Sermon; 18 Pentecost/Proper 18B; Feast of St. John (tr)
Today we celebrate the feast of our patron, John the Apostle and Evangelist. According to one website, John is the most common saint name for a church with over 3700 churches taking their name from him. There are six St. John parishes in our own diocese, and two in Hagerstown (the other being the ELCA church on south Potomac). And, unfortunately, his feast day is December 27; but every year we get permission from the bishop to transfer the feast of our patron to a better time.
So what do we know about John? Generally speaking, not much. But we also know more about him than most of the other apostles.
What we know is that John was the brother of James, and both sons of Zebedee. They were fishermen by trade. He was one of the three or four inside group of disciples that included Peter, James, John, and sometimes Andrew. He may have had a bad temper, as he and his brothers asked Jesus to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan town that wouldn't receive them. He may have been overly ambitious, as he asked Jesus to grant him and his brother to sit on his right and left in glory. He was faithful to the very end as he is the only male disciple to remain at the cross. And he took Mary as his adopted mother after Jesus died.
Tradition tells us that he was the beloved disciple; that he wrote the gospel that bears his name, three epistles, and the Book of Revelation; that he was exiled to Patmos after Emperor Diocletian ordered him boiled alive – thankfully to no effect; and that he lived to an old age, being the only disciple not to be martyred. As with a lot of church traditions, we have no way to verify any of this, and some have been debated for millennia (such as which documents actually belong to him).
What does all this mean for us today in the 21st Century United States? What does it mean for us to not only be the body of Christ, but to bear the holy name of John? I think there are four things that bind us and John together, and which we can utilize as a parish bearing his name.
The first is recognizing that John is what many people refer to as a mystical writer. Remember, mystery in the church has a different connotation than it does out in the world. For us, mystery, or mystical, refers to Holy things that become known only through revelation.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only son who has made him known. In his first letter, he also talks about the mystery of the Incarnation. We participate in the mystery of God through our prayer and worship. Incense gives our worship a mystical quality. Hearing scripture week in and week out slowly reveals the nature of God. We participate in the mystery of faith: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. And we partake of the Holy Mystery of Communion – Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
The second thing we can utilize is how John recorded the invitational nature of Christ. When Andrew first met Jesus, he asked, “Where are you staying?” Jesus replied, “Come and see.”
Jesus invited Andrew to follow him. He invited a woman to partake of his living water. He invites people to partake of the bread of life. He invites people into the mystery of eternal life. He welcomes the woman caught in adultery into a healthy relationship. He specifically invites outsiders to join him.
The third thing we can utilize is the nature of Jesus' servant ministry. This shows up in a variety of places, but nowhere is it more pronounced than when John records Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. After that act, Jesus specifically says that the disciples are to follow his example to serve others. This intimate act of foot-washing is his greatest example of servant leadership.
And the fourth thing we can utilize is John's inspirational nature. From his awe-inspiring prologue of the gospel, to his epistles, and to the Revelation he recorded, John is there to inspire and encourage his readers.
Jesus is God and he came to save the world, not condemn it. The message is this, in him there is no darkness at all. There is no fear in love. A new heaven and new earth will arrive. The home of God is among mortals. Let everyone come.
These are just a few words from John that were written to inspire people of the faith. From seeing God in the mystical, in the everyday, and in times of tumult (remember, Revelation was written as a book of hope against the empire to reiterate that God wins), we have many examples from which to follow as members of a parish that bears his name.
If all this sounds familiar, that's because it is. Last March the Vestry came together in their annual retreat to get to know each other better and to look at the big picture of our parish. One of the things we did was to develop a new mission statement; that is, articulating what it is we actually do. In that exercise we unknowingly infused these aspects of John into our mission statement.
“The mission of St. John's is to: Worship; Welcome; Serve; and Encourage”
We worship God in a way that embraces the mystery of this holy place and these holy things.
We welcome people into our midst, both stranger and friend, and even those who make us uncomfortable.
We serve people around us in a variety of ways.
We encourage people to explore, to use their gifts and talents, and to work toward a deeper relationship with both God and others.
The Vestry unknowingly infused these aspects of John into our mission statement, and that's great. But how much better would it be if we were more intentional about not only making our mission statement come alive, but recognizing that we are representing our Patron Saint in this good and holy work.
Today is our celebration of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. Let us follow his example and worship, welcome, serve, and encourage with everything we have, living long lives for the glory of God and examples of the faith to the world around us.