Monday, December 31, 2007

Sermon for the Feast Day of St. John

Lord, what about him?

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. John,
Apostle and Evangelist.
The patron saint of this parish.

Who is St. John, Apostle and Evangelist?

His official feast day is December 27th.
We have legitimately transferred it to this Sunday.
This is the closest we can get to celebrate
and not interfere with Christmas eve or Christmas Day!

From the gospels we hear that John was the son of Zebedee.
That John was one of the 12 apostles selected by Jesus.
That John has a brother named James
and that John, James and Peter
were the inner circle
of the 12 apostles.
They are the ones that always seem to be with Jesus
at the really critical moments of his ministry.

It was those three
who were privileged to be present for
the miracle of the great catch of fish
the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law
the raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter
the transfiguration
and the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane.

Some ancient writings—not scripture-- say that John was imprisoned
and exiled because of his proclaiming the gospel
but that he was eventually released and died a natural death in Ephesus:
“a martyr in will but not in deed.”

John is credited with the authorship of three epistles (I, II, III John)
and one Gospel.
Some biblical scholars disagree with this.

Some also credit John with the writing of the book of Revelation
Others say it was a different man named John,
Sometimes distinguished by being called John of Patmos.

Much of what we know about John
is the result of trying to put together pieces
of a biblical and historical puzzle.
We don’t KNOW
but we try to discern and understand and imagine
the different facets of this faithful and passionate follower of Jesus.

I checked with the Diocesan office
to see if this church is named after John the Baptist
or John, Apostle and Evangelist
And they affirmed the latter.

I was also told that if a church has John the Baptizer as their patron saint
the name of the church will reflect that:
St. John the Baptist or St John the Baptizer Episcopal Church
or St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church.
Our patron saint is John the Apostle and Evangelist

Now we are not the only St. John’s in the Diocese of Western North Carolina.
There is a St. John’s in Marion, one in Sylva,
And another in Franklin.

Interestingly, this parish did not start out as St. John’s—
we started out as Trinity Chapel
(thus the name of the street that leads up to our parish).

We started out as Trinity Chapel
because we were a church plant from Trinity Church downtown—
they wanted to spread the gospel
out to the far hinterlands,
the rural part of Buncombe Country.
(I guess a few things have changed since the late 1800’s!)

When we achieved full parish status,
the name St. John’s was selected.

We are the only one in Asheville.

Well, the only St. John’s Episcopal Church.
There is a St. John’s Baptist Church
And a St. John’s God of Holiness Church.

I don’t know whom they claim as their patron saint,
but I don’t think it’s a competition.

Our gospel reading offers us some advice about competition.

Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me.”
And Peter follows but is also checking out the territory
to determine if he has been especially selected by Jesus
or if any of the other disciples are coming along as well.

Peter turns and sees another disciple (the one that got to sit next to Jesus at supper)—
his name is John--
and this little edge of green envy appears around Peter
and he says, Well, Lord, what about him?!!
Does he get to follow you, too? Or just me?

And Jesus all but snaps at him,
How about you just don’t worry about him.
What’s it to you, Peter?
Focus on the “follow me” part,
not on how or when or why others are following me---or not.

This week I saw a funny cartoon on a calendar.
There was a group of cats—and one dog—sitting around in a circle.
They are playing spin the bottle.
One of the cats is getting ready to spin
and there is this little thought balloon coming out of the cat’s head
saying, Not the dog! Not the dog!

I think Peter has a similar thought balloon.
He is excited that Jesus has asked him to follow.
But he is also thinking, Not John! Not John! Don’t ask John to come, too!

We all have those thought balloons at times.
There are those who we may allow to sit in the circle,
but like the cat with the dog, we don’t want to have to kiss them!
(I’m speaking metaphorically, of course!!)

It might be a group of people—Republicans if we are Democrats,
Democrats if we are Republicans.
The no kissing rule definitely applies there.
Historically, even in the Church, we have excluded one group of the other—
blacks, women, Hispanics, immigrants, homosexuals, the disabled—
okay, they can play the game
but we are out of here if the bottle stops
and points to them.
In fact, we might just take our bottle and leave!
Or make them leave!

What about them, Jesus?

Sometimes it is not a group of people for us,
but just an individual.
One irritating individual that we just can’t stand.
They make our blood boil.
They are just wrong.
They are so obnoxious, so self-centered, so mean,…well, you know!

We are so sure that Jesus HAS to love us
more than he loves them!

Our gospel reading today
tells us how easy it is to become distracted
by wanting Jesus to love us more than he loves someone else,
by wanting to protect Jesus
from those we determine not worthy of Jesus’ love—
not worthy of our own love.

The message to us, as it was to Peter, is this:
Don’t get distracted.
Don’t waste time or energy worrying about other people’s behavior
because it’s usually not our business anyway.
Love is not about being worthy.

Perhaps John, this beloved disciple,
is a symbol for how truly and fully inclusive Jesus really is.
The mission of a parish named St. John’s
is to welcome everyone,
to be the tangible reminder
that Jesus loves us all.

We are all beloved disciples.
We are all invited to follow Jesus;
we are not invited to be in control of the guest list.

Jesus calls us to follow.
That means to walk the walk,
to read and listen to scripture and pay attention
to the way Jesus acted—
then go and do likewise.

We get ourselves in trouble when we try to force God
into a small, tidy, rational, linear-thinking box.
God is much too big for any box we might imagine.

This season of our church year—the season of Christmas—
is not about a small and tidy God.
This season
is all about dreams and visions and stars in the heavens.
I read this week, that one third of the Bible
is about “dreams, visions, prophecies, angelic visitations
and other direct reference to God’s mysterious
and yet undeniable leading of people”.
One third of the Bible! That’s a lot.

We are called not only to follow
but to trust that God is leading us, leading us all.

We name most of our Episcopal churches after saints--
to remind us that God works through ordinary people.
People like you and people like me.
People like John.

If we can just get ourselves out of the way,
if we can let go of our need to control,
God will turn ordinary into extraordinary at every opportunity.

John, Apostle and Evangelist, walks with us.
St. John is the one we have named and claimed
as our inspiration, as our patron saint.

The most significant thing we know about St. John
is that he truly and passionately loved Jesus.
John was transformed by love.
John’s hope, his prayer was that every one might know that love.

He followed Jesus because he wanted to make that love known to the world.
He spent his life doing just that.
St. John, Apostle and Evangelist.

St. John is the one we have claimed
here in this little corner of the city of Asheville.
May we listen and follow the call to make God’s love known to the world,
in our words and in our work,
from generation to generation
to generation.

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