Monday, September 9, 2013

little children

Parents and wee goslings in Stratford, ON
Let me start by confessing that I do not always love people very well, so in my continuing journey to learn how to be a better lover, I invited our faith community to study 1 John together with me. Who better to learn from than the disciple of love, the writer who penned "God is love?" I thought taking a close look at 1 John would be a great way to immerse myself and our faith community in the aspects of love. Well, in the first two chapters of 1 John there has been little said about love. Like I mentioned in a post I recently wrote about the frequent impropriety of our questions (a funeral and a wedding), I find that often I come to a subject (like suffering or love) with quite a closed mind.  I have already decided what things I would like to learn, what questions are important, roughly what the answers should look like, and am already looking forward to how much better equipped this will make me when discussing the topic. That's a pretty limited approach, I know.

One of the reasons I love reading the Bible and studying theology is because I always encounter a lot of surprises. Here is what struck me most about the second chapter of 1 John: his modes of address. He uses little children five times.  He also calls the recipients of his letter parents (fathers) two times and young people (young men) twice. It seems fairly obvious that he is not addressing different age groups, but reminding his dear friends about different aspects of their relationship to God, the eternal one. Here is what I believe these terms of endearment are saying.

1. "Little ones" speaks about belonging: Children belong in a family simply by being born, and this is the same for our status with God.  Forgiveness through Christ Jesus means that we belong.  As little children we know our heavenly Father, not because we have studied long and hard or have a lifetime of experience to reference, but because we are his children. We recognize him because he is our Father.

2. "Parents" refers to responsibility:  John's comment to parents is the exact same both times: "You have known the one who existed from the beginning."  I see two main aspects that John is calling people to: to remember what they have learned from seeing, touching, hearing, and experiencing Jesus and to pass on these stories to the younger ones.

3. "Young people" speaks of action: The writer speaks here with reference to their strength, their ability to overcome evil, and their commitment to carry the word of God within them. The focus here is on action, on transforming their environment because they have been transformed themselves.

My incredibly clever husband observed that this pattern is remarkably similar to the Vineyard values of belong-believe-behave where we as faith communities first create an atmosphere where people belong, then out of this place of safety people begin to embrace the values of Jesus, and finally, their actions start to reflect a transformation.  Good point, Dean!

What is the important point for me here (reflected by the author's 5-time repetition) is that we never lose our identity as little children.  We must never forget that we belong. All knowledge of God, all righteousness, all wisdom, all truth, all overcoming of evil, and all confidence stem from this belonging. We are little children. This is not a term hinting at immaturity; it is one of the most meaningful and precious things a Father can say to his beloved.

Matte, the little child, from Montreal

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