Sunday, December 27, 2009
Sermon - St. John - John 21:20-25
December 27th 2009
In the month of December, we have had the opportunity to hear the Gospel in connection with various saints whose commemorations happen to fall on Sundays and Mondays throughout this month. St. Andrew, St. Nicholas, St. Lucia, and St. Thomas. One last saint in this crowded December lineup, one last believer of old who points us to Christ. Today, December 27th is the day remembering St. John, the apostle.
John was the writer of the Gospel account that bears his name, the fourth Gospel, with a different viewpoint than Matthew, Mark and Luke. A very distinct portrayal and emphasis on the same Jesus. John shows Jesus as the Word of God made flesh. John gets us thinking about deep mysteries wound up in simple concepts like light and darkness, the world, water, bread, and life. He shows Jesus as Yahweh with 7 great “I AM” statements, for instance, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, “I am the resurrection and the life” and “I am the Good Shepherd”. The Holy Spirit used John to give us great insight into our Lord Jesus Christ that we could find nowhere else.
John also wrote three letters and recorded his vision in the book of Revelation. Perhaps second only to St. Paul, John is our most important New Testament writer.
Like all the saints we've been hearing about, let's not look at John in his own right. Instead, let us see him as another lens for seeing Jesus Christ, John's savior and ours.
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Not that Jesus didn't love all his disciples. But that was John's way of referring to himself in the Gospel account he wrote. “The disciple whom Jesus loved”. Perhaps a way of showing his humility. Perhaps a way for John to show that the most notable thing about himself, about all of us really, is that we are objects of Christ's love.
Peter, James and John were the inner circle of the 12, the three closest to Jesus. With him on the Mount of Transfiguration. With him in Gethsemane. John was the only one of the disciples recorded as being present when Jesus was crucified. Jesus trusted him with the care of his mother Mary, “Behold your mother”. John was also first to enter the empty tomb on Easter morning, running past Peter in great excitement at the news.
I mentioned that John's Gospel gives a distinct view of Jesus as the word of God made flesh. John doesn't begin his Gospel account with shepherds and angels or wise men from the East. He says, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God... and the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. This is John's version of the nativity. That Jesus Christ is the living Word of God, and God himself from the beginning, by whom all things were made. And he, the agent of creation – pitches his tent in human flesh, among us. A profound mystery.
John was, like all saints, also a sinner. And perhaps we see that best in the account where John and his brother James request a special place in the kingdom. Through their mother, they request to sit at Jesus' left and right hand when he comes into his glory. This selfish request shows they had their own glory in mind, and totally misunderstood the point of Jesus' work. He was a savior from sin. But in John's mind, sin wasn't as big a problem as those Roman occupiers. In John's mind, he would share in the glory when Jesus led the rebellion to win Jewish freedom from oppression. He would sit at Jesus' right hand.
Not too unlike us, who sometimes want Jesus for our own purposes, rather than his. What can he give us, what prayer can he answer? How can he make me feel? Do we forget or ignore the true nature of his work, the real reason he came? He's here to deal with our sin. Which means we need to admit our sin problem.
Interestingly, it appears John did sit at Jesus right or left, at the Last Supper. He was “reclining at table close to [Jesus] and said, 'who is it that is going to betray you?” John was given a place of honor, though he didn't deserve it. And as we approach our Lord's table at his invitation today, we too are honored, even though we don't deserve it. We are forgiven for our betrayals and denials, our cowardice and laziness – every way that we fail as his disciples. Still he feeds us. Still he loves us.
Tradition tells us that John moved to Ephesus and served as pastor and bishop there, and that he was the only one of the 12 apostles not to meet a martyrs death, but to die instead of old age. That doesn't mean he didn't face persecution! He was imprisoned once with Peter, and later sent to exile on the island of Patmos. But as one of the youngest apostles became a last living link to those who had personally known Jesus... John had gotten pretty old. And the rumors began. Even as John was writing his gospel, he corrected the false idea that he, John, would never die. Jesus never said exactly that, John clarifies.
But still, he did say in John's Gospel, “he who believes in me will live even though he dies” and “he who lives and believes in me will never die”. What a great mystery John reveals, that in Christ we have life, even in death. In Christ we live forever, even when we die. And so, John did, and John does live – in Christ. As do we, and as we will forever.
Let John serve also as an example of lifelong faith in Christ, and as we grow into old age let us never forget the promise of life in Christ forever. Let John's words, God's words recorded by John, be a continual source of encouragement to us as we daily grow in repentance and faith through Christ.
The Christian church gives thanks for all the saints who have gone before us, who show God's mighty working in the lives of people like us. Thank God for John the fisherman, turned apostle and evangelist, and visionary and pastor. John who showed us Jesus, the resurrection and the life.