Sunday, May 10, 2015

God's Framily Plan

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
6This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
Have you seen this ad for a cell phone framily plan? 

This ad campaign was odd and unsuccessful, but it helped to popularize a new word—Framily.


People in a framily are both blood relatives and friends who care for one another they way a family might. Maybe you have some people in your life who are like that. People that you love and care about as if they were your siblings who share no blood relation.

The ad campaign took great pains to show how different each member of the framily was. One of the more popular commercials in the series showed them gathered around the table for a framily dinner and I couldn’t help but think of the way the church gathers different people around Christ’s table.

Churches have been framilies long before advertisers came up with the word. We have had our “church families” almost as long as we have had churches.

A church is a group of unrelated people who love Jesus Christ and care for each other, even if they don’t have very much in common. The idea of a framily emerged with the Christian church as Christ commanded us to love beyond the boundaries of our blood relations. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob became the God of Samaritans, Greeks and Romans.

Suddenly, you didn’t have to be Jewish to be in relationship with God. Jesus built relationships with Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slave and free. Since then, millions of people have been adopted into God’s framily plan.

This week we are again studying 1 John. Remember, 1 John is written for people in a fractured community.  Biblical scholars think that 1 John is written to correct the teaching about the separation of the human and divine Christ. Some people left John’s church saying that Jesus humanity and divinity were separate not combined. 1 John was written to remind the followers that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. It was written to remind this framily that they are God’s beloved.

Today we are going to explore the way that obedience ties in to love in the Gospel of John and 1 John. There are some similarities and differences between our participation in God’s framily and choosing a cell phone contract.

Contracts are a Biblical idea, but they are called covenants. In the Old Testament God and Israel are in a covenant agreement—kind of like a contract. In Exodus we see the basic covenant is this: I shall be your God, and you shall be my people.

The basic terms of this contract or covenant are laid out in a very familiar Old Testament passage—the one where Moses gets the 10 commandments. Then Jesus comes along and says, “I give you a new commandment, Love one another as I have loved you. “

Now Jesus’ new commandment doesn’t mean the old commandments are invalid. Our passage today shows us that keeping the original ten commandments is a way of showing we love God and one another. But in his life and death, Jesus illustrates another way of living out the covenant—by feeding, healing, forgiving, and laying down one’s life for you and me.

The idea of covenant or contract with God is as old as the Old Testament. God’s Framily Plan has been around for a long time. But sometimes we need to look at things differently to understand them in our world. Here’s how God's covenant and commandments look when we think of it in terms of a cell phone contract:

For more information on how cell
phones (or any gadgets) work see
Like our cell phone plans, God’s framily plan is for connection.  The commandments in both testaments are ways of preserving the peace and creating community among people. In John’s gospel and the letter of 1 John, faith in Christ and love for one another are the main points of emphases. Our readings from John and 1 John show us love is everywhere, love connects God and Christ, Christ and us, love connects us to God, us with each other. Love surrounds us and connects us in powerful ways.

Now, I don’t know about you, but cell phones are a glorious mystery to me. I know that I can talk the people I love and care about because a wireless radio signal is picked up, repeated and decoded by some sophisticated electronics in cell towers. I’m thankful to the inventors, scientists and engineers who have created this. Love is a glorious mystery, too. It connects us to people across time and space in ways that we can’t describe. I am thankful the many ways in which God connects people.

Like a cell phone contract, God’s covenant costs something. We can’t walk into a store and tell the clerk we’d walk out with a phone to talk, text and tweet for free. That just doesn’t happen. We have to pay for a phone and a contract. In fact, we don’t just pay once, it’s an ongoing payment month after month after month.

We don’t have to PAY to be in covenant with God. But, the relationship comes with expectations. In both John and 1 John we see a clear call to obey God’s commandments. Now, it’s not like phone contract where we have to pay or our service gets shut off. No, God’s service is always on and available to us. But it’s not a free ride.  God and Jesus have expectations for us. 1 John tells us that we are expected to love God and love one another in both word and deed.  The Gospel of John says we are to bear fruit for the good of God’s kingdom. Jesus shows us what that fruit looks like—feeding, healing, forgiving and laying down one’s life.

