Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sermon -- The Festival of St. John, Evangelist (December 27, 2015)

1 JOHN 1:1 – 2:2

In the name + of Jesus.

     When St. John wrote his gospel, he stated his aim very clearly: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)  In St. John's first epistle, his aim is very similar.  John wants you to believe in this reality: Jesus is God in the flesh.  God from eternity entered our time in order to save us and deliver us into eternity with him.
     St. John writes: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)  Jesus is no legend or myth.  If he were, then your forgiveness is make-believe and your salvation is mythical.  If Jesus were not a real flesh-and-blood Savior, then your hope of the resurrection is in a fairy tale.  We would not only be pitied more than all men, but we should also be the butt of many well-deserved jokes.  Who sets aside time on Sundays and holidays to gather around to listen to fairy tales?  Who supports a myth with offerings?  St. John assures you that he has seen and heard and touched this Savior.  Jesus has come to deliver you from real guilt by his real death and real resurrection so that you will have a real, eternal life with God the Father and his Son.  Your joy is not based on fantasy, but on fact.
     We gather together because we have fellowship with one another in this Christian faith, but more importantly because our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We gather together so that our Lord will bless us, sustain us, and strengthen us in faith and in this fellowship.  If we are united with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, then we receive all the good things they have to give.
     The Father himself established that fellowship through his Son, Jesus Christ.  The Father sent his Son into the world to cleanse us from all wickedness so that we would not be rejected and condemned by him.  God is light, in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)  God will not and cannot accept even a hint of sin.  To do so would to cease being holy.  If he ceases being holy, he ceases being God.  Therefore, the Lord enlightens us so that we will see our sins and make confession of them.  To confess means to say the same thing.  God has enlightened us so that we say the same thing about ourselves that God does—as St. John notes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)
     We do not deny that we have sinned; neither does God.  We say the same thing as God.  We are guilty.  We have not loved God above all and our neighbor as ourselves.  Quite the opposite, we have rebelled against God by believing that our ways are better than his ways.  And we have despised our neighbor by believing that we are better people, that our problems are priorities, and that our needs are more important.  You and I have sinned.  Repent.  God does not pretend that we have not sinned.  Rather, God does not treat us as our sins deserve.
     God established fellowship between us and him through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  The propitiation is the sacrifice that takes away God's righteous anger.  God is right to be angry with us for our sins.  But Jesus has given himself as the sacrifice which appeases God's anger.  The man, Jesus, endured the cursed death that all people deserve for their sins.  But since Jesus is also true God, his death was died on behalf of all people.  There is no reason anyone should have to be damned for their sins.  Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  God so loved the world, and Jesus Christ has revealed that love to us.
     Our fellowship is now with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus cleanses us of every stain and spot of sin.  His blood purifies us from all unrighteousness.  That is why God the Father is pleased with us.  That is why God does not treat us as our sins deserve.  Because Jesus has been the sacrifice which has removed God's wrath from us, we are able to make confession of our sins without fear.  If you are haunted by some sin that will not let you go, you do not need to live under that guilt or with that shame.  Come and make confession of your sins and hold God to his word: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  We make confession of our sins because we have this confession of faith: “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)  This is God's pledge, and we confess it.  We say the same thing as God.  This is also why our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
     Just as we have been taught to confess God's word with our mouths, so we confess it with our lives.  The kingdom of God is not all talk; it is deeds as well.  Therefore, St. John says, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 John 1:6)  It is impossible to say the same thing as God and do the exact opposite as God commands.  That is hypocrisy.  It is impossible to have fellowship with the Lord and to dance with the devil.  Light and darkness cannot mix, and so a Christian confession and a life of sin cannot mix either.  We have been set free from sin.  Why would we return to it?  We have been delivered from death.  Why would we long for it again?  Our confession is not merely spoken, it is also lived.  We have been set free to honor and glorify God with godly lives, for he has cleansed us and treats us better than we deserve.
     Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  And our desire is to live in thanks for him.  Sadly, our lives never reflect our desire.  We still sin.  But your fellowship with God has not been without effect.  Yes, you sin, but you still confess.  Yes, you still need to be cleansed, but the blood of Jesus, his Son, still purifies you of all sin.  St. John also knew that you would struggle for the rest of your life.  And in your struggles, he reminds you that you are not banished from the fellowship with God.  He writes, “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.” (1 John 2:1)  Jesus Christ is your constant Savior, and he is your constant consolation that you are still God's dear children, that you are beloved, and that you are the Lord's.  Your fellowship remains with the Father, with his Son, Jesus Christ, and with his Holy Spirit.  He has marked you with his full, divine name.  He has been pleased to call you children of God, and he is not careless with his words.
     As surely as Jesus Christ was a real man—seen and heard and touched by John, just as surely you are a child of God, holy and blameless in his sight.  Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  Our forgiveness is certain.  Our salvation is real.  And that makes our joy complete.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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