“Complete Joy!”

I John 1:1-2:2

12 April, 2015, Easter 2B

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

I John 1:1-2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

 

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; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

 

Prayer.

 

In my life

I estimate that I’ve visited a couple of hundred

Different United Methodist church buildings.

Each, of course, has a sanctuary,

Rooms for Christian education,

Office and storage space,

Bathrooms, kitchen, and …

A place for fellowship,

Many times called “Fellowship Hall.”

Sometimes this space is under a sanctuary,

Sometimes behind,

Or in our case,

In front of our sanctuary!

What takes place in a Fellowship Hall?

<pause for response>

 

People gather;

For food,

For fun,

For missions,

For education,

For hospitality.

The common element is this word: “Fellowship.”

Obviously, the common use of this world

Comes from somewhere.

There must be a reason for its nearly universal use.

Let’s connect the dots

Between us and our ancestors,

And between our ancestors and our Epistle lesson for this morning.

 

First, a little bit of background regarding 1st John.

1st John is less a letter, and more of a sermon.

It was written 70 to 80 years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.

It comes from a community of followers

Who gathered around the Apostle John

- the Gospel author -

in the city of Ephesus, in modern day Greece.

It was written to address heretical teachers

In Ephesus, and in surrounding faith communities,

Who were denying the humanity of Jesus.

 

They claimed Jesus was just a spirit,

And as such,

Could not have actually died or risen from the dead.

If he didn’t die,

Then there would be no atonement for our sins.

There would not be salvation as a result of his resurrection.

This belief, and these teachings

Claimed that salvation is personal

And can only be found through introspection.

This popular heretical teaching was called Gnosticism.

It sprang out of numerous ancient sources,

From the Near East and Far East,

From Jewish and Christian and eastern religions.

 

Gnostic belief led to unrestrained sin,

Because, sin didn’t matter anymore.

The only thing that mattered was

Thinking yourself into a state of salvation.

The gospel of Thomas

Is a prime example of the Christianization

Of Gnostic thought.

While it shows immense diversity of Christian theology

In the early church,

It was also banned, excluded from the Canon

(the collection of books contained in the Bible),

and those who believed in Gnosticism,

as written in Thomas, and in other documents,

were excommunicated from the Church.

They were pitched out of the Church

Lock, stock, and barrel.

 

With surgical precision and brutality,

The Church cut out the fringe of Gnosticism

And settled on a central core of essential beliefs.

This is called Dogma;

It is the essential belief of Christianity

And it is recorded in our creeds.

The “Apostle’s Creed” is the most prominent example.

We believe

Jesus was both human and divine.

He died on the cross to cleanse us of our sins.

He rose from the dead to save us into eternal life.

Jesus saves us,

Not some mental or psychological exercise.

To counter these heretical, Gnostic teachings,

The Johannine community completed these sermons

One being 1st John, which we read today.

 

That’s the back story.

But what’s the Good News?

 

John begins with witness.

This witness is multi-sensory.

We, …

the sermon begins,

(Initially referring to John and his faith community,

But, now, referring to us and our faith community)

We …

Witness to what we heard,

What we have seen,

And to what we have touched.

You might be able to see and hear a spirit,

But you certainly can’t touch one.

The risen Lord is real.

He was a man;

Sharing the same human struggles

As every other person on the planet.

John shares his witness

With others

that both John and his audience

Might have fellowship together.

 

Fellowship is a two-way street.

Believers witness,

Then the unconverted have an opportunity to respond.

Witness, response;

witness, response.

This is the characteristic of fellowship.

This is the essential function of church setting designed for fellowship.

Ah, yes! How nice it is to know

Our ancestors knew what they were doing

When they named these multipurpose church rooms

Fellowship Hall, the Welcome Center, or simply The Hospitality Bar.

 

I’ve heard it said,

“Friendship leads to relationship.

Relationship leads to fellowship.”

 

Fellowship is witness and response;

But this is what it isn’t:

Idle chat about the weather or arthritic knees.

Fellowship isn’t catching up with what’s happening in the family

And it certainly isn’t networking to get yourself ahead.

Fellowship isn’t gossip or idle talk.

Fellowship is soul dependent discussion.

Fellowship is our witness.

 

Some find witnessing easier than others.

I’ve always admired my Baptist sisters and brothers,

Especially from the African-American tradition,

Who include testimony and witness

Into just about every church activity.

The preacher will say, “Does anyone have Good News to share?”

And up from the pew one will jump

And simply speak

As the Spirit says to speak.

Testimony can be such an encouragement,

Such a confidence builder,

Such a wonderful model to those less developed in the faith.

 

Fellowship is witnessing what you have seen,

What you have come to know,

And what you believe.

John the Evangelist constructed his Gospel as his enduring witness;

As his guide to fellowship for Christians of his generation.

The Church Canonized it,

And as a result,

It has endured for generations long after he was gone.

The Gospel for this morning – John 20:19-31 –

Is John’s description of how the resurrected Christ appeared

- POOF! out of thin air -

To the fearful disciples locked away in the Upper Room.

John witnessed to the fact that Jesus shows them his hands, his feet and his side.

John’s fellowship tells of how Jesus breathed on them and said,

“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

(John 20:22b)

And John reported of Thomas’ lingering doubt being erased

With a return visit by none other than Jesus in the flesh.

 

Witness, followed by thoughtful, engaging conversation,

- This back and forth dialogue

Which we Christians call “fellowship” -

Is done that our joy might be complete.

We testify because it brings us joy!

Fellowship is the fulfillment of our Christian commission,

The command Jesus gave his disciples

Immediately prior to his ascension.

Go “make disciples.”

“Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Teach “them all I have taught you,”

(Matthew 28:19-20)

Make disciples.

Baptize them.

Teach them.

This is what Jesus commands his faithful.

 

Our role in the equation is fellowship and instructional.

God’s role is conversion and salvation.

“Lo, I will be with you always,” Jesus promises.

(Matthew 28:20b)

 

You and I are unable to convert another.

We can’t change a resistant heart or hard headed mind.

We can only engage in fellowship

And leave the heavy lifting of conversion up to God.

 

Neither can we save ourselves.

We have to have a Savior.

We have to have an intimately involved divine player;

And that player is the very much human,

Son of God,

Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus is both human and divine,

Salvation must be both personal and communal.

This internal belief

Must be joined with corporate fellowship.

Fellowship makes our joy complete

Because it results in God bringing conversion to the world.

 

Dearly beloved,

These words from 1st John

Will hopefully change the way we think about fellowship;

Fellowship hour,

Fellowship dinners,

Fellowship before and after the service has ended.

It is more than idle talk or gossip.

 

Fellowship is all about

Sharing the Good News:

Witnessing what we know,

That Jesus Christ

Was both human and divine.

He died for our sins.

He rose from the dead for our salvation.

He ascended into heaven, where we will one day join him.

Testify with this as your message.

 

Fellowship is all about

Sharing your witness

Of being filled with the Holy Spirit

By the breath of Jesus Christ,

And how the Spirit

Has guided you,

Strengthened you

Every day of your life.

Testify with this as your message.

 

Share the Good News.

Be in fellowship with the world

That our joy may be complete!

Amen.