The Third Sunday of Easter, Year B, St. Paul’s Church, Franklin

“Little children, let no one deceive you” (1 Jo. 3:7).

“Fake news” is a thing these days. I guess we’ve all heard about it. There are several strands. First, politicians accuse the news media of creating its own news, promoting items that are not really newsworthy or perhaps not even true, but interjected into the news cycle for frankly partisan purposes. For its part, the mainstream media accuses these same politicians of promoting misleading falsehoods and practicing deception on the public. Not just spin run amok, but plain old-fashioned lying.

A third strand adds another dimension. Foreign nationals are under indictment for promoting “fake news” of their own through manipulation of social media. Interested parties seek to undermine Western governments by spreading rumor and falsehood, perhaps influencing public opinion and deceiving unwary voters. As the old Latin tag puts it, “Let the reader beware”. At the very least, the notion of “fake news” is destabilizing in and of itself; a specter that undercuts our faith in our political institutions and our leadership. Whatever the case, “fake news” is in the news, and in that sense at least has ceased to be fake and has become news itself.

“Little children, let no one deceive you” (1 Jo. 3:7). Our reading from the First Letter of John is a solemn warning to the church not to be taken in by false teaching, the “fake news” of its day. Just as we try to wade through the news ourselves in order to determine what’s fake and what’s not, so the early Christians has to discern what they could rely upon as truth and what they should discount as falsehood. Just as the reader must beware when looking into his or her news feed, so Jesus’ followers have to be on their guard.

Our reading makes a number of affirmations, references to truths that the members of the church can rely on. “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (Jo. 3:1). The apostle John is speaking here of God’s love of us, of our identity as God’s children, and affirming our destiny. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed” (Jo. 3:2). There’s that reference to something more, a glory not yet revealed, that lies ahead for the children of God. None of this, our identity and our destiny, seems to be in dispute.

All well and good. Yet there seem to be things that are up for grabs in this letter. St. John reminds his readers of things they “know”, a “tell” if there ever one was. If they really know them and they’re not disputed, then why remind people? “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 Jo. 3:2). The “something more” points us to Jesus’ resurrection, the glory that will be shared with us: our destiny. Then again, “You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 Jo. 3:5). Among the truths we can rely upon, a part of our identity, is that Jesus, the sinless one, has taken away our sins.

We don’t know precisely what the dispute back then was: St. John is too good a communicator to detail his opponents’ position. But clearly there is a bit of “fake news” at work among his readers. “Little children, let no one deceive you” (1 Jo. 3:7), as he says. Amidst lies and distortion, there is a truth that is certain and sure, and a Person who is reliable and can be counted on to save.

This is “good news”, the antidote to “fake news” if there ever was one. “Little children, let no one deceive you” (1 Jo. 3:7). Good news is “Gospel”, and it brings with it clarity and truth. Good news puts no stock in manipulation because it doesn’t need to rely on such flimsy weapons. St. Paul in the Letter to the Colossians actually calls this good news of Jesus' death and resurrection “the word of the truth” (Col. 1:5). It is truth, not lies, with a power to save for all who believe in Christ.

Truth in the Gospel sense is something more than facts. Knowledge, the things that his readers “know” (as he says in the letter) requires commitment. It’s a matter of belief. Knowledge is based on evidence and testimony, sure enough, but it demands something more from us. Nobody stakes his or her life on facts, even news reports from an unbiased source, but on belief, commitment to the truth. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, demands nothing less.

“You are witnesses of these things” (Lk. 24:48), Jesus says in our Gospel today. Risen from the dead, he calls his followers, and all of us, to be witnesses ourselves. We’re extending this witness as we celebrate confirmation today. In our liturgy today we’re sharing the good news, news that contradicts the “fake news” of this world.

What might be our headlines for this “good news”? First headline: “Death is not the end”. Second: “There is forgiveness of sins”. Third: “New beginnings are possible for those who believe”. This Gospel contradicts the “fake news” of this world. “Little children, let no one deceive you” (1 Jo. 3:7). These are the things we “know”. This is not “fake news” but “good news”: faithful, reliable, and true. This is news that is meant to be shared, news that needs to get out, and we are the source.

  • The Rt. Rev'd John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee