Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sermon for the Feast of St. John
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 27, 2009

This morning we celebrate one of the important aspects of a parish’s life together. We come this morning to celebrate and commemorate the patron saint of our parish – St. John, the Apostle of our Lord and Evangelist. It’s always interesting to think about why or how a particular parish chooses a name for their church. I’m afraid I have not stumbled across any documents that show why St. John was chosen as the patron saint of this congregation. I wish I knew why St. John in particular spoke to the group of Christians here in Colquitt County at the beginning of the 20th Century when a small group of believers came together for corporate worship with the dream and vision of becoming a parish in the Diocese of Georgia. Perhaps one day we might stumble upon something that will give us hints and clues as to why the saint we remember today was so important to them no almost 100 years later.

What is most important today is that we look at the saint who we honor, and whose name adorns our church, and allow him to help us and speak to us as we strive to follow along the same path that he did.

From what we know about John from the Biblical witness was that he was one of the sons of Zebedee and his brother’s name was James. He was one of the first disciples called by our Lord, and was privy to some of the most intimate aspects of our Lord’s ministry. Along with Peter and James, John witnessed the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the raising of Jairus’s daughter, the Transfiguration, and the last hours of Jesus’ life in the Garden of Gethsemane. John was the only disciple recorded to have witnessed our Lord’s death on the cross when we hear of the entrusting of Mary to John as Jesus ensures his mother’s care into the hands of the disciple whom he loved. Peter and John were the first two apostles to witness the empty tomb on Easter morning even though he reached the tomb first, John hesitated at the door and Peter ran straight in to discover the burial clothes empty and Jesus nowhere to be found. St. Paul even refers to John, with Peter and James, as pillars of the church in Jerusalem.

Scholars have attributed a large portion of the New Testament canon to St. John in the form of the Fourth Gospel, the three General Epistles which bear his name, and the Revelation or Apocalypse. We’ll save a discussion about authenticity of authorship to a future study, but in any case, there would be a tremendous vacuum left if we did not have the five books of the New Testament that are connected to St. John.

As our adult Christian Education class touched on last Sunday, John offers such a unique perspective on Jesus that would completely change the tone of this season of our Church Year if we did not have his record in our Scriptures. With the exception of yesterday’s commemoration of the Feast of St. Stephen, we will hear the Prologue of John’s Gospel read corporately three services in a row. The framers of our Lectionary so understood the incredible nature of this passage that they could not comprehend the Feast of the Incarnation without those very words which we will hear again at the end of our service this morning.

Our collect this morning highlights the three themes that we hear at the end of Jesus’s ministry as recorded in John 14 when Jesus declares that He is the way, the truth, and the life.

The prayer opens with the great Johannine theme of light that we ask our Lord to shower down upon us in all of its brightness and glory. This bright light is meant to illuminate the teaching and doctrine that St. John conveyed in his writings. Orthodoxy is the right belief about our Lord’s life, and that is the path or the way that the light of Christ illuminates for us so that we might clearly see that path to follow and stay on our course.

Our collect goes on to declare that the only path to eternal life is through the truth - with a capital “T.” Jesus declares most definitively that there is no other path to the Father except through Him. There are many who do not like statements such as this one because it sounds awfully exclusivistic. However, if anyone has ever studied any other religion, you’ll notice that they all make some pretty exclusivistic claims about their religious beliefs as well. Ravi Zacharias once spoke about a conversation he once had with a follower of Jainism and the person he spoke to said on this topic that the Jains exclude no one. Ravi replied, “Yes you do, you exclude the exclusivists! There are many who complain and say that it’s not fair that God only provided one avenue for us to follow to return home to him. If God had provided 1,000 paths back to Him, those same folks would complain that he didn’t provide 1,001.

Modernity and secularism makes a most remarkable assertion that all truth is relative. What’s true for you may not be true for me. You can have your truth, and I’ll have mine. Have any of you ever parsed that statement carefully – that all truth is relative? That line of thinking collapses under its own weight when you think about it. There are only two possibilities here. Either that statement itself is relative, or there is something out beyond that statement that makes it true. The problem there is that assertion violates the very thing that the statement itself tries to put forward.

Our life as Christians is to point to the Truth, and to do so in a manner that presents the Good News of the Gospel so that others might be able to hear it. That is perhaps the biggest challenge as disciples. We must be prepared to present this message both in season and out of season.

As John declares in his first epistle that we heard this morning is that the message of Christ is a message of joy. Jesus came in order that we might experience joy, and have it to its fullest. John records the words of our Lord when Jesus declares that he is the Good Shepherd, and tells us, “I am come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” As David declares, “my cup runneth over.”

Through the comfortable doctrine and teaching that St. John has given to the church, we have a clearly illuminated path of the Truth which leads to life everlasting.

St. John was the only one of the twelve apostles not to die a martyr’s death, but rather died a natural death in Ephesus around 100 A.D. One of the traditions that surrounds the end of John’s life was that after his exile on the island of Patmos where he received the vision of his apocalypse, he was head of the local church in Ephesus. It was reported that in his old age he tended to preach the same, short sermon over and over. Regardless of the circumstances, occasion, or lessons, he would simply proclaim, “Brothers and Sisters, love one another.” When asked by members of the congregation could they hear some other messages from time-to-time, John’s response to them was, “When you’ve mastered this lesson we can move on to another.”

That should be our mandate as those who bear the name Christian, and worship our Lord here at St. John’s is to heed the words, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”

We give thanks to God for the witness of Blessed John the Apostle and Evangelist. May his words be ours, and may we ever embrace and hold fast the doctrine which he preached and declared to all, so that we might attain the great joys that await those who put their trust in the Lord.

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