Sunday, 27 December 2009

Sermon for St John's Day

St John the Evangelist and Apostle.
Festal Eucharist 27th December 2009

“What is that to you? You must follow me.”

+May I speak in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

John is certainly one of the most interesting of the people called by Jesus to be a disciple and apostle. We are told that he was the son of Zebedee and brother of James. We are also told that they were “fishermen” but a study of the writing left by John suggests a very well educated one – probably the term used here is a bit like referring to the founder of the Cunard Line a seaman. Certainly the boats recently excavated in Lake Galilee suggest that they were quite expensive vessels, not the sort of thing one could knock up in a backyard with a few planks and some tools. That, in turn, suggests that Zebedee may have been a man of more substantial means than we suppose and his sons probably better connected than we might suspect on a cursory understanding of the scriptures.

The letter and our Gospel readings suggest that John had a deep knowledge not only of the scriptures of the Jewish canon but a deeper understanding of the message he and the others had been entrusted with by Christ. So the “fishermen” become Apostles – from the Greek word meaning messenger. That is the thrust of our Gospel reading for today as well, for two things are happening in that conversation between Jesus and Peter, another of the “fishermen”.
Jesus is calling Peter to be a messenger and in the preceding section to that which we have read today, he cancels Peter’s denials so that the Apostle starts with a clean slate. Looking back Peter sees John following as they talk and asks –

“Lord what about him?”

And Jesus responds –

“What is that to you? You must follow me.”

Now, you may ask, “What is that to me?” The simple answer is that it means a great deal for and to us. For, in addressing Peter, Christ is addressing every one of his disciples and that includes us. It is not for us to know what any individual is called to do in service of the gospels; our concern must be what am I called to do for Christ?

Certainly, as it is now possible to see, each of the apostles had a set of skills, abilities and insights that they were being called to use in our Lord’s service. Some of the Apostles used their talents uncertainly at first and others with more confidence, but they obeyed the call. John had a double task since he was called to be a both an Apostle and to take responsibility for our Lord’s mother as he stood at the foot of the cross. It was not an easy call for any of them to obey, nor is it any easier for us.

Each year it seems our faith comes under ever stronger attack from our governing classes, in the media, in literature and now on bus adverts. It is something I think the apostles would have recognised. The question for us is how do we respond? How do we counter this trend toward a twenty-four hour, seven days a week matrialistic drive to the acquisition of wealth? How do we respond to the powerful voices that seek to portray the Christmas story as a fairy tale? Or which denigrate the message of the Bible by pointing to “discovered” Gnostic texts?

I suggest that, if our faith is to have any meaning, it requires that we respond by seeking to know and understand every aspect of what we believe and why the “alternative” texts and “histories” are false. It is no good simply sitting back and leaving it to the clergy – we are the church and we are just as much disciples as the clergy or the apostles.

I began my sermon by saying that John was one of the most interesting of the disciples. I shall now explain why I say that. John’s gospel was the last to be written, it doesn’t follow the chronology of Christ’s ministry except in general outline. The purpose of it is not to provide, as the Synoptic gospels do, a “history”, but to present to us the wonderful fact that, in Christ, God became human and walked among us; that in dying, he redeemed us in a way that no sacrifice by any human could have done and that in rising from the tomb in which John, Joseph and Nicodemus had laid him, he gave us the greatest gift of all. It is a theological treatise, a history and a refutation of the arguments already arising that Christ was nothing more than another prophet, a great one it is true, but just a very good man. It is the work of a man who has given this more than just thought. It is certainly not the work of a simple fisherman, but of a man who has become an eloquent advocate of the friend, teacher and God he followed around Palestine.
I commend to you a reading of the letters John wrote. Like his gospel they are deeply personal to the writer and instructive in their content for they urge strongly the need to love one another and to work together to ensure that the truth of the gospel is carried to all who would hear it. To John the image of Jesus as “The Light” is a powerful one, one he draws from a solid grounding in the Old Testament. He uses it in his prologue to his Gospel and it occurs in the opening of the letter we read today.

“God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all.”

W e are called to walk in that light, my brothers and sisters, and, like John, we are called to be the messengers of that light. We need to listen carefully for Christ is saying to each of us –

“What is that to you? You must follow me.”


1 comment:

  1. The light allows us to walk and avoid most of the obstacles.

    May you be safe, warm, and surrounded by love, my friend.

    Here's to learning many lessons along the way.