There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

1 John 3:8-4:6

Written as a meditation for Third Church on June 21, 2020.

According to the Women’s Bible Commentary, “One important contribution of feminist theologies is the insistence that word and deed, thought and action, must be held together for a vital Christian faith.”[1]  First, Second, and Third John “share that insistence:  in these three epistles, vital community occurs where believers live their hospitality toward others.  The issues of institutional religious life are complex—how can the freshness of faith be maintained in and through institutional structures? —and the Johannine epistles are valuable resources for feminist conversations on these topics.”[2]  All three of these letters could be easily read in one sitting or read in small sections devotionally.  I think you will find that sections of these letters sound familiar as they are used frequently in liturgy.  

Today, we are focusing on the first letter.  “The community of 1 John is disrupted by two events: some members deny the full humanity of Jesus (4:3), and some do not love one another as they should (2:9).  Belief in the full humanity of Jesus is tied to the community’s emphasis on love, because for Jesus and the community, the sharing of love is the mark of full humanity.”[3]  What is important about affirming that Jesus is divine and human is that it means that the human experience is valuable as a place in which God can be known.  “Theological doctrine and human experience are inseparable: “Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (4:21; see also 2:9-114:11-12, 20).  Those who deny the humanity of Jesus are expressing theological dualisms between spirit and body, good and evil.”[4]  Unfortunately, there are still people who fall into the trap of thinking that our spirits are good, and our bodies are bad.  “Body/spirit dualisms were, and continue to be, detrimental to women’s places in Christian experience.  As the spirit/body dualism was refined in later Christianity, women were increasingly identified with the inferior, and even evil, realm of the body.  Feminist theologies of embodiment recognize what the author of 1 John also knew: Christian religious experience begins with the incarnation, and so the body is essential, not an optional, element of Christian theological doctrine.  First John is an important theological resource for conversations about embodiment, because it emphatically negates body/spirit dualisms and affirms the corporeality of Christian faith.”[5]  

I realize that for some, the idea that spirit/body dualism is harmful for women and especially people of color might be a new idea.  Here’s a really quick explanation of how it works.  Women’s bodies are over sexualized.  You don’t have to look far to see that sex sells and our advertising mostly sexualizes women.  And if you have ever read a dress code policy you will notice that much of the language is about covering and controlling women’s bodies.  Over sexualization of women and girls leads to the incorrect assumption that they are evil seducers of men.  Put in a religious context, bodies (especially women’s bodies) lead men to sin therefore women are sinful and inferior to men.  It is this kind of thinking that keeps women from church leadership and ordination. 

But if I just stopped there, that would only be part of the story.  Feminist Theology is often critiqued as being for white women, so Black Feminist Theology and Womanist Theology arose to emphasize how race is an important factor.  So, sticking with our example of oversexualization of women’s bodies, remember that this oversexualization happens to people of color even more so than to white women.  And I’m sure as you heard me say that (or read it) a few harmful stereotypes about black bodies entered your mind.  I know that, because those thoughts entered my mind too.  

Being anti-racist means to rid the world of racism by starting in your own heart.  To do that, we must also take 1 John seriously when we open our hearts to God, allowing her to pour in refining fire, cleansing us from our sin and from all of our unrighteousness, especially racism.  Trusting in God’s wide mercy, we know we will be cleansed and healed.  Having experienced God’s justice and kindness, we know that the holy spirit lives in us, continuing to burn refining fire in our hearts, breathing life into our bodies so that we may be moved to put our faith into action.  The action we are called to is love.  Loving others means that we are choosing to be in uncomfortable places with them even though our privilege would allow us to be more comfortable somewhere else.  It means to stand with those who are marginalized in society; to listen to them and believe what they say about their experiences; and to work for a better world together.  We are called to love one another as Christ Jesus loves us, by laying down our lives for one another. 

Benediction:

1 John 3:16-18, 23-24

16 We know love by this, that he [Christ Jesus] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

As we end our time together, I encourage you to examine your heart and to invite God to rid you of any racism, sexism, and whatever other harmful “isms” you find within yourself.  Educate yourself by reading and watching stories by people with different life experiences than you.  Vote, sign petitions, protest, and do all you can to bring about God’s justice and peace.  And when you do so, do it with the blessing of God, knowing her mercy and love is beyond our comprehension.  Amen.  


[1] Newsom, Carol A., Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, eds. Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated. 3rd ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. P. 622

[2] Newsom, Carol A., Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, eds. Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated. 3rd ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. P. 622

[3] Newsom, Carol A., Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, eds. Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated. 3rd ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. P. 623

[4] Newsom, Carol A., Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, eds. Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated. 3rd ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. P. 623

[5] Newsom, Carol A., Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, eds. Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated. 3rd ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. P. 623

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