We Purify in Hope

How Shall We Live

Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

Easter is such a joyous, colorful, and vibrant celebration! Now in Eastertide, this second Sunday, Christ is still risen! The Creation is still waking up!

This is going to be a gripping title, don’t you think? “We Purify in Hope.” We walk, okay. We abide, certainly. But we purify? How’s that going to work in your context? Maybe your community has been wrestling with the issues raised with “purity culture,” which sounds great on the surface but tends to elevate certain behaviors – or abstentions from certain behaviors – as more normative to the Christian faith than others. Much is said about sexual sins but not much about a host of other priorities to which Jesus drew attention. Maybe you have become aware of the emphasis on shame and not on redemption or grace. Maybe purity in your context is an unattainable ideal that only serves to frustrate those who are seeking to be disciples and to follow Jesus but find it simply too onerous and therefore are more likely to give up before really beginning.

On the other hand, maybe the idea of purity works for you. Maybe you understand the need to approach behavior or orthopraxis (right action) along with orthodoxy – or right belief. That is the point John is making in this text. Notice how hope sits alongside this action of purification. It is hope, claims John – or the Johannine community – that leads to a desire for purity. And the model for this purity is Jesus. We purify ourselves as he is pure (v 3). With Christ, it is fulfilled – as he is pure. For us, it is a process; we purify ourselves. We are in the process of becoming like Christ. This doesn’t mean that there is no destination, no striving, but it does mean that we have as much grace with ourselves as Christ would have with us.

And how much grace is that? “See what love,” the text begins, “that the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.” See what love! Do you hear the sense of amazement? Do you hear the joy that is inherent in this mind-blowing concept? For that is what we are, John writes, children, the very children of God. Incredible! This is the hope by which we are living, hope not as in an empty or vain wish. We are living in the new reality that has redefined our existence. We enter this Easter season with grateful joy, with the celebration of a new experience of life, and a promise that drives us to follow the path of Jesus.

But wait, if we keep reading, it seems like the joy is short-lived. We are given an impossible standard. “In him there is no sin” (3:5), we read. “No one who abides in him sins” (3:6). Now we’re in trouble. What began in joy now comes crashing down in the reality of failure. “There is no place for us,” we think, since no one who abides in him sins. And we are too painfully aware of our own sinfulness. We just came through the season of Lent and the self-examination there brought our sinfulness and our mortality into our awareness yet again. We can pretend to be sinless. Or can we? Go back a couple of chapters; go back to last week’s text! We just read this! If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (I John 1:8). So, in chapter one, we admit our sinfulness; but in chapter three, we are called to be sinless to abide. How can this be?

Perhaps it would be helpful to translate verses five and six a little differently. What if those verses read:

“You know that he was revealed to take away sin, and in him, sin does not continue to abide. No one who abides in him continues to sin (or is defined by sinning) and no one who continues to sin (or is defined by sin) has seen him or known him.”

In Christ, Paul tells us, we are a new creation. We have a new identity. We are no longer identified by sin. We are no longer trapped by sinful acts and thoughts. At the same time, John encourages us to work to rid ourselves of the sin that remains. And that in the power of the grace that comes from Christ, we can overcome thoughts and deeds and choose different paths and a different identity. God is not done with me yet might be a cliché, but it is also a truth that we can embrace, even as we seek to purify ourselves as he is pure. We are in process, and it is a shared process. We need one another to hold us accountable. We need the community to walk with us on this journey of purification—not for the purposes of judgment or condemnation, but for the purposes of encouragement and building up. That is why we are brought together into the body of believers so that together we can become more like Christ.

Another observation about this text is that we are awash in pronouns. The first issue is that they are masculine, which continues to cause the church problems in dealing with the real world and with our theology of a God who transcends human categories and limitations. How we choose to deal with this can be varied. We can avoid pronouns whenever possible, for example. The most straightforward way to do that is to put the proper noun in place of the pronoun. That brings us to the second problem. It isn’t always clear what John is referring to when he uses pronouns. Sometimes it seems clear that he is talking about God; sometimes it seems clear that he is talking about Jesus, and sometimes it could be either. Maybe that is on purpose. Perhaps when we are called to be like “him,” we see Jesus the Christ as the one who best revealed to us God and how God would choose for us to live in community in the world.

That is what we are aiming toward as we purify ourselves in hope—the hope in a new identity, the hope in a new community with new relationships, the hope of a new call to discipleship and all with the power of the Spirit to guide us as we journey.


(Note: Please confirm all appropriate copyright and licensing information, and provide necessary attribution before using these images in your worship setting.)

1. "A Clean and Healthful Environment": Held vs. State of Montana

Today, in many communities, youth and young adults are calling Earth’s people to a more expansive understanding of God’s love. They attest that God’s love is for the whole Creation. For them, Earth’s health and well-being are at the top of their priorities. Here’s a story of how young people are making a difference.

Here in the U.S., we know the state of Montana as “Big Sky Country” because of its vast mountain ranges, cool glacial lakes, and wide-open prairies. But recently, Montana became known for something else–something new, something big—a pivotal judicial decision!

