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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko


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 3rd Sunday of Easter

1 John 3:1-7

 Becoming 24k

 

Precious Metal

Few precious metals hold the same degree of lure as does gold. It has been associated with the best and worst throughout history. Abraham was said to be a man rich in gold and silver. Moses covered the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant with the metal but that same metal was used to build the infamous Golden Calf when Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness.

Gold has been known and mined since prehistoric times. The earliest known map is of a gold mine Nubia, Egypt. The precious metal was highly valued for ornamentation and rituals. Gold in antiquity was relatively easy to obtain. In nature gold is usually alloyed with silver but is also found with copper, lead and mercury and many other minerals. One of two chemical processes are used to extract the precious metal from the other minerals. The purity of the metal is referred to as a carat. The term comes from the carob seed which has a reputation for having uniform weight. The purity of gold usually ranges from 10 to 22k with most gold coins at 22k. However, pure gold is designated at 24k. At that quality the buyer knows that he or she is purchasing an item that is completely free of all impurities.

Pure Religion

The concept of purity was deeply ingrained in the Jewish faith. In the OT purification had to do with both the removing of all impurities and uncleanliness from an object and/or the act of setting an object or person aside for the exclusive use of worshiping God. The removal of impurities reminded the community that God deserved the very best. The act of dedication focused their attention solely upon Yahweh, the God who brought them out of Egypt. These acts of purification reminded the Jews that their acts of worship were not common ordinary, everyday occurrences. They were sacred. Moses emphasized again and again that all the ceremonial instruments and the people using them in the Tabernacle had to be absolutely pure. They could not have any material or spiritual defect.

" The Lord said to Moses: “Take the Levites from among the other Israelites and make them ceremonially clean."
(Numbers 8:5-6, NIV)

"Moses slaughtered the bull and took some of the blood, and with his finger he put it on all the horns of the altar to purify the altar. He poured out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. So he consecrated it to make atonement for it."
(Leviticus 8:15, NIV)

These ancient practices of ceremonial purification tend to be ridiculed today as superstition. Simply by pouring water over our hands or sprinkling blood upon a piece of furniture does not endow the person or the furniture with special powers. We have forgotten that they were rituals to remind the people to take their religion seriously. Maybe that is why we tend to ridicule them. We are uncomfortable with the idea of having to take our religion seriously. People who take their religion seriously are expected to demonstrate a high level of commitment and great personal sacrifice. We prefer moderate commitment and manageable sacrifice, nothing excess. The author of John had a different understanding of the faith. He believed that believers should do everything necessary to remove every form of impurity from their life. He wanted his readers to strive for 24k purity.

The practice of striving for moral and ethical purity has historically been called in the church the practice of piety. Today either term carries a legalistic meaning. To help us move beyond the negative stigmatization and view piety as the practice by which we shape our lives before God in grateful obedience to what he has done for us. John Calvin wrote a similar definition:

I call piety that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of [God's] benefits induces.

This is what the author of 1 John is essentially saying. He begins the section by saying “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” The word “lavish” is a wonderful paraphrase of the Greek. The literal translation means “to give” but that is such a bare bones description. Love that is so great is more than just given, it is lavished, it is poured out upon the recipient. This love entitles us to a hope that one day we will be made like him. Knowing that our ultimate destination is to be made like him, we should purify ourselves. We do whatever it takes to remove anything that does not reflect God's own nature.

Her childhood years were very difficult. She was raped by her mother's boyfriend who was then killed by her uncles. The event caused the young girl to go mute for six years. She spent her teens and twenties as a dancer but she lived in social isolation from her earlier rape. At 16 she gave birth to a son after which she toured Europe and Africa in the musical Porgy and Bess. In the 60's she joined the Harlem Writer's Guild and became involved in black activism. Her first book, I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings was greeted with critical acclaim. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die . Maya Angelou, along with Robert Frost, was only the second poet ever invited to read a poem at a presidential inauguration. She read On The Pulse of a Morning that had been requested by the then President-elect Bill Clinton.

