1 John 4:12
No one has ever seen God;
but if we love one another,
God lives in us
and his love is made complete in us.

That is an amazing verse. John Stott points out in his commentary on the letters of John that the phrase, No one has ever seen God, is found also at the end of the prologue to John’s gospel. (John 1:18)
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

How can God be known? In his gospel John says, The one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Stott writes:
But here [in 1 John 4], to our astonishment and confusion, John goes on to say that if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. That is, the unseen God, who once revealed himself in his Son, now reveals himself in his people if and when they love one another.

I preached last Sunday from Colossians 1 about the supremacy of Jesus and quoted Hebrews 1:3 “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” To see Jesus is to see God. Now John writes that God is seen in his community of beloved sons and daughters when we love each other.

This is amazing and convicting. Amazing because the glory of God is revealed in the lives of his followers and convicting because we so clearly and evidently fail to love each other well enough – with the consequence that the world often has a difficult time seeing God in the church.

Salvation is not simply what happens between me and God or between you and God. Salvation is not separate from community. It is not as though we are saved and then we can add on community as a fringe benefit. In a restaurant you order a steak and then if you want you can add on a mushroom sauce or a pepper sauce to go with it. Community is not a sauce to add to salvation; our salvation is tied up with the community into which we are saved and in which we are being saved.

Brennan Manning writes:
We belong to God’s people. Christianity can never be an affair that simply embraces our individual happiness. [Easter] spirituality avoids any exaggerated form of Christian individualism – a “Jesus and me” mentality. God did not call us into salvation in isolation but in community. Our personal destiny is but part of his magnificent saving plan that includes in its sweep not only the entire human community but the whole of creation, the inauguration of the new heavens and the new earth.

I often talk about how our understanding of our life in Christ needs to start with the relationships in the Trinity. Everything in our Christian life begins with the Trinity. Let me refresh your memory.

For an eternity before the big bang, before the creation of the universe, the triune God existed in relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit.

Michael Reeves wrote a book titled, Delighting in the Trinity, and in his book he asks the question: What was God doing before creation? His answer is that before creation the triune God existed in relationships of love,

“Jesus tells us explicitly in John 17:24. ‘Father,’ he says, ‘you loved me before the creation of the world.’ And that is the God revealed by Jesus Christ. Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son.”… “God is, before all things, a Father . . .“The Spirit stirs up the delight of the Father in the Son and the delight of the Son in the Father, inflaming their love and so binding them together in ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ (2 Cor 13:14).”

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed for an eternity before the creation of the universe in a harmony of love and unity.

In this relationship, the triune God has needs that are perfectly met within the relationships of the Trinity. Ellis Potter, in his book titled Three Theories of Everything, points out that we have needs to be seen, to be heard, to make a difference, and to be wanted. We want to be recognized, respected, and honored. We want to belong, to be affirmed, and valued.

These are not signs of weakness. These are not human frailties. We are created with these needs because we are created in the image of God who has these same needs. The difference between our needs and the needs of our creator is that the needs of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfectly met within the relationships of the Trinity, while we are created with needs that are unmet without a relationship with Jesus. God does not need us, but we need God. God wants us but does not need us.

Because the focus in the triune God is outward: the Father loves and encourages the Son and Spirit; the Son supports and blesses the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit values and gives glory to the Father and the Son. Each member of the Trinity submits to the others in the Trinity.

It is because of this outward focus that we were created. We were created to be in relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit. We were created to delight in the relationships Father, Son, and Spirit enjoyed for an eternity before the universe was created.

We were created to live in community, loving and caring for each other, supporting each other – just as Father, Son, and Spirit love, care for, and support each other.

Jesus prayed in his High Priestly prayer in John 17 (John 17:22)
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one

We each need to choose to follow Jesus, but our following of Jesus is meant to be in community, not as individuals. This is why we are on earth: we are given new life as we are born into the family of God. We are making our way through this life, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, being prepared to live in eternal fellowship with God and his spiritual children.

So who should we look to as we look for a model for our community in RIC? We should look to the relationships of the Trinity. How do we know what those relationships look like? We can look to the lists of behavior Paul encourages us to have in our communities.

(Philippians 2:1–5)
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

In telling us what behaviors are healthy for community, Paul is writing about behaviors in the relationships of the triune God. We are meant to exhibit these behaviors because this is the mindset of Christ Jesus.

Paul writes in Colossians (Colossians 3:12–14)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Wouldn’t you like to be a member of a community that was like this? Where the people around you were compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, and loving?

In his Galatians letter Paul talks about destructive behaviors. (Galatians 5:19–21)
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

Why are these behaviors so destructive? Because they destroy the community we are meant to live within. Look at this list. What effect does hatred have on a relationship? Or fits of rage? Or selfish ambition? Or factions or envy?

Instead, Paul writes, let the fruit of the Spirit abound in your life.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

A few years ago I preached a sermon about hell and I described hell as a place with the absence of the fruit of the Spirit – a place where there is no love, no joy, no kindness, no faithfulness, no gentleness or self-control. When you envision a world like that, it is so much more horrible than any metaphorical tongues of flame licking at your feet.

