The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost –
Scripture Reading: 1 John 1:5-2:6
Sermon: “Deceiving Ourselves”
Let’s start with the clip about the “good old days.”
Ah, the good old days. Want to go back? There are several reasons we’re so inclined to see at least some of the past through rose-colored glasses.
A lot of it goes back to what some call Sturgeon’s Law. Theodore Sturgeon, a famous science-fiction writer, once said that, “Ninety percent of everything is… crud.” He didn’t exactly say crud, but you get the idea.
What that means in terms of nostalgia is that, as the years go by, we tend to remember the best and forget the other ninety percent. Psychologists call this “the nostalgia filter.”
On the upcoming Fourth of July holiday we will, as a nation, wax nostalgic about the good old days when heroic figures like Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington strode like giants across the world stage.
Looking back on that glorious past, we bemoan the nation’s present. Truth is, negative campaigning and political name calling goes back to the one and only time in American history that a president ran against his vice president for reelection.
The year was 1800. The opposing candidates were President John Adams and his vice president, Thomas Jefferson. Party politics had so distanced them that they waged one of the ugliest campaigns in American political history.
Jefferson’s camp labeled Adams a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant. Adams’ supporters fired back, branding Jefferson a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward.
Back then, presidential candidates didn’t lower themselves to campaigning. Jefferson, though, hired a hatchet man named James Callendar to do his smearing for him. Adams wouldn’t stoop that low—and lost.
Callendar went to prison for slandering Adams. When he got out of jail in 1801, he thought Jefferson owed him. Now-President Jefferson thought differently.
Callendar had his revenge. He broke a story in 1802 that the President was having an affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Callendar claimed Jefferson had lived with Hemings in France and that she’d given birth to five of his children.
DNA testing in 1998 showed Callendar was right, tracing a genetic link between Hemings’ descendants and the Jefferson family, a link now acknowledged at Jefferson’s home, Monticello.
Just as truth endures, though, so can friendship. Twelve years after the election, Adams and Jefferson began writing letters to each other and became friends again. They died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
The problem isn’t that politics today is so different from what it was in the early days of our nation. The problem is that it’s so much alike.
We can say the same about the early church and the church today. We’ll see that working our way through the first letter of John for the next six weeks.
It comes from the end of the first century, when those supposedly saintly early Christians were going at it tooth and nail.
The writer of the letters of John, who calls himself “the elder,” is fighting Docetism, a way of thinking that gathered steam as the second century went on.
Since Docetism lost the theological battle, all we know about it comes from those who opposed it.
According to them, Docetists tried to spiritualize the faith to the point where it only looked like Christ had a human body and it only seemed as though he suffered on the cross.
The implication was that things we do physically don’t matter if we’re on the right page spiritually. That translates, in practical terms, to, “Katy, bar the door—it’s party time!”
The elder says that those who believe this follow “many antichrists,” as well as “false prophets” and “liars.” Just as the word of God took on human form in Jesus Christ, the elder believed, so faith isn’t something discussed or debated but lived. If we say we love God but then live like we don’t, we’re not only lying, but we’re making God a liar, too.
Verse eight nails it: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth isn’t in us.”
A smidge of self-deception shelters us, at least a little, from the storms of life. Carry them too far, though, and the lies we tell ourselves can bring disaster.
One is, “I’m good at my job. It must be my destiny to do it.”
We don’t all have the luxury of following our calling. If we can, though, we’ll be so much happier, even if the job we work at, but hate, brings with it prestige and a healthy salary.
Sometimes we lie to ourselves and say, “Being a success means having nice stuff.” Folks plugged into this mindset sometimes pile up an enormous amount of debt. They end up running from problems that only grow greater and that they must eventually deal with.
Another lie we tell ourselves goes something like this, “I can turn myself into the person everyone expects me to be.” Folks who are gay struggle with this issue in especially powerful ways.
We lie to ourselves so often that our mental and spiritual gymnastics could win an Olympic gold medal. First John speaks to our predicament. As is the case with so much of life, there’s good news and bad news.
The bad news is that sin exists, sin is real, and we’re all sinners. Remember, if we say that’s not the case, we’re just fooling ourselves.
The good news is that if we confess our sins, owning up to them, we gain not only forgiveness but a fresh start.
“If we freely admit that we’ve sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—God forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that’s evil.”
God offers us love, not because we’re perfect, but because One whose kindness toward us we can always count on wove mercy into the very fabric of the universe itself.
“If we’re faithless,” 2 Timothy 2:13 assures us, “God is still faithful—for God can’t deny God’s true nature.”
The elder writes not to stir up sin or despair, but to offer good news and hope to a splintered church. Jesus Christ can free us from our sins and the lies we live by.
That’s not nostalgia. That’s good news, good news that’s lost none of its power to change lives and save us from the sins and evils that assail us.