- 1 John 1:5-2:2
- Matthew 2:13-18
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Si dixerimus quoniam peccatum non habemus, ipsi nos seducimus, et veritas in nobis non est.
I John 1:8
The letters of St John can seem to be entirely gnomic, like an epistolary version of the book of Proverbs, although there are some strung-together paragraphs, what I hear, mostly, reading or listening to the letters of St John, is an old man who has a lot to say, but keeps cycling back to the important stuff. If you look through today’s passage you see: God is light. If we’re in darkness, we’re not with God. If we are in light, than we’re with God, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin. But if we say we have no sin, then we’re not with God… ie, saying we have no sin means we’re in darkness.
Which means most of the world is in darkness of one sort or another because sin is not a very popular topic today.
This week, to celebrate Christmas, we have the feasts of a whole bunch of martyrs:
- 26 Dec – St Stephen, who was killed by nonbelievers for his faith.
- 27 Dec – St John, who wasn’t killed but was imprisoned and harassed by nonbelievers for his faith all his adult life.
- 28 Dec – The Holy Innocents who were slain by nonbelievers for being born to close to Jesus.
- 29 Dec – St Thomas Becket who was slain by supposed believers for his defense of the Church.
There’s a progression here. The Church’s calendar has always been about teaching – which is why the feasts from 26-28 do not change. (The feast on the 29th came later and is of a lower rank but it expands the pattern.)
St Stephen, an adult, was slain for confessing his faith in public.
St John, an adult, confessed his faith, but was only a social outcast – they hoped he’d cave in.
The Holy Innocents had no faith, but the Church counts them as her first harvest of Martyrs because they were slain for Jesus.
St Thomas was slain by other folks claiming to be Christian because he was willing to stand up to the political powers which they supported.
Here’s the progression:
The faith annoys people in the world and, for a few hundred years, Christians got killed. It was not a solid killing spree though: sometimes Christians were just the freaky folks that normal people had to put up with. Julian the Apostate cemented the pattern that has held forever: Stalin was still doing it last century and Castro was doing it even in this Century. You kill some, oppress the rest – people give up after awhile. Much easier to buy bread when you don’t have to worry about the religion of the baker. In some places the killing gets so great that even the faithless get caught up in the mess. The various wars in various parts of the world that are fought over “religion” end up killing people in the name of religion that might otherwise be faith-neutral. ISIS has slain people who were not Christian who have been named Martyrs by the Copts. Today if you are public about your faith you have to say “yes, but not that kind of Christian” so often. People who pray in public can be mistaken for Muslims by some or for Trumpists by others. How ironic, that? There may be no killing, but there is social ostracization. People of faith can be forced to bake cakes for the Queen of Heaven (see Jeremiah 7:18), but professional musicians and sports teams can break contracts in states with laws they don’t like – and be cheered on. It will be the same under our new overlords, just reversed.
Yet, I fear the Becket phase is coming.
In the Becket Phase, people who claim to be Christians – but are really only politicians – will kill off the faithful. This was the height of Elizabethan England: with politicians disguised as Christians killing the clergy and laity of the Church. We have seen hints of this in Hitler’s Germany (with the Protestants) and in Stalin’s Russia (with the Orthodox). The state successfully buys off a portion of the larger faith and turns it against the others as a method of control.
In America, though, the liberal mainline and the illiberal mainline have both been bought off by political cliques and I think it won’t be long before we see them turned against the real people of faith, the Confessing Church. The Confessing Church has always been too religiously conservative for the political liberals and their religious cronies and too politically liberal for the political conservatives and their religious cronies. Both of these groups walk in darkness for they say they have no sin.
Political conservatives insist they have no sin, but they refuse to address the injustice in their own systems – like racism, classism, and economic oppression. Additionally, they are often blind to their more religious moral failings – like unjust wars, political violence in their name. Political liberals (especially today) may be blind to their own systems of oppression such as of the unborn, of workers, of people who don’t measure up to the cultural elite. They are more famously blind to their moral sins – sexual sins, sins of defilement of the human person, etc.
Both sides suffer as well from what we might call theological sins: for they want to pretend that all “people of faith” can be combined into their own camp in the name of Lowest Common Denominator, or, pardon the joke, Lowest Common Denomination. Jesus is just a moral teacher for all these folks – he’s not God, he didn’t found a Church, and he certainly didn’t die for love of “our enemies” as well as us! The miracles of the Bible are just awkward. The Creation story isn’t true but only useful to deny (or support) climate theories that are popular in one’s party. The stories of Israel and Jesus have nothing to do with God’s actual commands for action in the world. They speak of “Divine Hospitality” but only for the right sort of people. As one pastor said, hearing a parishioner pray for the wrong Christians, “We pray for their conversion!” President Elect Obama changed his church to please conservatives and President Elect Trump seems to enjoy rallying the conservatives even though he has no church to go to. Both play the political game with the political church folks. They don’t actually believe the stuff, and if they could get political coalitions leading to victory without the “religious” vote, they would.
The problem is NOT that politicians play games with people of faith, because show me a politician that is not a gamer. The problem we’re discussing here is that people of faith let themselves be gamed in other to get power. Which, of course, means they’re not people of faith at all but just passive aggressive politicians who say they have no sin. If we say we have no sin, we make God a liar.
Today we celebrate the Holy Innocents whom some see as a type of the babies slain by their mothers even today. I don’t think that’s fair, although, it is true that the Gov’t seems to have a vested interest in this process of killing. . The babies sacrificed to idols of greed and lust in the Old Testament are a better sign for that problem, theologically. The Babes of Bethlehem seem to me signs of indiscriminate killing – especially if it’s done in the name of political expediency. They are signs of the atomic bombs, the gas chambers, the gulag. Tomorrow, though, we get to the Becket phase. Will you or I be able to persevere until the end? I will pray for you. Pray that I can be martyred because I might last that long. Attrition is hard to survive – especially when they offer a good severance package.
The Confessing Church will get smaller and smaller by attrition, and, perhaps, to God’s glory, by martyrdom. But attrition will be much more attractive. The seed of the Church is not watered by attrition.
That God is light, and in him there is no darkness.
Quoniam Deus lux est, et tenebræ in eo non sunt ullæ.
The Church will have to be careful. As things get tighter, the darkness on both the right and the left will expand, and draw closer to each other, hemming her in on both sides. But darkness is only an absence of light: the Church must be that light.
But if we say we have sinned… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity. we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
But if you say you have no sin anyway… who needs Jesus?