Scripture: 1 John 2:18-28
While I was driving to New Glasgow last Sunday afternoon, I was listening to CBC Radio and heard a story of how technology is helping, of all places, lawyers’ offices as they prepare legal cases.
I’m sure we all remember the lawyer movies where people carry in a couple of boxes full of papers which may help in a case. Turns out this is kind of true. While in the movie it might take a few hours to sort through all the papers in these boxes, in reality it would take days, possibly even weeks!
The greater challenge today is there are more than just one or two boxes to go through. In today’s digital world, there are hard drives full of terabytes of data which needs to be sorted through in order to find a few golden nuggets which are needed for the case.
If it took days to go through a couple of boxes, how long would it take to sort through terabytes of emails and other documents?
This is where technology has come to the aid. There has been a system developed where you simply load in all the data and the computer uses a learning method to sort and collate data. Once everything is in, it spits out a few thousand samples to review, and the lawyer tells the computer which are relevant and which are not. The computer now takes this additional information and adjusts it’s parameters and spits out a few thousand more samples to be reviewed.
This process continues until the lawyer is satisfied that he or she has everything the need for the case. All the while the machine learns to zero in on what it is being asked to find.
This takes what has become months of work back to just a couple days again. It saves firms a lot of time and money, and is generally considered much more accurate than processing everything ny hand. Reports are that the computer is somewhere over 90% accurate while doing it by hand is somewhere around 60%.
What the machine does is keep taking new information and focusing in on a few things, ultimately ignoring what is not needed. It learns.
In a way, this is what we do in our lives each and every day. Every second of our lives we are processing information, most of it without ever noticing. Our eyes are adjusting to the the light around us and where we are focusing. Our ears are processing all the sounds around us. Our heart is adjusting how often it beats depending on our current physical state, which is again, based on all that is happening around us at any given moment.
But we also learn by taking classes. We learn by reading books or articles. We learn by trial and error.
Our bodies are intricate machines designed to learn and adapt to the world around us. It’s really amazing when you think about it.
If you think about all that goes into me just standing here in this pulpit. My eyes and ears work together to determine whether I am balanced or not. The muscles in my body are contracting and relaxing as necessary to make sure I don’t fall over. And somehow the words on the page are being translated into sound that you all understand. Amazing!
If we take all of this and apply it to our reading from 1 John today, not a whole lot really changes.
John is warning us to not let things get between us and God. How do we do that? We ignore or even push away those things.
There’s a whole theology around the term antichrist. It’s also a word people have thrown out there when they don’t like a politician or some other public figure.
I could probably spend a couple of sermons talking about the term antichrist, but I’m not going to. What I’m going to do today is just keep it simple.
When I read 1 John, and he uses the term antichrist, here’s what I see. I don’t see it necessarily as the devil or some representative, not in what John has shared with us today.
Let’s review what John said,
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:18,19)
A little later in the passage he says,
Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father… (1 John 2:22,23)
Who are these antichrists? Are they devil worshippers? Are they demons? Are they evil incarnate? Maybe, but I’m not convinced that’s who John is talking about.
When you are against something, you are anti-something. “Anti” means against. In the most simplest of terms, antichrist means the person is working against Christ. Or as John puts it, they are denying Christ. It can mean that it’s the work of the devil, sure. But it can also simply mean someone who disagrees with our Christian values, or is trying to take the church or society in a direction away from God.
If you are actively working against the peace, love, and joy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, then you are an antichrist.
What does that mean? What does it look like to work against Jesus?
It means you are not standing up for the oppressed. It means you aren’t seeking to love your neighbours as God loves you. It means you’ve missed the point of the Gospels.
John is writing the church because, as he said, some people have left the church. Now we don’t want anyone to leave our churches and not come back. Right? It happens, sure. But it’s not something we enjoy most of the time. But sometimes the right people will leave because they work against what God is asking of the church.
We, as a church, are trying to follow what Jesus has exampled for us and what God is asking us to do. Will we get it perfectly all the time? No we will not. But we keep trying.
For John, those people who left the church he is writing to, it sounds like they have been the sort of people who put up walls at every turn. They actively work against the mission of the church, who is trying to reach out in love with the message of hope offered in Jesus Christ.
So what do we do when we find such opposition?
Let’s take a look at what Jesus himself has to say about it in Luke 10.
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (Luke 10:8-12)
If people are not welcoming to the message that Jesus has to offer, shake the sand from your feet and leave. In other words, don’t let it weigh you down, and keep moving on. Keep on loving. Keep on seeking God and sharing his message with others. But, leave a warning as you go.