These New Testament lists of behavior teach us how to live in community. They show us how to model ourselves after the relationships between Father, Son, and Spirit.

We are created to live in community, but most of us are not living in a country we call our home. For most of us, RIC is a temporary church home – but the reality is that all of our church homes are temporary. We are pilgrims moving through this life and wherever we are, we need to encourage and support those who are with us.

As I leave RIC, let me share what kind of community I long and pray for as Chris and Elliot lead you in the coming years.

  1. I want RIC to continue to be a vibrant, thriving community. Some cultures are better at living in community than others. Those of us from Western cultures have a high value of individualism that works against community. We are here for just a few years and then move on to another country, another church, and can be comfortable with more superficial relationships. But regardless of what culture we have come from, we have a deep need for community that is not satisfied by superficial relationships. For our own good, we need to have a strong desire for a vibrant, loving community.

Don’t settle for superficial relationships. Reach out and invest in friendships in the RIC community that will feed you, encourage you, support you, help you to grow in wisdom and faith. I pray that you will become increasingly dependent on each other for your life in Christ and the working out of your faith in the world.

  1. I want the community of RIC to be accepting of each other, not judgmental. One of the barriers to community is that we are fearful of being judged if the truth about us is discovered. But the reality is that we are all broken people.

Eugene O’Neill, an American playwright who knew a lot about being broken wrote, “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”

Sometimes this is obvious to others; sometimes this is well hidden, well disguised. I have known some very impressive people at RIC over the years, people who have risen in their profession, people who seem to have it all put together. But when they are honest with me and trust me enough to be real with me, I discover the deep wounds that have been so well covered over.

We hide very well. To use a trivial example, it was not until I was in my forties that I finally accepted the fact that I was an adult. It seemed like everyone else my age was an adult, but I was only pretending to be an adult. This is not just me. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, wrote, “I believe that everyone else my age is an adult whereas I am merely in disguise.”

I know I am broken. I have shared with you my spiritual struggles, how counseling has been helpful for my marriage, for my relationships with others, and for my relationship with God.

We are all broken but we hide our brokenness from each other because we fear being rejected if the truth were known. But we all need people we can be honest with who will love us, not judge us. We all need to experience grace and mercy in our lives. I pray that all of us in the RIC community will develop friendships where we can experience grace and not judgment.

  1. I want us to be affirming and encouraging of each other.

We need acceptance and we also need affirmation and encouragement. Once again, this is not a human frailty. Father, Son, and Spirit also need affirmation and encouragement. How was Jesus able to respond so lovingly to people who rejected him? How was Jesus able to draw Saul/Paul into his kingdom after all the things Saul said and did as he persecuted the followers of Jesus? How does Jesus continue to reach out and pursue people who have worked so actively against him?

Jesus is loved, encouraged, and affirmed by the Father and by the Spirit. He is secure because he is so well loved.

Why do we shut down and push people away when they reject us, betray us, work against us? We are not secure in being loved. We are filled with inner doubts, inner insecurities. So we build up a wall around us to protect ourselves and to present a better image of ourselves than we really are.

In a community of brothers and sisters who love us, encourage us, forgive us, give us another chance, we can begin to let down those walls. A loving and encouraging community is a healing community.

  1. I want us be vulnerable.

In a loving community we can be vulnerable. We do not have to defend ourselves. We do not have to protect ourselves by hiding who we are. We can be open and vulnerable which is necessary if we are going to be healed of the pain in our lives. I want RIC to be a place where wounded people can come to be loved and find healing.

Pierce Pettis has a song titled, Crying Ground.

No need to hide what’s going on
Your story’s all over town
But it’s all right if everything is all wrong
Just come on down to the crying ground

Dark skies, feels like rain
Why, look at all those thunder clouds
I’ll bet that dam is just about to break
Better come on down to the crying ground

Come on down to the crying ground
Let your tears be holy water
Rolling down your face, ain’t no disgrace
Come on down to the crying ground

I can see you want to steal away
Where you will never be found
But sometimes everybody feels this way
So come on down to the crying ground

Come on down to the crying ground
Let your tears be holy water
Rolling down your face, ain’t no disgrace
Come on down to the crying ground

No need to tell me what you’re going through
Cause, sister, I’ve been
right where you are now
You know exactly what you need to do
So come on down, down, down, down…

We are talking holy water
Rolling down your face, ain’t no disgrace
Come on down to the crying ground

I want our community at RIC to be a crying ground where we can share our pain, be loved and encouraged, and find healing for our pain. I want RIC to be a crying ground where we can share our pain and be met with love, grace, and mercy rather than with judgement or indifference.

  1. I want us to be authentic.

Little children play pretend. They may dress up in adult clothes and pretend to be doctors, police officers, teachers, or soldiers. They pretend they are parents caring for little children.

Adults continue to play pretend. A couple can be fighting and arguing all week long. On the way to church there is a cold silence. Then they arrive, park the car, get out, and walk into church with big smiles. Adults are very good at pretending.

