Scripture: 1 John 1:5-2:2
After almost eighteen years of marriage, I have learned that the way my wife and I interact with the world around us is fundamentally different. We just do not approach stuff in quite the same way. For instance and using pie as an example, she will take any given pie and either like it, think it is ok, or not like it. It is possible to really like, really dislike it, or if she is not sure then “it’s different.” This is not how I work at all. I naturally evaluate and rank everything. Again using pie as an example, I can easily give you a top ten list of what I consider to be the best kind of pie (Since you are now curious it is Strawberry-Rhubarb as number one, followed closely by blueberry and pecan. Apple, chocolate chip, sugar cream, pumpkin, blackberry, Boston Cream, and Cherry- in that order- round out the top ten). I do not just arbitrarily rank things. I tend to know what I like, and why I like it. I feel like this would be a weird personality quirk, except for I am clearly not the only person who does this. David Letterman made the top ten list into an art form, and since then a lot of people have found organizing our likes into list a helpful practice. In our digital age this has become even more popular. Top ten lists is an extremely popular YouTube video format and website articles that are lists are so common a new word was created to better define these listicles. I am clearly not the only person who ranks and rates everything. Film critic James Poniewozik even did a great job at defining why I do this. During the introduction to the list “The 100 Best TV shows of all time” he said “Lists are incredibly important. They are how we define what matters to us.” I think there is a lot of truth to that, the things we consider our favorites communicate quite a bit about us. Even in my little pie example, putting strawberry-rhubarb as my number one communicates that I think that sweet and tart is a great flavor combination. I naturally rank and put everything into list, and that can include scripture. This morning’s scripture reading happens to include my all-time favorite bible verse.
A lot of people have favorite scriptures, sometimes you hear people refer to their favorite as their “life verse.” Thanks to the prevalence of smart phones, we now have data about what scriptures many people consider their favorites based on how often they look them up using the bible app. Since they have been releasing the data the results do not change much. As an example over the past several years Joshua 1:9 is always near the top of the list: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” That is a good one, but it is not my favorite. I looked as far down as the lists would go, and my favorite was not on the most popular list. It seems my favorite scripture, like my favorite pie, is a bit off the beaten path. My favorite scripture which we heard this morning is 1 John 2:1, “My dear children, I urge you not to sin, but if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the father- Jesus Christ the righteous one.” While this is my favorite scripture, it is also one that is powerful, encouraging, and can drive us to action.
1 John 2:1 is not on many favorite scripture lists, but that is not a huge surprise because when it comes to books of the New Testament 1 John is a bit more of an obscure one. On more than one occasion over the years, teenagers at youth group have been surprised to discover that the gospel of John and the Epistle of 1 John are not the same thing. Church tradition holds that the author is the same, but the setting is separated by decades. John’s gospel records the events of Jesus life when John was a young man. The letter of 1 John was written between fifty and sixty years later, putting John somewhere in his mid-70 to early 90’s. 1 John is a letter written by an old man, and it kind of reads that way-in a good way of course. The entire tone of 1 John has a grandfatherly quality to it. We see that in this morning’s scripture when he refers to the original audience as “my dear children.” In this letter John is passing down the wisdom gained from a life of faith well lived. The tone of the letter is generally encouraging and it holds Christ in high esteem as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. This morning’s scripture reading, and especially 1 John 2:1, do a good job at giving us a snapshot of the overall feel and message of the epistle. While I appreciate the entire book of 1 John, that is not why this is my favorite scripture. No, the reason why 1 John 2:1 is my favorite is more personal than that. Remember, we make lists, we pick favorites, because they define what matters to us; and this scripture matters to me a great deal. It was this specific scripture that convinced me that I needed a savior, that I am lost without Christ.
Even though I grew up in a Christian household, I did not become a Christian until I was in college. To come to faith I had a lot of apathy, a lot of doubt, and a lot of anger to work through. Even though I had largely walked away from God at that point in life, I can see in hindsight that God’s love, God’s prevenient grace, was a constant presence wooing me back to my creator. I may had given up on God, God did not give up on me. I did eventually get to a point that the seeds of faith that many faithful disciples had planted with me over the year finally began to take root. I got to a place where I did believe that God was very real. Around the time I was 18 the beginnings of a faith had begun to grow and I knew that God create me and God loved me. However, at that time I did not know what to do with Jesus. I did not understand why God could just not forgive me and call it even. I did not understand why I needed a savior. 1 John 2:1 used the language that finally made it all click.