A contract with God is less about what we get and more about what we give. Jesus demonstrates that over and over again in his ministry. God gives up the glory of heaven for the incarnation, God with us.  Jesus gives up his life so that we can be reconciled, Christ crucified. The Bible tells us that love means laying down our lives for friends. Giving is holy behavior. Making our “payment” in God’s covenant is done by loving and giving.

Next, our contracts commit us to certain limits.  My family phone plan has data limits. That means, we will occasionally get a text or email that says we are approaching a limit and that if we go over it, we will have to pay more. That’s when we have to turn off the cellular data and stop watching videos on our phones or else we parents get cranky since we have to pay the bill. If you use a pre-paid phone plan, your limit really is a limit. It means that your phone shuts off once you use up the minutes or megabytes.

Our contract with God commits us to certain limits, too. Limits that we choose to obey out of love. Jesus command "Love one another as I have loved you" is more of an open invitation, a positive command. But, when we think of the 10 commandments, we usually see a list of limits.

God limits who and how we worship. The Ten Commandments say: You shall not have any god before me, you shall not make images or take the name of the Lord in vain. These put limits on our relationship with God. These are like God’s copyright laws limiting how we can depict and talk about God.

Then there are the moral imperatives of do not lie, steal, commit adultery, murder or covet. These limit how we behave with each other. (If you are counting, that was only eight. The other two commandments in the Big 10 are Remember the Sabbath and Honor your Mother and Father, positive commands).

So, there is a difference in the way the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are presented, but they both describe the same behavior. The 10 Commandments create an orderly community by placing limits on bad behavior, saying thou shalt not.

The New Testament creates an orderly community by calling people to live out a higher standard. We see this standard though Jesus’ living example and his call to love. Love God and love your neighbor.

It’s important to note that the goal of both covenants is the same. Jesus and later the writers in John's church can give positive commandments because Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. He is the living, breathing example of obedience to the Old Testament limits, including the 10 commandments.

The gospel and the epistle both call us to obey the commandments and abide in Christ. Our actions should demonstrate our love for God and one another. Jesus had no patience for the people who claimed to love God but didn’t show love to their neighbors. He called them hypocrites.

There is freedom in the covenantal limits. Even though our phones and our religion come with a contract and limits, they still enhance our lives. Most of us don't refuse the phone because it comes with a contract or cost, though I know some people do.

We know that the contract actually gives us access to the many features that our phones offer—connection, information, and even inspiration.  Our covenant with God is similar. Being a Christian does come with expectations and limits, but in a strange way, when we live within the limits we discover a more expansive life.

Like the mystery of cellular service and the mystery of love, this expansive life within God’s limits is hard to explain and understand. It’s a feeling of connecting to something bigger than yourself and knowing you are loved in the smallest part of yourself. It’s limiting and freeing. Take lying for example. Lying can be a easy way to live, until you have to start remembering which lies you have told which people. Pretty soon you are trapped in a web of falsehood.

But if you follow the commandment not to lie, you are free to life more authentic relationships with people. You are free to speak and act without worrying about what you said yesterday or what you told her brother.

Rather than being a burden, it's a practice that lets love grow between people and in communities. This is what 1 John is trying to convey when it says the commandments are not burdensome.

Now there is one way that is different from a cell phone contract: God’s Framily Plan allows for unlimited participation. Not everyone in the world can make calls and surf the web just because you bought a contract. And if you can convince the phone company to do that for you, you will have my thanks! But God’s framily plan invites everyone to participate, even if not everyone chooses to.

God desires the reconciliation of everything on earth and in heaven. God loves the world. One person, Jesus, did initiate a new contract for all of humanity on the cross. Jesus makes God's framily plan available to us all.

Jesus invites all kinds of different people to come to the table.  The Gospel of John says that “You did not choose me, I chose you.” 1 John says, Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

Just like cell phone contacts, God’s family plan has morphed into a FRamily plan. It’s not just about your family history, bloodlines or the religion you are born into. God chooses you to participate in the framily plan. You can be part of the covenant of new life. You can choose this contract as a way of showing your love for God and for your neighbors. You can respond to God's invitation to new life. 

In verse 11 of John's Gospel Jesus tells his disciples:  "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." Participating in God’s framily plan, abiding in Christ, and keeping the commandments can to a joyful, loving and eternal life. Following Jesus allows us connect with God and one other, it teaches us to love beyond our limits and deeply roots us in the promise of abundant life of Christ. Thanks be to God.

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