Sermon; Saint John's Day (tr)
Today is our annual celebration of our Patron Saint, John the Apostle and Evangelist.
John was a fisherman, along with his brother James and father Zebedee. James and John, along with Peter, make up the inner circle of disciples closest to Jesus. Tradition also places him as the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist who, along with Andrew, pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God. He was with Jesus during many intimate moments, including the raising of Jairus' daughter, the Transfiguration, the agony in the garden, and at the foot of the cross when Jesus placed Mary into his care.
The term “Apostle” is most often interpreted to mean “sent,” as John and the other twelve were sent by Christ on missions to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. It was also applied to the eleven after the Resurrection, plus Matthias, in Acts as they were sent to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. John is an Apostle by virtue of being an original disciple of Christ and being sent by him.
John is also an Evangelist. In its most broad meaning, an evangelist is anyone who proclaims the Good News of the Gospel. Under that definition, we are all, or we all should be, evangelists. But in a more technical sense, Evangelist refers to the named author of a canonical gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, a definition that was established sometime in the 3rd Century. Additionally, each Evangelist has a symbol associated with him based on Rev. 4:6-10, and John is symbolized by an eagle. You can see that in our banner, on the mosaic floor in the chancel, and at the lectern.
John is the traditional author of the fourth Gospel, the letters of 1-2-3 John, and Revelation. There is some debate about this, but it seems clear that at least the First Letter of John and the gospel that bears his name were written by the same person. Additionally, he was an early part of what we term the “Apostolic Succession” as Ireneaus recalled learning from Polycarp who learned from John.
When I was in seminary, my New Testament professor gave a list of quick ways to determine which gospel a particular passage came from. It said that if love was involved, it's probably from John. The Gospel of John uses a form of love 39 times, more than any other book in the bible. And the First Letter of John, at only five chapters, uses it 26 times, third most in the bible. Which probably explains why people think Saint John wrote both of them.
So there's a little history and background about our Patron Saint. But beyond the history, what can we take from Saint John to use in both our daily life and our lives as people of this amazing place?
First, that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. God the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father and they are one. Eventually Jesus gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples/apostles and the whole church. All gospels give us a glimpse into this holy union, but John does more with it than any other.
Toward the end of his earthly life, Jesus prays that the apostles (and extended church) will be one as he and the Father are one, and that they will be in that holy union as well. What John gives us is an image of holy unity, established by the Trinity and lived into by the church. As the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father, they are in us and we are in them. We are also in union with each other. And it is this unity that should allow us to not only reflect the face of God to those around us, but allow us to see the face of God in others.
As people of this parish – whether you've spent a lifetime here or have only been here three weeks, whether you've sat in the same pew for ever or have just found us online – remember that God is in you, you are in God, and we are in each other. That connectivity is a blessing, and has been a particular blessing in this time of separation.
Second, that love is the foundation and first cause of all we do. John writes, “We declare to you what was from the beginning: that we should love one another.” This commandment is not only meant for those of us in the church, but is also meant to be applied to the whole world.
He goes on to write, “How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action . . . Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
As the people of this parish, let us always remember to follow John's admonition to love and care for others. It is our responsibility to treat others as we ourselves want to be treated. It is our responsibility to work to end sins of hunger, homelessness, and systemic racism. Let us never forget that people on the margins are not there for our own moral therapy, but are there because of a system, or systems, that created margins in the first place. And in our act of loving them, we will eliminate our fears.
We are blessed to be part of a community that looks to serve and encourage others. There's no doubt that things have been different, difficult, and chaotic. But we are blessed to have resources and creativity to look for new ways to do this.
We have been blessed to have a group of phone callers to reach out to others and express love and concern, while working to maintain connectivity. We have been blessed to have people think about serving others in creative new ways. For instance, a truck will be delivering food for 200 families that we will then distribute on October 10. We have been blessed to be part of a community that takes the health of everyone seriously, and that loving our neighbor means paying attention to health guidelines.
As we settle into this COVID way of being and begin to move forward ever so slowly and wobbly, let us always remember to be guided by our Patron Saint, John the Apostle and Evangelist. This means remembering that we are in Christ as much as we are in each other. And it means remembering that love is a verb, calling us to action to relieve suffering and end hatred and divisiveness of all kinds.
We are blessed to be part of this parish. I am blessed to serve as your priest. May we continue to bless the world around us.