where it is lacking.


To fail at this point is more than selfishness with our stuff. It is to

shut off one's compassion from the brother or sister in need. Verse

17 "refuses to help" is a pale rendering of the more graphic language of

the text, "closes one's innards"). The love of God is not present in

anyone who can do that. The phrase "love of God" in verse 17 could be

taken to mean either our love for God (since love for God is reflected

in love for God's people; see 1 John 4:20-21), or God's love for us

(since God's love for us is to be the force that prompts love from us;

see 1 John 4:19). Either way, to give one's life in this way, in

imitation of Jesus' own love, is more than simply a result of believing;

it is the concrete shape that belief takes in the world and the

presence of such giving is a sign that God's love is present and active.


Verses 19-20 often have been understood as a stern warning: if our

hearts condemn us, then we must remember that God's condemnation will be

even greater, since God knows absolutely everything, even those sins

which we may succeed in hiding from ourselves. However, in this context

the point is almost certainly one of comfort and reassurance, as most

recent commentators have recognized. Human conscience is not an

infallible guide. Even when we would condemn ourselves, God's grace is

larger than our sin, and God's mercy is greater than our ability to

grasp it.


It may be surprising good news for some that the faithful stance is not

one of constant fear and self-loathing. The author finds it possible

that our conscience may not be plagued (verse 21), which is identified

as boldness in God's presence, the assurance that we may ask and God

will graciously give. However, God is no cosmic vending machine

operating to serve our desires. Verse 22 speaks of keeping God's

commands, and doing what is pleasing to God. Whatever requests rise from

belief in Jesus and from love for one's brothers and sisters will be

pleasing and acceptable to God.


These two commandments for faith and for love are identified as one in

verse 23. Love for others is the core of the Son's revelation of the

Father, and so such love is the very essence of the One in whom we

believe. Faith and love are the marks of the church, and for the

Johannine believers (and us as well), bruised by church schism and by

questions about whether God is truly at work among us, these marks are

both the calling and the comfort of the church. They are in fact nothing

less than what it means to dwell within the life of the Father and the

Son, brought to reality and witnessed to by the Holy Spirit (verse 24).