The problem with this is that our pretending blocks what God wants to do in our lives. This kind of pretending is really blocking out reality and that blocks out God as well as other people. We may look better in the eyes of other people but God grieves because he cannot work in us when we are so closed.

When we pretend, our community becomes weak and superficial. When the world looks at a church community like this, what they see is not Jesus but hypocrisy.

But if our community is accepting, not judgmental, affirming and encouraging of each other, we can be vulnerable and live authentic lives with each other – and then the world will see Jesus in our relationships.

  1. I want RIC to be a community that delights in diversity.

It is clear that God delights in diversity. Take a look at his creation. Look at the incredible variety of flowers, fish, birds, insects, and mammals. From whales and elephants down to the level of microbes, the beauty and variety of creation is astounding.

The human world is just as diverse with different races, cultures, languages, and dialects. One of the things that makes RIC such a wonderful place is that we see that diversity in the people of our community. In pre-covid times we had 35-40 nationalities in our worship services. The races of the world are present in our community.

Diversity presents challenges. We have to work harder to overcome language barriers. We have to work our way around cultural differences. We have to navigate our way through different denominational expectations.

But the work we do results in friendships that enrich our lives. The work we do results in growth that takes place in our lives that would never happen if we had stayed within our own culture.

You can be annoyed by our diversity or you can delight in it. Choose to delight in diversity as God delights in diversity.

  1. Above all, I want RIC to be a community that loves and is loved.

Brennan Manning writes:
According to the evangelical criterion for holiness, the person closest to the heart of Jesus Christ is not the one who prays the most, studies Scripture the most, or the one who has the most important position of spiritual responsibility entrusted to his or her care. It is the one who loves the most, and that is not my opinion. It is the Word who will judge us.

Where does Brennan Manning get this from?

Listen to what Jesus said in John 13:34–35,
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Listen to the often quoted words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1–13
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The ability of a community of followers of Jesus to love each other because they know how much they are loved is the defining mark of spiritual maturity.

When John was a young follower of Jesus, he and his brother James had a nickname given to them by Jesus. Do you remember what that was? Jesus called them Sons of Thunder. Why?

Jesus and his disciples were walking to Jerusalem and passed through Samaria. The disciples had begun healing and casting out demons, just as Jesus had been doing and they were excited about what they were able to do. A Samaritan village refused to welcome them because they were going to Jerusalem. How did James and John, the Sons of Thunder, respond? (Luke 9:54)
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

In his younger years John was driven to do, driven to accomplish, driven to make things happen. In his older years John talked about love. Why? Because he had matured spiritually.

The 4th-century theologian Jerome tells a story about the Apostle John. John was old and frail, unable to walk, so his disciples would carry him into the gathering of believers on the Lord’s Day. Every week these were his words to the congregation: “Little children, love one another.”

This went on week after week, until at last, more than a little weary of these repeated words, his disciples asked him, “Master, why do you always say this?”

“Because,” John replied, “it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough.”

John wrote (1 John 4:19) “We love because he first loved us.” This takes us back to the beginning, the beginning of this sermon and the beginning of all things.

Once again, a quote from Michael Reeves taken from his book, Delighting in the Trinity,
Such are the problems with non-triune gods and creation. Single-person gods, having spent eternity alone, are inevitably self-centered beings, and so it becomes hard to see why they would ever cause anything to exist. Wouldn’t the existence of a universe be an irritating distraction for the god whose greatest pleasure is looking in a mirror? … Everything changes when it comes to the Father, Son and Spirit. Here is a God who is not essentially lonely but who has been loving for all eternity as the Father has loved the Son in the Spirit. Loving others is not a strange or novel thing for this God at all; it is at the root of who he is.

1 John 4:16
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

God is love because God has always, for eternity, been in loving relationships. That is why Paul writes (1 Corinthians 13:13) “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

How can RIC become a community that reveals to the world who God is?

It begins by experiencing the love of God. This can be a solitary experience but it is also a community experience. In our private devotional times and in our corporate times of Bible study and worship, we need to open our hearts to the love of God that is poured out on us.

We need to have prayer for inner healing and counseling that helps us understand the reasons we have blocked our hearts from being open to the love of God. As we have greater understanding and experience healing, we will have a stronger experience of the love of God in our lives. We will feel, deep down, that we are loved and loveable.

As we feel loved we will be better able to love.

Brennan Manning writes:
[Easter] spirituality says that the truest test of discipleship is the way we live with each other in the community of faith. It is as simple and as demanding as that. In our words and deeds we give shape and form to our faith every day. We make people a little better or leave them a little worse. We either affirm or deprive, enlarge or diminish the lives of others.

The kingdom, Jesus tells us, is in our very midst, in the mystery of our relationships with each other.

Community is not an option for a follower of Jesus. Community is our life, our most powerful witness, our eternal future.

I have shared with you this morning the kind of community I long and hope for. I know we are imperfect and our community will be just as imperfect as we are, but I am reaching for the stars. I am reaching toward how it will be in our eternal home.

May God bless us as we walk together through the remaining years of our earthly life.