When we are trying our best to live as Jesus calls us to live, we will be blessed. God will do great things in our lives and in our churches. John says to the church that they have an anointing, that is a blessing from God.
The problem is, with blessing comes challenge. Two things can happen. One is that people will see that you, or the church, has this blessing and things might be going pretty good, so they will want in on the action, but for their own gain. They may be trying to come alongside to have greater influence in the church or community, trying to boost their own profile or ego. When this happens, things go awry. Things can start to fall apart.
The second is people will start to attack, whether out of jealousy or envy. I know of churches that have grown, churches that have done amazing things in the name of God, only to be attacked in the media. This does not help morale or the work of the church one little bit. Not at all.
Notice in both cases what was the root cause of the fall or struggle. In the first example people were trying to boost their profile. They were victims of the sin of pride. In the second, sins of envy or even covetousness are the root of the problem.
Sin works against the will of God. Sin works against the work of the church. Sin is bad. It doesn’t matter if we think it’s a big sin or even a little “harmless” sin… all sin is bad and works against God’s plan for our lives and our churches.
John wants us to get the sin out of our lives, which we’ve heard a few times in just the few weeks we’ve been looking at his first letter, but he also wants us to be careful about what we let influence our belief.
Today we call these people false teachers or false prophets. But it can be far more than letting someone come into our church and teach or preach ways which draw us away from God.
It can be the media we consume. What movies do we watch? What television shows? What’s on our book shelves? What do we read on the internet? These things can also draw us away from God. They can cause us to believe things which are contrary to the word of God.
An example could be the legalization of marijuana. Has medicinal marijuana helped people? Yes it has. That’s a good thing. Is marijuana one of the less dangerous drugs? Yes, I suppose it is.
But, I’ve talked with a number of drug addicts, both former and current, and every one of them I’ve talked to have said they all began with marijuana. Studies have shown that marijuana rewires brains, especially those of teenagers and young adults.
We are asked by Jesus to take care of our young people. We are commanded to welcome them, love them, and bless them. We are commanded to help others in their struggles and their afflictions.
Does granting them access to possibly life destroying drugs help? Yes, I know that every person who has ever smoked a joint did not become a drug addict. I don’t know the percentage, but it is known that marijuana has led people down a destructive path in their lives.
This is not good. This is not loving our neighbours. This is not protecting our children from the evils of this world. This is not calling people to a life of hope and joy in our Father’s presence. Yet the world says we need to make it legal. I disagree.
As a person who looks to the teachings of Jesus for direction, I cannot see how making pot legal helps our society. It seems counterproductive to me and puts our young people at further risk.
I could go on ranting about this for hours, going back and forth between the argument, but for me it shows how far the world has separated itself from the love of God.
We need to focus on one thing and one thing only. We need to keep feeding this machine we call our brain with information and training ourselves to act in a certain way.
Like the machine lawyers have begun to use, they train it to look for something and return the relevant data, we need to train ourselves in the ways of God so that we instinctively act as Jesus Christ himself would act.
So what data do we need to get into our brains in order for this to happen? We need to read our Bibles, really getting in there to let the Word of God penetrate us and speak to us. We need to pray like never before. And in our times of prayer, we need to listen for the voice of God to speak to us. Which he will do, of that I am certain, because he speaks to me when I pray, just as he does for some of you. I know because you’ve told me you’ve heard from him.
We need to protect ourselves from those antichrists, those who work against God’s plan in the world today. And we do it by seeking God’s blessing in our Bibles, our prayer time, and even confessing our sins so we can receive his love even more.
There is not greater teacher than our God. There is no greater love than the love of our Father in heaven. There is no greater joy than living in his blessing when we submit our lives to him.
Let us pray,
What a gift it is to know you and our Father in heaven. In you we have love, hope, and joy. But we also know there are people in this world who seek to disrupt our relationship with you, and our ability to share this love, hope, and joy with others who need it.
So we ask you to protect us from sin and harm. To recognize that on the cross your blood was shed for us, so we may not be slaves to sin but children of our Father and your Father.
Lord Jesus, speak your Spirit into our lives, into our church, and into this broken world. May your teachings be the authoritative voice, and not those of the false teachers who seek to draw us away from your goodness.
Give us wisdom, give us courage, and give us peace.
All these things only you can give as Lord of our lives. We ask this in your most holy name.
Amen and amen.