Sermon for April 8

First Reading Reading Acts 4:32-35

Second Reading: 1 John 1:1-2:2

Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31

Sermon: “In Light Of The Resurrection”

We are going to be spending today and the next 5 weeks in the marvelous Epistle of First John. This small book in the New Testament is termed a general epistle since it has no address or personal remarks as do most of Paul’s letters. Its author seems so well known that his name is never even used, but he nevertheless addresses his readers as “my little children”. The testimony of the early church father’s uniformly attribute it to the Apostle John – written late in his life – after the gospel that nears his name. It shares many similarities of topics and words with the Gospel, so it seems likely that they were indeed written by the same person. As we proceed through this book we will notice Three great terms for God: God is Light, God is Life, and God is Love. This first section often uses the metaphor of Light. Indeed, as light is intended to do, it will help us see our lives in the light of Jesus resurrection – what does it mean to serve a risen Savior? How are we to live now in the light of that great truth?

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus shows us God in a truly wonderful way. It shows us the God of eternal love and mercy who came to us as one of us – witnessed and proclaimed by those early witnesses as John writes: (1 John 1:1-2 NRSV)

[1] “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- [2] 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”. Why is John so emphatic about this life that he knows so well, but that others might not? Well – so that they can be fully united with the church – as he says (1 John 1:3-4 NRSV)

[3] 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. [4] We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

As Clifton Black writes about these words: “Christ is made present to a generation of Christians who can no longer see, or hear him, except through the eyes and ears of faith.” John counts it as great Joy that they can be part of the fellowship. That Word Fellowship needs some significant attention – John uses it three times in rapid succession. It’s the prime feature of the reading from Acts describing the early church and its celebrated in Ps 133 that we used as our call to worship this morning. The dictionary suggests that fellowship means “friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests.” Shared values, Passion, Interests and Priorities make fellowship possible, perhaps even inevitable. For lesser reasons, our associations are weak and tend to drift apart over time.

I was asked to give the invocation at Newkirk’s Main Street banquet this week and I was rather amazed to see large group of obviously committed people, many from this very congregation. Main Street is a big deal in Newkirk whereas its a minor little group in Ponca. Why is that? I suspect its because of the central place that the downtown area plays in Newkirk. Its pretty much central to the town – the Courthouse is there, the Bakery and Hardware stores are there, So are the majority of the other businesses in the city. Its the heart of this place. Whereas in Ponca I might go several weeks between visits downtown. Its a much smaller part of city life – hence its preservation get less attention and effort.

What then are the key features of this fellowship that John is so joyful about? Lou Nicholes a Missionary and Author tells this little story: “I once heard the story of a little boy who was taken to a new Sunday School class by his parents. His mother told him, “They will play some games, sing songs and then you will be introduced to Jesus.” When he came home his father asked him how he got along in Sunday School. His son said, “We played games and sang songs but Jesus wasn’t there.” He goes on tho say “I’m afraid this is true in many Churches today. We need to be very careful that we are not just playing Church but truly spending time with the Lord in our private devotions and public worship.” So here is the point of the sermon right up front: having true fellowship with other believers depends on our fellowship God. If I am to have true Christian fellowship it must be grounded in God’s Word and through a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

Its worth considering a moment just what Fellowship with God looks like in the resurrection light. First – Fellowship implies a healthy relationship, earnest and forthright conversation, and trust. Well now, we see the issue don’t we. God is Holy, God dwells in eternal light and nothing is hidden or unknown, but what about us? John says it like this: (1 John 1:5,8 NRSV) “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. [8] If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

We read in Genesis that sin separated us from the intimate relationship with God that we were created to have. When Adam and Eve sinned – they went and hid themselves supposing that hiding from God might be possible, but of course it’s not. Then the excuses and blaming others started and so it continues to this day – Self deception, hypocrisy, pride and all the other evils of the world would separate us from God and make fellowship impossible – we still try to hide as John writes in his gospel:(John 3:19-21 NIV) This is the verdict: “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

Our fellowship with God and with each other is based on grace. We are all sinners forgiven through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That makes fellowship with God possible. Its all due to God – Faith, forgiveness, love – all of it – is a gift, pure and simple. Our joy and gratitude in that forgiveness and love is what binds our human fellowship together – it’s what makes our fellowship open to others. As we will see in week to come, Obedience to the will of God becomes our grateful response to that forgiveness. We are bound together in fellowship by our fellowship with God through grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When our fellowship with each other has the common foundation of our love for God and gratitude for all that God has done through the life death and resurrection of our Lord, there’s hardly anything better. That was the bond that so distinguished the early church. Luke tells us in his account in the book of Acts that after Pentecost, the church grew to an astounding 5000 people in just a few days. There was much to learn and many problems to solve, but somehow the result was miraculous. Imagine, if you can, our modern church being described like this: (Acts 4:32-33 NLT) “All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all.”

I tell you truthfully – most anyone would want to be part of a church like that! No doubt, a lot of hard work was involved in that unity….Thousands of Christians of various nations, classes and races. Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen – but it wasn’t.

The Unifying principle of that congregation was simply this: faith the the resurrected Son of God, Jesus the Christ, and gratitude for his grace. That gratitude was so profound that it covered everything. As different as they undoubtedly were, still they realized that they were members of the same family, bound by love, and so they naturally looked out for each other’s welfare – both spiritually and practically. Love for God quite naturally turns into love for his children.

The Psalmist sings (Ps 133:1 NRSV) “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” And then proceeds to recite beautiful words of plenty and blessing as examples – abundant, fragrant oil of anointing and cool abundant water flowing down from the mountain tops. But wait – reality check – what’s our experience? Family can be heaven when love and forgiveness abound or family can be hell….when trust is broken and relationships are violated. Thanks be to God forgiveness, forgiveness that is there for the asking – (1 John 1:9-10, 2:2 NLT) “…If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts… But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He, himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins-and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.”

Gratitude is the key to Fellowship. It keeps us from from deadly “us versus them” thinking that not only breaks fellowship but also closes it from others joining it. All of us are here under exactly the same entrance criteria: Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. None of us deserve to claim fellowship with God, and none stand outside the offer of grace either. Our only response is Gratitude and praise for the gift of grace. Grace for past failures, grace for present weakness, grace for inevitable lapses yet to come. Gratitude for the grace that enables faith (even if your name is Thomas) and gratitude for grace that conquers even death itself.

Paul says it this way: (Colossians 3:12-16 NIV)

[12] Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. [13] Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. [14] And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. [15] Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. [16] Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

That’s a much better definition of Fellowship than Webster’s!