Sermon. April 18, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
Our text this week is 1 John 3:16 – 24. This passage lifts up the importance of love. It advocates for love, not in words or speech, but in action and truth (verse 18). It joins together faith and love: believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love one another.
Today I’m going to focus attention on nonviolence as acts of faith and as acts of love. Nonviolence involves both the courage to disrupt domination and the creation of brave space where human dignity can flourish.
Early Christians formed a network of decentralized communities that were unified in faith and love. Belief in the name of Jesus Christ and love for one another within the community are what held them together.
Early Christians proclaimed Jesus’ name even when this brought the might of Empire down on them. Believing in the name of Jesus Christ empowered small Jesus communities to survive repression and even thrive. Their light could not be extinguished.
Small house houses that practiced loving one another created brave spaces within the Empire where human dignity was upheld and a just world was prefigured.
Nonviolence has two primary expressions – Resistance and Construction. Nonviolent resistance disrupts and deconstructs domination. Constructive nonviolence builds brave spaces for human dignity.
Early Christians employed both expressions of nonviolence. Proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ was one key way they engaged in nonviolent resistance to the domination of Empire.
The Empire controlled the Roman legions, fortresses, roads, and vast wealth through vast lands. Why was the nonviolent resistance of proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ a threat to the imperial domination of Empire?
Because this liberated the hearts and minds of those who followed Jesus from being fully controlled by the Empire. Their loyalty was to Lord Jesus not Caesar the Emperor and no amount of repression could stop this.
The Early Christians also practiced constructive nonviolence in the small house churches that emerged throughout the Empire.
Each of these house churches created a brave space where people treat each other with dignity and respect by loving one another.
The Early Christians became a counter cultural alternative to the way of Empire. While proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ was a central act of nonviolent resistance, loving one another was the central act of constructive nonviolence.
The passage before us with its twin commandment to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and to love one another is a twin call to nonviolent resistance and constructive nonviolence.
The Jesus community that John writes his letter to is facing the Roman Empire. How might this small community apply this twin call to both believing in the name of Jesus Christ/ nonviolent resistance and to loving one another/ constructive nonviolence in our time?
Believing in the name of Jesus Christ shapes our ability to engage in nonviolent resistance to oppression and harm doing. Loving one another provides the foundation for constructive nonviolence.
The United Church of Christ offers local churches the opportunity to go deeply into justice work through what are called Statements of Witness.
Among these are Accessible to All, Creation Justice, Economic Justice, Just Peace, Open and Affirming, and Sacred Conversations to End Racism.
Each of these is a commitment to faithful witness. Now some might react to this list and say these are all political statements. Yes, of course they are! They engage political systems and structures. There is no such thing as not being political.
Whenever human beings gather together there is politics. Every congregation has an internal church politics. We can no more say, “I don’t want us to be political” than we can say, “I don’t believe in breathing.”
Breathing doesn’t care if you “believe” in doing it or not. As long as we are alive it happens. Easily or with difficulty, but it happens.
Likewise, politics doesn’t care if you “want” to do it or not. As long as we gather as humans it happens. Transparent and openly, or subverted and hidden, it happens.
The Early Christians could have denied proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ so as not to be seen as being political by the Empire. That itself would have been a political choice, and where would that have left them or lead to? We are here today in part because the first Christians took great risks to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ even though that meant being considered a political threat by the Empire.
Proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ was then, is now, and always will be a political statement of witness. Witnessing to the name of Jesus Christ means affirming that our ultimate concern, our deepest loyalty, and our most profound devotion is to the Triune God of Love and not to the systems and structures of Empire and domination that always demand our full cooperation and support.
It is precisely our act of proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ that makes it possible for us to affirm anyone of the UCC Statements of Witness. And our affirmation of each of the UCC Statements of Witness, rather than being a position of “politically correctness” is about showing up to witness in Jesus’ name to resist a structure of domination and oppression that is harming God’s creation and God’s children.
Being Open and Affirming means nonviolent resistance in Jesus’ name to challenge harm directed at people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Being Open and Affirming also means constructive nonviolence as we create brave space for loving one another. We might not be able to create welcome and affirmation throughout all the world, but in this local church we create a brave space that becomes a Zone of Loving One Another.
The Early Christians were not able to create a just world throughout the Empire, but it was able to create a network of house churches throughout the Empire that were Zones of Loving One Another. The Reign of God was both here and not yet.
Rooted in proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ, each UCC Statement of Witness involves nonviolent resistance to a system and structure of domination that does harm. It is love, not in word and speech, but in action and truth.
When a local church affirms any of the UCC Statements of Witness in action and truth and not merely as words and speech it creates a Zone of Loving One Another toward a just world. Constructive nonviolence is a building block toward God’s Reign on earth as in heaven.