In 1995 after years of writing award winning literature, she appeared on the Today Show with Bryan Gumble. He asked her if she still had a “Wish List.” Had she set any other goals or objectives that she wanted to accomplish?

"Oh, my Lord, yes," she exclaimed. "I want to become a better writer. I'm very serious about it. It's what I am. It's how I describe myself to myself, and [I want to be] a better human being. I'm trying to be a Christian, which is no small matter. I mean it -- I'm always amazed É when [people] walk up to me and say, 'I'm a Christian,' I always think, 'Already? You've already got it?' My goodness."1

Maya Angelou was not going to allow her professional or spiritual life to become contaminated by impurities. She wanted to continue to improve; to continue to strive to make herself better. She wanted to become pure 24k gold.

Whatever the reason, too many Christians allow the impurities of their spiritual lives to remain. They allow the materialism of the age to strangle their growth. They allow the prejudices and bigotries of their generation to stymie their maturity. They allow their doubt and fears to hold them back from accomplishing great things for God. The author of 1 John encouraged his readers to engage in an ongoing process in which they were constantly trying to remove the sludge from their lives.

In his book on Reformed Spirituality, Howard Rice, a former professor in spirituality outlines three practices in which Christians should constantly practice. First he states that we should display Generosity toward those in need. The pages of the gospels are filled with stories that speak of this other person orientation. In response to a question by a lawyer on the subject of who is my neighbor Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. He challenged the rich young man to sell all that he had and to give the proceeds to the poor. He warned the rich that they could easily become preoccupied with expanding their fields and building bigger barns at the expense of their souls. He praised that wee little man Zacchaeus for being willing to reimburse everyone who he cheated and giving half his possessions to the poor. Once again this is consistent with the writings of John Calvin who wrote “Christ is either neglected or honored in the person who needs our assistance.”2

The second practice that is often neglected in our over-indulgent society is Frugality. Rice saw this world as a gift of God and therefore a place to enjoy. We should not completely abstain from the pleasure of this earth but we should be careful about excesses. Because of the sinful condition of our hearts, we have a tendency to want to abuse our opportunities of pleasure. Our greed drives us to hoard. We should practice restraint through fasting. This fasting should not be limited to just a 40 day period before Easter. In fact, John Calvin would be appalled if we limited are fasts to just that period. He would also be appalled if we limited our fasts to food. Our fasts should include every area of our life. From the food we eat to the vacations we take. From the cars we buy to our homes. By fasting, by doing without, by exercising self restraint we detach ourselves from the entangling grip of material possessions. By making a conscious choice to buy a smaller car not because we have to but because we see it as a result of our spiritual life we demonstrate that God is truly first in our lives.

There will also be times when we believe that we must completely abstain from something. It could be food, sports, or a hobby. Such a fast is not done for self abasement or to punish but is designed to exercise self discipline and mastery over our desires. Review the lives of great women and men and two qualities always stand out. First each has a superior level of intelligence over their colleagues. Secondly they will have a high level of self discipline and be able to say in order to accomplish a goal or objective. The spiritual life requires the same.

The third practice of the spiritual life that must be practiced on a daily basis is Obedience. By obedience I am referring to the moral and ethical commands of the law. The church is divided over how it understands this. The conservatives emphasize the sexual standards of the Law. They argue that God created us to find our sexual completeness only through the union of a man and a woman in marriage. They consider anything outside of these parameters to be a transgression of God's law. On the other end of the theological spectrum the liberals remind us that usury or the practice of loaning money at a high interest rate was equally abhorrent in the OT. John Calvin wrote that “moneylenders sit at their ease without doing anything and receive tribute from the labor of all other people.” Calvin would have just as harsh words for the money managers of Wall Street as he would for the sexually promiscuous. Jesus told his disciples, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Mt 28:18-20

The author of 1 John says that the Christian is a person who is on their way to seeing God and being made like him. To this end there can be no imperfections. God will not settle for 10k, or even 14k Christians. He wants us to remove all the impurities of our lives so that we become as pure as 24k gold.




1Transcript of the NBC Today Show, March 8, 1995 (Burrelle's Information Services, 1995), 48.

2John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries: The Harmony of the Gospels : Calvin's Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998).

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