Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sermon for the Feast of St. John Apostle and Evangelist (tr)

The A & E Network

When we hear the letters A & E, put together like that,
we might think of the Arts and Entertainment Network.
but when we hear A & E in the context of the church
we should remember St. John—
St. John
Apostle and Evangelist.
A & E.

This morning we celebrate the Feast of St. John.
The actual designated feast day for St. John is December 27.
But that is a time of year when we are almost feasted out
after the glorious celebrations around Christmas.

So we have transferred that feast to this day.
Our Book of Common Prayer tells us (page 16)
that the feast day of a parish’s patron saint
may be observed on its designated day
or transferred to a Sunday,
except in the seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter.
It’s still the season of Epiphany—
So let the feasting begin for St. John!

I have three questions for us today.
(1) Who was St. John?
(2) Why do we care?
(3) What should we do about it?

First: Who was St. John?
First of all, we need to be sure we have our “Johns” straight.
St. John the Apostle and Evangelist is a different person
than John the Baptist (or Baptizer).

Our John was the son of Zebedee. His mother’s name was Salome.
This rather well-to-do family lived on the shores of the sea of Galilee.
John, with his brother James,
was called by Jesus from being a fisherman
to being a disciple.
Jesus called John to follow and “fish for people”.
And John did just that.

With Peter and James, John became one of three disciples
whom Jesus chose to be with him
at the raising of Jairus’ daughter,
at the Transfiguration,
and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Yes, even Jesus had an inner circle of friends.

John and his brother James are recorded in the Gospel
as being hotheaded and impetuous.
Don’t you love it how Jesus seldom seeks perfect people?
I find that very comforting!

Jesus nicknames John and James “Boanerges”
which has been translated as “Sons of Thunder”.
I imagine you knew when John and James entered a room.

John may have been Jesus’ closest, dearest friend.
The Gospel names one of the disciples
as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
He sits closest to Jesus at the Last Supper,
He receives the care of Jesus’ mother at the cross
and he in turn is given into her care.
And he is the first male disciple
to understand the truth of the empty tomb.
Many believe that John, the Apostle and Evangelist,
is the same John who was the Beloved Disciple.

According to tradition, John later went to Asia Minor and settled in Ephesus,
now in modern day Turkey
(thus our Turkish inspired lunch feast following the service today).

Under the Emperor Domitian,
John was exiled to the island of Patmos.

Based on other historical writings,
it is believed that John died in Ephesus.
He alone of the twelve disciples
is said to have lived to extreme old age
and to have been spared a martyr’s death.

The words traditionally given to John are these:
Little children, love one another.
That is what tradition says he preached over and over:
Little children, love one another.

So now you have at least some of the answer to the first question:
who was St. John.

Why do we care?
First of all, we care because St. John Apostle and Evangelist
is the patron saint of our parish.
It is like knowing your own personal family history;
it is important to know
our saintly geneology as well.

What we don’t know,
or at least what I have not been able to uncover,
is why this particular saint was chosen for this particular parish.

Many of you know that St. John’s began as a church plant
in an area of Asheville that was fields and farmland,
a very rural Haw Creek.
Downtown Trinity Episcopal Church planted a little church right here—
and it was named Trinity Chapel.
That is why the street that leads up to St. John’s is named
Trinity Chapel Road.

Trinity Chapel grew and grew up
and when it gained status as a parish, no longer a mission church,
the congregation chose the name St. John’s.

But why St. John’s?
Were there a bunch of “hot heads” here, “Sons of Thunder”?
It is doubtful that was behind the choice.

Most likely John was selected as the patron saint because
this was a church plant
and for church plants to become viable congregations
they have to seriously do the work of apostles and evangelists.

A church plant begins with a tiny core group of people—
usually no more than 12.
Probably the Bishop asked some folks at Trinity
if they would leave Trinity
and go and plant a church in the Haw Creek neighborhood.
They were called and asked to follow and they answered that call.

If a church plant does not do evangelism—reach out into the community,
invite people to worship,
offer hospitality to strangers—
the church plant will die.
That is not what happened here at St. John’s.
We are still here in the year 2009
It seems clear that St. John’s has a history
of being a part of that historic A & E network:
Apostles and Evangelists.

Finally, question number 3: What should we do about it?
How do we continue to live into the tradition of our patron saint?
We too are called to be apostles and evangelists.

I am not suggesting that we take shifts
down at the corner of Tunnel Road
and New Haw Creek Road
waving a sign that says , “REPENT!”

But I do think we need to take the call that John heard into our hearts.
I do think we need to learn to invite others to come and worship with us.
I do think we need to reach out for those on the margins.

What should we do about it?
Continue to reach out into the community.
Always have our eyes open for those who need our help
and then fearlessly find ways to meet the needs.

What should we do about it?
Continue to go deeper and deeper in our own relationship with God.
Though worship. Through prayer. Through study.

What should we do about it?
Little children, love one another.

Those are the words that probably should be printed on a t-shirt for our parish.
St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Little children, love one another.

One of the gifts of being part of a church is we have a place to practice.
We can practice loving one another right here within the walls of this parish.
We can practice loving one another in outreach projects,
reaching out in the world, both near and far.

We are not called to be perfect.
Even the saints were not perfect.
We are simply called to follow in the footsteps of St. John
who followed in the footsteps of Jesus.

Each day
is another wonderful opportunity to take a step.
St. John, Apostle and Evangelist,
is right here to guide us.
Little children, love one another.

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