Originally, back in March 2020, the case was brought by sixteen-year-old Rikki Held and fifteen other youth and young adults growing up in Montana. They claimed their state government was not living up to its constitution, which enshrines the right to a “clean and healthful environment.” The youth turned to the court to compel the state to consider environmental impacts when fossil fuel projects are being newly approved or renewed. The group testified about how climate change was negatively impacting their families’ farms and businesses. Several shared that they moved from their hometowns because forest wildfire smoke was worsening their asthma and jeopardizing their health. People in the courtroom heard their anxiety, sadness, and worry about their future living in Montana. They voiced clearly that the government should be held accountable to the words pledged in the constitution.

This past August, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled in favor of the younger folks. Her words of decision-making have reverberated far beyond the state of Montana. The judge said, “We can't keep passing on the climate crisis to future generations. I want young people to stay positive because we can make a difference.”

Yes, Judge Seeley and the young activists are right: We can make a difference.


Guest writer Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud, Minneapolis, MN (ancestral homeland of the Dakota peoples), is a retired elder in the Minnesota Annual Conference. She is part of the Worship Team of the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement and is a UM Earthkeeper.

2. Clean and Healthy Water

Clean and healthy water is vital to thriving communities and future generations. As the United Methodist General Board for Church and Society recognizes, “Water is an integral part of our physical and spiritual life together.” We protect it as “God’s gift,” a public and common good. But today, clean water is an endangered element across the planet. Currently, the United Nations estimates more than two billion people still do not have access to clean drinking water. By 2030, the U.N. estimates that “half of the global population is expected to be living in water-stressed conditions.” When we imagine water-vulnerable communities, we usually think of people–especially women and children–living in nations beyond our country. But the work of advocate and educator Catherine Coleman Flowers tells a different story–of communities much closer to home who for years have lived with no access to clean water or basic sanitation.

Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place known as “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. At one time, Lowndes County was the epicenter of the voting rights struggle, but today there’s a new movement for human dignity emerging, one based on the rights of clean water and basic sanitation–rights many of us take for granted.

In her book, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret (2020), Flowers tells of growing up where raw sewage spilled on to the ground, toilets overflowed, and people endured rare intestinal parasites. The Lowndes County Health Department neglected neighbors’ calls and refused to pump effluent from their yards. But officials also actively levied charges on residents who had no control over the sanitary conditions and who often could not afford upgrades. As it sounds…even here…the situation was a dirty secret.

But out of love for her community, Catharine Coleman Flowers–a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship Grant recipient–founded the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. Her persistent advocacy revealed the problem, so others beyond Lowndes County could know and join the call for accountability. In 2021 the federal Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services launched an investigation, documenting how the county failed to provide clean water and basic sanitation. As a result, a new action plan will build the infrastructure for clean sanitation and water in each household and neighborhood of the county.

Flowers’s story demonstrates the need to be proactive, as clean water and sanitation are too big a problem to ignore, with the climate emergency bringing sewage to more backyards—and not only those of people living in under-resourced areas. Flowers’s work is important because her case represents the first time an environmental review has fallen under the federal Civil Rights Act–revealing how environmental issues and social justice intersect.

The story of Catherine Coleman Flowers reflects a similar commitment within The United Methodist Church. As our Book of Resolutions (#1029) states: “Water cannot be monopolized or privatized. It is to be shared like air, light, and earth. It is God’s elemental provision for the survival of all God’s children on this planet…”


Guest writer Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud, Minneapolis, MN (ancestral homeland of the Dakota peoples), is a retired elder in the Minnesota Annual Conference. She is on the Worship Team of the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement and is a UM Earthkeeper.

3. Clean and Healthy Air

We can recall days last summer when toxic smoke from forest wildfires swept across many communities in the United States. At times, the smoke was so thick that the sky took on a gray or even orange tint. Was this going to be the new normal? A foreboding sense of worry and anxiety gripped us. While we can’t say the single cause was global warming, scientists do identify global warming as part of the reason for this season of fires. Whether the smoke came from Canada or our own nation’s forests, we experienced the threat that air pollution presents across state lines. Air blows where it will.

But we also know that air particulates from burning fossil fuels and woody biomass are making people sick. Air pollution, like smoke, negatively affects adults with medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, dementia, and pneumonia. The organization Mom’s Clean Air Force cites a new study undertaken by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute that shows increased breast cancer incidence linked to high levels of particulate air pollution. Our own United Women in Faith (UWF) cites that over 40% of U.S. residents live in areas with dirty air. Air pollution especially affects children with asthma. Most vulnerable are low-wealth communities and communities of color. United Women in Faith has been highlighting this inequity through their “Just Energy 4 All” campaign. But they have also partnered with five other organizations (Moms is one of them) to form the “Breathe Again Collaborative” with a postcard campaign asking political leaders to act now on global warming and air pollution.

The good news is solutions exist. Access to renewable energy sources is increasing. Ambitious investments by governments, corporations, and households for solar panels and other green infrastructure initiatives will reduce air pollution and move toward climate justice. Zero emission school buses and electric vehicles impact climate and ozone pollution, as well as protect the health of our communities, especially children. How might one’s own congregation partner with these organizations so that our hearts and minds can make a difference for clean and healthy air in our neighborhoods? How can we learn from and educate others about the need for clean air?



Guest writer Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud, Minneapolis, MN (ancestral homeland of the Dakota peoples), is a retired elder in the Minnesota Annual Conference. She is part of the Worship Team of the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement and is a UM Earthkeeper.

In This Series...

Second Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes


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In This Series...

Second Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes