Sermon; Feast of St. John the Evangelist (tr) and Ministry Fair
Welcome to the annual St. John's Day Celebration and Ministry Fair. For those who pay attention to such things, the Feast of St. John is celebrated on December 27, but we received special permission from the bishop to transfer the St. John Propers to today. And, yes, I have to ask. But technicalities aside, “Welcome.” Welcome back the music at 8 a.m. Welcome back to our choir. Welcome back to our Sunday school teachers. Welcome back everyone who has been on vacation. And welcome to any and all visitors. Welcome to St. John's and today's festivities.
This congregation takes its name from St. John the Evangelist. I don't know why that name was chosen or assigned, because it's not like there is a shortage of parishes named St. John's in these parts. But let me venture a guess.
I would guess that the reason for taking on this name is because of the beauty of both the fourth gospel and the three letters attributed to the author whom tradition calls John. The fourth gospel and those three letters are beautiful pieces of literature.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
This is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
Add to this their high christology and theme of love that runs not only through these writings, but as the overall theme of the New Testament, and it's no wonder why St. John is a popular patron.
And I believe with my whole heart that this particular parish of St. John's reflects the best of our patron Saint. The beauty of the gospel and letters are reflected in the beauty of this space. From the steeple to the altar, we gather in a beautiful space. The beauty we see here can seem other-worldly. The beauty of this space breathes holiness. The beauty of this space is the first thing that reminds us we are in the presence of God and that we are standing on holy ground.
But there's an old saying that goes, “Beauty is only skin deep.” And that can certainly be true of any parish that relies solely on its building.
Joelene and I attended another church last Sunday. The building was certainly beautiful and easy to find (if you were walking and didn't have to maneuver around closed streets). When we walked in it felt like church, if you know what I mean. But that was the extent of it. Nobody greeted us. The Peace was obligatorily and enthusiastically shared, but the singing and congregational responses were lackluster. Nobody spoke to us as we filed out the door. And the priest did nothing more than say, “Good morning.” It was, in my opinion, a beautiful church on the outside, but one that lacked any depth of beauty.
We also have a beautiful space, as you've noticed. But we also have an inner beauty that goes much deeper than the steeple and/or altar.
We value the people who worship here. We strive to include people in a variety of ministries. We will greet you as you enter and, if we don't recognize you, do our best to not abandon you either as you try to figure out the Episcopal book shuffle or as we invite you downstairs for coffee hour. We try to treat outsiders and visitors as we ourselves want to be treated, with dignity, respect, and a smile.
This beauty will also be reflected in the ministry fair as people serve, and are encouraged to serve, for the mission of the Church. Everything we do is geared toward fulfilling that mission of restoring all people to unity with God through Jesus Christ. In-reach, outreach, and ministries of all kinds look to reflect the kingdom of God in the here and now, and it is a beautiful thing.
In the words of St. John, we declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen, what we have touched – that our fellowship is with God the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. The fellowship found here among the people and within our ministries reflects the fellowship of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And this is the message we have heard and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. In this building the beautiful light from God shines. In our people and in our ministries, the light of God through Christ can be seen. This is a place of inner joy, beauty, and light. This is a place where the presence of God dwells in all things – yes, even in Vestry meetings.
And in case you think I am painting an overly-rosy picture of the goodness of this parish, let me say that we are not perfect. We have disagreements and arguments. We don't always get it right. I've made my share of mistakes over the past year. But what I've noticed about this congregation is that we do acknowledge our sins and shortcomings, and we do work towards forgiveness and reconciliation.
This parish embodies all that St. John represents – love, light, honesty, and a high christology that acknowledges the fully human aspect of Christ that is joined with the fully divine glory of the godhead. This parish represents the beauty reflected in the writings of St. John – both in its physical beauty and deeper down, in the beauty of our soul.
Today is our St. John's Day Celebration and Ministry Fair. I encourage you to take in the beauty of it all and consider how you might reflect the beauty of this parish in thought, word, and deed.
We are St. John's. We are named for a Saint who wrote of light, life, and love. And I will testify to all these things because I know they are true.