Text: 1 John 1:1-2:2
I suspect the story I’m about to tell will reveal something about my social location and age, so I may as well tell you that it comes from growing up in a midwestern suburb in the 1970s. I don’t remember precisely where I first experienced this event; it could have been a slumber party or a Girl Scout camp — something of that ilk. What I do remember was the playful practice of telling “ghost stories” (which were usually pretty tame), and of putting on silly skits. This one was a bit of both, and comes across more like the telling of a very juvenile “joke.” I can still picture a group of pajama-clad girls acting this story out, carrying flashlights.
The story goes something like this (I’m going to have to add some details to set this up in a way that makes a bit of sense, because the part I remember best is the punch line): There is this house that is purported to be haunted, but a family buys it anyway, and moves in. The first night that they are settled, the mom gets up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. She goes to the kitchen, and she hears an eerie voice calling out, “Get the spot off the wall! Get the spot off the wall!” She screams and runs back to her room to hide under the covers, and shakes husband awake. She tells him, “There’s a ghost in the kitchen!”
So the husband gets up and investigates. He quietly creeps into the kitchen, carrying a bat he had stashed in the closet. Then he, too, hears the voice: “Get the spot off the wall! Get the spot off the wall!” He drops the bat and runs back to the bedroom, and he and his wife hide under the covers all night. The next day, they make plans to sell the house, if possible, and to leave town the following morning.
But on that second night, the couple’s little child wakes up, climbs out of her bed, and toddles into the kitchen. Again comes the eerie voice: “Get the spot off the wall! Get the spot off the wall!”
The little kid asks: “With what?”
And then a chorus line of menacing ghosts appears (imagine girls with sheets over their heads, who fling them off with a flourish and launch into song):
Comet makes your face turn green!
Comet, Comet tastes like gasoline!
Comet, Comet makes you vomit!
So get some Comet and vomit today!
The end. Applause and laughter ensues.
I’ve never told that story from the pulpit before — but I hear that goofy little song every time I pick up a can of scouring powder, regardless of the brand. It’s really amazing (or cruel!) how the mind works — and how effective advertising can be.
Also stuck in my mind, by virtue of weekly repetition, are these words from 1 John, which were part of the worship liturgy of my childhood, young adulthood, and seminary years:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The community to whom 1 John was written was one that had experienced a conflict and which had divided. We don’t know exactly what the presenting issue was, though it seems to be something about the nature of Jesus Christ — whether his nature was human or divine. What we can ascertain is that a faction had left who claimed that they were completely in the right and that the other was completely in the wrong. These dissenters believed in a strictly “spiritual” Jesus, and claimed they themselves were also “spiritual” and, therefore, sinless.
It’s possible those in this splinter group were leaning toward the new fad called Gnosticism, which, among other things, denied Christ’s humanity and claimed that “bodiliness” did not matter — so by extension, you could do anything with your body. Interest in gnosticism has seen a resurgence in our lifetime, as has interest in being “spiritual” or “spiritual but not religious.”
A seminary professor (Dr. Ninjay Gupta of the multi-denominational Portland Seminary) writes: “Sometimes, I think, we become victims of our own terminology. Often we use ‘spirituality’ in a way that may lead us to think that being a Christian requires spiritual transcendence, leaving behind our bodies and this world, and catapulting our souls into a heavenly plane to achieve peace or holiness.” (Commentary on 1 John 1:1-2:2, April 12, 2015, WorkingPreacher.org)
The author of 1 John had something to say to this.
“God is light, and in God there is no darkness.” Make no mistake: there is darkness in the world, and in our lives, and in ourselves. But light swallows up darkness. Our cracks, as Leonard Cohen famously said, allow light in. Our imperfections remind us of our need for God, and for the power of forgiveness to keep us in relationship with one another.
“Our joy is complete” when we are in “fellowship,” when we are together — warts and all, no matter what the external circumstances may be. Because “in God is light and in God there is no darkness” — because of the power of confession to restore our integrity with God and with one another. Confession and forgiveness is the mechanism by which light fills us and swallows up the darkness.
Get the spot off the wall — or rather, get the spot off your heart and soul … Don’t deny sin, and also don’t fear it.
We are human …. Don’t deny it; don’t fear it.
Maybe even laugh at it a little. Silly humans.
Trust that God made us, that God delights in us, and God loves us, bodies, foibles and all. And God wants to be in relationship with us, and for us to be in relationship with one another. God wants to be in relationship with the “real” us, and as God made us, hardwired us, for each other — for community — our relationships need to be based on the “real” us, too. And forgiveness — grace — is the path to relationship.
You might be wondering how we make this distinction: How can we be imperfect and yet “walk in the light?” By owning up to the reality of sin, the reality of our humanness. Otherwise “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” and in our attempt to deceive others, we become hypocrites.
You’ve probably heard more than one person say, “The reason I don’t go to church is because it’s full of hypocrites.”
Some of us are bold enough — and possess enough healthy self-awareness — to reply: “Yes, and there’s always room for one more.”
For the fellowship circle of grace is open to include everyone — those who are different from us, those who disagree with us, and even those who have wronged us. In the Incarnation, Christ took on flesh, became a fragile, vulnerable human being, who ate and drank and laughed and danced and loved, who suffered, died, was buried, and was raised again to new life, so that we might not fear our bodily imperfections and limitations, that we might live in a community of complicated relationships with other imperfect and broken people, and somehow be the Body of Christ, redeemed by his blood, broken for the sake of the world, yet walking in Light.