The language of Jesus as an advocate, who comes to our defense, painted a vivid image in my mind. In this mental scene, I could see myself standing before God awaiting judgment. I knew what Paul had written in Romans: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “the wages of sin are death.” I imagined myself speechless in that moment. After all, what could I say in my defense? I knew that I was guilty, I knew that I had sinned, that time and time again I had willfully done things I knew wrong, done things I knew were against God’s wishes, and done things that I knew would cause others pain. I had no excuse, I could offer no reason why I should be forgiven of all the sins I committed. I knew that I deserved the just and right punishment for my multitude of sins, but then I had an advocate in Jesus Christ. Out of a great compassion and unfailing love, Jesus says I am worth forgiving. Even if I do not deserve mercy, I am too valuable to Jesus to lose. And for Jesus these are not empty words, because he was willing to put his love into action, and take the punishment that I, that we deserve, on the cross.
Now I know that image was and is a little too simplistic. God the Father and God the Son are perfectly unified. It is not accurate to cast one as a non-lenient judge and the other as a compassionate defender. God is God, and the love displayed on the cross is the love of God no matter how you look at it. However, this scripture made me realize that I could offer nothing to save myself. This scripture connected the dots for me that Jesus being fully human understands us, but by being fully God he has the power to intercede on our behalf and reconcile us to God. Jesus is the advocate who according to the United Methodist articles of religion is the “eternal savior and mediator who intercedes for us.” This scripture made me fully realize that I could not save myself, but thanks to Jesus I did not have to. He already did the work, he already save me. I simply needed to accept him as my savior and my advocate. 1 John 2:1 is my favorite scripture of all time because it was the final piece of the puzzle that turned my heart to God and surrendered it to the Lordship of Christ.
This scripture is a powerful reminder of who Jesus is and what Jesus does for us, but if we are serious about following Jesus then this also gives us an example to follow. Out of a great love and compassion for us, Jesus is our advocate. Even though we do nothing to deserve it and we cannot earn it, Jesus stuck up for us. As it says in Romans, while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Jesus is our advocate who personally sacrificed on our behalf. The example given and the question that we are asked is who are we advocating for?
There are no shortage of people in this world who need advocates. There are people who are disenfranchised, marginalized, and oppressed who need someone to notice them. There are people who are powerless and silenced who are waiting for someone with more power and privilege to speak on their behalf. There are people who feel condemned, unwanted, and unloved who need someone desperately to have compassion on them instead of heaping more judgment on them. The poor, the weak, the addicted, the cast out, these unwanted the all need an advocate.
How are you being that advocate? We can and we should pray for people in need. That is a good start, but we can and we should do more than that. After all, on the cross Jesus gave us far more than his thoughts and prayers. Some of you already step further and do give of your time, your talents, and your treasures to benefit others. For instance our outreach ministries are wonderful steps to advocating for others, and if you are involved in those then you are truly being a blessing to others. As a church how much further can we go? How can we better be an advocate like Jesus? We go bigger, we dream bigger, and we take serious putting others before ourselves.
There are many ways we can do this, and there are many ways that faithful disciples are doing this. One specific example of how some followers of Christ are doing this is through foster care. This is a serious “Jesus sized” way of being an advocate for some of the least advantaged in our society. In all churches in the United States only four out of ten of them have at least one family providing foster care. Collectively as the body of Christ we can do better. As a state, Indiana is one of the places facing a real foster care shortage, which has been made worse by the recent opioid crisis. There are over 1,500 children in need of adoptive families just in our state. In Indiana there are also over 9,500 churches. If only one family in only 1 out of every six churches in this state advocated for these children by adopting them then the crisis would be solved overnight.
Now clearly, not everyone is in the position to adopt these foster children and not everyone is called to do so. Caring for these children is just an example of a radically loving way we can be and advocate for some of the least of these. That may not be your particular calling but we are all called to follow the example of Jesus and be an advocate for someone else the way that Jesus advocates for us. If you already involved in advocacy or supporting those most in need then may God continue to bless you in your service. If you are not though, or if you feel God is tugging at you to take the next step then may you prayerfully consider how you can be an advocate. May you prayerfully consider how you can follow the example of Jesus. May you know that Jesus is your advocate, may you know he is the righteous one, and may you “walk in the light as he is in the light.” May Jesus Christ, God’s only son, the Risen one, continue to be your absolute favorite savior ever.