Download or listen to The Feast of All Saints (Observed), “Appearance versus Reality” (1 John 3:1-3)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many people seem to be fascinated with the difference between appearance and reality. There are a lot of movies made to explore this question. One of the most popular, which came out when I was in college, is The Matrix. In case you don’t remember it or never saw it, it asks the question whether what you see with your eyes and experience with your senses is actually reality. Perhaps you’ve been deceived into thinking that this is reality, but reality is something else. Not only that, but you may not want to see reality as it is. Will you take the red pill or the blue pill? And there are others. Like Inception, which asks whether this is reality or a dream, and maybe you’d rather live inside the dream, after all. Or Memento, which questions whether memory is reliable, and perhaps what you think you remember is not real at all. But a long time before these movies were made—a long time before there were movies at all—the Scriptures were dealing with the question of appearance and reality. What actually is real? So we have 1 John 3 before us, and John says, “See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are. Beloved, we are God’s children now.” We are God’s children now. That is the reality. And this same John tells us in his Gospel how we become children of God. He says that the Word who is God, the Word through whom all things were made, this Word became flesh and entered His creation. But His own creation did not receive Him; His own creation rejected Him. But to those who did receive Him, who believed into Him, He gave power, authority, the right, to become children of God. Children who are not born the natural way, from flesh and blood, not born from the will of a man, or the will of human beings, but born from God. And how is it that you get born from God? John records a conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus, where Jesus says, “You must be born again by water and the Spirit.” You can’t enter your mother’s womb again. You have to be born again from above, and that happens by water and the Spirit. When God calls your name, puts His name on you, attaches His Word to that water, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, causes you to be born again. Then your old flesh dies, and a new creation is brought forth. He not only calls you His child, He makes it so. It’s not a fiction or a false reality: you actually are holy, you are righteous, you are sinless. You are everything that Jesus is, except God. But everything He is in His humanity, that’s what you are, the holy child of God. This is the reality.
The problem is, that’s not what we see. That’s not what we experience. That’s not what we feel. And we’re all about feelings and experiences. So if we don’t feel it or experience it, we tend to doubt it. We begin to think that maybe this reality is not actually real. Or if we don’t deny it, we live as if it were not real. We agree with what God says, but we live as if we don’t. Maybe this is all a lie, maybe it’s a fiction. And isn’t that what people say when they stop believing or they cease to be part of some religion? They talk like the mist has cleared, like they have gotten behind the appearance to actual reality. Like they have escaped the matrix, like they have woken up from a dream, like they have escaped a false memory. And how do we know? What proof do we have that they are not right? What can the Scriptures, or John, say to us and to them? Because all we experience and all we see and all we feel seems so opposite, so contrary, to what God says. The promise is eternal life; the promise is holiness; the promise is purity and joy and love. But all we see is death, all we see is unholiness, impurity, unhappiness and apathy. Look around, look in yourself, look in your family, look in your congregation, look in the Church. Do you see in yourself a holy child of God? Do you see in your family holy children of God? Do you see in your congregation or in the Church holy children of God? You do not. And sometimes the world is right when they say that the Church is supposed to be about the love and hope that are in God, and we show them exactly the opposite.
Beloved, we are God’s children now. But, what we will be has not yet been revealed. Now we see sin, and death, and rebellion, and dissension and division and unholiness. Holiness and life and communion and unity have not yet been revealed. What we will be has not yet been revealed. Nevertheless, we have a promise, that when Christ is revealed, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is, in all His crucified and resurrected glory, the Lamb of God slain for all the sins of the world, for your sins and mine. We will see Him and, as St. Paul says to the Philippians, He will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body. And to the Colossians: you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you will be revealed with Him in glory. But this is not just in the future. Most of the times when John uses the word “revealed,” it is about the fact that Jesus has been revealed. He was revealed to destroy the works of the devil. He was revealed to take away sin. Jesus, the Life, has been revealed, John says, and we have seen Him and bear witness to Him and proclaim Him. We see that the reality is not characteristics, not virtues, not holiness or purity or righteousness; the reality is actually a Person, a Man, Jesus. He is the reality, because He is risen from the dead and ascended to the Father. The appearance, what seems so real to us, our humanity, is actually less than human, less than the reality. But since Christ has appeared, the old has gone and the new has come. The old things are shadows; Christ is the substance. Our hope and faith are not in what we will be, but in who Christ is. That is what purifies us, because He is pure. And we have the promise of God.
The promises of God are not like our promises, just like the word of God is not like our words. Our promise can be broken or not kept. Our promises have doubts and uncertainties attached to them. But the promise of God actually does what it says. Let there be light, and there is. Your sins are forgiven, and they are. This is My body and My blood, and it is. We believe the promise, because the one who promises is trustworthy. He is faithful, and He will do it.
For now, the appearance is sin and death. And those things are real. You cannot see behind them to some other reality. That is Buddhism, not Christianity. We walk by faith, not by sight. We believe one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, we don’t see it. We believe the communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting; we don’t see them. What we see is real. But there is a deeper reality, there is a more final Word, and it is the resurrected Jesus. You will see Him as He is, and you will be like Him. For now we feebly struggle; the fight is fierce and the warfare is long. For now we do our best in this world to love our neighbors as ourselves. But in the midst of what you see and experience and feel, listen as that distant triumph song steals on the ear. And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. There will be rest for all the weary. But there is a yet more glorious day, when saints triumphant rise in bright array to meet their King of Glory as He passes on His way. Alleluia, indeed.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/2/13