Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist - 27 December 2015

Sermon by Rev'd Ivo Morshead, 27th December 2015


 Exodus 33 v 7-11, 1 John Chapter 1, John 21 v 19 b to end

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them.. John 21 v 20

I fear that we were guilty of including a round robin with our Christmas cards. As always it was just a brief outline of the past year and an update on our health and any news of the family. Our excuse is that we have many cards from parishioners in the five parishes in which we occupied the vicarage and saw our family grow up, thus retaining an interest. We likewise receive such circulars and often suffers the pangs of jealously as we read of world travel and wildly successful progeny.
It seems in our Gospel today that Peter was suffering a slight pang of jealousy too. The cause was the disciple, named in the reading today, as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’, this disciple whose festival is celebrated throughout the world-wide church under the simple title of John, Apostle and Evangelist. He is remembered as author of the fourth Gospel in the New Testament which bears his name, for the Book of Revelation as well as three of the Catholic Epistles 1, 2 and 3 John.. Catholic because they are addressed universally, rather than to a specific person or congregation as were St Paul’s letters, even though strictly only I John comes within that category.
John and his brother James were the sons of Zebedee and together with St Peter, belonged to the inner group of disciples who were present at the raising of Jairus’s daughter, at The Transfiguration and at the Agony in the Garden. John and his brother were of an impetuous character and were called by Jesus, Sons of Thunder or Boanerges. They were generous in character offering to share the cup of suffering. Later, as related in Acts, John travels with Peter and is imprisoned with him. Some traditions tell of his martyrdom together with James but nothing is authenticated in that respect. He is described 6 times  as the Beloved disciple and. as we heard in the Gospel reading this morning reclined next to Jesus  at the last supper  John 21 v 21. He was the disciple to whom Jesus entrusted his mother at the foot of the Cross. John 19 v 26 when Jesus (from the cross) saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, Woman here is your son. Then he said to the disciple ‘Here is your mother’ and from that day he took her into his house. There were indeed grounds for jealousy on behalf of Peter. Also It is a little confusing because in our reading today it sounds as though Peter who says to Jesus what about him? Is identifying John as a possible Judah, the one who betrays Jesus. In fact what is missing are the previous verses in which Peter is warned by Jesus that he too will suffer crucifixion. That is why he asks Lord what about him?. Peter has his knuckles firmly knocked in Our Lord’s reply What is that to you? Follow me.
As with Peter so with ourselves as we perhaps are envious or querulous about others activities be what they put in their round robins at Christmas or how they behave or seem to know so much perhaps about the Bible and doctrine and church practice or whatever. I remember so clearly that when I first went to Cuddesdon Theological College Oxford at the age of 40, I could not understand at meal time a word of what my fellow students were talking about. I came straight from a life in industry, they straight from three or more years at a university. We spoke a different language and I thought how brilliant they all were compared to my poor brain and background. I soon learnt the lesson that Peter learnt from Jesus about the beloved disciple, not to worry about that but concentrate on what does matter namely, the command as repeated twice in the gospel today ‘Follow me’. It is more important to be certain oneself of fellowship with |God than a fit of jealousy and inadequacy.

What John himself aimed for is set out in the Epistle. The second lesson today in what is known as John’s first letter where he writes truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. He goes on to say that all he wants is for the reader to have a like fellowship with him and so too with the deity. John will have been familiar with the stories of Moses and of his relationship with God, such close relationship as is described in the first lesson this morning from Exodus chapter 33.

The reading describes what Moses did regularly. Just as Roman Catholics have their Rosary beads as an aide to prayer so Moses had his tent. He pitched this tent away from the camp where the People of Israel had stopped during their journey to the Promised Land. Moses called this tent, the Tent of Meeting. It would seem that he had a daily ritual of walking out to this tent, where his young assistant Joshua Son of Nun  lived as a caretaker, and communing on his own with the Lord. As we heard read, Exodus 33 v 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks with a friend. Then  Moses would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.

No longer are we a roaming tribe of Israel with our spiritual leaders setting off each morning to their tent away from the camp. We do, however, have an ordained ministry in the church who are under an obligation to say the daily offices of morning and evening prayer. I tried to do this faithfully while a vicar of a parish since my ordination 51 years ago. The church in my last parish was a five minute walk and up a very steep hill but for thirteen years I rang the bell morning and evening to signify that I was where I should be. Here the pattern is the same, the office is recited twice daily whether or not any other person appears.

Christmas Day is past and the round robins from friends often need a reply or a phone  call where there has been an illness or  death in the family. The church calendar brings us back immediately with reality, first with the feast of Stephen the first martyr, today St John the Evangelist with his emphasis on  the need to come close to God in Christ, face to face. Tomorrow The commemoration of the Holy Innocents, a reminder of need to fight cruelty in mankind and finally on Tuesday the martyrdom of Thomas a` Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

Perhaps too, as we come to the end of the year we can think of  this John the Evangelist who can be our inspiration for a new closeness to God through Jesus Christ in his zeal and enthusiasm through thick and thin, such that all of us so often sadly lack. We thank God today for his life and example and pray that as he urged the church we may have fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John v3) and live a life of faith and hope throughout the New Year.

Holland Park Benefice