Here is a great sermon by my brother in Office, Rev. Christopher Esget, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia.
Readings for St. John’s Day: Rev. 1:1-6; 1 Jn 1:1—2:2; Jn. 21:20-25
Beloved, today is St. John’s Day, the beloved disciple of Jesus and the man inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Fourth Gospel, as well as three epistles in our New Testament and the Book of Revelation. On Christmas Day, we heard the majestic prologue of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Today, on St. John’s Day, the author of those great words testifies to this great truth: “That One who already was in the beginning, who existed from all eternity, and who was made flesh – that is the One whom we have heard, whom we have seen, whom we looked on and have touched with our hands.” The next time you hear the horrible idea that Jesus and the Bible is a collection of fables or falsehoods, remember John’s testimony: He and the other Apostles heard, saw, and touched Jesus. And in hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus, they touched God, God in the flesh.
That is the historical fact. But it is not just history. Now, he says, we who were with Him, we who heard Him, saw Him, touched Him – we are proclaiming Him to you, so you can be with us, so you can have fellowship, communion, with us, so you can be part of the Church that Jesus established.
What does it mean to have fellowship, communion, with the apostles? What does it mean to be a true Christian, to be a true member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? St. John teaches us two important things about this:
1) We must not think of ourselves as holy people, good people, perfect people, people without sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
2) But then, we also are to dedicate our lives as Christians to turning away from sin and living a new life. “My little children,” John writes, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”
He goes on to emphasize in all his writings how important it is that we make every effort to be holy: to not sin, and to keep the commandments of Jesus. Again and again he hammers this home:
* “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4)
* “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” (1 Jn 2:9)
* “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (1 Jn 2:15a)
* “Everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” (1 Jn 2:29b)
* “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (1 Jn 3:4)
* “whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.” (1 Jn 3:8)
* “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” (1 Jn 3:9)
* “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (1 Jn 3:10-11)
* “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:18)
John’s writings are replete with sayings like these. Note well that word “practice” – he speaks of ongoing, habitual, and intentional sins. You know what the commandments of God are: [list 10 Commandments]
All the Commandments summed up in one word: “love” – love God, and love your neighbor.
St. John calls us to holiness of living – and thus constant repentance as we feel and experience our own unholiness – but at the same time John assures of the forgiveness and salvation found only in Jesus. “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” We have an attorney who will go to court for us. And the case He argues is based on the iron-clad fact that our penalty has been paid: “He is the propitiation for our sins.”
That is why you who through Baptism have become followers of Jesus can know that He ever loves you. St. John is called the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” and I suspect John records that not to boast, but to say, “Jesus loved even such a one as me.” And John says of this same Jesus in our first reading, “To him who loves us.”
As we follow Jesus, there is one thing alone that is our authority, our guide, our light: the words of Holy Scripture. And today, in those sacred writings, we heard about “the things that must soon take place…. for the time is near.” The Bible gives us a different view of time – a view that sees this life as short, where Christ’s coming is always “soon.” It does not matter if it is another two thousand years, or a mere two minutes from now; we are always to be prepared.
All this is lived out in different ways for each of us. After Jesus had prophesied Peter’s martyrdom, Peter asked the question recorded in today’s Gospel: “What about him? What about John?” Jesus replied, “How does that concern you? You, follow Me!” St. John and St. Peter had different kinds of endings to their lives – Peter was crucified, while John suffered in a different way, being exiled to an island called Patmos. Peter and John had different particular callings in life, but the same overarching calling to be disciples of Jesus: “Follow Me.” That is also our calling. Whether you are an engineer, housewife, secretary or soldier, in every place you go, the words of Jesus go with you: “Follow Me.”
Those words are not burdensome. For you follow the One who at Christmas took on your flesh and bone, your human nature, and who proceeded to live perfectly in your flesh, to suffer every temptation you suffer in your flesh, to endure every pain and humiliation you endure, and finally to die your death, and to rise again in your human nature, now glorified, and to bring that human nature into the presence of God the Father. That is the One you now follow, the One who is coming again for you, soon, for the time is near.
This day we give honor for the ministry and testimony of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, who so faithfully recorded these glorious truths for us. May God pour out on us His Holy Spirit, that we may always heed John’s Words as a light in a dark place.